Lake Forest incubator hatching businesses
Alejandra Peres runs a company called KidSmarter. The Lake Forest business launched in March, and makes educational apps for kids for the iPad and iPhone. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
Lake Forest Business & Tech Incubator
LOCATION: 50 East Old Mill Road, Lake Forest
CONTACT: Susan Kelsey at 847-810-3681 or KelseyS@CityofLakeForest.com.
Updated: December 5, 2012 10:14AM
LAKE FOREST — The Lake Forest Business & Technology Incubator launched in March with just three businesses in the Gorton Community Center. Now there are 23 and growth continues.
“We wanted to test a hypothesis,” said Lake Forest’s Economic Development Coordinator Susan Kelsey. “We felt there was an emerging trend of people starting home-based businesses and changing careers.”
If these businesses can become successful, they could eventually fill empty office space in town, generate jobs and, of course, revenue for the city, she said.
As the name suggests, an incubator helps early stage businesses by providing mentorship, advice, resources like office space and much more. While incubators abound in Chicago and other big cities, Lake Forest’s is the only facility in Lake County.
Anyone interested in building a business can join the incubator at the CEO Suite level ($135 per month) or at the basic membership level ($25 per year). The CEO level includes shared office space, free WiFi, individual mentoring and more.
To hear members tell it, the real value in joining is something that technically costs nothing.
Lake Forest resident Alejandra Peres’ company is called KidSmarter and it creates educational applications for kids for the iPad and iPhone. A native of Bolivia, Peres is a former economist and stay-at-home mom who was fed up with the mindless games her kids were playing. The apps her company now creates are fun, but also educational.
Peres says the best part of being in the incubator is talking with other businesspeople who are all struggling with the same issues, especially people like her.
“It’s nice to meet other women who not only have ideas, but who are actually making them happen,” Peres said.
Another woman making things happen is incubator member Meg Barnhart. Barnhart is the founder of The Zen of Slow Cooking, which is for now just a blog with recipes that aims to help busy women make their lives easier.
Barnhart has big dreams. She’s working on eventually releasing a product and her long-term vision is to create job opportunities for developmentally disabled people like her 17-year-old son.
Echoing Peres’ sentiments, Barnhart said the get-togethers with other incubator members are invaluable and the support they provide is great.
Darlene Jaffke, a faculty member at Lake Forest College, is part of that support network. Jaffke teaches entrepreneurship and marketing classes at the college and serves on the advisory board of the incubator.
She was approached at the outset by Kelsey to help with the project and review the incubator’s five-year business plan.
Less than a year in, Jaffke says things are looking great.
“It’s just skyrocketing. I’m amazed at the level of interest,” Jaffke said. “I think the sky is the limit.”