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Program links ADM, emerging businesses


DECATUR — A group of emerging businesses moved closer Thursday to securing a working relationship with one of the state's largest companies that could provide them with a needed opportunity to grow.

A panel from Archer Daniels Midland Co. met with representatives from 11 businesses at the James Randall Research Center in Decatur as they competed during a Demo Day in the Illinois Corporate Startup Challenge. The program is led by the state-supported Illinois Science and Technology Coalition.

The event, set up in a way that gave it a similar feel to the “Shark Tank” television show, was intended to get some of the state's largest corporations working with smaller, innovative companies to stimulate economic growth.

“We have a growing entrepreneurial community,” said Mark Harris, the coalition's president and CEO. “We also have a number of world class corporations. We've found there is a disconnect between the two. So we wanted to create value for both sides of the equation.”

The challenge has brought efficiency to what is normally an inefficient process for companies like ADM, Harris said.

The selection process has been different than what ADM normally goes through to choose its business partners, said Greg Webb, the company's vice president of state government relations. It typically receives inquiries from hundreds of companies looking for ways to work with it before deciding which opportunities to pursue, he said.

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“These are people we should know,” Webb said. “We're looking at innovation. We could have chosen all 11.”

The coalition reviewed 85 companies out of 215 referrals from universities, incubators, accelerators, associations and not-for-profit organizations before selecting 34 applicants for ADM to examine, of which the company selected the 11 to be interviewed, Harris said.

During the Demo Day, the panel from ADM reviewed the presentations and chose six companies with which to continue further discussions, said panelist Bill Manley, the company's technology center lead, technical services. The selected companies include Rhapsody Technologies, viaForensics, Veriflow Systems, Sage Clarity, RedWave Energy and Forelight.

“This is the first time we have this,” Manley said. “We want to see if it can be an opportunity to ADM and the selected companies.”

“We'll be looking to the inventions that have an application for us,” Webb said.

ADM could choose to invest in, provide mentorship or work with the companies it selects as part of the process. The program's success isn't necessarily measured by the contracts that are produced, Harris said.

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