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New Director for Innovate Springfield named

Ben Hage photo
Ben Hage named director of UIS’ downtown business incubator Innovate Springfield

The leader of the Sangamon CEO program has been selected to oversee Innovate Springfield, the University of Illinois Springfield's business incubator.

Ben Hage (also known as Nabih Elhajj) said he is grateful for the opportunity.

“Innovate Springfield will provide entrepreneurial thought leadership and action to our community of creatives, entrepreneurs and supporters. I look forward to working with our public universities, schools, businesses and community leaders, and I am very excited to be part of the launch of the downtown UIS Innovation Center.”

The Center will be located at 401 E. Washington St., when it opens in 2025. Rob Kerr was named its executive director last month.

According to UIS, the business incubator aims to accelerate the growth of startups and established businesses, provide a collaborative workspace, and foster a vibrant entrepreneurial community. Innovate Springfield currently supports 80 member companies that have added more than 280 jobs to the local economy.

Hage most recently served as the executive director of iVenturED Inc. where for eight years he led the Sangamon CEO program, an accredited high-school program teaching entrepreneurship and leadership to high school seniors in Sangamon County.

During his time in the role, more than 300 students have graduated from the program, leading to more than 200 student-led businesses. As director of Innovate Springfield, he plans to continue to serve as a teacher for the program.

In addition to fostering program growth, Hage has established strong community partnerships and relationships with key stakeholders. He has hosted numerous state and community leaders in private forums with Sangamon CEO students, which included current and former Illinois governors, Illinois legislators and city leaders.

One student-led business he helped start as part of the Sangamon CEO program, the LRS Ice Rink, received recognition at the 2022 Downtown Springfield Inc.'s 29th Annual Dinner for "Best Promotion" and "Best Collaborative Effort."

Before leading the Sangamon CEO program, Hage worked as a CX business analyst for Horace Mann in Springfield. Between 2013 and 2015, he served as an entrepreneur and founder or co-founder of multiple startup projects in retail, robotics, education and marketing.

In 2020, he was named to the Springfield Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 list. A news release mentioned he is a Six Sigma yellow belt, a TEDx presenter and previously served on the NPR Illinois Community Advisory Board.

Hage is completing a doctorate in higher education administration and foundations at Illinois State University. He earned an MBA from Purdue University Global and a master’s degree in public administration (MPA) from UIS. His bachelor’s degree is in sociology and criminal justice from Eureka College.

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