December 1, 2020

Jim Bell: A Quiet Order at Innovation DuPage

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im Bell exudes a quiet air of experienced authority: never overconfident, on the contrary, he��s always eager to share his knowledge, eager to be of use to others. It’s what I would describe as a sense of calm collectedness, where you can’t help but feel cared for. There is a gentleness, and genuine care about your wellbeing, apparent in the well-lived lines of Jim’s face. Jim puts ID’s people first, while managing the business operations with an unwavering hand: it’s evident why COD’s Dean Cassidy was so insistent on pulling Jim out of retirement - for the second time, it’s worth pointing out - to become ID’s Director of Operations and Partner Engagement. You can’t help but trust that Jim will take care of your business.

Despite Jim’s inherent steadiness - which may partially be the effect of the hypnotic lull of his Scottish brogue - his career has been anything but ordinary. Jim grew up in Scotland, and spent the first part of his career working in banking, firstly in the UK, then across Canada and the United States at the Royal Bank of Canada, Lloyds Bank (formerly Bank of Scotland) and Mizuho Corporate Bank. After retiring from banking, Jim and his wife started their own business with their son, partnering with College of DuPage to provide Commercial Driving License Training. It was Jim’s first experience collaborating with COD, and they ran this course for seven years, providing the trucks, instructors, property modifications and course material. In all, Jim estimates their instruction staff taught around five hundred to six hundred students. College of DuPage now offers this course independently as part of its Continuing Education offering: the course always has a high graduation rate and one hundred percent job placement. Dean Cassidy, the head of the Continuing Education program at College of DuPage, is also the Chair of Innovation DuPage, and brought Jim onto the ID staff shortly after Bell CDL Enterprises, Inc sold their interest in the partnership to the College.

Jim’s past financial services background certainly gave him a lot of relevant experience to apply to his work as ID’s Director of Operations, especially when it came to managing the day to day financial operations and reporting. But as a banker Jim worked mostly on the other end of the spectrum, as a Vice President or Senior Vice President dealing with Fortune 500 businesses, so he didn’t get to work much with businesses in the start-up world. In many ways, it’s Jim’s experience running his own business that gave him the most wisdom to give to ID’s new startups. Jim wears many hats at ID: he’s the one who keeps the operational cogs turning, and is often the person working face to face with members in the ID space to answer whatever questions they have.

It’s fun,” Jim says, “working with small companies with dreams. There’s lots of energy with these folks.”

Something that’s been interesting and perhaps helpful, about the pandemic, according to Jim, is the way it forced ID to grapple with switching to online platforms. In adapting their resources to an online medium, Jim thinks it has made ID more accessible to businesses and also changed how they thought about their work: before, it was all about being in the same room together, but now, Jim is thinking ahead to how they can serve businesses located further away, who may only want to come into the center once a week or so.

As the Director of Partner Engagement, Jim also deals directly with the Partners, and is constantly working to find new ones. One of the unique benefits of ID being located in Glen Ellyn, besides DuPage County having cost and other attractions for business location, is that ID’s space is right on the train line. ID is in close proximity to partners such as the local Chamber of Commerce and College of DuPage. Many other nearby universities like Benedictine and DeVry are also partners, not to mention Fermi and Argonne Labs. These vast and varied partnerships, all possible because of ID’s central location, provide members with incredible educational and technical resources. Partners also have access to the cutting edge technology members are developing. As ID looks to take on more members, the search for more supporting Partners continues.    

As Innovation DuPage continues to grow past its early years, Jim is looking forward to the successes, the businesses that will grow out of and beyond their ID incubator, as well as hopefully further expanding ID’s reach into the entirety of DuPage County. Travis, according to Jim, is the most important part of this, as someone with a vision and extensive start-up experience. This is all still a learning experience for Jim too. Soon, though, ID will need to begin tracking what the business outcomes are, aiming to demonstrate the real economic benefit and job creation that comes with supporting these small businesses. Jim is hopeful that because of ID’s location is Glen Ellyn, with its access to good schools and cheaper housing than Chicago, ID can begin to attract tech innovation and more young people moving back to the suburbs. 

Now more than ever, people are making an effort to shop local, to invest in their communities. Even in times of uncertainty, risk, innovation, and resilience remain possible. As Jim runs Innovation DuPage’s operations, a quiet order works in tandem with the unbridled joy of possibility.

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