Blake Wood
Publish Date

Ben Hage (also known as Nabih Elhajj) has been named director of Innovate Springfield, the University of Illinois Springfield’s business incubator located in downtown Springfield. He is a leader in entrepreneurship, leadership development and business education.

“I am happy to accept this role and grateful to Chancellor Janet Gooch and Executive Director Rob Kerr for the opportunity to lead Innovate Springfield,” Hage said. “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.”

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. Under his leadership, 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. 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.

About Innovate Springfield

Innovate Springfield, located at 15 S. Old State Capitol Plaza, will become part of the new UIS Innovation Center, located at 401 E. Washington St., when it opens in 2025. 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.