May 29, 2020

From Distilling Grain to Distilling Ideas

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I’m a little worried that my last few newsletter articles have all referenced whiskey in one way or the other.  While I’ve been known to enjoy a good bourbon from time to time, my interest in whiskey has less to do with consumption and more to do with our history.  That is why I was so pleased to be part of the launch of the new brand for the Peoria Innovation Hub, now forever more known as Distillery Labs.

A few weeks ago on May 6, the board of directors of Distillery joined the wider innovation and startup community to unveil the new name, logo, vision and mission. Of course when I say we “joined” with others, I mean we had our launch party streamed live on Facebook.  (Here is a secret: we had planned to do this in person with a big party in late March but the coronavirus lockdown put us back on our heels a bit.) The event, which you can watch here, captured the energy and excitement of a project that has been in the works for nearly two years.


If you don’t know, Distillery Labs will be located in the Thomas Building in downtown Peoria. The building, formerly occupied by Illinois Central College, is a 53,000 square foot facility that will ultimately be a tech, innovation and incubation community designed to foster opportunity throughout the Peoria region. It will have classes, workshops, public-private partnerships, student opportunities, and more. Distillery Labs will be dedicated to finding solutions to improve the wellness of underserved populations and advance systems related to food, farming, and transportation – specifically autonomous mobility – and will contain spaces for startups, corporate partners, community organizations, universities and other stakeholders. A specific focus of the Labs will be crafting a diverse, inclusive, and welcoming environment, with the organization taking steps to ensure that the Labs look and feel like Greater Peoria from the start. 

So why the name Distillery Labs? When we started this we always knew that Peoria Innovation Hub was just a working title.  We wanted something creative but not cheesy — something that captured the spirit of our region and described the mission behind the building.  We also wanted a name and brand that had an authentic connection to our community’s long history.  When we started thinking about our distilling past we realized that there was a great link between that past and our future. 

Jump Simulation works to improve outcomes and lower health care costs through innovative simulation training of medical professionals.

Jump Simulation works to improve outcomes and lower health care costs through innovative simulation training of medical professionals.

The Peoria of the early 20th century took what the earth gave us — water and grain — and transformed it into something valuable.  The Peoria of the early 21st century is not so different.  But instead of distilling grains, we now distill ideas into products that literally and figuratively move the world.  From the thousands of Caterpillar engineers developing the next generation of machinery to medical professionals at the Jump Simulation Center discovering life saving procedures, we are a community of innovators. 

As a bonus, I like that the name references Peoria but does not include Peoria in its name. While its location is very important, we recognize that this is a regional asset, if not a state or national one. The whiskey distilling business was not limited to the city of Peoria. Rather it involved farmers, craftsmen, drivers and suppliers from across the entire region to transform grain into whiskey.  Distillery Labs will similarly be an asset that benefits the region, and relies on it to succeed.

Distillery Labs builds on all the great attributes of Greater Peoria to give entrepreneurs the tools and support they need to become inspired, hone their ideas and turn those ideas into viable businesses. Soon you will start to see the dreaming and planning of the past months take shape as the building is renovated and the community is built.  I invite you to check out the website to learn how you can get involved. And very soon, maybe we can all gather — in person — to raise a glass to toast the opening of Distillery Labs.


Chris Setti
E: csetti@greaterpeoriaedc.org
T: 309.495.5956