Entrepreneur Spotlight: Trey Bowles

PEORIA -- Lloyd "Trey" Bowles III has a message for those who want to establish Peoria as a welcoming community for startups and entrepreneurs: you can do it.

In fact, he delivered that message personally at a May 1 launch event and fundraiser in Peoria's Warehouse District announcing the formal arrival of the Peoria Innovation Alliance.

Bowles, 42, is uniquely suited to be the bearer of good news. He established the Dallas Entrepreneur Center along with the Dallas Innovation Alliance

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"We built a model for the urban metro area but we also built a suburban and rural model as well," he said of the innovation centers set up in the Texas city.

"We also launched centers in parts of town marked by low income and low employment. Each (area) had its own needs. One center might focus on public safety or mobility, another on providing broader internet access," said Bowles.

"The first step is getting the key leaders in the community to support the concept of innovation. That's what we did in Dallas," he said.

Bowles said it was important to get the city's mayor on board. In Dallas, he cofounded the Mayor's Star Council with Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings.

Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis, one of the leaders that met with Bowles at an informal gathering at the Peoria Riverfront Museum prior to the May 1 kickoff event, recently told the ABC television affiliate in Peoria that embracing innovation is essential for the city to move forward. "It's the ability to look at new and better ways to (serve) consumers that will create business and create jobs," he said.

 Bowles said other cities are learning from what's been done in Dallas. "We're helping the city of Waco build an innovation center now," he said, referring to the Texas city of 136,000 people.

"It's not about who gets credit or control," he said of organizational efforts to promote innovation. As an example, he recounted the Smart City initiative that has proved successful in Dallas.

Launched in 2014, the Smart City program in Dallas included multiple city services such as citizen-accessible information kiosks, district Wi-Fi, and improved public safety through video cameras.

Peoria's Downtown is an ideal candidate for a Smart City initiative, said Bowles. "I was in Peoria a few weeks ago and there are a lot of cool things going on in the Downtown," he said.

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As for building an alliance, innovation is no different than any other endeavor, said Bowles. "You come up with a plan that's tied to metrics and measurable results. There might be seven promises made but three may already be accomplished. People need to take note of what's already been done," he said.

"It's important to give credit to the local groups involved and let them do what they do best," added Bowles who has reason to believe in Peoria's ability to organize and get things done.

He described his grandparents, Gene and Harriet Swager, as pillars of the Peoria community. The pair supported numerous local institutions such as the Peoria Riverfront Museum, Salvation Army, Peoria Symphony Orchestra, Junior League of Peoria and the Girl Scouts of Central Illinois.

Gene Swager, the co-founder of Phillips Swager Associates, died in 2017. Harriet Swager was among the 250 people who attended the recent launch party of the Peoria Innovation Alliance.

Bowles also acknowledged another Peoria asset: the city's growing art scene. For the past eight years, Bowles has been teaching entrepreneurship in the arts at Southern Methodist University.

While Bowles has made his mark in Texas, his organizational skills are likely to soon spread nationwide. He was recently appointed to the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

His advice to Peoria: you don't need to be a big city to be an innovation center. Work with what you have.