Look at Indiana Entrepreneurship Offers Mixed Signals

Cam Carter, our VP of small business and economic development, talks with Tom Schuman about the state of entrepreneurship in Indiana.

For more on recent developments on this topic, see these articles from the latest BizVoice magazine:

Hoosier Entrepreneurs Earn Invitation to White House as Startup Climate Warms

Indiana's strong business climate and favorable cost of living is making the Hoosier state a popular place for startup businesses. As this blog and BizVoice feature about DeveloperTown convey, Silicon Valley doesn't have much on the budding ideas and energy emanating from the heartland — especially in Central Indiana. Tuesday, five Indiana entrepreneurs are meeting with White House staff in Washington, D.C. about how to make Indiana's startup climate even better. Below is an excerpt from a press release, as well as background on Indiana's representatives as written by Kevin Hitchen of Localstake.

Startup leaders from across the country will convene in Washington, D.C. on February 5th to meet with administration officials to discuss the importance of fostering vibrant startup communities throughout the U.S. These Startup America Region Champions will also unveil their regions’ plans to push their startup ecosystems to the next level. Representatives from the Small Business Administration, Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Department of Commerce will take part in the meeting. 
Participating regions include: Startup Arizona, Startup Colorado, Startup DC, Startup Indiana, Startup Iowa, Startup Maryland, Startup North Carolina, Startup Nebraska, Startup Tennessee, Startup Texas and Startup Virginia. This meeting will be preceded by the Kauffman Foundation’s State of Entrepreneurship luncheon and followed by a reception hosted by Startup DC at the brand new D.C. startup hub 1776.

Indiana's representation includes:

  • Michael Coffey, who raised $2.5 in 60 days in 2010 and started a niche marketing company, moved from Napa Valley to Indianapolis because he is so impressed with Indiana's startup scene. In 2012, he became partner at DeveloperTown.
  • Kevin Hitchen is one of the founders of Localstake, a new investment marketplace that allows individuals to invest in local private businesses.  Localstake recently registered as a broker-dealer with the SEC and FINRA, so it can offer private business investing before the JOBS Act is implemented.
  • Matt Hunckler is the founder of Verge, a 2,000-member platform for software entrepreneurs in the Midwest. He leads startup efforts at Social Reactor, a premium social engagement platform based in Carmel.
  • Michael Langellier is the new CEO of TechPoint, Indiana’s technology growth initiative. He cofounded MyJibe, which he sold to MoneyDesktop in November 2011.
  • Dustin Sapp is president and co-founder of TinderBox, the third company he has helped start in Indianapolis. He has been recognized locally and regionally for efforts in entrepreneurship.

Are You Ready to Risk It?

Innovation. Maybe the most important combination of 10 (I counted several times) letters that are out there today. Companies must innovate to succeed; innovation is what drives many entrepreneurs each and every day.

Innovation is a huge part of the Indiana Chamber-led Indiana Vision 2025 plan. The mission statement: "Indiana will be a global leader in innovation and economic opportunity where enterprises and citizens prosper."

Innovative is how I would describe Risk It, a new regional business idea competition in the southeastern part of the state that is being presented by the Indiana Small Business Development Center. A three-minute pitch to a panel of judges and audience is accompanied by the opportunity for prizes that include visibility and expert assistance.

The initial event is October 25 at the Venture Out Business Center in Madison. An awards luncheon in New Albany is one of the following steps.

Are you ready to Risk It?

Michigan Trying to Build Its Tech Talent

Technology transfer is a challenge in all but a few locales. New strategies are commonplace. Here’s one from Michigan — a state that I believe will rebound from its historic struggles of recent years.

The $2.4 million Tech Transfer Talent Network includes seven universities and regions with strong research-based technology opportunities or clusters of talent, and in some cases, both. In addition to the University of Michigan (U-M), members are: Wayne State University, Michigan State University, Michigan Technological University, Western Michigan University, Grand Valley State University and Oakland University. Each university is also collaborating with its regional economic development organization to promote increased access to mentors and partnering businesses.

The primary goal of the Tech Transfer Talent Network is to increase the supply of seasoned entrepreneurs and innovators who can lend their expertise to university tech transfer offices. These connections will serve as important bridges to launch technology-based startups or license university inventions to established companies. The program will allow other state universities in the network to share and benefit from the tech transfer resources developed at U-M.

U-M, which had 101 licensing agreements and spun out 11 startups in 2011, consistently ranks in the top 10 U.S. universities in tech transfer performance. In the past decade, the Tech Transfer office has helped launch 92 startups from research that originated in faculty labs, and three-quarters of those are located in Michigan.

To enhance its capabilities, U-M has put in place several talent-related initiatives during the past few years. Through the network, U-M will help other universities implement some of these strategies, including:

  • The Catalyst database, which identifies and tracks experienced entrepreneurs who are willing to serve as experts, mentors, consultants or even co-founders.

  • Mentors-in-Residence, experienced entrepreneurs who work within Tech Transfer for 12- to 18-month rotations, helping to assess new opportunities and mentor new start-up ventures.

  • Tech Transfer Fellows, a program that employs graduate students or other qualified personnel to help assess technology and analyze markets for tech transfer opportunities.

  • A postdoctoral fellowship program to support graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to encourage them to continue within a newly licensed business or a new startup venture.

Small Business Week: Enjoy a Full Day of Learning and Awards

A group of local small business associations and corporate sponsors are helping to make June 24 a full day of benefits for Hoosier entrepreneurs and small businesses. See the full flyer here, and paid reservations are due June 14:

New Directions for Small Business is the Indianapolis area day of events marking 2011
Indiana Small Business Week from June 19 – 25, 2011. New Directions for Small Business
provides entrepreneurs with new techniques to expand their businesses and to start new ones. It is an opportunity to talk with other business owners and with business counselors about current challenges and how to increase sales. Active small business lenders will be available to meet one-to-one to discuss your borrowing needs. At lunch, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will present its Small Business Week awards for Indiana.

Business Counseling and Conversations Opens at 8:00 am – available all day

  • Teams of business consultants and former business owners with expertise ranging from manufacturing to franchises and service businesses will be available for private meetings to help you find a new direction for your company or business idea. Feel free to bring your business plan along with your issues and ideas to start the conversation.
  • Talk with exporting professionals who can help you take your products to global markets. Start with Canada; advance to China.
  • Do you need working capital? What about a new building or advanced equipment? Ready to launch a new company? Meet with financial institutions that are lending right now to Indiana small businesses.

Making the Entrepreneurial Call

I read an interesting summary of some academic research that suggests it’s not always best to be ahead of the crowd in launching a new business or product line. The deciding factor, according to the researchers, is the learning environment.

According to the research findings, in a hostile learning environment, entrepreneurs gain relatively little benefit by watching others. For example, if the relevant knowledge is protected intellectual property, studying the market before entering wouldn’t yield much advantage. In these situations, the trade-off favors entering early. But in less hostile learning environments, where entrepreneurs gain valuable information likely to increase their success just by watching other companies, companies benefit from waiting and learning lessons from earlier players.

“If you enter early, you are more of a pioneer. You can have a competitive advantage, by locking in key customers, suppliers or intellectual property," says researcher Moren Levesque. “If you cannot do any of this, then it may not be a good strategy, because there is always a cost to being a pioneer.”

But deciding when to enter a market solely on the advantages of learning is not enough. Entrepreneurs also need to launch before an opportunity closes. 

I strongly agree with that last statement. Yes, the learning opportunities are a factor, but just one of many. You have to respect the entrepreneurs who are making the critical decisions each day.