A state initiative to help entrepreneurs in the technology field is identifying valuable resources in communities such as Columbus where startup businesses are taking hold.
Launch Indiana, created by the Indiana Small Business Development Center and Launch Fishers, uses mentors and education to increase the number of successful Indiana-based, innovation-driven enterprises.
Jason Whitney, program director of Launch Indiana, recently presented to the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors the organization’s efforts to create an online map of resources for tech-based entrepreneurs, and share results of a survey it conducted of Columbus business leaders.
The online map, found on Launch Indiana’s website, is intended as a way to pair tech entrepreneurs with available resources, such as help with sales pitches to investors and marketing strategies, Whitney said.
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Launch Indiana is using surveys in communities to identify mentors and resources, and learn more about local needs. Columbus was one of the first communities surveyed because it’s on the leading edge, Whitney said.
Cindy Frey, president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, lined up about 30 one-on-one interviews over two days for Launch Indiana. Those interviewed included chamber members, local entrepreneurs and banking and education leaders, Whitney said.
One question that was asked, Whitney said, was: “If somebody comes into your office and wants to start a business, who do they need to know in Columbus?”
“We were looking for common names,” he said.
Names collected from interviews in Columbus and other communities are included on the online map.
Entrepreneurs can search for investors, individuals who can provide connections or mentoring, service providers, co-working spaces and research and development centers, and the location and contact information for each is available on the map.
The map lists 12 Columbus-based resources.
For example, Analytical Engineering is listed as a research and development company, the local chamber of commerce’s Fish Tank is noted as a co-working space and LHP Software owner Ryan Hou is listed as a community resource.
Individuals listed under “community” on the map provide value to the entrepreneurial ecosystem but don’t necessarily provide a direct service to the entrepreneur, Whitney said.
The Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce was unanimously named in the survey as the No. 1 place for an entrepreneur to go in the Columbus community, Whitney said.
“In a lot of other communities when I ask that question, I get a plethora of names,” he said.
Frey said that speaks well of the chamber’s efforts.
The chamber intentionally houses the SCORE (Service Corps. of Retired Executives) office, the Indiana Small Business Development Center and its co-working space the Fish Tank co-located in one central, visible place, she said.
“What the chamber has done over the last few years is tried to be a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs,” she said.
The survey feedback that Whitney shared with the chamber board also provided ideas for building up Columbus’ entrepreneurial ecosystem, Frey said.
One was creation of a local venture capital fund — the idea of having investors on a small level providing seed money for startup businesses.
Having enough capital is a hurdle for startups, Frey said.
“Once you get some people investing, it makes it easier for the next folks to come in line,” she said.
The idea of a venture capital pool is to have a group of lead investors, not banks, investing amounts such as $15,000 to $50,000 in innovation-driven businesses that leverage technology, Frey said. Investors would receive an ownership stake in exchange for the investment.
Another recommendation based on survey feedback was to utilize to a greater extent the Fish Tank — which opened 10 1/2 months ago — by offering additional programming and social events, she said.
Starting this month, the chamber will have “Tank Talks” on Fridays at the Fish Tank — a show-and-tell of sorts focused on technology, Frey said. Presentations could include topics such as what people are doing for startups, or how to craft your sales pitch to investors.From 4 to 5 p.m. June 17 at the Fish Tank, 500 Franklin St., Steven Combs, president of Ivy Tech Community College’s Columbus campus, will discuss his use of Raspberry Pi, a credit card-sized computer.
The co-working space also could be used for more social events and a location for tech-based community projects, Frey said.
A third suggestion based on the survey was to market the success of entrepreneurs in Columbus, to show what can be accomplished here, Frey said.
The next steps for the chamber, Frey said, are to continue building awareness that it is a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs, start conversations about creating a venture capital pool and discuss how to leverage the Fish Tank better.
Frey said the board’s overall reaction to Whitney’s presentation was positive, and having Launch Indiana to connect Columbus entrepreneurs to a bigger talent pool is a great benefit.
“Being connected to this larger framework I think is really powerful for our community,” she said.
To access Launch Indiana’s map of resources statewide for entrepreneurs in the technology field, visit launchindiana.org and click on the “map” tab.
The mission of Launch Indiana is to increase the number of successful Indiana-based, innovation-driven enterprises through mentorship and education. Launch Indiana is a joint initiative of the Indiana Small Business Development Center and Launch Fishers.
Using experienced mentors to meet with tech-based startups eliminates roadblocks to success, said Jason Whitney, program director. It’s also cheaper to use mentors in the tech-based industry to create jobs than to offer incentives to attract large manufacturers, he said.
Launch Indiana is funded by the Indiana Legislature, and partners Ball State University and the city of Fishers also provide funding. Launch Indiana is free to communities such as Columbus.