Embracing Innovation Drives Growth in NEI

In Focus with Stéphane Frijia

Dear Friends of Northeast Indiana,

Today, I would like to bring to the forefront again why embracing innovation and venture creation is so important for the growth of Northeast Indiana. We stand at a pivotal moment where innovation and entrepreneurship have become more than just buzzwords—they are forming a new bedrock for our regional economic development. Moreover, enhancing our competitiveness on the national and international stages is directly tied to our ability to innovate. In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world, regions that innovate thrive.

The state as a whole is leaning in to make sure Indiana is no longer a fly-over state for innovation, thanks to the strong leadership of our partners at the Indiana Development Corporation (IEDC).  As we navigate the complexities of the modern economy, it’s increasingly clear that fostering innovation and nurturing new ventures are not merely optional; they are essential to our region’s vitality and competitive edge in the global market.

Last Thursday, during the Regional Opportunity Council meeting, we delved deep into the resources and assets that are fundamental to supporting our growing entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem. The meeting, a vibrant gathering of thought leaders and industry experts, featured insightful discussions with notable panelists such as Brandon Noll, Director of Plug And Play Indiana, discussing the future of MedTech in Warsaw Indiana, and the upcoming Hardtech center in Fort Wayne. Noll and Christopher (Toph) Day, CEO of Elevate Venture, shared how they have become the #1 most active VC firm in the Great Lakes region. Roger Reeves with the Applied Research Institute (ARI) shared how it successfully grew from a regional innovation initiative to become a statewide asset that led the effort to secure major federal investments to advance innovation in hydrogen, semiconductors and biotech. Their contributions highlighted the critical role of strategic partnerships to develop new resources, capital funds and the need for a unified support structure to fuel our regional innovation.

At the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, we’ve observed firsthand the potential transformative impact that a strong innovation ecosystem can have on our communities. By stimulating innovation and entrepreneurial activities, we’re not only creating jobs but also paving the way for a dynamic economic environment where new industries can flourish and existing ones can be revitalized. As we watch Batch 1 of the MedTech program advance, we are anxious to see which one of them will decide to stay and become a part of the local ecosystem, including:

The collaboration between academia and industry is particularly vital, as it helps translate academic research into commercial success, benefiting the entire region. Our universities are stepping up in major ways, connecting students to corporates, to develop solutions to real problems, sometimes creating life-saving solutions, as well as entities like the US Navy! Just a few days ago we saw a competition between Hoosier universities developing AI-controlled boats, dubbed the Artificial Intelligence Maritime Maneuver Indiana Collegiate Challenge (AIMM ICC), an event spawning from the collaboration between Trine University and the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana.

This ongoing cycle of growth and innovation is crucial for the development of a strong economic structure that benefits everyone in our region. Investing in our innovation infrastructure must remain a top priority, as a well-established support system for entrepreneurs translates into successful business ventures that drive economic growth. We know there is still plenty of work to do to close gaps.

Across the state we have made tremendous strides to expand access to national and global VCs, initiatives and programs like the NIIC’s Entrepreneurship for All, incubators, tech parks and innovation districts – like Electric Works hubs are part of a broader strategy to provide entrepreneurs with the resources they need to succeed—from seed funding to expert mentorship and networking opportunities. By building a favorable environment for innovation, we are setting the stage for groundbreaking ideas to be nurtured right here in Northeast Indiana.

Our focus extends beyond economic metrics to include social and cultural development, ensuring a holistic approach to regional growth. By fostering an innovative culture, through storytelling campaigns like Pioneer Starts Here we enhance our attractiveness to new businesses and skilled talents who are eager to contribute to a forward-thinking and vibrant community.

Lastly, the importance of both global and local networks cannot be overstated. Last Thursday drove to this point loud and clear. Local networks provide the community support and detailed market understanding necessary for early-stage companies, while global connections offer access to broader markets and international investment. This dual integration helps our businesses not only to succeed locally but also to compete effectively on a global scale.

As we look to the future, NEI is committed to leading the charge for Northeast Indiana to be recognized as a top destination for innovation and technology in the Midwest. The path forward involves each of us—entrepreneurs, educators, policymakers and community leaders—working together to foster an environment where innovation thrives and new ventures are celebrated as cornerstones of our regional success. Join us as we build a brighter, more innovative Northeast Indiana.

Warms regards,
Stéphane Frijia

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