Celebrating 15 years of innovation

April 17th, 2015

News Coverage:

Celebrating 15 years of innovation

Posted: Thursday, April 16, 2015 11:00 pm

By Doug LeDuc

The development of a nurturing environment for tech startups was not left to chance in northeast Indiana. Leaders who considered it vital to the region’s economic future were working on it more than 15 years ago.

Allen County, the city of Fort Wayne, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne and the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce came together as founding partners of the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center, which formed in December 1999.

The NIIC’s president and CEO, Karl LaPan, was hired and the 55 acres for its current location at Stellhorn and Hobson roads in Fort Wayne was acquired the next year.

It opened a temporary location in unused Raytheon Co. space in 2001, and among that facility’s early tenants was Zoom, an intelligent transportation systems business run by Mike Fritsch, who founded its forerunner company, The Mainz Group.

Tenants had access to the Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence, which NIIC launched in 2002 with a grant from the Cole Foundation to offer guidance such as business development coaching and tips on raising money or creating a business plan.

At the time, “there was nothing like this around that really provided support for an entrepreneur,” Fritsch said. In addition to the help NIIC provided, the facility was a great place to brainstorm with other tech entrepreneurs.

“You could get advice and see how the other people did it and even partner with other companies to go after projects you couldn’t have gone after yourself,” he said.

As a founding board member who served among its directors for at least a dozen years, Fritsch has seen NIIC grow from 10 tenants to 20 when it opened a 33,000-square-foot expansion building in 2009, to 48 tenants in what is known today as one of the nation’s premier business incubators and technology parks.

When NIIC started its 15th year of operation last December, it had helped almost 125 resident ventures and supported the creation of more than 675 jobs.

NIIC’s website said it has helped more than 100 innovative ventures grow at an average rate of 79 percent compounded annually. NIIC clients have obtained or applied for more than 122 patents, LaPan said.

Fritsch became NIIC’s entrepreneur-in-residence late in 2012.

“It’s one of the best jobs in the world because you basically get to help people achieve their dreams,” he said. “People come in every day and say, ‘I’ve got this idea and haven’t got any money. How can I make it?’”


When: 11:30 a.m. April 21

Where: Parkview Mirro Center

More info: (260) 407-6442 or www.niic.net/ideasatwork

NIIC will look back on 15 years of entrepreneurial success on April 21 during a community entrepreneurship celebration it is calling its second annual Ideas@Work event in the new Parkview Mirro Center for Research and Innovation.

“Dr. Mike Mirro, as our founding board chair, was, and continues to be, a driving force in entrepreneurship and innovation in northeast Indiana,” LaPan said in a statement. “The new center named in his family’s honor personifies his lifelong dedication to excellence in health care innovation and entrepreneurship.

“It is also special for all of us that Chuck Surack of Sweetwater Sound is our keynote speaker. He has been a huge personal and corporate supporter of the non-profit community including the entrepreneurial endeavors in northeast Indiana.”

NIIC will unveil an interactive time line at the event offering a sampling of about 15 client success stories. Clients featured in the time line will include Allied Payment Network’s Ralph Marcucculli, Aptera Software’s Conrad Ehinger and T.K. Herman and BioPoly’s Herb and Sheila Schwartz.

LaPan hopes sharing the stories will help everyone at the event understand there is no one path to entrepreneurial success, he said.

Because most people in the area have become familiar with the success of Sweetwater Sound, Surack was asked to share a little about the lessons learned by finding a way past the obstacles he had to overcome as he was developing it into the biggest online retailer of musical instruments and equipment.

“Chuck is an entrepreneur who gives back to the community and cares deeply about providing the kind of service in his industry you ordinarily wouldn’t find,” LaPan said.

NIIC wants Ideas@Work to celebrate young people from the area who take the risks associated with proceeding down an entrepreneurial path and it wants to underscore the importance of entrepreneurship as a career option in the community, he said.

In addition to raising funds and awareness to help entrepreneurs, NIIC plans to share information about a new mentorship program at the event and invite participation in it.

“Entrepreneurs need mentors, advisory boards, personal coaching, access to financing and the wealth of experience that northeast Indiana has aplenty,” LaPan said the statement.

The region’s business community will be able to meet and interact with NIIC’s current clients at the event.