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Elevate Northeast Indiana seeks entrepreneurial culture shock

October 16th, 2017

By Doug LeDuc | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

In the not-to-distant future, anyone with a business startup dream will be able to go to a section of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership website and find links to the many groups operating in the area with a mission to encourage and help its entrepreneurs.

The collaborative service will be among the signs of entrepreneurial culture shock expected to sweep the region following the founding of Elevate Northeast Indiana, according to one of the new organization’s board members, Robert Clark.

Elevate Ventures is a statewide nonprofit investment and entrepreneurship development and advocacy group. Clark is its entrepreneur-in-residence who built its statewide Indiana Angel Network after creating a similar Northeast Indiana Investor Network in 2014.

Forming a partnership

Elevate and the Regional Partnership announced Oct. 2 a $2.5 million collaboration to boost entrepreneurship and innovation in the region.

The two organizations signed an agreement in April to continue their work together and advance support for the program from 2017 to 2020. The recent announcement confirmed Elevate Ventures’ contribution of $1.5 million and the Regional Partnership’s contribution of $1 million to the effort.

“The new partnership with Elevate should increase regional buy-in, and the funding opportunities for Elevate should increase collaboration throughout entrepreneurial endeavors in northeast Indiana,” John Sampson, president and CEO of the Regional Partnership, said in a statement. “This partnership leverages Elevate’s considerable startup experience with greater ownership and control by regional players with a vested interest in the growth of startup firms in northeast Indiana.”

Sampson also has served on Elevate Ventures’ advisory board for northeast Indiana.

Marilyn Moran-Townsend, CEO of CVC Communications, chairs the board of directors for Elevate Northeast Indiana, a more robust, formal continuation of Elevate Ventures’ presence and role in the region.

The group was formed “to support a fundamentally different culture here in northeast Indiana, a culture in which we are no longer siloed and risk averse, but instead we are welcoming, collaborative and barrier-breaking,” she said.

“It will take nothing less than entrepreneurial culture shock to change that. And so we are going to do that. Get ready,” she said.

Creating culture shock

In addition to the prepared statement, the agreement was announced through a media briefing at the 1st Source Building in downtown Fort Wayne, which was attended by most Elevate Northeast Indiana board members.

The board members were asked to offer brief statements on what the coming entrepreneurial culture shock would mean to them and Clark was first up.

“In the past year, there’s been a lot of friction between organizations, and now there’s going to be a lot of inclusion. And I’m looking forward to being part of this initiative moving forward,” he said.

In a later comment on the proliferation of entrepreneurial development programs in the region, Clark said there has been friction among some of the groups offering them “who don’t want to work together.”

Often groups like this will put focus on a program area where they develop special expertise. But entrepreneurs unfamiliar with their history may not immediately pick up on their particular strengths by visiting the website of each group, and could benefit from information of that nature supplied by Elevate Northeast Indiana, he said.

Building connections

Elevate Ventures already is familiar with entrepreneur development programs the groups offer and Elevate Northeast Indiana will build on that familiarity as it provides financial support for some of the programs.

Its board will determine which programs it backs, and funding or other kinds of support could go to programs of newer as well as long-established organizations. Start Fort Wayne is among the region’s newer groups of this type, and currently, “Elevate supports Start Fort Wayne,” Clark said.

Most colleges with a presence, if not a base, in the region offer entrepreneurship courses and have technology transfer programs. At least a couple, including Trine University and the Fort Wayne Campus of Ivy Tech Community College, have annual business plan competitions.

Some county-level economic development organizations also have their own programs to nurture emerging enterprises within their boarders.

The Northeast Indiana Innovation Center and the local Small Business Development Center of the U.S, Small Business Administration serve entrepreneurs on a regional basis and are among the longest-operating centers in the region established for that purpose.

The Innovation Center has a long history of coordinating its efforts with universities and the Small Business Development Center.

“The coordination and access of the services - professional resources, business coaching, marketing support and money - discussed by Elevate Ventures last night already exist in Northeast Indiana,” Karl LaPan, the NIIC’s president and CEO, said in an email.

For several months now, a number of entrepreneurial support organizations have been learning, discovering and working together in a separate effort to improve the access and coordination of entrepreneurial services, he said.

“Collaboration is an over-used buzzword, and it simply takes time to make it happen, to make it meaningful and to make it sustainable. Trust has to be built, and the 3 C’s have to be addressed for collaboration to flourish,” he said.

“Who gets the cash? Who gets the credit? Who has control? These are difficult and challenging questions and require a lot of honesty and transparency. We look forward to continuing these conversations with our colleagues in northeast Indiana as we all share the importance of putting the entrepreneur first.”

Perpetuating a misperception that these services don’t exist would be a disservice to the region’s entrepreneurs and all of the entrepreneurial support organizations delivering quality services, LaPan said.

The way Elevate Northeast Indiana has been set up, its board will decide which existing programs to support or new programs to introduce as part of a mission to build a more robust entrepreneurship ecosystem and innovation infrastructure in the region, said Chris LaMothe, Elevate Ventures CEO, in an interview.

Community investment

Of the $1 million northeast Indiana is contributing to the initiative during the next three years, $500,000 will come “back to the community that is guided by the board into supporting entrepreneurial structure, programs, activities, and even seed investment,” he said.

“And then Elevate puts in $1.5 million of program support, entrepreneur-in-residence and investment in working as a catalyst for the region.”

About $500,000 will cover the administrative costs Elevate Ventures incurs carrying out the work funded by the $1.5 million it puts in and half of the $1 million northeast Indiana puts in, LaMothe said.

“There is some of it that goes into seed and then angel funding and 21 funding, so as a startup moves up the chain of needing rounds of capital, Elevate Ventures can continue to invest with them,” he said.

Elevate Ventures has a contract with the Indiana Economic Development Association to invest money from the 21 Fund of Indiana in startup and early stage companies in the state, he said.

The 21 Fund traces its origins to the Indiana 21st Century Research and Technology Fund created by the state’s General Assembly in 1999 to diversify its economy by commercializing advanced technologies.

Regional leaders and stakeholders partnering with Elevate Ventures in its latest initiative include: Ambassador Enterprises, Fort Wayne Metals, Huntington University, Lake City Bank, Michael Davidson, Micropulse Inc., Old National Bank, Olive B. Cole Foundation Inc., Parkview Health and Ultra Electronics USSI.