Fund helps elevate ideas

February 24th, 2013

News Coverage:

Published: February 24, 2013 3:00 a.m.

Fund helps elevate ideas

Statewide nonprofit offers mentors and venture capital for startups

Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette

It’s one thing to build a chassis. But it’s quite another to build a chassis manufacturing company.

Entrepreneur wannabe Robert Frost knew how to do the former, but he wanted to do the latter. So Frost turned to business experts, including Elevate Ventures Inc., for advice.

The result, Kendallville-based Wolfpack Chassis LLC, is launching a production line to manufacture chassis, the supporting frames for recreational vehicles and manufactured homes.

Frost, Wolfpack’s president and CEO, said the company might never have gotten off the ground without guidance – and greenbacks – from Elevate Ventures, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit.

“As a startup business, there are a lot of distractions that can cause you to lose sight of your target,” Frost said. “But our partnership with Elevate has allowed us to stay focused on doing what we do best, which is building quality chassis and adding value for customers.”

Created in 2011, Elevate Ventures manages $80 million for the state, including more than $34 million in federal funds received under the State Small Business Credit Initiative.

The organization helps startups with high-growth potential and second-stage ventures of high-growth companies, CEO Steve Hourigan said. That assistance can be advice, money or both.

“We don’t want to crowd out the private sector from making investments into companies,” Hourigan said. “We don’t really care if we invest or if others invest.”

In fact, Elevate Ventures’ counselors coach entrepreneurs, helping them refine pitches to attract more outside investors. One of the nonprofit’s requirements is that at least a portion of a company’s startup money come from private sources.

The fund limits investments to a few industries: advanced manufacturing, life sciences, information technology, agriculture and energy. Those industries have the highest growth potential, and jobs there pay higher wages. Also, nurturing businesses in those areas allows the U.S. to be more competitive internationally.

The goal is for the recipient company to generate annual revenues of $25 million within five years of startup.

David Corcoran and Robert Clark, two of the organization’s entrepreneurs in residence, work out of a downtown Fort Wayne office. They consulted with Frost as he developed Wolfpack Chassis.

“We provide very, very valuable consulting service,” said Corcoran, who has 15 years’ experience as an entrepreneur, including running a couple of consulting companies.

Clark has been an entrepreneur for more than 25 years.

Their guidance includes helping entrepreneurs figure out what skills they need to acquire or hire.

The advisers help some companies but hand off others to organizations including local economic development offices, the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, the Northeast Indiana Small Business Development Center, the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center and SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives.

It just depends on the type of help the budding business needs.

Some want a professional opinion on whether their business idea is viable, Corcoran said. Others are just looking for introductions, including banks that offer creative financing. That kind of advice can come from SCORE volunteers or the SBDC.

Elevate Ventures gives advice and opens its checkbook to invest in certain companies.

“We’re about trying to help companies resolve some of the liquidity issues they have,” Hourigan said.

Many of the services available overlap.

The Innovation Center also offers financial assistance, for example. But it specializes in providing office, meeting and laboratory space for entrepreneurs launching a business.

The various groups work together to help business owners. It’s not uncommon for an entrepreneur to work with more than one nonprofit group at a time.

Elevate Ventures, which employs 17, invites private partners to join its bid to bolster Hoosier entrepreneurship.

Various hospitals, utilities, banks and corporations have contributed because they want to help develop innovative companies and diversify communities’ economic base. The money collected in a region is spent in the same region.

The nonprofit organization has divided the state into nine regions. The northern third of the state was its first focus.