NIIC to launch online entrepreneurs’ toolset

January 6th, 2017

By Doug LeDuc | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

After years of coaching entrepreneurs, the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center is developing a set of self-paced, online tools clients can use to sharpen entrepreneurial skills at their convenience online.

“For some time, the NIIC has been asked to deliver services in smaller and often more rural communities,” Karl LaPan, the Innovation Center’s president and CEO, said in an email. “This product platform allows us to do so and to combine the offerings with tele-coaching and targeted business development services and solutions. By doing so, the NIIC will deliver best in class entrepreneurial services.

“The NIIC Navigator is a game changer that will provide a combined online and in-person approach to immersive entrepreneurial training and development for developing, launching and growing an entrepreneurial venture or building out your innovative idea or team to the next level.”

The Innovation Center, located at Stellhorn and Hobson roads, plans to roll out the Navigator’s first suite of self-guided training programs during the first quarter and it doesn’t expect to see their use limited to northeast Indiana.

NIIC opened a Women’s Economic Opportunity Center in October 2015, which serves women, immigrants and other under-served groups in 83 Indiana counties. Marion and the counties surrounding it have their own organization for that purpose.

In addition to counseling and coaching, WEOC offers help with marketing, legal matters, business planning, management team development and access to capital.

It was among 85 winners across the country, and the only winner in Indiana to receive 2016’s $50,000 SBA Growth Accelerator Fund.

The contest gave special consideration to accelerator models that supported women-owned or minority-owned small businesses, and NIIC is spending some of the money from the award to build specialized content for women entrepreneurial users of the Navigator.

“We expect the product to have global appeal. The principles and fundamentals of starting and growing a business have lots of commonality and interoperability,” LaPan said. “Our platform is evidence-based entrepreneurship in action coupled with over sixteen years of delivering exceptional entrepreneurial services in our community.”

Additional financial support for operations of the Innovation Center and other certified technology parks in Indiana could become available this year through action of the state’s General Assembly, depending on its response to an item on the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce 2017 legislative agenda.

Financial support for a certified technology park through tax increment financing is limited to $5 million, but the local chamber and NIIC would like to see it become a renewable funding source for a park meeting performance standards.

“Resetting the limit every four years when a park is re-certified supports those that are highly functioning, while providing accountability for tech parks in general,” Melissa Beber, Greater Fort Wayne director of business advocacy, said in an email. “This rewards those that are doing well by letting them keep the funding they have, instead of cutting off all TIF funding for the life of the park once a certain limit is reached.”

Building entrepreneurial capacity and delivering service excellence requires specialized resources and expertise, and the TIF funding provides this, LaPan said.

The TIF funding “provides sustainability for the operations of the park, offers investment for state-of-the-art infrastructure, and allows for the creation of entrepreneurial programs and services, including providing expertise and onsite staffing resources and support,” he said.

By encouraging entrepreneurial activity and nurturing tech startups, technology parks can make an important contribution to economic growth in the regions they serve, said Eric Doden, CEO of Greater Fort Wayne.

The three main sources of local job creation include growing local businesses, relocating outside businesses to the community, and starting new businesses in the community, Doden said. Stimulating entrepreneurial activity is an important part of that work, he said.