Indy fund manager elevating entrepreneurship across Indiana | Crain's Indianapolis

Indy fund manager elevating entrepreneurship across Indiana

Elevate Ventures in 2016 strengthened partnerships with communities such as South Bend, where it offered matching funds toward local efforts to boost an entrepreneurial infrastructure. | Photo by Chris O’Malley/Crain’s Indianapolis

Indianapolis-based Elevate Ventures in 2016 dispensed more than $16 million, burnishing its portfolio of promising companies from CloudOne to Springbuk.

But Elevate CEO Christopher LaMothe said he’s particularly stoked about progress in forging deeper ties with communities around Indiana, to cultivate and fund entrepreneurism.

Such partnerships “hopefully will generate a lot more interest in entrepreneurship, early stage capital and growth,” LaMothe said.

On the surface, focusing on individual regions may seem of benefit only to those far-flung parts of the Indiana, outside of Indianapolis. But Elevate’s concept is that regional efforts also benefit the state as a whole.

Say, for instance, that a number of new companies sprout in one region. Investors in another part of Indiana suddenly have a promising new platter of companies to fund in hopes of generating returns.

Or, this new patch of entrepreneurs may have something of value to other Indiana companies — possibly resulting in partnerships or vendor opportunities.

Matching funds

Perhaps Elevate’s biggest accomplishment in regional partnerships during 2016 was forging a deeper relationship in the South Bend-Elkhart market.

For years, Elevate provided technical assistance to entrepreneurs in the region and had invested over $2 million into companies there, including South Bend customer-insight software firm Vennli.

But in October, Elevate committed $1.5 million over three years as a match to $1 million raised by investors in North Central Indiana. The funds will go toward initiatives to support the regional entrepreneur ecosystem — available for such things as pitch events, marketing and investments in promising companies.

“This partnership will enable us to provide innovation and business assistance services to help existing entrepreneurial companies accelerate their growth,” said Regina Emberton, CEO of South Bend-based Michiana Partnership.

And, she said, it will “provide business incubation services to help startup companies become established.”

Future regional investments by Elevate will be similar to a model of the Elevate Purdue Foundry Fund, established in 2015.  The pre-seed stage fund has awarded $1.06 million to 44 Purdue-affiliated companies, at $20,000 apiece.

Elevate, a nonprofit investment group that manages the state’s 21st Century Research and Technology Fund, will make regional investments through its newly created Community Fund. It totals about $2 million.

It will provide pre-seed capital to ideation-stage entrepreneurs in up to 10 communities. Currently, Elevate is focusing on four geographic regions: South Bend, Fort Wayne, Jeffersonville and Evansville/Jasper.

Perfect timing

In the South Bend region, Elevate’s deeper participation comes at an opportune time. The region, just a few hours north of Indianapolis, has been long trying to recover from a decline in manufacturing.

“It’s been chipping away at an economic comeback for 50 years,” said Shane Fimbel, chief operating officer at South Bend-based data center Global Access Point. He’s also a member of Michiana’s 19-member entrepreneurship committee.

Late in 2015, St. Joseph, Elkhart and Marshall counties won a $42 million grant through the Indiana Regional Cities Initiative.

That grant served as a lightning rod for the region, helping regional leaders “really rally around a common goal,” Fimbel said.

The Regional Development Authority was formed, providing further focus around goals including greater entrepreneurship and workforce development.

Entrepreneurship efforts started to gel in the region about five years ago, said Fimbel. It’s seen a critical mass of entrepreneurs occupying spaces such as the city’s former Union Station, where Global Access Point is the major tenant.

Also, the former Studebaker plant, now known as a Renaissance District, has 1.3 million square feet of space spread over 30 acres and could house 3,000 tech workers over the next decade.

There’s also Notre Dame’s Innovation Park, which has long been a hotbed for innovation.

“It’s all about creating gravity — building a density of people with a density of purpose,” Fimbel said.

Regional specialties

While regions such as Indianapolis have earned a national reputation for IT companies — particularly marketing software — South Bend is becoming a hotbed for civic innovations.

Its new sewer system has $6 million in high-tech controls that allow it to operate more efficiently, and it has become a model for other cities. Companies in the region also have been working on innovations such as smart lighting.

The region still has metalworking capabilities, via automotive and recreational vehicle suppliers. Those sectors could be married with high-tech applications for the development of robotics or advanced manufacturing.

“All the ingredients are here,” Fimbel said.

With Elevate boosting its commitment to the region, “Chris LaMothe and his team are owed a great deal of gratitude for their efforts,” Fimbel added.

Elevate’s goals include providing more resources from outside the community. It recently established three web portals that give entrepreneurs a place to access knowledge, potential talent and investors.

“Hopefully the traffic will begin building,” LaMothe said.

Elevate also is looking at ways to attract more capital from outside the state and match it with entrepreneurs who often go unnoticed. Indiana already enjoys low taxes, less regulation and a lower cost of living than some surrounding states, LaMothe said.

“I’m actually very excited for the long-term prospects for Indiana as a center for entrepreneurial activity,” he said.

January 11, 2017 - 7:43pm