The last year ended up being a great history lesson for me in Indy’s technology growth that really began with Software Artistry. Meeting established tech leaders in the city coupled with the incredible information that was a by-product of the inaugural M-Tech was eye opening. Very cool stuff, but it got me thinking about the importance of that first step and what needs to happen next if a city wants to truly be a hotbed for innovative startups.
Getting started is one thing, but how do leverage that start? What does it take for a city to be a conduit for entrepreneurs that breed innovation like cities known for it today (Boston, Silicon Valley, Austin)? And does Indy have the right ingredients?
Breaking it down, I think it takes a combination of culture, collaboration, execution, and momentum. Those four things have to exist together—and work together—to create an environment where innovation is not only possible, but nurtured to reality.
When they’re all working, you see new ideas turning into successful startups, funded by experienced investors, and built around true value creation with an eye on market disruption. The last couple decades this city took many steps big and small. It achieved many great things that have brought us to a critical point. We have established momentum and as that momentum continues to grow, more success stories not only become possible, but more likely.
Breaking these ingredients down shows how far we have come and the opportunities that lie ahead.
In order for culture to really thrive, it needs to have a vision of the future with a group of people inspired to make it a reality. Mitch Daniels, our former governor, was one of those individuals who put a lot of focus on laying the foundation for a culture that would make it easier for entrepreneurs.
During his tenure, the state streamlined its permitting processes while improving tax credits for R&D, new patents and assembling venture capital. He worked towards making employing Hoosiers as affordable as possible by lowering taxes and cutting regulations. Governor Daniels believed that Indiana should foster entrepreneurship, and that through entrepreneurship was one of the best ways to strengthen the state’s financial standing, i.e. job growth. These are very important items that all foster a culture.
In addition to having a Governor helping entrepreneurs overcome the obstacle that is sometimes the government, local leaders of organizations such as Software Artistry, Aprimo, Interactive Intelligence, ExactTarget, Angie’s List, etc. were bringing the culture of innovation to life and making it real.
Even with a culture in place, an environment has to exist where those like-minded people can come together to let innovation happen. You’ve seen this in Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin, and other cities where a startup environment exists. The companies outlined above have shown what is possible and that this city had the talent to support them. This success breads excitement and a belief in what is possible.
This community is excited about startups, the potential for turning an idea into a reality, and the opportunities that come with it in a way that I have never seen before. And to foster that excitement, we have groups like Verge, the Speakeasy, Techpoint, and the Orr Fellowship. Entrepreneurs can come together in these places, exchange ideas, make connections, and begin to take those all-important first steps. It also provides a platform for experienced tech leaders to share their stories, lessons learned, and ideas on the future. That’s where and when innovation really occurs.
We’re fortunate here in Indy. We’ve been able to watch successful companies like ExactTarget grow up. We saw the reality of a great company being built and how starting with a focus on dry cleaners can evolve into working with Fortune 100 companies. We were also able to watch the entire business game from idea to IPO to acquisition. It’s a great way to understand exactly what proper execution looks like. How lucky to have a company that was willing to share so much along the way for us as a city to learn!
ExactTarget and the others who had similar cycles of successes have caused us to have more tech people in our culture who now filter back into new startups. We have a burgeoning group of Angels and Venture Capitalists with experience, education, and money, which enables more innovation to occur. These ‘students’ are now the teachers who understand how to innovate, but more importantly how to execute upon an innovative idea.
Nothing starts perfectly—it’s an important lesson that is often lost. What’s most important is getting started. Those of us who are in the game of business understand that. It’s about trudging forward. Forward movement and momentum are what foster innovation and ultimately success.
Momentum is what creates direct flights to San Francisco and gets investors from all over the world more engaged in the Indianapolis community. Momentum creates the first ever M-Tech conference in Indy helping to stake our claim as the Marketing Technology Capital of World. Momentum helps to put Orr Fellows in exciting starts ups that offer greater opportunities than ever existed before. The cycle continues!
Innovation is alive and growing in Indianapolis. Every step is a bigger step towards the next big idea. What’s coolest is the fact that every time we think we’ve seen the next big thing, something bigger comes along. Success breeds success and Indy is certainly now in that cycle of innovation thanks to some pretty big momentum. So, thanks to the early pioneers of Indianapolis who helped lay a foundation, and to the rest of us, let’s keep it going!