Local startup culture is fertile ideas field where ‘next big thing’ may sprout

The Herald-Times

Local startup culture is fertile ideas field where ‘next big thing’ may sprout
Grow your own

By Rod Spaw 331-4338 | rspaw@heraldt.com
June 23, 2012

Everybody has ideas; entrepreneurs act on them. These days, entrepreneurship is where the action is in Bloomington.

In informal meetings at coffee houses, at structured gatherings around catered food and drink or during intense weekends of brainstorming and collaboration, a community has developed around the nexus of ideas, talent and investment.

“There’s something in it for everybody,” said Junaid Kalmadi, one of the founders of monthly BloomTech meetings for prospective entrepreneurs. “They want to fix something; they have an idea; they are seeking people who want to be part of something.”

Pursuing dreams, solving problems, finding partners, chasing money — participants in Bloomington’s “startup culture” have a multitude of motivations.

Any one of them could plant the business seed that grows into the next ExactTarget, an Indianapolis-based interactive marketing company that was founded in 2000 with an investment of $200,000. Now with offices around the world, ExactTarget reported $64.1 million in revenue during the first quarter of 2012, and its stock market launch in March was the exact opposite of Facebook’s — ExactTarget’s stock rose 32 percent on the first day of public trading.

The next big thing

Perhaps the next big thing will come from Henry Graves, whose idea for a social media website for fishing enthusiasts won a Startup Bloomington Weekend competition in May.

Graves said he spent every available moment fishing or thinking about fishing while growing up in South Holland, Ill. He was so passionate about the sport that he memorized all of the Illinois state fishing records and had considered becoming a professional fisherman after high school.

However, he said, his father had a different vision for his son, and Graves ended up at Indiana University in Bloomington, where he obtained a degree in finance. That’s where he met Winston Kotzan, of East Chicago, a fellow member of IU’s Undergraduate Finance Club, and his future partner in CatchMyLunker.com.

Graves said the concept for a Facebook-like website for anglers came to him in 2007. His idea was to create a site on the Internet where fishermen and fisherwomen could post photos and information about their catches, organized by lake and region, so that other anglers could research fishing hot spots online and network with one another. Revenue would come from advertising purchased by fishing guide services, equipment manufacturers and fishing shops.

Now living and working in Indianapolis, Graves’ Startup Bloomington presentation in May included a prototype mobile application, market data and feedback from potential advertisers.

Graves said he and Kotzan plan to launch the website at the end of July after pitching their idea at Verge, an Indianapolis group that functions much like BloomTech as a place to meet other entrepreneurs and to share experiences.

Start up your engines

Start-up events around the country are an outgrowth of Startup America, a nonprofit organization launched in early 2011 to direct resources and expertise to new companies as a way to stimulate job creation. The organization now claims to have more than 7,500 member startup companies that provide more than 44,000 full-time jobs and 19,000 part-time jobs.

There is a Startup event somewhere every weekend that brings together people with ideas and people with skills to help those ideas become businesses. At the most recent Bloomington Startup Weekend, presenters hailed from Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Terre Haute, as well as the immediate Bloomington area. No one seems too concerned about somebody stealing their inspiration.

“If you don’t share your idea, it will die because it will be stuck in your head,” said Grant Carlile, another BloomTech founder. “If you thought of it, you are probably in the best position to pursue it. If you want to get your idea moving, share it, get feedback and start the business.”

Here’s how a Startup Weekend works: Participants “pitch” their ideas to those assembled on Friday evening, who then vote on which one should move forward during the weekend. Teams form around the selected ideas to provide development support. A panel of judges hears final presentations from the teams on Sunday and announce winners.

Matt Burris attended his first Startup event last November; he was one of the organizers of the May event.

“Everybody’s willing to help because they’ve all needed help,” said Burris, a principal in RT6 Engineering, a start-up whose business is product design and development. “Everybody in that community loves talking about the next new idea.”

Talking and networking

BloomTech is a place where those conversations take place on a monthly basis. The evening meetings are mostly networking affairs with food and drink, but the program usually includes a pitch of a new idea and advice from at least one entrepreneur who has tread the path of small business creation.

At the May meeting, for example, Graves presented his concept for the ultimate fishing website. Then, Logan Rush of 1 point interactive, a company specializing in website design and email services, explained how he went from being an intern at Angie’s List to executive vice president of his own business.

Finally, Bill West talked about his own experiences as an online innovator and entrepreneur. West was founder and president of Option Six, a successful e-learning company based in Bloomington. West told the Bloomtech audience how he took out two mortgages on his home to start Option Six for $100,000 and then sold it eight years later for $6 million. Now, West has started Silicon Quarry, a product and business development company, also based in Bloomington. He told the Bloomtech crowd that his new company was seeking other entrepreneurs who are “looking for a place to grow their ideas.”

An environment for entrepreneurs to connect with creative people was precisely what Carlile, Kalmadi and other BloomTech organizers had in mind when they formed the group, whose first meeting was in February of 2011. Attendance soared this spring when the group moved from a coffeehouse on Kirkwood Avenue to a larger venue, KRC Catering on College Avenue; the turnout went from 35 people in March to 120 people in April and 65 people in May.

“My motivation was to bring together a community,” said Carlile. “It’s always been about empowering people to do what they’re passionate about.”

Resources

Perhaps the next big thing will walk in the door of the Gayle and Bill Cook Center for Entrepreneurship at Ivy Tech Bloomington.

The center was established in 2010 to build a curriculum for entrepreneurship at the community college, but it also serves as a resource for people wishing to start their own business.

Executive director Steve Bryant said the staff has talked with probably 150 individuals in the past year and half about their business ideas.

“We have a pretty good entrepreneurial culture,” he said. “We have a lot of people with good ideas who are running around looking for people with like minds.”

Bryant said the center can offer advice to people who want to start a business and direct them to other places for assistance, such as the Indiana Small Business Development Center, the chamber of commerce or the Bloomington Economic Development Corp. The center hosted a Startup Weekend event last November and intends to do so again this fall.

“People are following an idea and seeing what happens; that’s what these meetups and Startup Weekends are all about,” he said. “Before dumping a bunch of money into something, get an idea out there, get some quick feedback and find some resources.”


Startup America: A national initiative to create jobs by enabling new businesses (www.s.co)

Startup Indiana: Information about new startup companies and events in Indiana (http://indianastartup.com)

BloomTech: Monthly networking meeting for local entrepreneurs www.meetup.com/BloomTech

Verge: A community of tech entrepreneurs, software developers and business investors in Indianapolis. Find out what’s happening at vergestartups.com.

Gayle and Bill Cook Center for Entrepreneurship: Resources and consulting services for entrepreneurs (www.ivytech.edu/bloomington/entrepreneurship)

Copyright: HeraldTimesOnline.com 2012

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