Bigger, Better Innovation Showcase Spotlights Startup Ecosystem Growth

If people grew like Innovation Showcase has grown, we'd all be giants. Growing from a conference room and hallway at the Purdue Research Park with a handful speakers and companies in 2009, to what we experienced at Dallara Indycar Factory last Thursday is remarkable —  a record-breaking year in terms of attendance, sponsorship, partnerships, prize package, number of applications, number of exhibitors, and ​ticket sales. What we're really experiencing is the remarkable growth in startups, the growth in talent, and the growth in capital. 

I spoke with a number of thought and opinion leaders following the event to get their perspectives on why The Innovation Showcase is such a success and what it means for Indianapolis.
  

Janneane Blevins, Community Manager, KA+A

"The Innovation Showcase is an awesome time to reconnect and catch up with folks, meet new talent, and discover emerging startups. The event itself is an amazing convergence of entrepreneurs, investors, advisors, students — folks looking to connect, exchange, and offer support.

"I think there was definitely an energy in the room, and that Indy's startup community is absolutely thriving. We're tracking over 200 startups already on Indy Made, and we're confident our story is larger than that even. By generating the data, we hope to spark a virtuous cycle of capital, attention and growth."
  

Ting Gootee, CFA, Chief Investment Officer, Elevate Ventures

"​With the recent exits like ExactTarget that put Indiana on the venture community's radar, we are looking at tremendous opportunities for the next few years. Yesterday morning (7/10), we successfully hosted one-on-one sessions for Elevate Ventures portfolio companies and over 20 venture capitalists, most of whom were out of state. Now that we've demonstrated we can get the VCs here, we would love to work with our partners more closely and do this for the best venture companies in Indiana, and make sure these institutional investors come back more and more often."

Do you observe any Indy trends or emerging issues about which you think people should be aware? "​Patience and persistence. Entrepreneurship is hard and it's an endurance sport. I strongly encourage entrepreneurs look at outside investors as partners. Taking money is only one step at the beginning. Instead of a one-time transaction, it's a process to find the right partners and build a successful enterprise that can take years."

"This truly has been a community effort, from organizers (mostly of whom are volunteers by the way), to cash and in-kind contributors, ​not to mention exhibitors. Many people were engaged from earlier on, and resulting anticipation and participation were unbelievable!

"​Our community would really hit a new chapter, when we invite top-tier VCs from the east and west coasts like KCPB or Battery Ventures ​to attend events like the Innovation Showcase, they would say yes without any hesitation. I think that's not 10 years away. If we do this right and work together, that can happen in the next few years."
   

Changes to the event layout and schedule made for a packed and attentive crowd during the pitch competition at The Innovation Showcase. There were more than 100 people standing at the back of the room and along the sides (pictured above).

Chris Palmer, Founder, BoxFox, delivers his one-minute investor pitch during the competition.
  

Kristine Camron, Partner, Ice Miller

Have we reached a THERE point as a community that you imagined years ago? "I think we have made a TON of progress in our technology community but I am not sure we are 'there' yet. I guess it depends on how you define 'there.' I am not sure we are ever really there. There is always something we can work on. I think we will be more 'there' when you start to see more people coming to the event who are from the coasts, and Chicago and Austin, etc. Most of the folks I saw were local and they are always great to see, but we need to draw sources of capital into our state from other locations."

What is it that makes this event so fun and anticipated? "People, people, people … The technology community is such a community and there is such a great camaraderie among the folks who work in the industry — regardless of whether or not they are competitors. That is the great thing about Indiana, people truly do want to help others be successful. My hope for the future is seeing this event become more like south by southwest in Austin or other similar events around the country."
  

John Wechsler, Entrepreneur and Founder of Launch Fishers

"It's funny how times change and you don't seem to notice the incremental changes month in and month out. But if you take a minute to think about where this startup community was just a few years ago, I think we have made great strides in many areas. A notable improvement is in the connectivity area. We haven't always had multiple options or venues for meetups like we do today. With the places figured out, like The Speak Easy, DeveloperTown and Launch Fishers to name a few, I think that has given way to the faces showing up to talk shop, socialize and share business ideas. It's been amazing to watch our startup ecosystem grow up over the past 15 years.  

Did you observe any trends or emerging issues about which you think people should be aware? "Mobile is only getting bigger. Big data is exciting people. And the universities have really reached their stride in commercializing technology at scale."

What was the coolest thing or things you saw or heard? "One investor who came from two states away told me that he goes to events all the time and he doesn't see the depth of quality that he saw at this year's Innovation Showcase. He committed to eight follow-on calls with prospective investments — something he said he doesn't do lightly. Continuing to build our access to capital, from within our community and from sources outside, is a significant factor in our entrepreneurial ecosystem continuing to grow and thrive."

What is your hope or vision for the future? What's next for this community? "The continued collaboration between the ecosystem players is very exciting to me. As investors, supporters and entrepreneurs continue to work together to build the connective tissue that makes our ecosystem stronger, that leads to more opportunities for everyone.

For example:

  • Entrepreneurs sharing ideas about what investors are looking for
  • Investors co-investing in deals and collaborating on creative and innovating financing
  • Supporting organizations continuing to explore ways to grow the community

​These examples and more all work together to make our community stronger."
  

Jordan Updike, Verge Startups

"This year we had more exhibitor applications, presented more companies, and gave away more cash than ever before. The energy, the momentum and excitement coming off of big acquisitions – such as ExactTarget and Compendium – was huge. The companies, ideas and people were all better than they've ever been before, and that is evidenced not just in the uptick of Indiana investors investing capital in the state, but by the outside money (particularly California) that we're attracting."

Did you observe any trends or emerging issues about which you think people should be aware? "Besides the trend of more and more investment, I wonder if the era of apps is reaching its peak. I think we have to ask ourselves, 'Have we reached full saturation?' There are of course some incredible software companies — many at this year's showcase — and there will always be niches to fill, but to me some of the most exciting companies and ideas emerging are hardware related."

"The coolest thing I saw at Innovation Showcase was watching the pitch judges work through their deliberations to arrive at the winner. It was impressive to watch the reps of all these very different organizations working closely together to pick the best company from a pool of incredible organizations. It's great to see that sort of collaboration in the scene."

What is your hope or vision for the future? What's next for this community? "I think Mike Langellier may have said it best at the showcase. He said we need to start thinking strategically about what's next. The question is this: How do we as a community build a system and continue to encourage this kind of growth outside or beyond the life of the people and the companies around today?"
  

Isaac "Ike" Willett, Partner  at Faegre Baker Daniels and Venture Club of Indiana President

How does this year compare to last and/or other years? "The amount of interest and energy behind the innovation showcase has been increasing year over year. That trend continued in a big way this year. The amount of collaboration among organizations that went on in planning this year's showcase was unprecedented. That's a great step in the right direction and we need to capitalize on this experience and the momentum it generated. I think it really gets back to Verge, Venture Club, VisionTech, TechPoint, Elevate Ventures, IU and Purdue and others working together to put together such a great program. Those efforts are creating a really positive environment for innovation. 

What is your hope or vision for the future? What's next for this community? Increasing collaboration between the organizations I listed above and others dedicated to the common cause of supporting entrepreneurship and innovation. 

Indianapolis truly owes a debt of gratitude to the Venture Club of Indiana, Verge Startups, VisionTech Partners and the numerous community partners and sponsors who make The Innovation Showcase possible. The level of cooperation among all of the different organizations that pitched in this year to make the event better than ever was inspiring, and I believe we've arrived at a new normal for how this community approaches startup events.

What impressions do you have to share about last week's Innovation Showcase? What did you find most interesting and what is your hope for the future? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joshua Hall is editor of techpoint.org. He writes about Indiana tech companies, jobs, people & events. @joshua2349