By: Todd Saxton
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of participating in the Innovation Showcase. For those not familiar with the event, the Innovation Showcase brings together today’s and tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, investors, service providers, and others for education, pitching, networking, and celebrating the entrepreneurial spirit. The event, held at the Dallara IndyCar facility, saw record numbers of attendees and pitches, and a prize package valued at over $125,000, including over $50,000 in cash investment.
This year incorporated several innovations in format and delivery. VisionTech Angel Partners, a statewide network of angel investors, joined the Venture Club and Verge to co-host the event. VisionTech* and the Kelley School organized a morning educational program. Panels including experienced angel investors and venture capitalists from around the country provided perspective and advice for both entrepreneurs and investors alike. Kelley faculty led a session on success factors and fundable milestones entrepreneurs must consider when launching and growing their ventures — and investors should consider when evaluating investment opportunities. The “Shark Tank” format included critiques of six different ventures, with audience interaction on likes and dislikes.
The afternoon session primarily centered around 75 or so entrepreneur pitches. Conducted in rapid-fire format, founders had one minute to sell the audience on their ideas. At 55 seconds the dreaded handclap started, signaling the end of their time on stage. From trumpet playing to eating dog treats to poster boards standing in for a PowerPoint deck, entrepreneurs creatively and energetically shared their passions. If you thought it would be impossible to have 70+ entrepreneurs pitch effectively in less than 90 minutes you would have been sorely mistaken!
Kelley played a major role in the Showcase — from being a Platinum Sponsor as part of IU’s contribution, helping organize the overall event, to leading the educational portion. We also piloted a new class, initially for our Kelley Direct students, who came in for three days of interaction, including the Showcase. They came from both coasts (Seattle, New York), the north (Canada, Minneapolis) and the south (Nashville, North Carolina) to ignite their entrepreneurial aspirations. The three days started with a reception at DeveloperTown and session on “The Titanic Effect” and hidden debt founders incur early in development, featuring Kelley alum Michael Cloran, myself, and fellow Kelley faculty member (and my wife) Kim Saxton. This was a very strong and capable group of students who will undoubtedly be contributing to their own venture ecosystems in the near future. Next year we hope to expand the opportunity to our Evening MBA students and physicians in our Business of Medicine MBA program.
It is a good time to be in the venture community in Indiana. The entrepreneurial spirit is strong, community support high, and opportunity abounds. Regulatory changes, like the JOBS act, enables non-accredited investors to invest up to $5,000 in startups for equity, a move that along with crowdfunding options opens doors for a whole new wave of investors and entrepreneurs. Money and talent from exits like Exact Target, Aprimo, and Compendium create support for the next startup generations.
What are three things YOU can do to be involved in this venture community?
- Attend an event. Groups like Verge, the Venture Club, Techpoint and BioCrossroads have multiple events for entrepreneurs and investors. Come as a guest, or join.
- Be a customer! While much of the focus of entrepreneurs is on money and team-building, it is all about getting early customers. Companies in particular can be reluctant to “hire” an entrepreneurial firm because of a lack of track record. Turn this around — innovations from new firms can be a source of differentiation and competitive advantage for your company. For example, look at how Advanced Healthcare Associates is using the clinical communications system of Indy venture Diagnotes*.
- Get educated. While enthusiasm is high and the energy contagious, there is considerable uncertainty and risk in the venture community. High failure rates abound. Being thoughtful and educated about it won’t have you batting 1.000 — but it can certainly improve your hit rate.
* Full disclosure, I am on the board of VisionTech and Diagnotes.