By Tony Armstrong, president and CEO, Indiana University Research and Technology Corp.
When Elevate Ventures launched its two-day Kinetic conference in early May, its goal was to further develop the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Indianapolis and across Indiana. With this in mind, leaders at Elevate Ventures brought together a strong group of speakers for the event: community leaders, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.
This assortment of speakers would normally suffice for any program that centers on entrepreneurship. But to the credit of Elevate Ventures, another group of experts was brought into the mix: representatives from higher education. Indiana is strong with the quantity and quality of its institutions of higher education, and several—including Indiana University—are recognized among the nation’s leaders in encouraging entrepreneurship among faculty, students, staff and alumni. Encouraging entrepreneurship strengthens the odds that small businesses across the state will succeed, which grows the number of jobs for the workforce and diversifies the economy, which could keep the state strong should any one sector experience difficult times.
I spoke on a panel titled “Higher Ed Partnerships Boost Entrepreneurship” at Kinetic. The panel also included Richard Fetter of Butler University, John Hanak of Purdue Ventures and James Thompson of IDEA Center at the University of Notre Dame. I found this balance — two public universities, two private — very interesting. All are working to help commercialize university-owned intellectual property and support entrepreneurship, but the methods are different across all four.
This makes sense. IU is a leader in the state for architecture, the arts, business, computer science, health care, informatics, law, life sciences, public health, public policy and other disciplines thanks to the faculty, staff and students in our top-ranked schools. Because of these strengths, IU is going to develop tactics and strategies to support entrepreneurship that are different from those at other universities in the state. But each of the aforementioned universities is leveraging its abilities.
At IU, that means developing opportunities for successful alumni to network with entrepreneurially minded faculty, staff and students by creating the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund. It also means refurbishing the Spin Up program, which offered business services in a “startup in a box” model.
Elevate Ventures had it right: venture capitalists, angel investors and community leaders are of paramount importance to encourage entrepreneurship throughout the state of Indiana. But institutions of higher education like Butler, Notre Dame, Purdue and Indiana University often are right in the middle of where innovation happens and support is provided.