If Indianapolis’ startup community is on the brink of exploding, Matt Hunckler wants to light the match.
Hunckler, founder of entrepreneurial networking group Verge, is assembling some kindling this week: The inaugural Powder Keg conference aims to harness the energy and creativity he sees every day and blast Indianapolis onto the national startup scene.
Cities like Austin, Texas, and Omaha, Nebraska, draw thousands of attendees from across the country to similar gatherings of innovators, which got Hunckler thinking.
“Why not Indianapolis?” he asked.
And when the opportunity arose to link this year’s event with the last half-day of locally based ExactTarget’s massive Connections user conference, he jumped at the chance to score some big-name speakers and high-profile entertainers.
So hundreds of Powder Keg attendees will get a chance to see magician David Blaine’s keynote, for example, and hear executives from tech firms such as Twitter, FourSquare and Reddit muse on the future of interactive marketing.
Powder Keg also some impressive speakers of its own—including ExactTarget co-founders Scott Dorsey and Chris Baggott—but its signature event is Thursday’s Startup Bowl, where 12 Midwest startups will participate in a quick-pitch competition at Lucas Oil Stadium, vying for a prize package worth $15,000.
“The potential to create profitable businesses has a lot of people in the Midwest making the leap to entrepreneurial opportunities,” Hunckler said. “The Powder Keg and ‘Startup Bowl’ are our way of showing the country that this energy and momentum isn't limited to startup hubs like Silicon Valley.”
Hunckler expects Powder Keg to become an annual conference, growing in scope and scale as attendees and their businesses do.
"Entrepreneurs benefit from connecting with other like-minded individuals," he said. "Anytime you step outside your day-to-day routine, you get a different vantage point. We want people to leave with new energy and new opportunities to grow."
The Startup Bowl finalists hope to make the most of their time in the spotlight. Competitors will pitch their ideas to a panel of judges including Ting Gootee, vice president of investments at Elevate Ventures; Carla Valdes, general partner at Fortify.vc; Christopher Day, managing principal at Navidar Group; and Sonal Mane of Microsoft.
This year's finalists are:
— CoatChex, an Indianapolis-based firm that developed a ticketless coat-check system and gained national attention after turning down a $200,000 investment on the TV show “Shark Tank.”
— Diagnotes, a service that retrieves patient information directly from electronic medical records and delivers it to on-call healthcare providers through their smart phones. The Indianapolis tech firm also is a finalist in the Hoosier Healthcare Innovation Challenge.
— PetBookings, an Indianapolis-based website that offers instant confirmed online reservations to the $3.5 billion professional pet care industry.
— SquareJive, an Indianapolis-created app that allows users to quickly and spontaneously find community and social events aligned with their interests.
— Lesson.ly, a yet-to-launch online marketplace based in Indianapolis that’s similar to iTunes, but offers lessons and courses instead of songs and albums.
— VisitApps, a nascent platform from Indianapolis developers that enables convention and visitors bureaus from cities of all sizes to have their own mobile apps and engage visitors.
— Adproval, a tool for selling and manage blog sponsorships. Users can sell sponsorships directly from their blogs to sponsors they approve. Formerly known as DoubleStitchAds, the firm is based in Carmel.
— FoundOPS, a Purdue-born startup that offers route optimization, customer-relationship management, data collection and GPS tracking for field-service companies.
— Team Mash, a service based in Columbus, Ind., that sends daily e-mails to sports fanatics rounding up the latest news about their favorite teams.
— Lisnr, an app from a Cincinnati firm that "hears" the music users listen to and delivers exclusive content directly from their favorite artists.
— Modulus, a platform developed in Cincinnati that companies can use to host and scale their Internet-based applications.
— Bonfyre, an app from a St. Louis team that allows users to create private groups, or “Bonfyres,” around events to share chats and photos.
Which ideas seem like winners to you?