Indiana bill enhances rural areas for young entrepreneurs

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Let’s face it, the scores of small towns dotting the Hoosier landscape aren’t exactly magnets for young entrepreneurs aspiring to build companies.

But a bill introduced by Sue Ellspermann, R-Ferdinand, and signed by Gov. Mitch Daniels March 22, could help stem the tide of population and job losses plaguing so many communities.

“It’s not going to solve world hunger, but it might create 50 to 100 new businesses,” she said. “If one in 100 becomes a large company, that would be fabulous.”

The legislation, introduced as House Bill 1251, mandates the Indiana Economic Development Corp. to establish a young entrepreneurs program. It would promote business proposals of graduates of entrepreneurship programs at certain state universities by conducting an annual “auction” in which communities would bid to host their startup.

The program costs virtually nothing to launch, which might have influenced the unanimous votes in both the House and Senate favoring the legislation.

IEDC spokeswoman Blair West said the agency is on board with the proposal.

“I think the universities have been very supportive of this,” she said. “We’re quite accustomed to partnering with them on economic development projects.”

Indeed, the bill was backed by Ball State, Indiana and Purdue universities, and the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville—Ellspermann’s employer.

Ball State and IU offer majors in entrepreneurship, while Purdue and USI offer minors.

As director of USI’s center for applied research, which Ellspermann founded in 2006, she pairs faculty, staff and students with companies in need of research data.

The University of Southern Indiana introduced an entrepreneurship minor two years ago. But what most entrepreneurship programs lack, Ellspermann asserted, is guidance after graduation.

“If you were in any other major—education or business—you would go to the placement office,” she said. “But there is no mechanism today to encourage those students to start those businesses.”

That’s where Ellspermann thinks her plan can help graduates no more than three years removed from an entrepreneurship program.

They would submit their business plans annually to IEDC, which would review them to ensure legitimacy. IEDC then would invite community and economic development leaders from across the state to hear student pitches including a list of preferred locations.

Officials from listed communities, in turn, would create a bid package to lure a potential business to their city. Office space, fiber-optic availability or simple geographic needs might help recruit a startup, Ellspermann said.

Professors at IU’s Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and Ball State University’s Entrepreneurship Center support the concept but expressed a few concerns.

Mark Long, a clinical professor at IU’s Johnson Center, is a former president and CEO of the Indiana University Emerging Technologies Center, the Indianapolis location where fledgling companies attempt to turn research into products and services.

What’s particularly vexing for Long is, how would the smaller communities targeted by Ellspermann’s bill compete with the bigger cities for the entrepreneurs, which may be more alluring to young business owners?

And even if they do set up shop in, say, Bedford or Paoli, will they stay? Long wondered.

“How are you going to keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen the big city; well, then what?” he asked. “It’s great in theory, but how will this really be executed and really play out?”

Ellspermann argued that the state’s Office of Community and Rural Affairs, which provides resources and technical assistance to small communities, has offered to support the towns in their efforts to attract new business.

Still, a company’s success rests on the old adage—location, location, location, said Susan Clark Muntean, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Ball State.

“If it’s taking them away from where they need to be for business reasons, it could cause them to fail,” she said.

Ultimately, Ellspermann conceded, if the program fails to deliver tangible results, the IEDC can pull its support.

Ellspermann’s home county of Dubois boasted a healthy 6.6-percent unemployment rate in January—the fifth-lowest in the state. By comparison, the state’s overall rate was 9.1 percent.

Corporations such as Ferdinand-based residential upholstery manufacturer Best Home Furnishings Inc., as well as furniture and electronics manufacturer Kimball International Inc. and Jasper Engines & Transmissions, both in Jasper, have kept the county’s unemployment rate in check, Ellspermann said.

Still, smaller towns in her district such as Huntingburg, Rockport and Tell City continue to lose population, she maintained.

“Bringing that high-intellect, 25-year-old in to start a business could help,” she said.•


  • Kaufman Foundation - Collaboration
    I recently participated in a 1 Million Cup session sponsored by the Kaufman Foundation in Kansas City, MO. It would be great to have the kind of support for all entrepreneurs in Indiana.
  • From the "YOUNG"
    Hi, I'm a young entrepreneur and recent graduate of an entrepreneurship program. I will be applying for this wonderful opportunity, and I am extremely thankful for the opportunity. This program is not exactly "age limiting", but rather "experience limiting". It is designed for the those with recent training at a university, from any age bracket. Unfortunately it does exclude those not educated at a university, or informally trained in apprenticeships, the older alumni, university entrepreneurs not enrolled in a program, and the very young entrepreneurs who are pre-college. I am very grateful for the opportunity, it is a once in a lifetime chance. I will continue to advocate for programs like this for all entrepreneurs, and pray that opportunities like this become common in Indiana as we celebrate the innovator, the tinkerer, and the entrepreneur.

  • Yes, Only the Young
    Denver, I DO think the proposed plan is meant to be age limiting. The whole article is dotted with words like "young", "students", "universities", and even the sentence "...Ellspermann thinks her plan can help graduates no more than three years removed from an entrepreneurship program". Denver, your enthusiasm is evident in your comment, but the article is pretty clear that this is age discriminitory. As JC stated..."only the young". Such a shame.
  • love
    me and my friend are working on a project for school. were focusing on rural.
  • Interesting
    Too bad we do not have a forward looking EDC that is on top of this one.
  • Open Opportunity
    JC, I don't think the purposed plan is meant to be age limiting. Being an entrepreneur is, as it sounds like you know, about ideas, hard work and dedication. Being backed by state universities, I'm sure there will be a slant in targeted participants towards recent college graduates, but there is still a lot of opportunity to be had by ANY entrepreneur. I'm definitely curious to learn/hear more about a town's interest in hosting/bidding for these companies and plans for keeping them local once established but there's clear potential.
  • Age bracket only!
    Nice, But, another age descrimination application.
    Only the "Young"

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  1. The east side does have potential...and I have always thought Washington Scare should become an outlet mall. Anyone remember how popular Eastgate was? Well, Indy has no outlet malls, we have to go to Edinburgh for the deep discounts and I don't understand why. Jim is right. We need a few good eastsiders interested in actually making some noise and trying to change the commerce, culture and stereotypes of the East side. Irvington is very progressive and making great strides, why can't the far east side ride on their coat tails to make some changes?

  2. Boston.com has an article from 2010 where they talk about how Interactions moved to Massachusetts in the year prior. http://www.boston.com/business/technology/innoeco/2010/07/interactions_banks_63_million.html The article includes a link back to that Inside Indiana Business press release I linked to earlier, snarkily noting, "Guess this 2006 plan to create 200-plus new jobs in Indiana didn't exactly work out."

  3. I live on the east side and I have read all your comments. a local paper just did an article on Washington square mall with just as many comments and concerns. I am not sure if they are still around, but there was an east side coalition with good intentions to do good things on the east side. And there is a facebook post that called my eastside indy with many old members of the eastside who voice concerns about the east side of the city. We need to come together and not just complain and moan, but come up with actual concrete solutions, because what Dal said is very very true- the eastside could be a goldmine in the right hands. But if anyone is going damn, and change things, it is us eastside residents

  4. Please go back re-read your economics text book and the fine print on the February 2014 CBO report. A minimum wage increase has never resulted in a net job loss...

  5. The GOP at the Statehouse is more interested in PR to keep their majority, than using it to get anything good actually done. The State continues its downward spiral.