State's latest startup: Startup Indiana

April 20, 2012
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Indianapolis’ startup community has emerged from the coffee shop and exploded into the mainstream, proving the American dream is alive and well despite our recent economic nightmares.

Case(s) in point: Networking group Verge draws hundreds of young tech entrepreneurs to monthly meetings where they exchange business cards and ideas. The 5,750-square-foot Speak Easy venue—billed as a “Moose Lodge for geeks”—serves as a gathering space for the in crowd. And business-ownership classes offered in community centers around the city are attracting more participants than ever before.

Now entrepreneurs have another tool at their disposal. On April 25, local organizers will launch Startup Indiana, a regional affiliate of the Startup America Partnership.

The national initiative aims to “dramatically increase the development, prevalence and success of innovative, high-growth U.S. firms,” White House officials said in announcing the project in January 2011.

Startup America is led by Scott Case, founding chief technology officer of Priceline.com. The partnership brings together entrepreneurs, funders and other leaders to help promising startups succeed.

Business owners apply for membership and then gain access to an array of resources, including more than $1 billion in funding and services donated by national partners like Intel Capital and IBM.

“It’s a national voice for the startup community,” said Matt Hunckler, president of Verge and the chief organizer of Startup Indiana.

The regional offshoots—Indiana will be the 20th after Kentucky launches Friday—serve the same purpose on a local level, nurturing startups and uniting the state’s entrepreneurial community.

The state already has plenty of success stories to emulate, Hunckler said, citing newly public tech firm ExactTarget and consumer ratings agency Angie’s List. But obstacles nevertheless remain, and he wants Startup Indiana to help entrepreneurs navigate them.

“What are the biggest pain points?” he said. “I have some ideas, but we need to map the startup landscape and figure out what the main issues are. From there, I hope our team will be able to find solutions.”

Although Verge focuses on tech startups, Hunckler said Startup America is more inclusive, targeting “any small business that has potential to be a big business.”

Finding funding and talent can be challenges in all kinds of businesses, and Hunckler said Startup Indiana’s ties to the national initiative will provide a deeper pool of resources for local entrepreneurs.

The connection to other startup regions also could give organizers a feel for the issues other communities are facing—and how they’re resolving them. Such “coop-etition,” as Hunckler calls the friendly rivalry, provides valuable insight.

“Ultimately, we want our community to be the nation’s premier startup community,” he said.

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