Techpoint’s new leader sees room to grow: Indiana making progress, but could do better, he says

Techpoint, a locally based technology trade group that represents the interests of about 330 members statewide, is undergoing a transition in leadership. Jim Jay, 37, has been named interim CEO following the resignation of Cameron Carter, who has led the organization since 2003.

Directors should begin a formal search for a permanent replacement the first of the year. Whether Jay lands the top job remains to be seen. But in the meantime, the Butler University graduate with an entrepreneurial spirit took time to introduce himself to IBJ readers and lay out the organization’s goals and vision.

IBJ’s interview with Jay took place just days before Techpoint officials admitted they were discussing a possible merger with BioCrossroads parent Central Indiana Corporate Partnership.

IBJ: Before ascending to CEO, you served as chief operating officer. When did you arrive at Techpoint and what is your career background?

JAY: I’ve been at Techpoint for 2-1/2 years. Shortly after the merger between [the Indiana Technology Partnership] and [the Indiana Information Technology Association], I was asked by the board to come help smooth out the merger and put Techpoint on a course for growth and stabilization.

I’ve worked with companies that need executive management and strategy help and focus. I’ve also been involved in a couple of different startups and have ownership interest in a couple of different companies. So my background is both entrepreneurial as well as large corporate. I worked for Anthem and a subsidiary of Anthem. I’ve been involved in political campaigns (he ran Scott Newman’s first bid for Marion County prosecutor) as well as owning my own companies. So I’ve run the gamut from very large to bootstrap operations.

The interests of my companies have been technology-related and service-related that are Indianapolis-based. My passion for entrepreneurship fits very well with what TechPoint is doing.

IBJ: What skills helped you land the CEO position and how did your experience as COO prepare you to lead TechPoint?

JAY: As you can imagine, in a small organization, we are exposed to doing a lot of different things all the time. This is really a seamless transition. My predecessor [Cameron Carter] has done a great job putting a very strong legislative agenda on the platform. We intend to carry forward that vision and really focus on the areas of entrepreneurship, capital formation and work-force development issues that are real critical for the tech sector to grow in the state of Indiana.

IBJ: What types of responsibilities come with the CEO title?

JAY: Strategic vision, continuing to look at collaboration opportunities around the state of Indiana to partner with organizations and individuals who are out there doing and complementing what our mission is. It’s keeping those opportunities available. We’re always looking to bring more members into TechPoint. Your chief financial officer, chief salesperson, chief marketing officer and chief strategist all roll into that.

Probably the new thing will be the advocacy responsibilities. We look forward to that challenge in working with our lobbyists to make sure that the technology-based business community is well-represented at the Legislature. It becomes not only presenting an agenda, but it’s defending an agenda and successes from years past.

IBJ: TechPoint unveiled its public-policy agenda Oct. 31 at the Indiana Technology Summit. What are the technology community’s Statehouse goals for 2007?

JAY: Generally, the goals are to continue to create an environment in the state of Indiana where business growth can occur. It’s to create a climate where technologybased businesses are welcome-not saying that they aren’t-but it’s just to create that environment where entrepreneurship rolls off of people’s tongues, and the legislative policies and procedures around the state are friendly to that. That’s really what we will be focused on.

We are proposing economic development tools, as well as work-force development and financing and jobcreation type of goals. We have some education initiatives listed as well as initiatives on digital infrastructure and transportation, distribution and logistics creating an environment where it’s a good place to do business.

IBJ: What are some examples?

JAY: In large part it’s, how do we create an infrastructure that is good for technology business growth and investment? We are looking at K through 12 type of education and saying, “How do we create a work force that is ready for the 21stcentury-type of technology-based jobs?” That’s one of our key initiatives.

On a capital-formation standpoint, it’s continuing to advance the 21st Century Research and Development Fund that is managed by the Indiana Economic Development Corp. We’re looking at an initiative that will allow regional capital-formation opportunities using economic-development-type dollars.

Indiana has come a long way in rolling out the welcome mat for business. I still think we have some great strides to make, not only competing against the Midwest, but we live in a global economy. That’s who our competition is. We’re competing against companies all across the world just by the very nature of the economy we live in.

IBJ: Emerging nations such as India and China are competing not only for our low-end manufacturing jobs, but high-end knowledge jobs as well. How does globalization help or harm local tech growth?

JAY: Several of our member companies are having a difficult time finding employees with the right technical skill set to fill jobs. So the opportunity that there is to employ someone, no matter where they are in the world, to meet customer demand and grow their business is a good thing.

The flip side of that is if the United States, and Indiana in particular and our education system, doesn’t step up and realize the challenges that are ahead of us with respect to maintaining our current economic status, we’re going to face real challenges if we don’t sense the urgency to turn out real high-quality workers and be able to justify our wages on a global scale.

There are great ideas that are coming out of China and India that offer opportunities for Indiana entrepreneurs to commercialize. There’s a good information exchange there. There’s a good information exchange the other way of helping U.S. businesses grow. There are pluses and negatives to all of that.

IBJ: While plenty of venture capital is available for investments in well-developed companies, seed money for risky early-stage startups is much more difficult to access. How can organizations such as Techpoint help close the gap?

JAY: This is an issue that we are acutely aware of and one that we are really passionate about finding a solution for. This is one of the key areas that we think we can really have an effect.

Part of it is just stimulating the dialogue and bringing the right people to the table. There are angel investors in and around the state of Indiana that are passionate about entrepreneurship and are passionate about having businesses grow in the state of Indiana. Now matching that angel investor and the would-be entrepreneur, we’re missing on those cylinders. So there’s an opportunity there.

On the other side is making sure that the inventor or the entrepreneur is well prepared to present to an angel investor and that they have a clear business plan and a commercialization strategy for their product or service.

Entrepreneurs walk away saying there is no funding here when in actuality they might not be prepared or might not be listening to the venture capitalist or the angel investor saying, “You need to tweak here and there.” It’s an information exchange and a forum for that communication and introduction, and Techpoint will continue to do that as it develops this sector.

IBJ: The Central Indiana Corporate Partnership is attempting to establish a new business initiative for the manufacturing and distribution/ transportation/ logistics sectors built on the BioCrossroads blueprint. How will tech companies benefit from the new endeavor?

JAY: Technology is the thread that runs through advanced manufacturing and TDL initiatives for any of the businesses in those sectors. To be competitive in today’s environment, they have to have first-in-class technology. When we look at that at Techpoint, we applaud the efforts of CICP in galvanizing the sector and focusing on both the life sciences and their advanced manufacturing, DTL initiative.

It’s great for businesses in the Indiana market, and that’s what we’re collectively all about. So we’ll partner with them when there are opportunities to partner.

IBJ: Increasing Indiana’s proportion of well-educated residents is moving to the forefront of local tech goals, mainly because available talent is the ultimate driver of high-tech business location. How do we increase the amount of engineers and MBAs in the state?

JAY: It is tangential to what I commented on early about the need to have 21st century skills in the state of Indiana. And I think that gets all the way to the elementary school age of letting students know what the opportunities are. We have historically come from a manufacturing environment where the mantra has been, “I’m gonna grow up and work in manufacturing for the rest of my life.” Well, that economy has changed dramatically.

Now we need to be in the schools educating them and exposing them to what the technology opportunities are and getting kids K through college aware that there are opportunities here in the state of Indiana for technology-based jobs. When you let people know what the opportunities are it sparks the imagination.

Some of the things we’re doing at the foundation and the association involves trying to bridge that gap and let kids know what the technology is all about and what the technology could afford you. That includes letting entrepreneurs who have been successful and are willing to give up their time to expose the kids to those opportunities.

IBJ: Overall, how would you assess Indiana’s progress in establishing itself as a technology hub?

JAY: Technology hub is a major statement there, but I think that we have made major progress. But we still have a long way to go. The metrics that were announced and highlighted in your paper [Oct. 30] shed light on that. I think that Techpoint has been able to draw attention to the point that there is a technology sector in the state of Indiana and that technology is a key element to the growth of any business.

We’ve been able to stimulate the dialogue, educate the people and pull together the sector and call it such. We have been able to really give rise to the fact that there are some key metrics that we need to follow-everything from graduating scientists and engineers and doctorates to how much IP we’re producing to what our bandwidth potential is in the state of Indiana. So we’re following these key metrics. We’ve had some great success in them, but clearly we have a long way to go.

That’s really our goal. How do we continue to build those collaborations across the state and communicate and network to enhance the technology sector in the state of Indiana?

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