Serial entrepreneur David Becker doesn’t seem like he’d have a lot of spare time. He’s chairman, president and CEO of Fishers-based First Internet Bancorp, an industry pioneer in the branchless delivery of bank services. It began banking operations in 1999 and now has $4.3 billion in assets.
And that’s just one of the five Inc. 500 tech companies he has created during his long career.
Yet Becker also served as the first chairman and a founding member of TechPoint, a group dedicated to building up Indiana’s technology ecosystem and helping startups prosper. He also is a former chairman of the Central Indiana Community Foundation and a board member of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership.
He’s interested in building up the support structure for tech firms because he found such niceties sorely lacking when he started his first Indiana-grown company, re:Member Data Services, back in 1981.
“When I first went to the state for help, if you were a manufacturer or a farmer, there were a boatload of programs available,” he recalled. “But for technology companies, they had nothing.”
The concept behind re:Member Data Services is old hat today—offering proprietary software services that allow companies to outsource some of their number-crunching. But explaining the potential economic value of this to Hoosiers back in the early ’80s was like explaining fire to a fish.
“When I talked about intellectual property to the financial community, they’d say, ‘What do you mean by intellectual property? How is that an asset? That’s nothing tangible,’” Becker said. “I’d say, ‘I understand that, but I’ve got 10 million lines of code that does this great service and generates billions each year.’ We were software as a service long before they coined the term.”
But times were changing—and Becker, always pushing on behalf of his own startups, was in the vanguard. Most fatefully, when he approached the state about what sort of assistance package he could expect for locating a new spinoff in Indiana, he was brusquely told to get bids from three other states to “make sure there’s really something of value here.”
So he dutifully shopped the business around, including to Missouri, which proved very accommodating. “They made a phenomenal offer to me to move the company,” Becker said. “When I came back and told [Indiana], they said, ‘Where the hell did you come from? We’ve never heard of you and we didn’t even know you existed.’”
Becker asked that Indiana make its own proposal, and asked that universities (the source of future talent) be included in the discussions. The resulting deal was the template for how the state entices tech companies and startups to move to, or stay in, Indiana.
“It’s a night-and-day difference,” Becker says of Indiana’s current efforts to foster tech firms. “There’s a good infrastructure to support them, including accounting and law firms that understand what’s going on, and good patent attorneys. It’s a totally different playing field.
“Whenever I get a chance to talk to the startup companies of today, I tell them they have infrastructure here that I would have given my right arm for 40 years ago.”