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Innovation Showcase expanding, increasing prize money

July 5, 2016

For years, the Innovation Showcase had about 80 entrepreneurs each pitch their startups to an audience in 60 seconds or less. Then a dozen or so of those fledgling business owners would deliver expanded pitches to judges in private.

Yes, a winner would emerge, but the format made the startups nearly indistinguishable for the public audience, said Ben Pidgeon, president of the Venture Club of Indiana, which helps throw the annual statewide pitch event.

So the event, now in its eighth year, is adopting a new model marked by about 25 five-minute public pitches.

Ben Pidgeon mugBen Pidgeon

"Have you ever been to a wine tasting?" Pidgeon said. "I don't have the palate to be able to continue to taste the difference between wine if I've had 10 sips. So when you get through 80 pitches, that's what ends up happening."

The switch is just one of the changes for event, whose goal is to highlight emerging Hoosier upstarts and foster connections with investors. The Showcase is also expanding to two days and bolstering its prize package this year, among other things.

The event is scheduled for July 13-14 at the Dallara IndyCar Factory in Speedway. The first day features a reception with investors; the main pitch event is the following day.

The Innovation Showcase will still invite about 80 of about 135 applicants this year. Those 80 or so will make individual presentations to judges in private in five minutes or less. About 25 of those entrepreneurs will be chosen by the judges to make five-minute pitches in front of a public audience and an have an opportunity to field questions.

The investor reception will feature at least 27 institutional and individual venture investors, including Houston-based Mercury Fund, St. Louis-based Lewis and Clark Ventures and Silicon Valley Bank.

Last year's event drew about 1,000 people, and at least that many are expected this year. Carmel-based Pi Lab, the company behind the Edwin the Duck "smart toy," took home the top honors in 2015.

The grand prize of cash and business services last year was valued at $73,000. This year, the prize will be worth about $102,000 and includes five hours of consulting time with tech veteran Scott Jones.

The idea behind the changes, Pidgeon said, is to make the experience more valuable to everyone involved.

"It's important for these companies to make connections and get exposure," Pidgeon said. "I think the changes will help these entrepreneurs make some more meaningful connections." 

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