16 Tech innovation district gears up for work under new CEO

The 16 Tech innovation district, an ambitious economic development project in the works in Indianapolis for more than a decade, has hired a top executive whose goal is to turn the downtrodden area into a thriving center for entrepreneurship and innovation.

Robert W. Coy Jr. was named president and CEO of the 16 Tech Community Corp., the organization announced Thursday. Coy quietly started the job June 1.

Robert Coy 16tech mugRobert Coy

Coy, 60, was most recently president and CEO of CincyTech, a seed-stage investment organization in Cincinnati. Under Coy’s leadership, CincyTech invested in 70 startups that raised more than $680 million in seed, early- and late-stage capital that today employ nearly 1,000 people.

In his new job, he will be responsible for upgrading an aging 60-acre business district, just north of the Indiana University School of Medicine, from a collection of older buildings into a densely developed site with apartments, a hotel, restaurants and retail space. Plans call for more than 1 million square feet of incubator and start-up space for new companies, along with wet labs, meeting halls and space for related businesses, such as places where start-ups can develop prototypes of their inventions.

“If you have an imagination, you can see how it’s going to be a pretty spectacular place in 10 or 20 years,” Coy said in an interview with IBJ.

The ambitious project has been on the drawing board for more than a decade, but recently has gained significant traction, with funding from the city for infrastructure improvements, and money from private foundations.

In 2015, the City-County Council approved $75 million in tax-increment financing bonds to that would pay for infrastructure improvements, such as constructing roads and relocating water lines. The district spans from 10th Street to 16th Street, along Indiana Avenue.

The first building, which is scheduled to go up next year, will house the anchor tenant, the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute, an independent, not-for-profit designed to bridge the gap between research universities and industry in life sciences. The group, formed in 2013 with corporate and university support, plans to hire than 100 scientists within five years. It is temporarily housed on West 16th Street.

The goal of 16 Tech is to become a destination for top talent from around the country, attracted by the opportunity of collaborative work and an active “work-live-play” urban environment.

Indianapolis has struggled to attract and retain top talent, compared to many other cities, such as Pittsburgh, Denver, Nashville and Baltimore, according to research from the U.S. Census Bureau and the American Community Survey. Others leave Indianapolis’ urban core for the suburbs.

Community leaders say they hope 16 Tech can help reverse that.

“Having an innovation community will make it a destination. It will have green spaces and interesting architecture that people will want to come and see,” said Claire Fiddian-Green, president and CEO of the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, which awarded $2 million to 16 Tech to help get it off the ground.

The foundation awards grants in the areas of health, education and the “vitality of Indianapolis.”

Coy was hired after 16 Tech conducted a national search. David Johnson, chair of the organization’s board and its personnel committee, said he was impressed with Coy’s track record in Cincinnati, where he was the first employee and built a successful organization from scratch, spanning industries from business software to medical devices.

“You put something like that together using public money, raising public expectations,” Johnson said. “Those companies are supposed to be able survive. … And they’ve done that.”

Johnson said 16 Tech interviewed “a large field of candidates,” but declined to give a number. He also declined to disclose Coy’s compensation package.

A spokeswoman for the Fairbanks Foundation said there were eight finalists for the position.

Coy has held entrepreneurial and economic development leadership positions with public and private institutions over the past three decades in Ohio, Missouri, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Prior to joining CincyTech, he was senior vice president for entrepreneurial development and economic development at the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association.

Coy said he stepped down from CincyTech in December, planning to move east and look for another career challenge. Instead, he was contacted by a 16 Tech recruiter and decided to explore the opportunity. He visited Indianapolis “four or five times” and said he was excited by the prospect of leading an organization that already had a master plan, corporate and civic backing, and a geographic area to develop.

“The vision is big. The backing is strong,” Coy said. “I enjoy building things from scratch. I think this is really exciting.”

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