Tech leaders hope state can leverage IoT opportunities, produce in-demand workers

It may seem odd that a story about four workers who do nothing but pack boxes all day was a topic of conversation among the six panelists at Friday’s IBJ Technology Power Breakfast.

Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness said that a shop manager of that local facility boasted within clear earshot of the workers that their jobs soon would be automated. While that would have upside for the company, Fadness said, there seemed to be less thought about the loss of those jobs and the people who fill them.

“He was saying this right in front of them,” Fadness said.

Fadness thinks the soon-to-open Indiana IoT Lab in Fishers will serve as a “bridge” in the state's work ecosystem.

IoT stands for "internet of things" and essentially refers to any number of everyday items—like heating and air conditioning controls, dishwasher, refrigerators or bicycle computer—which can be connected with and operated remotely via the internet. 

The lab is designed to house a number of tech-related companies working in the IoT field. Fadness is hopeful it can help companies in traditional sectors like agriculture, manufacturing and distribution—where Indiana's economy traditionally has been strong—make the leap to a more technology-oriented and internet-enabled future.

John Wechsler, the founder and CEO of the Indiana IOT lab, said the outpouring of interest in the 24,500-square-foot facility has been “phenomenal.”

The Indiana IOT Lab had a soft opening in January and has scheduled an official grand opening for March 21. Wechsler, who also was on Friday’s panel at the JW Marriott, said more than 500 people have already RSVP’d for the evening. He expects around 700 to attend.

“We’re checking with the fire marshal to see what our capacity is,” Wechsler said with a laugh after the panel discussion.

Wechsler said he isn’t completely surprised by the interest.

“Of course, you always hope and plan for success, but this outpouring has really been fantastic,” he said. “And we think the interest is only going to grow as we show people what’s possible with the lab and how applicable what is done there is across a wide range of sectors.”

Friday’s panel also included Doxley Inc. CEO Haley Altman, One Click Chief Operating Officer Angie Stocklin, Pondurance partner Landon Lewis and Erin Eberly, partner with Katz Sapper & Miller. They discussed a wide range of subjects, including the influence of the Indiana General Assembly, the local landscape for venture capital, workplace diversity in the tech sector and the need for better technology-related education.

On diversity, Stocklin said: “As tech leaders, we tend to hire from our own networks. … My challenge to everyone—including myself—is to grow our network and to diversify those groups.”

Stocklin added that while there are a number of strong tech-related women’s groups, it’s important to get those groups to work with other groups and larger segments of the community to get a true integration of ideas.

Altman said it’s incumbent upon tech companies to “find ways to mentor."

"That’s going to be one of the keys to improving our diversity," she said.

When the discussion turned to education, there were many references to a bill making its way through this year’s General Assembly to require high schools to offer computer science classes.

The House and Senate passed the bill this week, and Gov. Eric Holcomb is expected to sign it into law.

“I was shocked at how many high schools don’t offer computer science,” Fadness said. “It needs to be a curriculum pillar right alongside history and biology. We need to make it a component of education from kindergarten through high school.

“This is an area where we can’t be bold enough. It needs significant disruption. We need really bold ideas, because the world is changing.”

Altman added that tech needs to be embedded in the entire educational process and not just limited to computer science courses.

“We need to look at technology from a broader standpoint,” Altman said. “I think the coding academies are great, but we need more than coders. We need to look at the ecosystem as a whole.”

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