Mark Gramelspacher: Calling all manufacturing innovators, big and small

Keywords Opinion / Viewpoint

The pandemic has created a unique opportunity for Indiana to innovate in manufacturing. Even though the business climate will present challenges for years to come and big problems remain to be solved, the time is right for entrepreneurs to generate new ideas, start new companies and create new growth.

Problem-solving is the heart of innovation. Few people are better problem solvers than those working in manufacturing. With a persistent uncertainty in the global supply chain, especially regarding China and a renewed urgency for innovation, companies big and small must rethink their sourcing of components and products.

Sourcing the lowest cost per manufactured piece no longer makes sense. Also, pressure continues for manufacturers to improve safety, quality and productivity while lowering costs and building supply chains customers can rely on. Indiana is in a great position to generate jobs and investment through innovation to drive this economic transformation.

Consider these Indiana advantages:

 Manufacturers employ more than 17% of all workers, one of the highest rates in the nation. Many of the products made here are exported, which raises our production and standard of living.

 Technology jobs in Indiana have boomed since the ’90s and that boom provides fertile ground for advancing technology to the factory floor.

 Tax rates and cost of living are low. Also, Indiana’s central location in North America allows same-day access to a high proportion of the population.

 Academic institutions such as Indiana University, Purdue University, the University of Notre Dame and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology host top-ranked research and engineering programs that attract some of the best talent and advanced manufacturing know-how. These institutions provide a resource and impetus for Hoosier manufacturers to stand out by embracing new opportunities. Many graduates have shown a willingness to choose Indiana as their home while the economy adjusts and COVID-19 imposes new constraints.

Indiana has another key advantage. In June, Elevate Ventures, Indiana’s venture development organization, launched an investment fund to support innovation in manufacturing, manufacturing technology and supply chains. The SAM (Smart & Advanced Manufacturing) Fund holds significant promise for startup and early-stage companies and manufacturing entrepreneurs.

Elevate Ventures caters to all aspects of startups and, through the SAM Fund, works to empower manufacturers and manufacturing entrepreneurs in deciding whether their ideas have potential. We work directly with companies and individuals to move ideas and innovation forward, and guide development of the new companies.

The SAM Fund is designed to connect with existing manufacturers, interested angel investors and other funds.

The SAM Fund supports early-stage companies in “smart manufacturing” (digital technology to advance manufacturing activities and processes) and “advanced manufacturing” (innovation in products and processes). The fund plans to invest $3 million each year, always with other investors.

The SAM Fund has made two investments already. In August, the fund invested in MITO Materials, a technology firm that creates special additives for improving carbon-fiber, fiberglass and other materials built with fiber-reinforced polymers. In September, the fund added Ateios, which is reinventing batteries to make them flexible and customizable.

The entrepreneur’s life can be quite a journey; it ebbs and flows with successes, failures, recoveries and losses. Today, more than ever, there are resources available to support entrepreneurs as they step into a future where opportunity awaits.•

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Gramelspacher is executive director of the SAM Fund and an entrepreneur-in-residence at Elevate Ventures.

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