Indianapolis-based High Alpha shifting to a founder-first model of biz creation

Indianapolis-based venture studio High Alpha is making some changes to the way it cultivates tech startups, with an eye towards identifying a broader range of entrepreneurs to lead its portfolio of companies.

“We’re doing a number of things in the new year differently—and, maybe, better—time will tell,” said High Alpha Partner Kristian Andersen.

High Alpha has launched more than 30 software-as-a-service startups since the venture studio was founded in 2015. For many of those startups, Andersen said, High Alpha started with an idea for a company, refined the idea and then went out to find someone to lead the venture.

Going forward, High Alpha is going to put more emphasis on finding the right entrepreneurs—and involving them in the formation of the startups they’ll lead.

“In 2023, we’re really going back to first principles and saying, ‘Hey, it’s all about the talent,’” Andersen said.

Part of High Alpha’s interest in a talent-first approach, Andersen said, is because the studio has evolved beyond its Indianapolis roots. “We’re a much more mature organization now. We start companies all over the country—not just Indianapolis.”

As part of its ideation process, High Alpha holds periodic sprint weeks—collaborative activities where the studio workshops ideas for potential new businesses. Late last year, the studio held its first founder-led sprint—an entrepreneur was involved in the sprint, contributing to the ideation process.

Based on the success of that new style of sprint, High Alpha plans to have eight founder-led sprint weeks this year, Andersen said, in addition to a handful of traditional concept-focused sprints.

The entrepreneur-first approach will be led by former TechPoint CEO Mike Langellier, who recently joined High Alpha as an operating partner.

By involving entrepreneurs in the ideation process at an earlier stage, Langellier said, High Alpha can gain valuable insights about what the startup’s products, business model and target customers should look like. “There is an untapped reservoir of entrepreneurial potential that can be leveraged.”

Langellier will also be tasked with broadening the network of potential entrepreneurs that High Alpha works with, with an eye towards attracting a more diverse pool of founders. One way the organization plans to do that is by leaning on its portfolio companies’ founders, tapping into those networks to surface promising leads.

“If you’re only relying on your own networks and your own historic practices, it’s pretty hard to build a diverse pipeline of talent,” Andersen said.

Andersen and High Alpha’s other three founding partners are all white men. So is Langellier. But Andersen said he has confidence in Langellier’s ability to connect High Alpha with a diverse group of founders. “This is what Mike did at TechPoint,” Andersen said. “He built programs that extended the reach of TechPoint far beyond Indiana.”

TechPoint is an Indianapolis-based not-for-profit whose goal is to strengthen the state’s tech industry.

Langellier pointed to TechPoint’s Xtern summer internship program and its annual Mira Awards program, both of which TechPoint has worked to make more diverse in recent years.

Xtern received 1,876 applications for its summer 2022 program. Of those, 32% of applicants were women and 65% were people of color, TechPoint says.

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