The Mitch Daniels Leadership Foundation—a not-for-profit, non-partisan organization—is fueling its efforts to produce a new generation of innovative business and community leaders through a partnership with Indianapolis-based Elevate Ventures.
Mitch Daniels Leadership fellows complete a two-year development program that includes an annual pitch day, where fellows describe their ideas for improving the state. Through the partnership, fellows will work with an Elevate liaison, who will help them better develop their ideas with the help of experts in Indiana’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Fellows also will have the option to pursue entrepreneurship-specific education and training through the Elevate Origins training program and can also choose to participate in the Elevate Nexus pitch competitions.
“This partnership is critical for us,” Mike Young, the foundation’s executive director, told IBJ. “It provides a pathway for our fellows to develop their ideas further with people that are experts in this space and ultimately build companies and provide solutions and jobs for people here in Indiana and beyond.”
Founded in 2016, the Mitch Daniels Leadership Foundation was created by a group of community leaders—including Earl Goode, chief of staff for Gov. Eric Holcomb, who formerly worked for the Daniels administration; David Harris, founder of The Mind Trust and partner at The City Fund; Mark Lubbers, a behind-the-scenes Republican strategist and policy guru; Harry Gonso, an IU trustee and long-time community activist who also worked for Daniels; Jamie Merisotis, CEO of Lumina Foundation; and Cathy Langham, owner and CEO of Langham Logistics—to encourage and instill leadership that lifts the arc of progress in Indiana.
The foundation is building a “statewide network of change agents, actively working to make Indiana the best place for Americans to build their future,” Young explained. It reaches all 92 counties.
Daniels, the former Republican governor who now serves as president at Purdue University, lent his name to the organization, but is not involved in day-to-day operations. The foundation is an independent organization not officially affiliated with Purdue. Daniels does meet or talk with the fellows a handful of times a year, Young said.
Jacob Schpok, vice president of entrepreneurial services and entrepreneur-in-residence at Elevate Ventures, said the group is honored to be a resource to the fellows. “The Mitch Daniels Leadership Foundation has a history of developing growth-minded leaders with a desire to grow startups in Indiana,” Schpok said.
The average age of the follows is about 31, Young said. The current class has 25 fellows, who were selected from more than 250 applicants. The foundation is accepting applications for its next class of fellows until March 15. Fellows are not paid a salary to participate in the program.
While the fellows come from a variety of backgrounds and industries, Young said a number of them come either from the tech sector or have ideas for tech companies. Young was one such fellow.
He started a software development company, Pear Circuit, while he was a student majoring in aerospace engineering at Purdue. He sold the firm in late 2019 when he took his current position.
“We do have a tech vein that runs through our organization, but we have people from all over involved,” Young said. “Every year, we have people from tech coming through the program.”
Young also noted that several foundation board members, including High Alpha partner Eric Tobias, TechStars Managing Director Scott Kraege and OurHealth CEO Ben Evans, come from the tech sector or have tech backgrounds.
Young said the two-year fellowship is designed to give fellows everything they need to excel in business and community service upon graduation from the program.
“We give them a master’s degree in the workings of the state of Indiana,” said Young, who was a fellow from 2016-18 and became the organization’s executive director in early 2020.
The fellows learn about state laws, tax structures and corporate tax incentives, the state’s political process, how Indiana is different and similar to other states, reasons why businesses would want to locate in Indiana and how to get involved in the state and community in a constructive way.
Along the way, Young said, “We have frank and difficult conversations among ourselves in a way that is amicable. I’m glad we can be a place for that.”
At the end of the two-year program, fellows are asked to propose a project they think will change the state in a positive way.
Some of those ideas, Young said, have the potential to give rise to a company. That’s where Elevate Ventures comes in.
“We’re not a venture organization like Elevate Ventures,” Young said. “We felt we could do more than just say ‘good luck’ to our fellows at the end of the program. That’s what prompted the partnership with Elevate. They have a massive amount of experience in the venture space and their mission aligns with ours. We feel they can really help our fellows take their ideas to the next level, which could have a big positive impact on the state.”