Rally roundup: Photo gallery, pitch contest winners and Manning says he’s a ‘big deal in Omaha, Nebraska’

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Indianapolis was the rallying point for a new, multimillion-dollar conference that brought together entrepreneurs, executives, investors and others who work in Indiana’s strongest industries. Here’s a look at this week’s three-day event, which began Tuesday and wrapped up Thursday.

Photos from Rally 2023

3:22 p.m., Aug. 31

Rally conference pitch contest selects five startup winners

A trio of California-based startups, plus one each from Kentucky and Massachusetts, were declared winners Thursday afternoon in Elevate Ventures’ inaugural IN-Prize pitch contest, opening the door for them to receive up to $1 million each in funding for their businesses.

The contest put a cap on the three-day Rally innovation conference.

Among the winners were a company that is developing vegan food for dogs and a health tech company that helps users predict and prevent asthma attacks.


1:30 p.m., Aug. 31

Peyton Manning says he’s a ‘big deal in Omaha, Nebraska’

Peyton Manning spent 13 years in Indianapolis becoming one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks. On Thursday, he returned to the city as the morning keynote speaker at the Rally innovation conference taking place this week at the Indiana Convention Center.

In a conversation with former Indiana Gov. and Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, Manning discussed his career, family, leadership and post-football business endeavors. Among the topics of conversation was Omaha Productions, his content creation company, and why Manning is considered “a big deal in Omaha, Nebraska.”


6:30 p.m., Aug. 30

Immersive sound experience provides change of pace at Rally

At the Rally innovation conference focused on categories such as software, sports tech and hardtech, one room at the Indiana Convention Center is reserved for “Guided Sound Experiences” and the concept of passively restoring oneself.

All an attendee has to do is show up, said session facilitator Sarah Gardner, to reap the benefits of hearing the vibrations of “singing bowls” struck by a mallet. If a participant arrives in time, blankets and pillows can be claimed to maximize comfort when the lights are turned down and Gardner shares mindfulness instructions.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, some people sat against walls because no floor space remained. On Thursday, Rally’s closing day, Gardner will lead a session at 11 a.m.

“The soundwaves actually hijack your brain,” Gardner said during an interview before Wednesday’s session. “It shifts you into altered states of consciousness.”

Even if a person has no experience with meditating, a meditative state likely will be reached, she said.

“When they are done with this experience, they’re going to feel all of the benefits of meditation—which are vast—without actually having to do anything at all,” Gardner said.

As someone who worked in tech for a decade, Gardner said it’s helpful to include the guided sound experience as an unplugged option on a schedule filled with pitch competitions and data-driven methodology.

“Let’s give you 45 minutes to have a break from all of this stimulation and input,” Gardner said.

After career stops in the Southwest and Colorado, the Bishop Chatard High School alum moved back to Indianapolis in December 2019 and founded Immersive Sound Experiences.

In New Age circles, the guided experience that Gardner leads is known as a “sound bath.”

“I am trying to make this more mainstream,” she said.

Gardner said she’s hoping to connect with people experiencing things she encountered while working at a Fortune 500 tech company.

“I can tell you that my mental health and my self-care were pretty much at an all-time low,” she said. “People at a conference like this need to be introduced to something that provides a reset and shows them, ‘You don’t feel very good most of the time.’ ”

—Dave Lindquist

Entrepreneur Dorsey, Purdue chief Chiang talk leadership, more

Purdue University President Mung Chiang and High Alpha Managing Partner Scott Dorsey—two of Indiana’s most recognizable leaders in technology and innovation—shared the stage for a wide-ranging conversation Wednesday at the Rally innovation conference.

The conversation touched on topics ranging from leadership advice to Indiana’s entrepreneurial climate to Purdue’s plans to expand its Indianapolis presence. The talk was billed as a “bidirectional fireside chat,” meaning that each took turns asking questions of the other.


2:48 p.m., Aug. 30

Panel: Generative AI is a tool, not the solution

A panel of startup founders and data experts told a Wednesday lunchtime audience that generative AI is more than a fad but less than the solution to all of your company’s problems.

Representatives of central Indiana companies Mobile reCell, Stellar and Unitus fielded questions at the downtown COhatch location as part of an event titled “So, I Guess We’re All Generative AI Companies Now,” co-sponsored by Midwest House and Ground Game Ventures.

Despite the panel’s tongue-in-cheek title, Stellar executive Morgan Llewellyn said generative AI can address a broad range of challenges.

“There are a lot of applications out there where you can bring this one model to solve a whole lot of problems,” said Llewellyn, chief data and strategy officer for Stellar, a company that formed in February and officially emerged from stealth mode this month. “It’s not use-case specific. It’s how you implement it into your use case that is now the challenge.”

Matt Baggott, founder of software company Unitus, said generative AI, large language models and machine learning are areas where startups can compete with large corporations. He described the emergence of AI-powered chatbot ChatGPT as an accessible game-changer.

“The opportunity is for us: the entrepreneurs and founders at these early stages,” Baggott said. “ChatGPT is like the iPhone example. Now we have an opportunity to affordably find the efficiencies in our own lives that we can solve for and have some fun while we’re doing it.”

Panelist Tudor Mihailescu, CEO of New York-based SpeechifAI Inc., said solving problems is more important than the tool used to solve the problems.

“No company should be a generative AI company,” Mihailescu said. “They should just use the technology in a way that makes sense for their purpose.”

—Dave Lindquist

12:30 p.m., Aug. 30

Podcaster Guy Raz offers business insights at Rally

On his podcast “How I Built This,” Guy Raz is the one asking entrepreneurs questions about their journey from startup to successful business.

On Wednesday, it was Raz’s turn to answer the questions. The San Francisco-based entrepreneur and media personality, whom The New York Times described in a 2018 story as “one of the most popular podcasters in history,” was the morning keynote speaker at the Rally innovation conference, taking place this week at the Indiana Convention Center.

In a conversation with Muhammad Yasin, the vice president of marketing at Indianapolis-based venture studio High Alpha, Raz addressed a range of topics, including business lessons he’s learned from his career in journalism, podcasting and entrepreneurship.


9 p.m., Aug. 29

Indiana food company seeks exposure, partners at Rally

An Evansville food company is hoping to make a snack of its time at Rally, with a goal of attracting new investment and finding companies to carry its line of products.

ZeroCarb Lyfe, which produces chicken breast-based products including pizza crusts and baked chips, launched in April 2020 with a goal of providing health alternatives to standard potato- or corn-based snack products that inundate the market.

The company sells to its crusts to Evansville-based quick-serve restaurant chain Azzip Pizza and is looking for other partners. Its crusts and chips can be found in Fresh Thyme grocery stores across Indiana.

Omar Atia, a Purdue University graduate and co-founder of ZeroCarb, told IBJ the company is attending Rally to give people an opportunity to try its product, as well as find potential partners for collaboration.

“I believe we have a huge opportunity to showcase to the world that so much innovation, especially in foods, can happen here in Indiana,” Atia said. “Rally is a chance for us to do that. And we believe in the vision that Elevate Ventures has, to bring people here to see these products, ultimately leading more people to come here on their own.”

—Mickey Shuey

8:48 p.m., Aug. 29

Xirro has big plans for electric vehicle manufacturing space

Fort-Wayne startup Xirro is looking to get into the electric vehicle manufacturing space, but it has broader plans in mind than producing cars and trucks for consumers.

Rather, the one-year-old company is focused on creating power systems, fuel cells, thermal management systems and other components for heavy duty equipment—things like excavators, mining and agricultural vehicles, and other off-highway equipment.

The company is in the early seeding stages, producing made-to-order prototypes for original equipment manufacturers in hopes of securing commitments for funding and work orders as work to bring those vehicles to market progresses.

“It’s an interesting industry because this equipment moves earth—it’s on every job site and we don’t really think about these pieces of equipment,” said owner and founder Mike Terzo, who has worked in the heavy equipment industry for more than 20 years. “It’s very difficult to look from the outside and [determine] how to do something like this. So having a background in this for a long time … is the only way you could get into this segment of the industry.”

Terzo moved to Fort Wayne in 2022 from California after selling another company called Terzo Power Systems, which he started in 2014. He said he moved to Indiana because of its proximity to equipment manufacturers and other suppliers that he expect will be key to the implementation of his products.

“Everything for manufacturing in the heavy-duty world is centered on the Midwest,” he said. “That’s the biggest reason that I moved here. California has a lot of money and a lot of skills-based resources, but if you’re actually have to make something, you want to be here—it’s a big deal.”

—Mickey Shuey

4:30 p.m., Aug. 29

Biz founders: Indiana’s collaborative spirit helps spur innovation

A panel of business owners shared their thoughts Tuesday on launching a company in the state at the Indiana Technology and Innovation Association event held in conjunction with the Rally innovation conference.

The panel, which was part of the organization’s annual conference, focused on the barriers and opportunities involved with launching and growing an innovation-focused enterprise in Indiana. The ITIA conference took place at the Indiana Convention Center alongside the Rally innovation conference. The one-day ITIA event was separate from Rally, but organizers of both events have deliberately cross-promoted each others’ gatherings.

In addition to Reynolds, the other panelists were all also Indiana business founders: Amy Brown, CEO of Indianapolis-based Authenticx, Darrian Mikell, co-founder and CEO of Indianapolis-based Qualifi; and Julia Regan, co-founder and CEO of New Albany-based RxLightning. Brent Oakley, president of Fishers-based Vibenomics, moderated the discussion.


Indiana satellite maker looks for industry boost at Rally

1:20 p.m., Aug. 29

Upland-based small satellite manufacturer NearSpace Launch Inc. is hoping the Rally conference will serve as a propellant for the state’s space technology industry.

NearSpace, which has signed contracts with NASA and the U.S. Space Force, as well as several privately held firms like Space X, is one of several dozen companies exhibiting its technology in a dedicated demonstration area during this week’s conference.

The self-funded company works with those entities to launch a variety of satellites year round—it has more than 800 components in orbit to-date, with a focus on transporting technology that enhances communication systems and space weather monitoring.

Evan Hoyt, director of commercial development for the firm, said attending Rally can elevate the company’s profile, while also opening the door for other space-focused firms to consider setting their roots in the state.

“We’re a small company that is really passionate about the space industry and what we’re doing in that sector,” he said. “We’re just really excited to be able to showcase that we’re alive and well, and we’re operating in a really amazing industry that is on a growth curve.”

He said while the NearSpace isn’t pursuing any funding at the moment, there could be opportunities to explore venture capital or other funding sources in the future as the company looks to grow.

—Mickey Shuey

1:11 p.m., Aug. 29

Sports-betting tech company considers bet on Indianapolis

Chicago-based sports betting aggregation company Bettor Vision is interested in making a move to Indianapolis, but it is hoping to secure funding to make that happen.

The company, whose app consolidates sports betting and fantasy sports lines from numerous services, including ESPN, FanDuel and DraftKings, is in the early seed stages of fundraising, with a goal of $2 million. In a previous round, it raised $1.3 million.

Brett Lanier, cofounder and CEO of Bettor Vision, said part of the company’s presence at Rally is to learn more about best practices in the sports technology sector. But Lanier also hopes to secure meetings with investors and start conversations about growing the application, which is now on the Apple App Store and is expected to be made available for Android devices in the coming weeks.

Those talks could include moving some of the four-person team’s operations to Indianapolis and hiring additional staff.

“Indianapolis is really well, centrally located in the sports betting sector,” he said. “What we’re going to need is probably funding—if we got enough funding that it made sense to move [leadership] here, as well as start hiring a couple of people. So we’re looking to cover at least those costs and then, hopefully, a little bit more.”

—Mickey Shuey

1:03 p.m., Aug. 29

Panel: Indiana must do more to nurture tech talent, innovation

Technology and the spirit of innovation have the potential to transform Indiana’s economy—but the state needs to invest in its people and places to unlock that full potential, panelists said Tuesday morning at an Indiana Technology and Innovation Association event.

Tuesday’s ITIA panel, which was part of the organization’s annual conference, focused on what business and government leaders can do to help advance the state’s tech and innovation economies. The ITIA conference is happening at the Indiana Convention Center alongside the Rally innovation conference. The ITIA event is separate from Rally, but organizers of both events are deliberately cross-promoting each others’ gatherings.

The panel at the Indiana Convention Center featured Christopher Day, CEO of Indianapolis-based Elevate Ventures; David Becker, CEO of Fishers-based First Internet Bank; TechPoint CEO Ting Gootee and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb. It was moderated by ITIA Executive Director Jennifer Hallowell.


9:58 a.m. Aug. 29

Governor welcomes crowd on Rally’s opening day

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb delivered brief remarks to the crowd at Rally’s opening day Tuesday, offering a special welcome to visitors from outside Indiana and calling attention to current weather conditions.

“For our out-of-town guests, welcome. It is sunny and 70, 75 degrees every single day here in the state of Indiana,” Holcomb said, drawing some chuckles from the crowd.

Rally’s explicit goal is to draw attendees from both inside and outside Indiana, showcasing the state to a wide audience. Holcomb said 44 of the event’s registered attendees are here from other countries.

Holcomb’s brief remarks provided a pitch about Indiana’s history of innovation and its various competitive advantages, including its historic strengths in industries like manufacturing, life sciences, logistics and hospitality, among others.

These historic strengths, plus the state’s burgeoning tech sector, mean that Indiana is poised to reap big benefits as technology continues to work its way into every industry, Holcomb said. “Tech is obviously its own sector. But it used to be that tech [incorporated into a non-tech business] was your edge. That was your advantage. Now, if you’re not ‘plus tech,’ you’re on your way out of business. You’re not growing, you’re dying. And so to have that ecosystem maturing right here in our very backyard is really putting the state of Indiana into the pole position.”

Financial support from Rally includes $1.5 million from the Indiana Economic Development Corp.

—Susan Orr

9:45 a.m. Aug. 29

Rally kicks off  with welcome from Elevate Ventures CEO

Rally kicked off at the Indiana Convention Center on Tuesday morning with a welcome from Elevate Ventures CEO Christopher Day, whose remarks emphasized the “creative collisions” concept around which the three-day innovation conference is built.

“Innovation is not confined to singular silos. It’s a tapestry woven from the threads of countless minds,” Day told the crowd. “To realize the full potential of innovation, we must venture beyond the confines of our siloed domains, and circles of comfort.”

And the ideas that come from collaboration, Day said, are bigger than any one person could produce. “…collaboration does not merely lead to incremental advancements, either. It unlocks disruptive opportunities that we used to think were unimaginable…”

Rally, whose larger aim is to spark activity in Indiana’s innovation economy, is expected to draw 3,000 or more attendees, including investors, entrepreneurs and innovators. The event runs through Thursday and includes dozens of panels and other programming, plus a slate of keynote speakers who include former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and pro-basketball-player-turned entrepreneur Earvin “Magic” Johnson.

—Susan Orr

5:35 p.m., Aug. 28

Balloon wall greets visitors registering for Rally

The Indiana Convention Center is all set for the opening day of the Rally innovation conference, which runs Tuesday through Thursday.

The convention center’s Capitol Avenue entrance is decorated with a massive balloon structure that covers an entire wall.

Indianapolis-based Elevate Ventures says it expects a little more than 3,000 attendees for the first-time event. That’s short of the organization’s goal of 5,000, but the event will draw startup founders, investors and innovators from multiple countries.

Inside the Capitol Avenue entrance to the Indiana Convention Center (IBJ photo/Susan Orr)

4 p.m., Aug. 28

Indiana’s health-care sector on display at Rally innovation conference

Indiana has long boasted a national reputation as an up-and-coming center for health care and life sciences. The Hoosier state is home to the world’s most valuable pharmaceutical company (Eli Lilly and Co.), the largest medical school (Indiana University School of Medicine) and a sprawling array of nearly 200 hospitals, from academic medical centers to modest community hospitals.

It also has generated hundreds of biotech companies, many of them started from inventions at IU, Purdue University or the University of Notre Dame.

Now, with the Rally conference, Indiana is trying to position itself as a globally known innovation hub. And health care will figure prominently on the agenda.

Eight health-care panel discussions, ranging from gene therapy to generative AI, are part of the conference. A total of 20 experts will discuss the issues and take questions from the audience. In addition, five health-care start-up companies will vie for up to $1 million in prize money.


3:55 p.m.

High-profile Rally conference to put Indiana’s innovation on stage

Indianapolis is the rallying point for a new, multimillion-dollar conference that aims to bring together entrepreneurs, executives, investors and others who work in Indiana’s strongest industries.

Indiana Convention Center (IBJ file photo)

Indianapolis-based Elevate Ventures is organizing the three-day event, beginning Tuesday at the Indiana Convention Center. Its name: Rally.

“It’s really about putting Indiana on that national and global stage from an innovation standpoint,” Erica Schweyer, the chief operating officer for Elevate Ventures, told IBJ this month.

The itinerary for Rally features 220 speakers, including big names such as former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and Los Angeles Laker-turned-entrepreneur Earvin “Magic” Johnson; five separate pitch competitions offering up to $5 million in total prize money; and hundreds of meetings between entrepreneurs and investors.

Many of the meetings, presentations and panel discussions are flagged for one of six industries in which Indiana has a strong presence: agriculture and food; health care; hardtech; software; sportstech; and entrepreneurship.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. is providing $1.5 million in support of the confab. Elevate Ventures is a not-for-profit that serves as a venture capital firm for the IEDC, the state’s public-private job-creation agency.

The groups set a first-year goal of drawing 5,000 attendees from both within and outside the state. As of Monday, individual tickets were selling for $699, with pricing of $599 per person for groups of three or more and $199 for students. More information can be found on the event’s web site.

The event serves as a focus point for several other organizations—including Gener8tor, the Indiana Technology & Innovation Association, Indy Women in Tech and Midwest House—that are planning their own events coordinated around Rally.

For example, the Indiana Technology & Innovation Association is hosting its annual conference on the first day of Rally and will feature panel discussions such as “Unleashing Entrepreneurism in Indiana” at 11 a.m. in Room 237-239.

Other Rally highlights will include a panel discussion on generative artificial intelligence in health care and drug discovery, set for 10 a.m. Thursday. The panelists will include representatives of Indianapolis-based Regenstrief Institute and Eli Lilly and Co.

Elevate Ventures has selected more than two dozen startups that will compete in the pitch contests across five categories. The finalists, which hail from several countries, were selected from 430 applicants from 38 countries. Each contest offers up to $1 million in prize money.

Rally replaces an Elevate Ventures event called Kinetic, which was a much smaller annual event focused on connecting Elevate Ventures’ portfolio companies with potential investors and other resources.

Rally’s vision is much grander: to position Indiana as a globally known innovation hub.

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