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Kissinger speaks out about Indiana's 'passion' problem

September 28, 2010

If Indiana had more people like Bill Cook and Scott Jones, the state would have more, and better, entrepreneurial businesses, says one of the state’s older serial entrepreneurs in the area of the life sciences.

The remark from Pete Kissinger, who co-founded Bioanalytical Systems in West Lafayette in 1974 and now is involved in one way or another with several startups, is obvious, you say. Cook’s namesake medical device company in Bloomington has flourished and never seems to stop innovating. Jones, who made a ton of money with voice mail technology, is still involved in tech, with his Carmel-based Cha Cha search engine being the most visible.

But listen to Kissinger closer. He isn’t saying the state needs great business owners. He’s saying some of the state’s greatest businesses are the way they are because of their owners’ passion. And Kissinger says Indiana’s problem with modest levels of entrepreneurships traces to lack of passion.

Cook not only likes gizmos that improve the human body, but he also puts a lot of energy into a pet pastime of historic preservation. He was the money behind the stabilization of West Baden Springs Hotel in French Lick, and he’s the money behind the ongoing restoration of the former church in downtown Indianapolis that will serve as the headquarters of Indiana Landmarks.

Jones hasn’t just made money off technology; he also happens to relish it. Remember that Jones is the one who organized a team of locals to enter a military’s technology competition to develop vehicles driven by robots. The Jeep crashed at the competition in California, but a company that’s making robotic-controlled lawnmowers spun out of the knowledge.

Entrepreneurship, or the lack thereof, has been studied and analyzed to death in Indiana, Kissinger contends. And there isn’t a great deal to show for it.

“It is serial entrepreneurs who keep reinvesting that make the difference,” he says. “The academic sector kicks things off and helps keep it going, but it is private enterprise that creates new businesses in numbers.”

Indiana had lots of passionate entrepreneurs around the turn of the last century and then the zeal waned. The state was part of a sprawling Silicon Valley of its day as the industrial Midwest set about transforming the way we get around. But, as Kissinger sees it, “we got fat, lazy” and stuck with making recreational vehicles and other products of the industrial era. “Thus innovation capital went elsewhere.”

Do you agree with Kissinger that a lack of passion is the problem beneath the state’s struggle to stay prosperous? If not, what’s the problem?

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