Why the Indiana Startup Ecosystem Is a Hidden Gem of Innovation

September 6, 2017

3:50 pm

West Lafayette is known for housing Purdue University where you can find innovation, forward-thinking students and professors, top research labs, entrepreneurship programs. The Greater Lafayette ecosystem also has a blossoming startup tech ecosystem that is being supported and nurtured by entrepreneurial leaders, government and returning founders.

Stuart Gutwein, Attorney at Gutwein Law, is one of the icons in the community that continues to seek out new opportunities for startups and innovators. In this #StartupsEverywhere interview, Stuart talks about the growing community, inputs that are making an impact, the latest startups, and more.

Stuart Gutwein is an attorney at Gutwein Law and a startup ecosystem builder in Greater Lafayette, IN.

What’s your role in your ecosystem?

By day, I’m an attorney at Gutwein Law and lead a team of some of the smartest, most talented attorneys around. I practice in the areas of business formation, capital raising and other financial transactions, operational issues, mergers & acquisitions, and intellectual property. So, I’m always working and connecting with startup organizations.

As a firm, we’re sponsors of and partners with groups that are incubators and promoters of startups in Greater Lafayette (which includes Lafayette, Purdue University, West Lafayette, and Tippecanoe County), Indianapolis, and Minneapolis like the Purdue Foundry, MatchBOX Co-Working Studio, The Anvil, zWorks, FoundryX, and the Venture Club of Indiana (which now hosts the new and promising INX3 event). We also offer an internal program called Gutwein Ventures that encourages employees to start and invest in outside business ventures. Our goal is to be continuously ingrained in the startup community so we can provide the most sound legal advice and strategy possible to our clients.

Outside of Gutwein Law, I stay involved in the startup community as much as I can. I serve on the Indiana Business Law Survey Commission where our group considers recommendations on various business law amendments on a state-level. I also am a member of and sit on the Board of M25 Group, an early-stage micro-VC fund based in the Midwest that focuses on funding companies headquartered in the Midwest. And, I am a Chapter President of VisionTech Partners, an Indiana based angel network that links investors to high-potential early stage companies.

What’s the most exciting thing that has happened in Greater Lafayette in the past year?

First, I’d say investments by high net worth individuals back into the Greater Lafayette startup ecosystem. These investments are made through funds like M25 Group and Little Engine Ventures. Little Engine Ventures was formed within the past year and has made a tremendous impact on the Greater Lafayette startup community already. It’s a private investment venture capital fund aimed at helping customers, founders, and investors by utilizing a consistent, stable approach to long-term growth. The fund is particularly significant because it was formed by a successful entrepreneur, Daryl Starr, out of the reinvestment proceeds from the exit of his technology company.

Another recent and exciting event in the Greater Lafayette startup ecosystem was the creation of Purdue Ventures, which is the Purdue Foundry’s umbrella brand for startup funding entities. Within Purdue Ventures, five funds exist to provide sources of capital to support Purdue’s entrepreneurial ecosystem in varying industries. To me, this demonstrates Purdue’s continued focus on clarity in the market and sustained investment into commercializing technology developed in the Purdue University ecosystem.

MatchBOX Co-working Studio in Lafayette.

MatchBOX coworking Studio in Lafayette

What is the biggest challenge you face in Greater Lafayette?

Attracting and retaining talent. Greater Lafayette is a great place to live and work, but oftentimes top talent decides to relocate to either Indianapolis or Chicago where more resources are available. That said, Greater Lafayette as a whole, and more specifically, Purdue University, nurture and produce a lot of high-quality ideas and people. I’m hopeful we can continue in growing Greater Lafayette into one of the epicenters for innovation and startup support. In the meantime, we’ll work to provide unmatched resources for all the brilliant people gathering around Purdue University to learn, grow, and incubate their ideas. Greater Lafayette has the unique privilege of importing great talent through Purdue University, and it’s our job as a community to equip the talent and help them capitalize on their ideas.

What are some of the inputs that have helped your ecosystem grow?

Where do I start? Our most influential inputs come from a number of sources including, entrepreneurial leaders, local government, a university, investors, a venture capital fund, and activities and events. Here are a few (please excuse me if I’ve missed anyone):

  • Entrepreneurial leaders: Paroon Chadha of Passageways; Johnny Park of Spensa Technologies; Steve Mogensen and Jessica Huber of SpeechVive; Daryl Starr of Little Engine Ventures Capital, formerly Advanced Ag Solutions; Prahasith Veluvolu of Mimir; Mikel Berger of Delmar and Little Engine Ventures; and Sherine Abdelmawla of Akanocure Pharmaceuticals. These leaders are not only avid business people, but are engaged in helping our community thrive.
  • Government: The Greater Lafayette governments (Lafayette, West Lafayette, and Tippecanoe County) have always demonstrated their support for local entrepreneurs. For instance, the local governments, along with other companies in the area combined resources to help fund the redevelopment of facilitates for two co-working spaces, MatchBOX Co-Working Studio and The Anvil.
  • Purdue University: With forward-thinking students and professors, top research labs, entrepreneurship programs, and a comprehensive technology transfer office, Purdue University is an ideal partner to facilitate growth in the community. It’s one of the top research universities in the country, and its resources are invaluable to the startup community here.
  • Investors: Unfortunately, capital is probably the least visible piece of the Greater Lafayette Startup Community. With that said, there are several independent investors who are actively involved in startup business ventures. There are also a quite a few investor groups actively involved like Purdue Ventures, Little Engine Ventures, M25 Group, Elevate Ventures, and the angel investors from VisionTech.
  • M25 Group: I listed them in the investor category, but I wanted to call attention to M25 Group specifically. Its Founder and Managing Director, Victor Gutwein, and Director, Mike Asem, who joined M25 at the closing of its second fund, both spent parts of their childhoods in Greater Lafayette. Mike attended Purdue University, and while there, championed The Anvil, which is the largest student-run coworking space and startup incubator in the world. Before joining M25, Mike was the Director of Collaborative Relationships at the Purdue Foundry. Victor attended the University of Chicago where he sat on the board of UChicago’s first student-run venture fund. Recently, Victor was invited to join the 22nd class of the Kauffman Fellows Program, an organization focused on creating a worldwide network venture capitalists, leaders, and innovators through education and innovation.
  • Activities and Events: Here’s where there’s a lot of involvement in the community. Greater Lafayette houses several entrepreneurial-spirited events. Some of those include: The Spirited Entrepreneur hosted by the Purdue Foundry, Verge events, Startup Weekends, The Boiler, Lemonade Day, Forge Innovation Series, and the Greater Lafayettech Meetup.

Our firm has helped more than 150 startups with entity formation, capital raising, intellectual property protections, merger & acquisition transactions, and other general counsel matters. We also hold office hours at multiple coworking spaces around Greater Lafayette where we offer free discovery sessions with startup businesses to help them determine what comes next in their growth process.  

What is your goal for the next year? The next 5 years?

One of my initial goals is to develop a cadence for Chicago, Indianapolis, and other business leaders in the Midwest (or otherwise connected to Purdue University) to visit the Greater Lafayette area to see what we’re doing. In my opinion, Greater Lafayette is a hidden gem of innovation and could see quite a bit of benefit from connecting to others outside of its own ecosystem.

What are some startups to watch coming out of Greater Lafayette?

Well, there have been quite a few.

Spensa Technologies, which creates technologies to help agribusinesses better predict, control, and prevent insect patterns, weeds, and disease. By allowing real-time reporting, growers get instant access to vital updates that allow them to be proactive in their spraying and pest management solutions.

Mimir, develops cloud-based technology for automated grading and plagiarism detection in coursework. It was created by three students out of Purdue University, and was housed locally in The Anvil, a co-working space, until recently. They’re now located in Indianapolis and even participated in Y Combinator, following in the footsteps of companies like Airbnb, Reddit, and Dropbox. Mimir’s association to Lafayette alone has been valuable for our local startup community. They’re constantly innovating and have raised significant rounds of financing, so I have no doubt they’ll continue to grow.

Socio is an application company headquartered in Greater Lafayette that allows users nearby to one another to exchange contact information like email, phone numbers, and social media accounts by simply shaking their phones. It’s gained quite a bit of traction, specifically spreading quickly in the government industry.

Read more about the Indiana startup ecosystem on TechCo

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Emma Peck is a policy analyst at Engine, a nonprofit that supports the growth of technology entrepreneurship through economic research, policy analysis and advocacy on local and national issues.

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