In late 2019, Elevate Northeast Indiana set out to make a difference in the region’s startup ecosystem.
Its goal was to source high-growth, high-potential companies that would garner $15 million in investment from Elevate and other private capital sources. And it did just that. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, community partners supported the initiative leading to the achievement of the goal.
The impact of these investments has been far-reaching. Startups in the region have used this funding to launch new products and services, gain new customers from all over the country, create new jobs and drive innovation. This, in turn, has helped to grow the economy and make the region a more attractive place to live and work. In total, 86 new jobs have been created in Northeast Indiana.
About Elevate Northeast Indiana
Elevate Northeast Indiana launched in April 2017 through a collaboration between Elevate Ventures and the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. The partnership totaled $2.5 million in funding, with $1 million raised by the region and an additional $1.5 million from Elevate Ventures, aiming to boost entrepreneurship and innovation across the 11-county region. The partnership offers several initiatives under three key concepts: capital, talent, and education. Through various Elevate funds, 26 transactions totaling $5.3 million, with an additional $24 million leveraged from outside capital, have been completed in the region since 2017.
Dr. Michael Mirro, Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Research Officer at Parkview Health, has served as the Chair of Elevate Northeast Indiana since 2019. Mirro said, “Elevate Ventures has been a key partner in growing early-stage companies in our region. Our local corporate community has invested along with Elevate Ventures to enhance the success of the Northeast Indiana region.”
Regional Growth and Advancement
A growing number of people are choosing to live and start businesses in Northeast Indiana. For example, Allen County’s population grew by 2,716 residents in 2021—more than twice the state rate of 0.3% and five times the national rate of 0.12%. Additionally, in 2022, M25 ranked Fort Wayne at #25 in its Best of the Midwest: Startup Cities Rankings, up four spots from the previous year.
While Fort Wayne may be the largest and best-known city in the region, it’s by no means the only one in the region that is thriving. A few of the region’s accomplishments and accolades include:
- In 2021, the cities of Angola, Auburn and Warsaw were recognized by Site Selection Magazine in its list of top micropolitans in the country.
- Nearly one-third of the $38 billion global orthopedic industry is headquartered in Warsaw, also known as the Orthopedic Capital of the World.
- As Indiana’s first “Gigabit City”, Bluffton offers universally available internet speeds up to 100 times faster than typical broadband.
Impacting the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
To get more insight into the recent growth, we spoke with a few of the businesses and people who have been impacted by the booming entrepreneurial ecosystem across the region. Below are a few of their perspectives:
3BG Supply, a technology-enabled distributor of industrial MRO (maintenance, repair and operations) products, launched in Fort Wayne in 2014. The company moved its headquarters to The Landing, a vibrant, independent business district in the heart of downtown Fort Wayne, in 2019. CEO Alex Smith noted that advancements in the region have had a major impact on the company’s success, particularly in terms of attracting and retaining top talent.
“The region’s growth has had a direct and positive effect on our business. For example, we strategically located our business on Columbia Street (The Landing), one of Fort Wayne’s most promising downtown developments,” said Smith. “I’d say it was only natural that we wanted to create a working environment that’s conducive to attracting top talent. We felt that locating the business within the newly redeveloped Landing district afforded us that opportunity. The growth of northeast Indiana—specifically within Fort Wayne and in association with the downtown Fort Wayne riverfront redevelopment—has allowed us to attract, hire and retain top talent.”
Smith also recognized the region’s culture of collaboration and commitment to supporting entrepreneurs.
“The essence of an entrepreneurial ecosystem is its people and the culture of trust and collaboration that allows them to interact successfully. An ecosystem that allows for the fast flow of talent, information, and resources helps entrepreneurs quickly find what they need at each stage of growth. The northeast region has been working on the people and culture component for the last 10+ years and it’s paying off. In addition, the low cost of living has allowed for capital efficiency in creating and growing our businesses.”
Through its cloud-based farm management software, Auburn-based Traction Ag delivers financial solutions to growers across the Midwest. Recently, the startup raised $3 million in seed funding to enhance the functionality and value of its integrated farm accounting and operations application. CEO and co-founder Ian Harley shared his perspective on the region’s economic growth.
“A culture of success in Northeast Indiana is evident. In Auburn alone, we have seen significant growth in the tech sector. The region has also offered us many networking opportunities, introductions, and mentorship, which have contributed to our success,” said Harley. “Thanks to organizations like DeKalb Chamber, Elevate Ventures, AgriNovus, and the Indiana Economic Development Corp., we’ve received a lot of support.”
As someone who leads several organizations in Northeast Indiana, Brian More is dedicated to the region’s success. His experience as president of Catalyst Ventures, CEO of Nanovis and treasurer on the board of Elevate Northeast Indiana, give him a unique perspective.
As Brian reflects on the past few years of growth, he observes a couple of themes.
“One theme is activities that create more collision—or the potential for more collision. Some examples are Parkview Health’s Innovation Summits and pitch competitions, the development of Electric Works, and Elevate Northeast Indiana. These all create an atmosphere where more people can establish connections that may help them along.”
“The other theme I see is a common pathway within the region, and this goes back to the formation of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. Recently, I’ve seen more of a collective effort because we really all want the same thing. In the entrepreneurial economic development world, I am noticing more alignment and people and organizations working together. They’re not so concerned about themselves as they are about the success of the region. I attribute a lot of that to the partnership—the leadership and what they’ve done over the past decade. It doesn’t matter if it’s Woodland County, Allen County, doesn’t matter what county it’s in, if it’s in the region, we’re all going to win.”
Elevate Northeast Indiana has had a profound impact on the startup ecosystem in the region. It has shown entrepreneurs that there is a network of people and resources that believe in them and are willing to invest in their success. By collaborating and forming strategic partnerships like Elevate Northeast Indiana, people and organizations alike can learn from each other, resulting in progress that benefits everyone.