This morning I had the pleasure of attending the 21 Fund
breakfast thanks to an invite from Frank Leonard. Frank is a great networker and works with some incredible technology companies, like Scale Computing
. At the end of the event, I got to spend some time with Steve Hourigan and it was really enlightening.
My personal experience with the 21 Fund sucked a couple years ago. We submitted, they rejected us by email with a generic explanation. We then contacted a few big shots in town who put a good word in for us... and were turned down again. Still a generic explanation. As a taxpayer, a citizen and a guy who's worked with the who's who of successful startups, I muttered quite a few nasty words under my breath!
I told Steve about the experience and added that our startup that they turned down is bootstrapped and very successful - there's a chance we could expand to 4 full-time positions and we just picked up a key client yesterday. Steve responded, "Guess you didn't need the money!"... I loved that response... but I'm not sure it's accurate. With an influx of funds, we could expand and maintain profitability. We've got a unique process that's a winner with our clients. In fact, we had our latest client fly us to Paris, France to assist them... pretty cool.
Enough about us... I just wanted to set the tone that I haven't been a big fan of the 21 Fund until our conversation with Steve today. He shared that the benefit of the fund really isn't the money as much as it is the education that they could be providing companies with the right resources. In fact, it honestly sounded to me like the money is the problem.
First, it's the center of attention for both politicians and business people. They think it's a general fund they should be able to take ideas to and cash out on. Not the case. As the site reads,
to stimulate the process of diversifying the State's economy by developing and commercializing advanced technologies in Indiana
Take note... Indiana... not Indianapolis! Steve's team is working on building relationships with entrepreneurs around the state, not just local here in Indianapolis. He's seeing a ton of opportunity to the North and have been spending time there. Steve wants to emphasize education more than the money associated with the initiative (my 2 cents: perhaps changing the name from 'fund' may change this perspective ;).
These are my observations by the way - and I hope I'm presenting Steve and the 21 Fund well. My experience with the 21 Fund stunk and we spent the next year wandering from private investors, to VCs and investment groups. The majority of them led us totally astray and it wasn't until we sat down with a specific entrepreneur here locally did we stop sinking money and time into the wrong direction and actually began building a business.
I'm excited now for the 21 Fund. I'm glad they're starting a road show to initiate opportunities around the state and I'm glad that they want to focus more on educating entrepreneurs. Coming up with innovative ideas is actually quite simple. Building businesses around them is the hard part!
Last word on this: People from the IEDC and 21 Fund talk a lot about 'innovation'. Many of the funded projects I've seen funded are remarkable innovations. Personally, I'm not sure this is a good business decision. Innovation is risky. Innovation is difficult. Innovation has a ton of competition.
The goal of the 21 Fund actually doesn't mention innovation. There are huge opportunities in growing companies here in Indiana that serve, support and develop strategies in the high tech industry. I hope the 21 Fund looks beyond innovation at companies like mine that help others to become 'high tech'!
Great event today! More coming later on the actual discussion from Bret Swanson
, incredible insight into Indiana's tech economy. It's really going well!