Elevate Ventures, Bloomington-based incubator The Mill and the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce on Thursday announced they have entered a three-year agreement to invest $2.5 million to bolster the entrepreneurial ecosystems in Bartholomew, Brown and Monroe counties.
The announcement was made at Big Woods at Hard Truth Hills restaurant in Nashville.
The regional partners plan to raise $1 million over three years for the project, and Elevate Ventures will match that with $1.5 million over the same period.
Over the last three years, Elevate Ventures, a not-for-profit investment group that runs the Indiana Angel Network Fund, has started to focus on forging partnerships to bolster entrepreneurship and startups in different regions throughout the state.
Elevate Ventures has four similar deals. Those deals are in:
• St. Joseph and Elkhart counties region, which includes participation from the University of Notre Dame
• Fort Wayne area
• Evansville-Jasper area
• Jefferson-New Albany area.
“We’re trying to form partnerships to accelerate innovation and entrepreneurship throughout the state,” Elevate Ventures CEO Christopher LaMothe told IBJ. “We think this is critical for the future of the state.”
So why the Columbus-Bloomington areas?
“Both [Monroe and Bartholomew counties] have shown a willingness and a focus on entrepreneurship,” LaMothe said. “We think there is a real opportunity to elevate both of those regions. We want to take advantage of two partners that see this as a critical pivot.”
The money raised will be used to make investments in entrepreneurs, inventors and startups as well as “raise the visibility of entrepreneurship and innovation in the region” through things like networking events with venture capitalists, pitch competitions, seminars and other activities, LaMothe said.
In the coming weeks and months, there will be a sizable push to promote the new partnership through traditional media, social media, events and partner activities, LaMothe said.
Local businesses said the investment is just what the region needs to gain some notoriety.
“It’s a challenge for cities like Indianapolis, let alone smaller cities to get the attention they need from a business perspective,” said Mat Orrego, co-founder and CEO of Cornerstone Information Systems, a Bloomington-based technology and services provider for the travel industry. “This investment will help bring notice to the Bloomington and Columbus area. It’s exactly what is needed to start building jobs in the region.”
That’s not only important for startups, but for companies like his, which was founded in 1992.
“Any time a business starts in Bloomington, it starts bringing in more people to work there and legitimizes it as a place to come to work,” Orrego said. “People, and especially the top talent, will be more likely to consider your city if there are a multitude of work options there. So this is a big boost to all the companies within this region.”
Orrego said about half of his company’s 90 employees come from outside Bloomington. “With these types of initiatives and investments, we’re hopeful we’ll be able to find even more talent in Bloomington,” he said.
Though the pact is for three years, LaMothe noted there are options for renewal at the end of the initial period.
“We see these as long-term relationships,” he said. “In my opinion, it will take a decade for this [emphasis on entrepreneurship and the startup ecosystem] to really become part of the culture for the region.”
LaMothe said it’s possible, if things go well, that Elevate Ventures could invest more than $1.5 million into the region.
In all the regions where Elevate Ventures have entered these agreements, LaMothe called the response “enthusiastic.”
“We hope to begin to pivot local communities and regions toward making innovation a fundamental factor to their success for decades to come,” LaMothe said. “The regions we’ve gone into have really embraced that idea.”
Elevate, founded in 2010, is supported by the Indiana Economic Development Corp., community foundations and corporate and individual donors.