Maximizing ROI on Indiana's $1B Investment - Higher Education (Part 3)

by Brian Casserly

Over the past few weeks, we have both outlined what the investment entails, and gave our recommendations for how the funding can make an impact at secondary education programs. This week, we will be dissecting the second area of focus on the list, and giving our recommendation for what we believe would be most beneficial to entrepreneurs. According to the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, this includes

“Supporting education, research and entrepreneurial practice at Indiana’s higher education and research institutions by leveraging strategic partnerships to support and expand current innovation and entrepreneurship programs, advance research initiatives and programs like the Purdue Foundry Accelerator with embedded Entrepreneurs in Residence, and establish a system for sharing best practices across the state’s network of private and public institutions.”

Indiana has a number of higher education institutions who are leveraging strategic partnerships to support entrepreneurial initiatives. While there are a few institutions with similar programs in place, the Purdue Foundry is an excellent model from a structural standpoint. In partnership with the Purdue Research Foundation, the Foundry aims to increase the number of startups at Purdue while creating a campus-wide entrepreneurship hub. Indiana University’s Research and Technology Corporation is another great program to look at from a quality of commercialization standpoint. According to IIB, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued 53 patents last year based on Indiana University discoveries. Other higher education programs to note include Ball State, Notre Dame University Innovation Park, and Rose-Hulman RISE.

Keeping these existing programs in mind, Gutwein Law has a few recommendations to share:

  1. Incentivize recent grads to stay in state

“Brain Drain” is an all too familiar issue for state of Indiana, which sees as many as 41% of its public university graduates leave the state within 3 years of graduation, according to Indiana Business Research Center at IU. Efforts are already in place with promising results and growing reputations.  For example, universities, industry magnates, and growing tech companies have come together for their mutual benefit with Techpoint’s Extern program, funded in part by the state, to introduce promising Indiana (the vast majority, at least) college students to Indianapolis’s growing tech sector and the vibrant community. Supporting efforts similar to Techpoint’s will foster students exposure to the opportunities available in-state that are too often overlooked for a perceived “greener pasture” out-of-state.  Another potential incentive structure has been put forward by the Stanford School of Business, which announced a fellowship program for students to receive tuition in exchange for working in an underserved area of the U.S. for two years after graduation. Using this program as a model, Indiana universities could offer similar programs incentivizing students receiving professional degrees to stay in the state after graduation, whether by tuition assistance, loan forgiveness, tax breaks, or similar tangible economic incentives.

  1. State-wide startup competition

Well defined startup competitions, with a thoughtful program coaching teams from business ideation to a pitch-ready business plan, have a recent history of success locally. The Boiler Competition, operated by Purdue University’s student-ran co-working space The Anvil, has benefited a host of companies. Alumni of that program include Mimir Corporation, a Y Combinator graduate, and recent success story Socio Labs Inc. Indiana (through its universities, co-working spaces, or otherwise) should consider implementing a statewide startup competition, and operate it with regional qualifying rounds and a final pitch competition for the regional winners.  This may get new companies exposure to potential investors, clients, and employees in regions of the state that they would not otherwise seek out.  The state could offer funding (through Elevate), consulting (through ISBDC), or other appropriate incentives as part of the prize package to the winners. Michigan’s Greenlight Business Model Completion may serve as a good regional model for this statewide structure.

  1. Promotion through regional economic development organizations

Economic development organizations, such as the IEDC at the state level, and GAGE, Northwest RDA, or RADIUS at the regional level, can use their platform to promote entrepreneurial programs and partner with respective universities in their region. By leveraging the knowledge and proximity of regional economic development organizations to directly interact with the student population within their area, the benefits of remaining in that region post-graduation can be best achieved. These organizations are currently equipped with sales and marketing materials and information that can be readily adapted to the student population.

Being close to Purdue University, we’ve seen firsthand how a concerted effort between all stakeholders—government, schools, entrepreneurs, service providers, local business, etc.—can have a strong positive impact on startup activity and retention of some of the area’s brightest minds.  Insuring the continuation of those programs, expanding similar efforts, which no doubt are also in place in other locales to one extent or another, and bringing the opportunities to light will be key of continued statewide success in higher education entrepreneurism. In our next post, our attorneys will be giving recommendations on how the funds can best used in cultivating and enhancing regional entrepreneurial culture.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Brian Casserly

Brian Casserly is an attorney at Gutwein Law. Prior to receiving his J.D. from Indiana University, he earned his MBA from Ball State University and his BA in Finance from University of Southern Indiana. He focuses primarily on business law.

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