Ready, Set, Grow, The Northeast Indiana Innovation Center nurtures innovation to breed success among local entrepreneurs.
by Tammy Davis, photos by Jeffrey Crane, Business People magazine
Seated: Mitchell Skees, Ashley Spurr | Standing: Rick Erickson, Jeff Erickson, Ralph Mrcuccilli, Nick Deeter, Lisa Harris, and Connor Skees
A successful business venture may be born of inspiration, but it takes more than wishful thinking to make the leap from an idea to reality. It requires planning, resources and hard work, and sometimes even the most capable people need a little help to make it happen. That’s where the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center (NIIC) steps into action.
For the past seventeen years, the NIIC has been quietly making its mark as a center for serious-minded innovators and entrepreneurs, serving businesses at every stage. With 74,400 square feet of space on 55 acres and a can-do attitude, the NIIC has become an entrepreneurial community of choice. Karl R. LaPan, president and CEO, shares, “The NIIC is a destination for business builders and aspiring entrepreneurs. Our services will scale to serve people and companies of all capabilities to help take them to the next level and apply proven business practices to accelerate their growth.”
The NIIC seeks to help business builders launch and grow successful companies. It’s not only good for the economy — over 90 percent of new net job creation in the U.S. comes from startups and emerging businesses — but it also significantly impacts the community’s health and vitality. The NIIC has facilitated millions in funding for its clients, helped countless businesses launch and grow, and supported clients’ introduction of hundreds of products. Five stories are profiled here.
Room to Grow: Allied Payment Network
When Ralph Marcuccilli started to develop his idea for a unique online and mobile bill payment solution for the financial industry, he needed a place to make it happen. Since moving into the NIIC in 2010 as a one-man office, Marcuccilli’s Allied Payment Network has grown into a team of 25.
“The NIIC gives young companies an ‘office-in-a-box’ so they can focus on their business instead of spending resources and time doing things that don’t really add value,” says Marcuccilli. “The NIIC has made it very easy for us to grow, without having to worry about leases, furniture, conference space and other things that we would otherwise have to manage.”
In addition to office space, Allied has tapped into other value-added NIIC resources, including connections to service providers, angel investors, business strategic advisory assistance, a board seat for NIIC’s CEO and The NIIC as a financial investor in the venture.
As Marcuccilli looks to the future, he appreciates the opportunity to concentrate on the heart of his business. “The NIIC has made it easy for us to grow and focus our resources on more pressing needs instead of facilities,” he says.
To learn more about Allied Payment Network go to alliedpayment.com.
Double Down on Passion: OrthoPediatrics and WishBone Medical
In 2006, Nick Deeter saw an unmet need in a segment of the orthopedic industry: very few manufacturers served the $1.4 billion market for pediatric orthopedic implants and instruments. Deeter was ready to tackle the challenge, but as a startup in a high tech arena, it wasn’t enough for OrthoPediatrics to put forth a great product; it also needed to present a professional front.
“The NIIC brought immediate credibility to my business,” explains Deeter. “The professional atmosphere and advisory services are invaluable to a startup.”
Before Deeter sold the company in 2013, OrthoPediatrics had emerged as the market leader. It went public in late 2017, trading under the NASDAQ symbol KIDS.
“OrthoPediatrics has been the most successful IPO of 2017,” says Deeter. “For the NIIC’s capital scorecard, OrthoPediatrics raised approximately $70 million from private investors and an additional $60 million during the IPO.”
Deeter’s passion for innovating in the pediatric orthopedic industry hasn’t diminished. His current venture, WishBone Medical, provides anatomically appropriate implants and instruments in sterile-packed, disposable kits for children. Again, Deeter turned to The NIIC.
“As part of the WishBone Medical Series-A preferred capital raise, we held a very successful meeting with investors in The NIIC’s conference rooms,” says Deeter. “I am excited about the innovative products and promise of this venture, and how they will change the industry landscape for young adult patients.”
To learn more about WishBone Medical go to wishbonemedical.com.
Women’s Entrepreneurial Opportunity Center: Elevare, LLC
Together, Ashley Spurr and Lisa Harris share more than 30 years’ experience selling into the federal government pipeline, and they hope to use it to help small businesses navigate the complicated procurement landscape. With plans to start a consulting company in the works, they learned about a segment of The NIIC specifically designed to support women entrepreneurs: the Women’s Entrepreneurial Opportunity Center (WEOC).
“WEOC was created because of specific marketplace barriers experienced by women in starting and growing a business,” explains Tania Vanderlaan, acting WEOC director. “Our innovative, SBA-backed Women’s Business Center confronts head-on the four big obstacles faced by women entrepreneurs: access to capital, access to mentors, growth tools and models for dealing with failure.”
Spurr and Harris entered a WEOC pitch competition, through which they received input and coaching, and eventually presented their business proposal to an expert panel at a public event. They won one of two $5,000 investment prizes, as well as other in-kind benefits to support their venture.
“Due to the WEOC, Elevare has been able to launch earlier than anticipated,” says Spurr. “Through all the exposure, we’ve had possible clients seek out our services.”
To learn more about Elevare go to elevaretourguide.com.
Student Venture Lab: 3B Apps
Mitchell Skees and his brother Connor grew up in an entrepreneurial household. They became fascinated with programming and eventually decided to try their hand at turning their hobby into a business – but they needed support.
“We had a friend who recommended that we check out the Student Venture Lab Program at The NIIC, and we immediately found it to be a great fit,” says Mitchell Skees. “The program offers high school and college students office space, funding and the specialized business coaching they need to succeed and grow.”
Gary Fry, NIIC Entrepreneur-in-Residence, explains the program. “With onsite business coaching from entrepreneurs and a support system to back up the student, our SVL streamlines the process of starting a business and finding a business model,” he says. “Coaching, mentorship and strong entrepreneurial programming are critical to turbocharging student ideas into viable businesses.”
The Skees’ company, 3B Apps, provides mobile and online ordering applications for restaurants, letting users order and pay from their phones. Besides enhancing the customer experience, the application can dramatically improve the restaurant’s flow of operations. “There are many things we utilize at the NIIC, but my favorite thing has been the people we are able to meet and the connections that come from this type of environment,” says Skees. “It’s made a huge difference in our business.”
To learn more about 3B Apps go to 3Bapps.com.
Innovating Success for Generations: Engine Research Associates, Inc.
Engine Research Associates, Inc. (ERA), an innovative, multi-generational, manufacturer needed to find the right place to design and produce ultra-quiet, high-efficiency small engines.
“We were drawn to The NIIC after meeting the friendly and professional staff and seeing the clean and modern facilities,” says Jeff Erickson, co-owner and vice president. “We also felt the NIIC would significantly enhance our business image.”
After leasing office space at The NIIC in 2012, ERA increased its footprint in 2013 to co-locate its machining and lab equipment. Erickson and his team take full advantage of the resources available at The NIIC, and it has paid off. ERA recently expanded beyond its military-focused business into commercial engineering services and machining. The company received the 2016 Torch Award for Entrepreneurs of Integrity by the Northern Indiana Better Business Bureau, as well as the 2013 Innovator of the Year Award from Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly.
“The networking opportunities we’ve had by being at The NIIC have allowed us to connect with new customers, and we even met our patent attorney through the NIIC,” says Erickson. “The NIIC’s facilities, services and support remove a lot of unproductive distractions and allow us to focus on running our business.”
To learn more about Engine Research Associates go to ericksonmotors.com.
Through the years, the NIIC has methodically built what it calls “a community of substance for people of substance,” measuring its own success through that of its clients. While each has forged its own path to success, they share two common factors: an unwavering passion for making an idea come to life and the support of The NIIC and its programs. As a hub of innovation and a think tank for new ideas, the NIIC fosters the personal and organizational creativity that nurtures entrepreneurs and ultimately strengthens our community.
“The future is exciting,” says LaPan. “Our programs have received national awards and global attention. Likewise, our commitment to excellence is unparalleled in the entrepreneurship space.”