We say it often: entrepreneurship is a contact sport. To start and grow a business, entrepreneurs crave—and actually need—networked connections, on-the-ground and in-the-flesh.
The Indy Chamber heard that call and recently launched two new initiatives aimed at providing local entrepreneurs with a conduit to the city’s entrepreneurial infrastructure and into Indianapolis’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Already the Indy Chamber’s Entrepreneur Service team provides an average of 10,000 hours of free, one-on-one business coaching and entrepreneurial education programs each year. With the introduction of The Resource Navigator® and 1 Million Cups, the Chamber will be able to maximize the visibility of both Indy’s entrepreneurial resources and its entrepreneurs.
“We continue to expand our core entrepreneur services – business coaching, microlending, educational programs – to support our entrepreneurs,” said Michael Huber, Indy Chamber president and CEO. “But there’s more help out there if you know where to look, and a whole community ready to share, listen and learn. The Indy Resource Navigator and 1 Million Cups are collaborations that will become important pieces of Indy’s entrepreneurial infrastructure.”
Connecting Entrepreneurs to the Right Resource
The new Indy Resource Navigator is a dynamic and interactive web directory that organizes Indy’s growing ecosystem of free or low-cost business resources. At the entrepreneurial ecosystem level, it allows the chamber to identify and map (literally) Indy’s entrepreneurial resources and connect them into an accessible and visible entrepreneurial network.
“The Indy Resource Navigator shows the breadth of expertise, services and support available to small businesses and entrepreneurs,” said Carrie Henderson, the Indy Chamber’s vice president of entrepreneur services.
To use the Indy Resource Navigator, Indianapolis entrepreneurs simply go online, answer a few questions about their company, its current stage and growth plans. Entrepreneurs can filter the results and connect with the right and relevant business-building resources based on their business stage and need.
“Our business coaches play this ‘connector’ role on a one-on-one basis. But even though we spent thousands of hours with clients last year, this portal expands our reach across the region with a few clicks,” added Henderson.
Building the Indy Resource Navigator is the first phase of the Indy Chamber’s plan to create a comprehensive, ‘one-stop’ portal for business growth initiatives and services—and to fully understand the needs of its entrepreneurs and any missing entrepreneurial services in the ecosystem.
Users will initially find more than 80 organizations providing business plan development, market analysis and strategy, technical assistance in operations, financial management, educational opportunities, financing and more. Contributing partners include business development groups, government agencies, lenders and other sources of growth capital, networking initiatives, professional service providers and organizations focused on women and minority-owned enterprises; the Navigator continues to expand as more partners enlist.
Connecting Entrepreneurs to Each Other
While the Indy Resource Navigator offers online convenience for busy business owners, another new program helps with their confidence and credibility by providing a regular forum for education and engagement.
1 Million Cups is a free, national program of the Kauffman Foundation that operates in more than 100 communities – now including Indianapolis – with weekly meetups that allow entrepreneurs to share their journey and pitch their business to a supportive audience of peers and experts.
“Indy is building a diverse, inclusive startup scene where young businesses can succeed, from high-tech innovators to neighborhood retailers,” noted Danielle McDowell, executive director of the Speak Easy, a partner in Indy’s 1 Million Cups program. “1 Million Cups will involve early-stage companies from across this spectrum, with a non-competitive, supportive environment.”
“It’s a perfect complement for pitch events like Verge, the Innovation Showcase, BioCrossroads’ Life Sciences Competition and others,” McDowell added. “This program engages entrepreneurs at the point where they’re still seeking feedback before moving on to higher-stakes opportunities. The inclusive design of 1 Million Cups allows room for a new CEO getting ready for a ‘make or break’ meeting with venture capitalists alongside a furniture designer looking to test a scale-up plan pitch.”
The 1 Million Cups model is consistent across its participating communities. Every Wednesday morning, one or two early-stage startups present their companies to a diverse audience of their peers, mentors, educators and advisors. (The program name is based on the notion that entrepreneurs network and discover solutions over a million cups of coffee.)
Indy’s first 1 Million Cups event was held on April 12 at the Speak Easy, and will continue at rotating locations across the metro region, organized by representatives of partners like The Speak Easy, Verge, the Purdue Foundry, The Bureau, RUCKUS, Ivy Tech, DeveloperTown and Fight for Small.
“Both the Resource Navigator and 1 Million Cups capture Indy’s entrepreneurial momentum and seek to organize it to make a stronger impact on the local employers that create 80 percent of all new jobs in our region,” finished Huber. “Whether it’s online or in-person, consulting with a coach or sharing with a group of like-minded business owners, we’re creating avenues for Indianapolis companies to get to the next level.”