A question that has been asked many times in when someone is thinking of starting a business. The answer for years has not been a positive one with talent from local universities flocking to Chicago and their thriving startup scene. However, the question now is “Why not Indiana?” I recently talked to one person who asked this question five years ago and is close to a positive response to the question “Why not Indiana?”
The person I am referring to is Kelly Schwedland and he is no stranger to the startup scene.
How many companies have you been apart of?
Kelly: I have actually been apart of about 30 different startup companies over the course of college. Couple of them have been venture backed. Three of them went to some type of exit. The Genesis Foundation was probably the largest of them. We grew that to about $250 million before the mortgage market changed all of the regulations.
Any exits from companies recently?
Kelly: So there were three or four companies that we had. Myself and and a couple of partners had about five or six companies that we had started and tried and some of them we changed the business models. Some of them we did different things. At the time they were part of the what we called the Business Foundry, which was a facility that we had in Valpo. It was in the design of a pseudo-incubator. Near the end we all decided that we have different ideas about the directions that we wanted to go personally and professionally.
Kelly: Somewhat serendipitous. I grew up in Indianapolis. Went to IU and then my dad ended up taking a job in Michigan. So there was really no reason for me to stay except for the fact, about the time I was finishing school in Bloomington, I had been apart of 2 different startup down there. I was really frustrated about figuring out how to get them to scale. I was chatting with a friend of mine from school and he said there was a company from Laporte and they are an Inc. 500 company, and you should go up and talk to them because they are hiring. The only position available at the time was an Installation Technician. I figured I was kind of handy so maybe I should do that. I started in with about 10 or 12 other guys that all started working at the same time. At the end of two weeks, I was the only one still working. I progressed from there and moved into a sales role when one opened up. Eventually, I helped open up an office in England. Then, I helped set up a distributorship in France, before finally leaving and starting another company. But the true in answer in there was that while I was at that company I met my wife and we got married. Then before you know it, you live here.
Why did you want to get into the Indiana startup scene?
Kelly: I had a little bit of a personal and financial buffer. So I started working out of Chicago. I was up there going to school for my MBA from the University of Chicago. Then I sort of hung out around the Chicago startup scene. I saw a lot of things happening during that time period. I wasn’t all that excited about commuting into the city though. So about a year ago I moved back to Indiana and see what I can work on out here. At a chance luncheon with a handful of business owners. We were sitting around talking about some of the stuff in Chicago. One of them said “Why don’t we do that here?” And I said “I don’t know. What we need to do is take a look and see if we have the right kind of people and what would be necessary to accomplish that.”
Kelly: I started researching how many developers, user experience, and software companies were out here in northwest Indiana. Basically it came to the conclusion that we had a lot of talent but most of it was working in or for Chicago companies. So out of that we said “What would it take to get more of those individuals to recognize that there is an opportunity to take their skills and talents and build companies. As we researched around that we found that we need resources. There was no venture capital fund or angel investor network at the time in northwest Indiana. There was no easy access to capital. The part was helping people understand what the startup process could look like. We had to build an ecosystem to help people get connected. Which is kind of the Startup Weekend piece. Understanding lean startup methodologies for validating your assumptions before you start building stuff. Which is pretty common now in the Chicagoland area, but not very common in most of Indiana.
I then ran into Elevate Ventures and explained to them what we were looking to do. While trying to get them on board, one of the guys that handles one of the various regions said “I could really use your help and I think there is a way to partner to make this happen” So, I came on as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence to coach existing companies and continue developing a Startup Weekend and still trying to put an accelerator program together.
Come back next week to read the second half of my interview with Kelly, where he discusses what Elevate Ventures, Startup Weekend Valparaiso, and much more.