Two Questions for Two Entrepreneurs
By Rebecca Patrick
Nobody knows what’s going on in the start-up trenches better than people who have been there, done that – and repeat the process.
One is Lafayette’s Mikel Berger, co-founder of MatchBOX co-working studio and partner at DelMar Software Solutions in the Purdue Research Park.
The other is Drey Peyronnin, who is president of Peyronnin Investments, an angel investor and founder of Evansville’s Tech on Tap, which helps nurture innovation and build business locally.
What’s the biggest ADVANTAGE to growing a business in your area?
“Size. Lafayette is big enough that we have most of the basics of the support services. The vendors, the companies you are going to need to get your business off the ground. We are big enough to have them but small enough to where you can (readily) access them,” Berger offers.
“If you really needed to talk to the mayor about something, you can get on his schedule or have a quick phone call. That’s probably something most small businesses really need. In a bigger community, say like Chicago, you might spend months trying to get an answer.
“There is also pretty good collaboration between folks if people are willing to take advantage of it and ask.”
Berger speaks from personal experience.
“Matchbox is a non-profit with support from the city, county and through the Purdue Research Foundation and collaborates with Purdue a bunch. Most of the other large employers in town also help – with programming and things like that and help smaller businesses get going. That’s one of (the area’s) biggest strengths.”
Peyronnin hones in on aspects that are “decidedly non-tech” but represent critical advantages.
“One is the type of people who live in Indiana. Specifically, the integrity of the people. No matter what type of business you are starting or growing, there is nothing more fundamentally central than establishing relationships with people of integrity,” he declares.
“Specific to Evansville, we have a great quality of place. We have an economic structure that allows people to participate in that quality of place. … I’m talking about the cost of living and accessibility to the amenities that are here.”
Peyronnin tells an anecdote about mentoring cohorts from Hoosier companies and those on the two coasts. He would always ask people from the latter what their impressions were of Indiana; two things stuck with him.
“They said, ‘I could actually conceive of owning a home here.’ They had come from California, Washington and Massachusetts and the thought of home ownership was beyond their comprehension in those areas.”
One person’s response was very emblematic of Indiana. “He said, ‘In Seattle when I tell people I’m working on a start-up, their response is let me tell you about mine. But when I tell people in this area that I’m working on a start-up, their response is how can I help you,’ ” Peyronnin shares.
“Sure, part of it relates to the higher density of start-ups on the coasts, but I also think it speaks to the sense of community and the welcoming of businesses here, and the support of them.”
Geographic location is also a plus, Peyronnin stresses.
“It’s access to customers. In Evansville, or Indianapolis for that matter, you are one day ground shipping from something like 70 to 80% of the U.S. population. If you are a one- or two-location company, the fact that you can ship to your customers next day ground is proving to be a pretty big advantage for these start-ups.”
What’s the biggest CHALLENGE to growing a business in your area?
Both mention a common problem: hiring. Peyronnin pinpoints the need for improvement in communicating the value proposition – of how good the Hoosier quality of place actually is.
“The longstanding perception is that the grass is quite green on the coasts and pretty marginal in the middle part of the country. Because of the media’s lack of storytelling capacity and persistence, those perceptions tend to continue,” he asserts.
“So it can be quite daunting to make an argument for someone to move from the coasts to the Midwest. You certainly can access more and more talent remotely, but it’s a struggle to make a pitch to someone, particularly a tech-oriented person, that Evansville is the place to be,” he admits.
“Again, once they get here they see the quality of place, affordability and all those things, (then) the story changes pretty dynamically.
Berger also talks of a double-edged sword. Lafayette has “innovation-driven enterprises that have high growth potential for a nationwide if not global market … having that is a good thing. But then one of the challenges is really getting as much of that technology out and into the marketplace.
“That is still a big challenge. It’s not like it’s not happening, but there is just so much more that can be done. And the speed with which it happens. I think most of the us folks involved would say the same thing,” he concludes.
Berger, who praises the Purdue Foundry and Office of Technology Commercialization, believes it’s not just on the university to make things materialize.
“Yes, it’s Purdue reaching out, but it’s also the rest of the community reaching into Purdue,” he declares.
“It baffles me but some people in Lafayette really don’t take advantage of Purdue. Why do you live here if you are not going to take advantage of that very unique resource that hardly anyone else has in the country – not just within the state. I can’t explain that one.”