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Workwise–High-Tech Is Sprouting Up Amid the Cornfields

Although Silicon Valley dominates high- technology’s world map, the state of Indiana offers a new model of high-technology growth. The Hoosier model blends entrepreneurism and government sponsorship.

Here are some salient factoids:

– Research conducted by the Thoroughbred Group found that Indiana’s information technology firms had $6.5 billion annual revenue (1999), reports Dana Chamberlain, acting director of INITA (Indiana Information Technology Association). Between 1997 and 1999, they grew 44 percent, to 2,042 companies, while their employee base expanded 77 percent, to 32,303.

– Last year, the state helped persuade 28 new or expanding companies to commit to the area, for approximately 4,000 new jobs and $2.7 million in capital investment, according to Tom McKenna, executive director of the Indiana Department of Commerce.

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– In January, the governor awarded more than $15 million to organizations developing and commercializing new and emerging technologies.

– With 1.5 million people, Indianapolis is a network operations center for Abilene Network, a high-speed network for higher education and industry. Kim Hannel, marketing communications manager at the Indiana Department of Commerce, says, “It establishes our foothold in advanced networking, nationally and internationally.”

David Becker took an entrepreneurial trek from Monrovia, a community of 800 people 20 miles from Indianapolis. In 1981, he was consulting to members of the Indiana Credit Union League statewide and identified a market need. He faced three main obstacles: the recession, his lack of computer expertise and lack of the market’s acceptance of technology.

Becker explains: “Companies were producing widgets, brick and mortar, or four legs and a tail.” He negotiated with a company in Michigan to help him get started by buying wholesale and selling software retail for 12 to 18 months. Initially, he marketed to past clients and, at 27, grew a beard to appear older. “It actually helped,” he chuckles.

“Staying true to my roots,” he continues, “I drew a circle on a map of towns within three hours’ drive so I could travel, meet with prospects and customers, and get back to the office that day before closing so I could handle the day’s work.”

Fast-forward to 2000. Becker’s two software companies, re:Member Data Services and Virtual Financial Services, generate $20 million in revenue, with 182 employees and customers from coast to coast. His third company, the First Internet Bank of Indiana, garnered $100 million in deposits its first year (1999).

People within organizations also contribute to the area’s updated industry profile. Al Newberg is a partner and the Performance Improvement Center of Excellence Leader at Olive LLP. This professional services partnership has revenues of $60 million, according to Patricia Milner, director of marketing. Accounting Today, an industry publication, named the 80-year-old company “Technology Pacesetter” last year.

Newberg originally relocated to Indianapolis from Chicago for one of the nation’s accounting giants. He now runs Olive’s technical consulting area, which contributes 30 percent of the partnership’s revenue.

“We implement technology, usually package software solutions, to improve our clients’ business processes and operations,” he says. “E-solutions extend beyond the Fortune 500 and dot-coms to existing, mature organizations in all industries. In two or three years, we hope to double our contribution to the company.” The six employees he managed in September 1997 have quintupled, to 30.

Steven Ehrlich, senior vice president and general manager of the Online Group at Aprimo, Inc., which delivers E-business solutions to the marketing profession, moved to Carmel, a town of 29,000 adjacent to Indianapolis, from the Chicago area, where he had worked for a software vendor. The start-up’s growth potential lured him: “In two rounds of funding, we’ve raised $14 million,” he reports.

“We’re part of the move to introduce high-tech companies to the area,” Ehrlich observes. “Indianapolis is a natural location, because the majority of the top computer science programs in the country fall within a 500-mile radius. We’re fostering growth and converting cornfields into subdivisions.” He predicts that within three years, Aprimo will have added 200 highly paid positions.

Diane Dzurochak is software marketing manager for Macmillan USA Inc. in Indianapolis. For 20 years primarily a book publisher, the company developed its new technology focus about a year ago, according to Adam Diebold, company spokesman. There are 500 employees, some managing both technical and nontechnical projects.

Dzurochak says the company publishes computer books, lifestyle books and computer software, most with a technology focus. She manages the packaging and marketing of retail consumer software products in four categories.

–Mildred Culp

Culp sponsors the annual WorkWise Award. For information, visit (www.work- wise.com).

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