It’s been a watershed year for the Louisville entrepreneurial scene. We already knew that, of course, but it’s nice to hear that sentiment straight from the mouth of the Godfather of Startups himself, Tendai Charasika, executive director of EnterpriseCorps, the entrepreneurial arm of Greater Louisville Inc.
“This was the year of building out the base of our entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he said. “I’m very confident that Louisville has the right pieces in place” to attract new entrepreneurs in any sector.
Charasika’s highlights of 2013:
Over the course of one year “we created five accelerators, and that doesn’t even count the ones on the state-level.” Charasika says our accelerator programs are right on trend because they focus on different sectors and the trend is to “accelerate in verticals.”
The “top of the funnel”
The University of Louisville has been building a “great base” for the entrepreneurial community, says Charasika, and has seen some big successes this year. PGXL Laboratory is a fast-growth company that often flies under the radar, but it started in a U of L lab. GLI awarded them with an Inc.credible Award for Innovation and Technology in September. This year, too, Regenerex, a company led by U of L researcher Dr. Suzanne Ildstad, entered into a license and research collaboration with Swiss pharmaceutical mega-firm Novartis International AG.
This year, GE and the folks over at the Appliance Park have become good friends of the entrepreneur community in Louisville. In the fall, they hosted Open Coffee at the Cressman Center and gave Open Coffee members a tour of their HOME 2025 exhibit. And recently, GE hosted an entrepreneur open house at their Monogram center and their design team spoke with local entrepreneurs about potential engagement opportunities between the company and local startups.
The event was repeatedly called “historic,” and Charasika said it really represented a “culture change.” Charasika says EnterpriseCorps intends to build on that opportunity in 2014 and is set to engage other large corporations for similar events across other business sectors.
Rooibie Red Tea has seen some critical successes this year — including being featured at Google HQ and in Costco. Charasika says they’re “setting the stage for the future.”
Aaron Marshall, creator of the hugely successful mobile photo app Over, may have moved with his family to South Africa this spring, but co-founder and engineer Jeffrey Jackson is still very much in Louisville. Expect to hear more about their oBaby app in the coming year.
“You gotta love NuLu,” says Charasika. But 2014 is the year that Louisville needs to “bring that spirit to every ZIP code.” Also the Nucleus Building was a major change to the entrepreneurial infrastructure of Louisville.
Spirit of regionalism
The entrepreneurial community is leaving the rivalry between Louisville and Lexington on the court and on the field. This year we’ve seen a big uptick in the traffic between the two cities. Charasika cited the cooperation between the two communities on Startup Weekend and 5 Across. Both cities, and Southern Indiana, are really “helping grow entrepreneurs.” Look for an EnterpriseCorps bus trip to Lexington on Jan. 11. Details soon.
OpenCoffee officially started in the fall of 2012, but 2013 was notable “from a consistency standpoint,” says Charsika. “It’s a great opportunity for people to get engaged.” He also lauded the addition of the Monday evening Insiders Meetups.
He said, “it may seem like a small thing, but it makes a huge impact. It helps build awareness and culture.” The startup community has said for a long time that we need a single calendar site for all the community events. Thanks to StartupLouisville.com, we can cross that one off the “to do” list.
Hopes for 2014?
“We’ve got that core — how do we expand it?” asks Charasika. “How do we reach every ZIP code and neighborhood?”
“It will take people in different organizations and corporate structures” to spread the culture, he says. “We need to levy them.”
Charasika also said the community should seek to do more things “on a national scale,” including continuing to bring in nationally known speakers.
“It’s also about inclusion,” he says. We need to work to “include our small business, early-stage tech and fast-growth entrepreneurs.”
He also advocated for more town-hall style meetings in 2014. “I want to make it really easy for people to get involved.”