Indianapolis tech firms seek customer relationships in speed dating | Crain's

Indianapolis tech firms seek customer relationships in speed dating

For all the success of Central Indiana’s tech industry, including $7 billion in initial public offerings and acquisitions in the last decade, there’s at least one area where it still falls short.

A Kauffman Foundation study last year found that the region lagged behind other parts of the country in relationships between scale-up tech firms and established Indiana companies that could use their products.

“Nobody’s really focused on this cadre of companies,” Mike Langellier, president and CEO of TechPoint, said of firms at the scale-up stage, those that have evolved beyond startups and have a critical mass of revenue.

Building more relationships “is something our maturing tech community needs more of right now,” he said.

So, like matchmakers who set up dates, TechPoint on Oct. 28 hosted its first speed dating event, of sorts, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Other matchmaking sponsors were law firm Barnes & Thornburg, Comcast Business, DeveloperTown and mAccounting.

Sixteen scale-up stage tech firms spent the afternoon in suites high above the basketball court, as dozens of established companies courted them during 20-minute sessions punctuated by blaring air horns.

Mints, brochures and messaging

In some respects this format proved to be as unnerving as a round of romantic speed dating. Executives sauntered down the winding corridor to find a suite where executives from tech firms were waiting to make a good first impression. Most everyone wore an open-collar shirt and sport coat.

There were mints and brochures on tables. The flat-screen televisions in the suites set the business mood, with messages from TechPoint promoting its Tailwind program initiative that helps scale-ups find resources to grow. 

In fact, most of the arena became a TechPoint billboard, with the ribbon of video screens encircling the arena all touting Tailwind messages.

Inside suite No. 63, the CEO of Indianapolis-based Springbuk Inc., Rod Reasen, and account executive Lauren Howard, waited for the “dates” to arrive.

“This should be an excellent event for us,” said Reasen, whose health data analytics and software firm snapped up 450 customers since January 2015.

But most of Springbuk’s customers are out-of-state, many originally cultivated by the company’s annual awards program: Healthiest 100 Workplaces in America.

Reasen and Howard were keen on wooing Indiana suitors, companies “fed up” with rising healthcare costs. Springbuk developed a software platform that unifies disparate data available to an employer related to its employee healthcare costs, to identify cost saving opportunities and predict future spending.

Reasen, who previously worked in the wellness space, said that while many vendors made software pitches, none had data to prove associated savings.

“It is fascinating to know you’re ahead of the marketplace,” he said of Springbuk’s platform.

A chance to get in front of CIOs

While Springbuk has honed its marketing message, down in suite 32, executives at DeveloperTown admitted that they have some work to do.

What originally started in 2010 as a warehouse full of miniature houses rented by tech startups has evolved into a DeveloperTown product of its own. The collective expertise of all the firms is tapped to test software and new business concepts for clients DeveloperTown rounds up. They’ve worked on at least 150 projects since 2013.

Such services now generate the bulk of DeveloperTown’s $8 million in annual revenues. Yet, many still think of DeveloperTown as a co-working space for upstart firms.

“We’ve had a very tough branding problem,” said Michael Cloran, a partner in the 50-person firm. “We bring in all the knowledge from the other startups we have.”

Cloran and business partner Ken Miller were eager to speak with executives, particularly those from big companies that might want to hatch an idea but need to validate it before going into development.

“We’ve had a lot of great conversations,” Cloran said. “This is our one chance to get in front of CIOs.”

The opportunity was also too good to pass up for Christopher Day, CEO of Indianapolis-based firm DemandJump. Its marketing software uses artificial intelligence to provide more predictive analytics for clients.

“There’s so many gatekeepers in these large companies” to get through, Day said.  “Here, everybody lets their guard down.”

His co-founder and chief strategy officer, Shawn Schwegman, former chief technology officer at Overstock.com, pulled up his laptop and began reviewing data he’d already prepared about a visitor’s company and its competitors.

“Today, all the marketing tools focus on what happened. Our platform takes the next leap – what to do next,” Schwegman said.

Learning about each other

Down the hall, Perceivant CEO Christopher Johnson and his marketing and content manager, Nicole O’Neal, were also confronting the challenge of making 20-minute pitches for their software aimed at college students.

“I’ve never done any speed dating,” said Johnson laughing, while O’Neal winced as she remembered an experience with it in college.

The Indianapolis firm develops course content software used by colleges around the country, including the recently addition of Ohio State University.

One of Perceivant’s offerings is known as Kale, a platform to help students solve problems and work on personal development in numerous areas of their lives such as fitness, coping skills, financial wellness and health. It can even capture information from health kiosks that measure weight, body mass and other information.

“The students perceive themselves in all eight dimensions of well-being,” O’Neal said.

Students use the platform to conduct self-assessments. “It takes a textbook and gives it a supporting role,” Johnson said.

But the data from 20,000 students –compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Johnson stressed – not only helps universities measure the efficacy of teaching, it also has other uses the company is working to define.

“How we monetize that database in the future we’re still trying to figure that out,” Johnson said. 

Like a personal tidbit one finds out in speed dating, this is the level of detail typically not found on a company’s website. Those exchanges align with Langellier’s goal of helping tech scale-ups build relationships with established Indiana companies.

Finding one key relationship

Langellier noted that ExactTarget, which was acquired by Salesforce.com, hit its stride after developing relationships with large local companies such as Indianapolis-based retailer HH Gregg.

According to TechPoint, 35 percent of U.S. jobs between 2009 and 2012 were created by 2 percent of companies – scale-up companies.

Just how potential customers perceived these tech firms they speed dated wasn’t immediately apparent. Small packs of executives in suits meandered down hallways, stopping to consider what they just heard.

“What did you think of that guy?” one executive asked his group, prompting a hushed response as they moved down the hall to the next suite.

November 2, 2016 - 11:03am