Beyond raising talent, Indianapolis needs to retain the talent it educates by creating promising career pathways that funnel workers into local jobs that allow them to contribute to Indy’s economy. Avoiding the "brain drain" of people moving elsewhere for jobs requires cross-sector strategies that create a smooth transition between education and high-growth jobs, as well as a deliberate emphasis on entrepreneurship, innovation, and the creation of inclusive economic opportunities.
Indianapolis has developed a thriving startup culture. And entrepreneurs create jobs. Innovators are flocking to Indianapolis because of the abundant opportunities it holds for young startups. One such startup, Kenzie Academy, knew Indianapolis was the perfect place to launch its coding and UX design school. “We chose to launch Kenzie Academy in Indy because of access to high quality and affordable talent compared to Silicon Valley,” Kenzie CEO Chok Ooi recently said. The online boot camp expanded nationally last year and was bought in April of 2021 by Southern New Hampshire University.
The city is also attracting the attention of some well-known investors. Chief among them is former AOL CEO Steve Case and his Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, which only invests in new businesses outside of Silicon Valley, New York, and Boston.
Four years ago, Megan Glover, co-founder and CEO of software and water quality testing company 120Water, won $100,000 from the fund. “Building a startup company in Indianapolis has been phenomenal. This is a hidden gem in the Midwest. Finding the people with the talent has been great.”
Glover says it was easy to find engineers and software developers with the skills if you open your mind. “50% of my software developers didn’t graduate from a traditional four-year college. A lot of them graduated from a second-career generator and have an aptitude for engineering. We are hard-working. Many grew up in the Midwest and have a sunup to sundown work ethic.”
Spotlight on talent
Entrepreneurship is the heart of any growing talent hub, and, in Indianapolis, innovators and entrepreneurs are driving social and economic prosperity. For Yarkin Sakucoglu, Alihan Ozbayrak, and Joe Watkins, who all met as undergraduates at Purdue University, Indianapolis and its evolving tech scene made it the perfect place to launch their event technology startup Socio.
Socio uses technology to help enterprises optimize their live events in ways that build meaningful consumer connections and drive positive social interactions. In less than five years, Socio has helped more than 570 customers manage their live events, including industry giants like Google, Microsoft, Pepsi, and Comcast.
In 2020, Socio’s three founders were named among Forbes "30 under 30" in Enterprise Technology for their success in using machine intelligence to transform the event technology sector. While Watkins was born and raised in Indiana, Sakucoglu and Ozbayrak came to the state for their education and stayed for the career opportunities Indianapolis offered them. For Socio’s co-founders, Indianapolis is not just the city where they started their business, but, more importantly, the place where they could become drivers of true innovation.
Central Indiana Corporate Partnership
Since its formation in 1999, the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership (CICP) has brought industry and thought leaders together in a strategic effort to promote Indianapolis’ development. As part of its mission to develop, attract, and retain skilled talent, the CICP sponsors six economic development initiatives that each use public-private collaboration to catalyze development in high-growth sectors: life sciences, energy technology, agricultural innovation, workforce development, advanced manufacturing and logistics, and technology.
“It's critical that we bring together business, philanthropy, and higher education because they're all key stakeholders in driving that prosperity. Employers are growing jobs, they're driving the economy forward. Our higher education institutions are providing the talent that is going to go on to fill those jobs. And then philanthropy can act as a catalyst to basically improve not only our education system, but the quality of life in the city that makes it a more attractive place to live, work and raise a family. And so all of those entities working together in tandem is really essential to growing and becoming a prosperous community,” notes Jason Kloth, president & CEO of Ascend Indiana.
Ivy Tech Community College and the Indiana Manufacturers Association
Indianapolis faces a potential brain drain crisis as recent college graduates leave for jobs elsewhere. Thus, it is imperative to incentivize the highly-educated to stay local. To accomplish this, Ivy Tech Community College partners with the Indiana Manufactures Association (IMA) to build curriculums that meet the needs of local businesses.
“It's coming alongside those industries to understand their needs and not just assuming that, as an educational institution, we have it all figured out,” explains Dr. Kathleen Lee, chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College Indianapolis.
The school comes to IMA asking the important questions: What does the future workforce look like? What jobs are available? And what competencies do workers need to get those jobs?
Beyond giving students the appropriate education for the jobs available, Ivy Tech and IMA also partner to connect students with employers through job fairs. In the face of COVID-19, the two redesigned their job fairs and hosted their first-ever virtual open house, which attracted three times as many students as previous in-person events.
Ivy Tech and IMA plan to continue innovating to ensure that Indy’s education system is prepared to land its graduates in local jobs that can launch promising careers.
Anna Haldewang, Inventor & Entrepreneur
Indiana native Anna Haldewang is passionate about the agriculture tech industry. She founded Plan Bee, a company that uses drones to artificially pollinate plants in a sustainable way that avoids the challenges of cross-pollination and natural pollinators. Her latest venture could “shake up” the almond industry with an innovative new device to help growers manage infestation of navel orangeworms. She has a B.F.A. in Industrial Design from Savannah College of Art and Design and was named the Silver Winner for Sustainable Living/Environmental Preservation-Urban Design at the IDA Design Awards in 2015.
“It’s great when we can find somebody who’s local and we feel we’re helping out our community by preventing the brain drain that’s been discussed here in town. Young people graduate and they go to Chicago or wherever quite often and it’s great if we can just keep that talent within our community.”
— Pete Ward, Chief Operating Officer of the Indianapolis Colts