North Central Indiana Small Business Development Center
401 East Colfax Avenue,
Suite 120,
South Bend, Indiana 46617
NCISBDC Contact E-mail

Name of regional director: Janet Fye

No. of employees: Two full time counselors, one part time counselor, one office manager, one administrative assistant

No. of clients: 395

Hours spent with clients:  3,397

Capital infusion: $4.1 million in 2010

What's noteworthy: The center focuses on helping academic researchers turn their work into innovative start-up companies.

Elkhart, Indiana, is the "RV capital of the world." But as demand for recreational vehicles sputtered during the Great Recession, the local unemployment rate hit 20 percent. It has since improved to 12.8 percent but the level of joblessness in the are remains well above the national average of 9.4 percent. 

With that in mind, the staff and the North Central Indiana Small Business Development Center looked for what other economic assets the area had. South Bend, Indiana, is home to Notre Dame University, a world-class research institution brimming with possibilities. So Janet Fye, the SBDC's regional director, chose to focus on helping the college's researchers develop commercial applications for ther work.

Striking a unique partnership with a group based in another depressed region, Rochester, New York, the NCIBC launched a program called the Pre-Seed Workshop to help build start-ups around locally-produced research and innovation.

Mark Wilson and Judy Albers, who launched the first Pre-Seed Workshop in New York, were happy to bring their program to the heartland. Each workshop is scheduled over two-and-a-half days and in two phases, spaced out over a week's time.

In the first phase, a group that includes consultants, attorneys, MBA students, industry experts, a business coach, and fellow entrepreneurs provides instruction to groups of inventors. A week later, after refining their presentations, the inventors are brought back to present their ideas to a panel of investors as part of phase two.

Seven teams of six to eight people participated in the first workshop in October 2010.  The budding biotech and life sciences start-ups focus on areas such as tracking cancer prognosis, developing a cancer tissue vaccine, and improving large-scale energy storage systems. 

"The purpose of Pre-Seed is to think out their strategy from a business point of view," says Fye. "They get feedback as to what still needs to be done to allow them to access funding."

The NCIBDC will be offering the workshop again this coming August. The goal is "to continuing shepherding opportunities forward from the business ideas that are developed in the workshop," says Albers.

That's exactly what the staff of the SBDC hopes to accomplish. "We have a limited number of resources in terms of staff," says Fye. "You have to work smart."