BY SUSAN M. BRACKNEY
In March, 11 local tech founders—hoping to win cash and greater visibility for their startups—will pitch ideas ranging from long-distance ride-sharing to a personal carbon offset exchange to a panel of judges. Hyperlocal and much friendlier, Demo Day is kind of like Shark Tank—sans sharks and snark. The big day is also the culmination of Bloomington’s 22-week-long B-Start program.
Now in its third year, B-Start is part business incubator, part tech accelerator. Its founding sponsors include Cook Group, the Indiana University Office of the Vice President for Engagement, and the Gayle & Bill Cook Center for Entrepreneurship at Ivy Tech Community College–Bloomington.
“We want to start successful businesses in Bloomington that will continue to create more jobs here,” explains Anne McCombe, Bloomington Economic Development Corporation project manager.
Selected startups get one-on-one mentoring with successful entrepreneurs and access to workshops in lean business basics, customer acquisition, marketing, fundraising, and more. “The program was initially started with IU and Ivy Tech students,” McCombe says. “One of the big factors in starting the program for them was encouraging them to come off campus and engage in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem that we have.”
Since 2015, 18 local startups have completed B-Start. “Seven of those are still actively working on their businesses, and they’ve hired five other people,” McCombe says. Three B-Starters also participated in other pitch competitions.
In 2017, B-Start began accepting applicants who aren’t affiliated with IU or Ivy Tech. “We figured if an individual was living and working here in Bloomington already, they’re more likely to continue to stay in Bloomington and start a business here,” McCombe says.
One B-Start 2017 participant, Mi’chael Golden, says, “I’ve been in Bloomington since graduating from IU and have searched for opportunities to express my God-given, creative problem-solving skills.” Now he’s gathering feedback for his startup, Sharon. “Sharon helps debtors reduce their student loans through partnerships with retail stores, alumni, and universities,” he explains.
Adventure Field Guides Founder AJ O’Reilly also jumped at the chance to apply. “I’d been watching the pitches and mentoring some of the startups,” he says. “When they finally opened up B-Start to community members, that was my opportunity to see if my own idea struck home with people, and it did!”
O’Reilly’s startup enables would-be travelers to build personalized outdoor adventures. “We all work together and share our challenges,” he says. “With the other people in B-Start, it really feels like you’re in this little club.”
For more information, visit b-start.org.