Indianapolis on the Rise

By Betsy McCaw

Betsy McCaw is president of the 16 Tech Community Corporation Inc., the entity overseeing the development of the 16 Tech innovation community. She also serves as chief operating officer for the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership (CICP) where she oversees a wide range of projects that enhance Central Indiana’s platform for economic growth, including the early stages of 16 Tech’s development.


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Indianapolis has a great story to tell. It’s one of those stories that never ends – a city always working together toward a bold vision and finding ways to succeed just as the next chapter is being conceived. It finds itself today on the precipice of a new wave of opportunity with the creation of its innovation district, and it will require a level of focus and coordination across a multitude of diverse stakeholders to accomplish the great vision. Gratefully, there is momentum behind it given recent industry and entrepreneurial advances in Indy.

Indianapolis is emerging as one of the hottest tech hubs, with significant exits such as ExactTarget and Interactive Intelligence and national recognition for its growth and size as a tech city. Indianapolis has been named a City Secretly Great for Tech Grads (Datafox). It ranks in the top echelon as a Best City for Women in Tech and Next Top Cities for Tech Jobs (Fast Company), and as a City Creating the Most Tech Jobs (Forbes).

Equally impressive is the depth and breadth of Indiana’s life sciences industry with global leaders in pharmaceuticals (Eli Lilly and Company), diagnostics (Roche Diagnostics), medical devices (Cook Medical) and nutrition science (Dow AgroSciences). Indiana is the second largest exporter of life sciences products in the United States. In the last few years, the life sciences leadership collaborated with healthcare, universities and the State of Indiana to create the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute (IBRI), with an entrepreneurial focus on discovery-level research in metabolic disease. IBRI will ultimately comprise nearly 200 of the best scientists in the field located in a new innovation district in downtown Indianapolis, impacting some of the most significant global health challenges.

At the same time, Indiana continues to grow the industry sector that has been its bread and butter for years. Today, Indiana leads the nation with nearly 53 percent of its manufacturing employment in companies deemed advanced manufacturing. In Indianapolis, global advanced manufacturing companies Rolls-Royce and Cummins are growing their footprint with significant investments in the downtown core.

When I look out my office window of the city’s tallest skyscraper – recently renamed the Salesforce Tower – and scan the horizon, I see nationally leading companies from each of these industry clusters. And while they are each developing new innovations within their four walls, something remarkable is happening behind the scenes. Industries are breaking out of their silos, coming together and imagining new ways to innovate – across industry sectors and with industries that share similar footprints. Indianapolis’ industry leaders have recognized the power of sharing great ideas, partnering with our nationally recognized research universities, and building the next-generation innovation community to attract, retain and develop incredible talent. Making it more interesting still, local and state government are working with industry to stimulate this same activity as a means of improving many aspects of society.

Innovation districts are neither new nor uncharted developments. They have gained momentum in cities across the nation – from Seattle to St. Louis to Boston. Each city, though, has built its innovation community from a different foundation. Many innovation communities were founded by research universities as a way to enhance the commercial success of innovations.

In Indianapolis, the foundation of our innovation community, known as 16 Tech, comes from the clear visions of a few industry leaders now supported very broadly from industry and academic leaders throughout Central Indiana. 16 Tech is viable given the strength and proximity of several complementary advanced industry clusters with world-class research universities, and the commitment of industry leaders who want to attract world-class talent and continue to drive innovation through collaborations such as IBRI. Its chances for success are great given these priorities align with public policymakers to leverage what we’ve constructed over the last few decades.

Advanced Industry Growth Strategy

Central Indiana has designed and followed a deliberate strategy to grow key advanced industry sectors. Today, an outsized proportion of advanced industries, relative to peer cities, is located in Indianapolis.

With industry leaders from each of these advanced industry sectors, 16 Tech Community Corporation, the driving force, along with its IBRI anchor, behind the 16 Tech innovation community development, has created a master plan and vision that will draw talent from each industry sector and the arts to collaborate, innovate and commercialize new ideas. The downtown location of 16 Tech is as intentional as its vision: more than two-thirds of the region’s advanced industry assets across multiple sectors are located in the downtown area along with a strong university presence, providing unmatched opportunities to foster collaboration.

Collaboration is in our DNA

This idea of industry collaboration and leadership is most pronounced in the 16 Tech anchor institution – the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute (IBRI). Founding healthcare and life sciences entities include Eli Lilly and Company, Dow AgroSciences, Roche Diagnostics, Indiana University, and Indiana University Health. While each organization focuses on different medical advancements, they share a common interest in metabolic disease. IBRI facilitates collaboration between these complementary life science and healthcare entities and bridges relationships with other researchers, healthcare providers, and entrepreneurs to develop new treatments for diabetes, cardiovascular health and nutrition.

As IBRI began planning its buildout in the context of a larger multi-industry vision, it created a master plan that envisioned an open, collaborative, vibrant and robust innovation community that would attract talent and advanced industries to Indianapolis. While IBRI will serve as the innovation community’s anchor tenant, its success is predicated on developing, attracting and retaining the best talent to and from Indianapolis. As many cities and industry leaders recognize today, the advancement of all industry depends largely on the convergence of talent and technologies found in many different industry sectors.

Built to Leverage Our Strengths

Through its location, 16 Tech builds on the strengths of Indianapolis. Comprising 60 acres of prime downtown real estate, 16 Tech is within walking and biking distance of the Indiana University School of Medicine, Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis, four hospital systems and many of the region’s advanced industry assets.

Leadership has had the opportunity to learn from other innovation districts and is combining best practices learned from around the world. The master plan contemplates a variety of ways to create the next, greatest innovation through a truly vibrant 24-7 neighborhood or campus feel with a combination of flexible research space, public space, housing and retail and office space.

Beyond buildings and geography, though, 16 Tech is relying on the same principles of innovation as it designs the district’s physical environment. 16 Tech wants to leverage its advantage as an advanced industries epicenter by becoming a “smart” district designed to beta new technologies in the internet of things (IoT) space for roll-out in larger urban environments, including Indianapolis. We are now exploring which water, public safety, air quality, people movement and other infrastructure and physical environmental technologies exist that 16 Tech could incorporate to become the next generation smart innovation district.

16 Tech is an evolution of what Indianapolis has been focusing on for years – building its advanced industries and associated talent pool and working with public and private sector leaders in partnership to make it happen. There is something about Indiana and how we work together that makes 16 Tech an innovation community that will stand out in its advancement toward and eventual success as a global hub of innovation – right here in the heartland.

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