How Indiana Can Beat Silicon Valley to the Next Big Tech Market

Posted: Updated:

The juxtaposition of farm fields and blockbuster tech companies has become a hallmark of Indiana’s economy. Amidst the state’s manufacturing and agricultural economic underpinnings, entrepreneurs like Scott Dorsey (co-founder of tech giant ExactTarget that sold to Salesforce.com for more than $2.5 billion in 2013) and Don Brown (founder of Indianapolisbased Interactive Intelligence who just sold to Genesys for more than $1.4 billion) transformed big visions into market-leading technology companies.  

From their seat in oft-cited “fly-over country,” Scott, Don and their teams built great companies impassioned by a bold vision to radically improve their customers’ businesses through technology. From ExactTarget’s historic 2012 IPO to Interactive Intelligence’s metamorphosis into a cloud-based customer experience platform, Indiana and its workforce have proven their mettle in developing, scaling and evolving world-class tech companies. 
 
Indiana’s once underestimated tech economy is now thriving with top technical talent, acquisition-created capital and a business environment that has consistently earned acclaim as one of the top in the nation (far out performing its coastal competition). Much like after IBM’s late 90’s acquisition of Software Artistry (another historic Don Brown-led venture), Wall Streettested tech entrepreneurs are now building the next generation of Hoosier tech companies.  If the past is any predictor of the future, some of these will break through and give rise to a new class of cloud-based Hoosier companies competing with Silicon Valley rivals to become the next business-to-business software juggernaut.  It’s an exciting opportunity and one that is a well walked path thanks to examples set by Scott, Don and others.  While the allure of building the next B-to-B software powerhouse is palpable, there is an entirely new category of software that Indiana has an opportunity to lead by uniting the state’s proven tech talent with America’s original entrepreneur: the farmer. 
 
Since the state’s founding 200 years ago, Hoosier farmers have proven entrepreneurial prowess, creating and harnessing new innovations in equipment, production practices and land management to produce quality corn, soybeans and a myriad of crops to feed the world. Faced with commodity price pressures and a host of headwinds, Indiana farms have been forced to evolve, adopting new technologies and practices to optimize crop performance and drive financial performance.  Despite well intentioned efforts, the opportunity to fully optimize farm operations through technology remains unrealized, as farmers wade through a labyrinth of point solutions and systems that make total farm optimization a challenging reality.  Faced with ever-increasing amounts of data from equipment, seed providers, fertilizer applicators, financial institutions and others, farmers still struggle to gain a clear, consistent picture of farm performance due in large part to data residing on multiple platforms and in systems spread across the farm. 
 
Fueled by savvy entrepreneurs and investors, a new “ag tech” industry has emerged in part to tackle this challenge and has already attracted $1.8 billion in investment in the first half of 2016, according to AgFunder.  Driven by investments in food ecommerce and biomaterials, the sector is gaining traction but has yet to achieve maturity, particularly in the arena of helping farmers make sense of the dizzying array of data that now exists across the modern production farm.     Much like fostering the growth of the B-to-B technology industry through smart economic policies, partnerships with academia and bold entrepreneurial leadership, Indiana is uniquely positioned to solve this challenge for the American farmer. For the past two decades, the state has been home to the growth of market leading technology companies that successfully transformed data into actionable insights, communications and activities.  ExactTarget and Interactive Intelligence alone are two striking examples. 
 
Unlike its coastal competitors, Indiana has the proven talent, customer base and capital to capture its rightful leadership position in ag tech. The state is flush with proven technology talent capable of building and scaling customer-driven cloud-based tech companies, and the proximity of tech development hubs such as Indianapolis are only minutes from successful production farms. To add to Indiana’s competitive position, the state is home to the collaborative capital that is needed to create market leading companies. Thanks to regional investors like High Alpha, Hyde Park Ventures, Allos Ventures and a thriving angel investment community, Indiana has the resources to beat Silicon Valley and make Indiana the epicenter for ag tech innovation.  

Mitch Frazier is Chief Marketing & Innovation Officer at Reynolds Farm Equipment, a regional John Deere retailer headquartered in suburban Indianapolis.