Belgium-based software startup Unbox plans to establish its U.S. headquarters in Indianapolis and a development hub in West Lafayette, with hopes of hiring as many as 380 Indiana employees over the next few years.
“Unbox is really trying to cement its presence in Indiana,” said Marc Ferlet, the company’s head of U.S. operations. “We see an enormous opportunity in the state.”
Ferlet said Unbox hasn’t yet identified specific locations within each city, but it plans to establish its U.S. headquarters in Indianapolis by January with up to 80 people here within a year or two. Within the next few years the company is also planning to hire another 100 to 300 people in West Lafayette for a location that would serve as the company’s software development, testing and research development hub. Unbox chose West Lafayette because the city is home to Purdue University as a source for tech talent, Ferlet said.
Founded in April 2020, Unbox launched its first project in June 2021 and entered the U.S. about six months ago, setting up offices in Boston and in Arlington, Virginia. Once in the U.S., the company started scouting “interesting” states for its headquarters, Ferlet said, and Indiana won out because it has a tech industry but is not overpriced like California. The state’s emerging hard-tech corridor between Indianapolis and West Lafayette was also compelling, Ferlet said. Hardtech refers to technology that is integrated into physical devices.
In May, Unbox announced that it had closed its first round of investment funding, an $8.5 million round that Ferlet said gave the company the backing it needed to enter the U.S. market.
Unbox’s platform uses digital tokens called Ucoins that can be used to distribute and track funding, value and cash flows. It can also be used to reward specific behaviors. The Ucoins are not cryptocurrency; the company describes them as “digital carriers of value” that can be used for “pre-defined spending.”
A few examples of how Unbox could be used: Instead of distributing cash to grant recipients, a funder could distribute Ucoins. The grant recipient can then use the Ucoins in place of cash with vendors who have signed on with the system. Upon receiving Ucoins, the vendor can then redeem them for cash.
Grant funders “can have embedded oversight over where the grant is being spent,” Ferlet said.
Unbox has worked with the city of Antwerp, Belgium, to distribute Antwerpen Ucoins to more than 16,000 of the city’s employees. The employees could then “spend” the Ucoins at local businesses as a way to stimulate the local economy.
Unbox’s first U.S. project will be a pilot test with Zionsville-based NineTwelve Institute, which helps industry, government and academic players collaborate on advanced technology initiatives.
With funding it received from the IEDC earlier this year, NineTwelve is administering a $2 million grant program for Indiana companies working on applications for 5G technology. NineTwelve expects to distribute the money among up to 10 recipients, with grants of between $150,000 and $300,000 each.
Unbox says the 5G grants program represents the first time its technology will be used for distribution of funding between organizations. The project will be structured so that the recipients’ grant expenditures remain within Indiana.
NineTwelve plans to use Unbox’s technology to distribute some of these grants. The project will serve as a pilot test for the technology, said Doug Rapp, the vice president of NineTwelve’s Advanced Communications Lab. (This lab was formerly called the Indiana 5G Zone, but the name was updated to reflect the fact that it is also working with other technologies.)
“We’re very excited about it even though it’s not a huge project,” Rapp said. “We are very excited about the potential of it.”
Unbox is also the recipient of one of these 5G grants. The company received a $150,000 grant, which Unbox matched with $150,000 of its own. Ferlet said the company is using the grant money to develop the platform that will be used for the 5G grant distribution.