Chamber receives $40,000 grant to help local entrepreneurs, start new initiative

The Jackson County Chamber was awarded $40,000 by the Indiana Economic Development Corp. to help kick-start its initiative to create an ecosystem to support local entrepreneurs, startup and local businesses, remote workers and big thinkers.

The IEDC announced $500,000 in grant awards to accelerate entrepreneurial activity and resources statewide through a pilot of its new Community Collaboration Fund.

The investment will help power 16 community-led projects focused on entrepreneurial education, connection and acceleration across Indiana with a particular focus on underrepresented founders and underserved markets.

The chamber is leveraging the grant to accelerate the early stages of its initiative.

“Seymour Main Street joined the chamber to provide the required match funds for this grant opportunity,” said Dan Robison, director of the Jackson County Chamber.

He said the chamber plans to leverage a variety of community partnerships during this early stage of the project. These partnerships include Seymour Main Street, Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. Workforce Development and Su Casa Indiana.

This is the first round of grants awarded through CCF, which is designed to support the growth of Indiana’s entrepreneurial ecosystem by inspiring new programming and new collaborations between entrepreneur support organizations.

“Indiana has been recognized as the best state in the U.S. to start a business, and we’re leaning in even further to ensure that all Hoosiers have equal access and opportunity in their entrepreneurial journey,” Indiana Secretary of Commerce David Rosenberg said.

“The Community Collaboration Fund is yet another resource that community-focused entrepreneur organizations across the state can leverage to provide direct support to aspiring entrepreneurs, startups and growing small businesses and to help ensure the continued success of Hoosier innovators statewide,” he said.

Joe Rust of Set Sail Services in Seymour will serve as project manager of the first phase of SPARK that will include a variety of elements.

First, the initiative will include a community idea pitch competition called SPARK Tank to attract local big thinkers, connect them with coaches and resources to help them develop their ideas and give them the opportunity to compete for a total of $15,000 in working capital grants. Robison said more details of the competition will be released soon.

The project also will include various planned gatherings and events for local entrepreneurs and innovators to begin connecting them with available resources and to discover what they need out of a local ecosystem.

A delivery of a 360 Assessment that will reveal the needs of local innovators and how to best meet those needs, learning from other ecosystems through the state and creative models that demonstrate current assets and potential next steps also will be included in the early phase of the project.

Robison said in addition to the work of the project manager, the chamber has engaged with two student teams from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.

The first team, a group of four Master of Business Administration students, has been engaged with drafting a stakeholder approach survey to help the chamber understand exactly what entrepreneurs, remote workers and legacy business leaders desire in a local innovation ecosystem.

The second team, a class of 32 entrepreneurship students, will be creating an asset map that will identify existing assets in Jackson County that can be leveraged in an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

According to the latest five-year American Community Survey provided by the Purdue Center for Regional Development, there are 727 Jackson County residents who work from home, not including farmers, on at least a hybrid basis.

“In addition to providing support for entrepreneurs, one of the goals of SPARK is to establish a co-working facility in Jackson County for local remote workers,” Robison said.

He said this grant along with the investments of the community partner organizations will greatly accelerate the work to support and empower local entrepreneurs and big thinkers.

“I’m most excited to help build a platform where our local entrepreneurs and big thinkers can find great coaching and support to move their ideas forward,” he said. “Indiana has been recognized by Forbes as the top place to start a new business, and Jackson County has the ability to lead the way in innovation and new business startups.”