Commence Gamification

Escape Rooms fill a need for work and play

By Benjamin Lashar

People never really grow out of games. Adults might not be reaching for Guess Who like when they were kids, but they still play games, downloading the latest smartphone game, gathering to play poker, and pairing up with couples for game nights. Some entrepreneurs have figured out that games are not only fun, they are also profitable.

Nowhere is this more apparent than escape rooms, where a group is locked in a room and must get out through teamwork, interacting with their environment, and solving puzzles. America went from 22 escape rooms nationwide four years ago to 2,000 today. Hamilton County has developed an escape room presence good enough to challenge any metropolitan area.

The Disney of Escape Rooms

Indiana owes its escape room presence to the Escape Room USA chain. Run by two local couples, the Neals and Harbrons, The Escape Room USA has locations in Indianapolis, Fishers, and Columbus, Ohio. They are Indiana’s first escape room company and the highest reviewed escape room chain in America.

Growing to such a level was not easy. Marjorie Neal and Brendon Harbron note that many escape companies do not invest enough upfront, leading to rooms that are little more than a monotonous string of locked boxes. They instead wanted to create rooms that felt like adventures while still remaining reasonably priced. They invested in props, electric work, and a floor that allows multi-level rooms.

Puzzles begin upon entry. Customers must answer a riddle to open a secret door that leads to the lobby. The lobby itself is more of a lounge, featuring comfortable chairs, outdoor seating, a wide selection of local beer and wine, and a few brain teasers to warm up the customers.

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Aggressively Organic

Fishers company hopes to end hunger one square foot at a time

By Chris Bavender

Aggressively OrganicI love where I live. A charming 1925 brick duplex with arched doorways, hardwood floors and a fenced in yard for the pups to run freely. The only drawback - there isn’t any place for a garden.

But, a Fishers company is helping frustrated gardeners like myself grow fresh produce within fingertips reach inside. From a kitchen countertop to a spare room to a garage, Aggressively Organic can solve your gardening blues.

“You buy a nine pack and grow what you want in one square foot. The more you harvest, the more you grow,” said Jonathan Partlow, founder and CEO.

The hydroponic growing systems don’t require dirt or sunlight. Instead, they grow in cardboard flower pot sized containers using water, nutrients and LED lamps. You pick what you want to grow - from squash to tomatoes to lettuce or even strawberries.

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A Touch of the Mediterranean in the Heart of Carmel

The Olive Mill

Story and photos by Ann Craig-Cinnamon

If you adhere to a Mediterranean diet or simply love olive oil, your mecca sits in the Arts and Design District in Carmel.  The Olive Mill, now celebrating five years in its Carmel location, offers just about everything you could ask for in olive oils and balsamic vinegars from around the world. 

Olive oil is essential to a Mediterranean diet, which has long been heralded as one of the world’s healthiest diets.  People living around the Mediterranean have been cultivating olives for oil since about 6000 B.C.  In ancient times olive oil was also used as a source of medicine for its healing powers. 

Extra Virgin

Today, olive oil is recognized by scientists for its antioxidants, Omega 3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats, iron, vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K and phenols which it is believed reduces bad cholesterol, protects against heart disease, prevents cancer and eases arthritis among many other things.

The bottom line is that there are a lot of nutrients sitting in the 1000 square foot shop at the corner of Range Line Road and Main Street.  Stephen Hannah, who has managed the Olive Mill in Carmel since it opened in 2013, says founders Debbie and Ed O’Connell opened their first shop more than 12 years ago in Geneva, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, bringing the concept of olive oil tasting to the Midwest.

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The Farmers Market meets the Internet

Online shopping site features local products

By Susan Miller
Photos by Stan Gurka

Entrepreneur Nick Carter has combined the two latest trends in grocery shopping to bring local consumers and food vendors the best in both worlds at the same time.

Community-based farmers markets have become a regular Saturday morning event all over Hamilton County, growing in size, number and offerings each year.

Another, more recent, trend has seen consumers grocery shopping online and having their purchases delivered directly to their homes.

Carter’s enterprise, called Market Wagon, combines the two. He partners with local growers and vendors to sell their products through his online service with two delivery options.

Consumers have the convenience of shopping online and home delivery while at the same time buying locally-grown foods and products from community growers and vendors – and unlike seasonal farmers markets, they can shop with Market Wagon year-round.

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What’s up with all this STORAGE?

Pent up demand is causing a surge in building

By Mike Corbett

Self-storage facilities are cropping up like daisies all over Hamilton County lately. Drive any major thoroughfare and you will eventually come across a recently completed development or one under construction, and they are often right down the street from another one. It’s part of national trend but may be more prominent here. 

“Nationally storage saw virtually no new construction from 2010 until 2014,” says Jeff Norman, Vice-president of investor relations & corporate communications for Extra Space Storage, the nation’s second largest owner of storage facilities, “(while) demand for storage continued to increase due to population growth as well as increased product usage…..The strong returns in storage since 2010 have attracted attention from the real estate development community, and we are now in a storage development cycle and have seen a fair amount of new supply in certain markets.”

Like Hamilton County. While no one keeps track of the number of storage developments across the county, it’s hard to miss all the activity, partly because these units are much more visible than they used to be. Once relegated to industrial parks and other back-road locations, storage is coming out of the closet and competing with retail for prime real estate. Of course, that means the facilities have to be more attractive, which makes them more expensive to build, but the increased traffic and visibility are apparently worth the added cost.

“The key on these is to make sure they fit into the context of the surrounding area,” says Sarah Reed, Noblesville Planning Director.

 “Developers are now willing to add brick facades and other amenities to make their projects comply with zoning codes,” says Rob Schick, Senior Vice President at Revel and Underwood, a Fishers-based developer and property manager, currently developing a storage facility in Noblesville. 

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Computer Games + Athletics = E-sports

High tech gaming features global competition

By Stephanie Carlson Miller

E-sports is serious business for Rick and Cara Barretto. The husband-wife team is just warming up to take on-line athletics to a whole new competitive level with their state-of-the art gaming center located inside the Pacers Athletic Center within Grand Park in Westfield. The first of its kind, the elite arcade-like atmosphere invites people of all ages, experience and athletic ability, to participate on teams, in competitive tournaments and develop or discover skills online that they may not have the chance to explore otherwise.

Rick is a computer and game programmer, a serial entrepreneur and founder of nine tech companies, including DreamAuthentics, which builds custom video arcades for homes and businesses. He jumped at the chance to purchase The LAN Network in 2012. Founded by the family of a professional HALO player to support their son’s training, TLN invented the concept of the Gaming House in Chicago, where players from all over the world lived, trained and competed in HALO tournaments.

“The dad purchased a house for the sole purpose of providing place for HALO players to build community. When teammates live and practice together they have more success at tournaments’” explains Rick. “Some of the players have gone on to become very well-known gamers.” TLN was one of the first eSports websites dedicated to competitive gaming and teams building friendships and community across the globe around online gaming.

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A Place for All Kids

The Boys and Girls Club of Noblesville builds a new home

By Ann Craig-Cinnamon

Back in 1951 a group of Noblesville residents decided it was time to give the youth of Noblesville somewhere to meet that would be a safe, enriching and positive environment.  They leased a space on the 3rd floor over Kirks Hardware Building and opened shop as the Boys and Girls Club of Noblesville. 

Fast forward almost 67 years and that club is still going strong and is celebrating a move from its current location at 1448 Conner Street to a new building of its own down the street at 1700 Conner Street.  The new facility is connected to the community center already at that location, bringing the club together on one campus.

Executive Director Becky Terry says, true to its founding concept, all kids are still welcome today.  “We serve all kids.  There’s no kind of box that they have to fit into.  We’re open to all youth from every background and every setting.  And I think that’s what’s really special about the Noblesville club that it is for every kid in town,” she says.

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One on One with Senator Victoria Spartz

Newly elected state Senator shares insights on her priorities and governing philosophy

By Mike Corbett

Victoria Spartz, 39, was recently elected by a caucus of Republican precinct committeemen to replace six term State Senator Luke Kenley, who retired. Like Kenley, Spartz is from Noblesville, having married life-long resident Jason Spartz in 2000 and immigrated from her native Ukraine. She has been a citizen since 2006.They have two school-age daughters.

The Spartz family owns Westbrook Village, an upscale mobile home park, and are farmers and land developers in Noblesville. Spartz has a financial background, is a CPA and has worked for various Fortune 200 companies and Big 4 public accounting firms. Most recently she was CFO for the Indiana Attorney General’s office, a post she resigned to avoid a conflict of interest with her elected position.

She earned her BS in International Economics and MBA at National University of Economics in Ukraine. She has a Master of Professional Accountancy degree from IU Kelley School of Business and serves on the adjunct faculty at the Kelley School.

She’s active in the Hamilton County Republican Party, having served as a volunteer, Vice Chair of the Party and President of the Hamilton County Federated Republican Women.

This interview was conducted by email and is unedited. 

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A Holly Jolly Job

Portraying Santa is a passion for those with a certain resemblance

By Ann Craig-Cinnamon

Spoiler alert:  If you believe in Santa, stop reading right now.  For the rest of you, you’ve probably noticed that we have again arrived at that time of year when our malls, homes and events are populated with men sporting white beards, wearing red suits trimmed in fur and displaying a jolly disposition.  At least the ones doing it correctly have a jolly disposition.  Have you ever wondered who these people are and how they came to play Santa Claus? 

Well, it’s actually a rather lucrative side job and for the crème of the Santa crop it can be a year-round gig.  It’s a business and comes with the usual business-related issues such as training (yes, there are Santa schools), liability insurance, appropriate “uniform”, marketing, scheduling and transportation (and I don’t mean a sleigh with eight tiny reindeer).

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Trusted Advisors

Peer groups help businesses stay competitive

By Karen Kennedy
Photos by Stan Gurka

We all know that we need to build our network. But we’ve all had days when it was raining, or we were feeling tired, insecure, or otherwise just not feeling it, and we’ve had to force ourselves to paste on our biggest smile, stuff our pockets full of business cards and walk through the doors to shake some hands. Because you never know who might be there or what you might miss if you allow yourself to skip it and just stay home, right?

Imagine instead, a networking function where you not only know everyone in the room, but you know them well enough to share your deepest fears and weaknesses. A room full of people who do pretty much the same thing that you do but never compete against you. A group of peers so tightly knit that they vacation together and spend not just an hour or two chatting once a month, but nearly forty-eight straight hours together three times a year.

Bill Taylor of Taylored Systems in Noblesville has just that.

For the last twenty years, Taylor has been a part of a group called the Information Systems Association. It’s a peer group of around twenty business owners from across the country who are all in the communications industry. They met at the Taylored Systems offices in May. 

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Suburban Sanctuary Balmoral evolves with the Market

By Ann Craig-Cinnamon

Balmoral House is an island within the busy city of Fishers

Rick & Diane Eaton - BalmoralLooking at all the growth and changes in the city of Fishers over the past few years, it is hard to imagine that at one time there was nothing much here at all.  Rick Eaton can imagine it because he has lived here since 1954 when Fishers was mostly farmland. 

Eaton, who is an orthopedic surgeon, is the third generation to live on 80 acres of land that his grandfather, JW Speicher, acquired through a business deal in 1935.  It is a triangular piece of land that today is bordered by 96th Street to Willowview Drive to Allisonville Road just west of the Metropolitan Airport.  Back then, the land was out in the middle of nowhere and Speicher leased it to farmers to farm on. 

Speicher eventually built a home on the property and, later, two of his children did too.  One of them was Eaton’s mother.  She and her family moved onto the land in 1954 when Eaton was two years old.  He grew up there surrounded by sheep and horses and hay, which he baled for many years.  “We baled a lot of hay”, said Eaton who added, “the hay paid for college and med school”.

Eaton and his wife, Diane, who served many years on the Hamilton Southeastern School Board and is very active in the Fishers community, built a home on the land themselves in 1986 and live there today.  Eaton’s brother also built a home on the family’s land and the tradition continued.  But that’s not the end of the story.  It’s just the beginning.

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A Psychological Advantage

Advisa helps companies put the right people in the right seats

By Mike Corbett

Advisa - Carmel IndianaSix minutes. That’s all the time it takes to complete the Predictive Index Behavioral Assessment. But in that time you and your employees will reveal insights about yourselves that, properly interpreted, can help predict how well you will perform your jobs. It’s one of a battery of tests offered by Advisa, a Carmel company that’s built a nationwide clientele over the past 30 years from its home office in the Arts and Design District.

Wartime beginnings

The Predictive Index was conceived by Arnold Daniels, a bombardier in World War 2, who wondered why some people were better at their jobs than others, why some people thrived in combat while others failed. The military actually sent him to business school to help it figure out a way to predict who would perform better in battle. After the war, Daniels developed his research into the Predictive Index and recruited psychologists across the country to help market it to businesses.

In 1986, Carmel resident Bob Wilson landed the rights to the Predictive Index for this area, and started the firm Bob Wilson and Associates with just Bob Wilson. Over the years he added associates and renamed the company Advisa in 2007.  Today the firm is a team of 22, who coach, consult and train employees for more than 300 companies across the country; clients like California Pizza Oven, Franciscan Alliance, High Alpha Venture Capital and Katz Sapper Miller.

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Net Gain

Topgolf brings its high-tech game to the county’s center of golf

By John Cinnamon

There are currently 10 (TEN!) golf courses within a five-mile radius of 116th Street & I-69, one of the densest concentrations of golf in the state.  So Topgolf – a high-tech driving range and entertainment complex now under construction – is surrounded by fans. Add in a highly visible location at one of the county’s busiest highway intersections and its clear why Topgolf chose Fishers for their first Indiana facility.

“Indianapolis has been key on our map,” said Morgan Wallace, Senior Communications Specialist with Topgolf.  “It’s rare that we get a location right in a downtown area, so we usually like to work at the strong suburbs around the cities, and Fishers was a very centralized location in the state with its proximity to Indianapolis.  It was the perfect fit for us.”

Microchips

Although golf is the central theme, Topgolf – with 33 venues across the country and around the world – is not your father’s driving range.  The company bills itself as golf-entertainment-complex-meets-neighborhood-hangout, focusing strongly on the social aspect. 

“We have great food, great music, great entertainment, as well as obviously the golf game,” said Wallace.  “On any given day you’ll see everyone from a five-year-old learning to swing a golf club, all the way up the older generation.  And in between, people who aren’t really into golf but have fun coming to Topgolf.” 

The three-story structure will feature 102 climate-controlled hitting bays, each with seating for six and high definition TVs.  Technology is integral to Topgolf.  The golf balls are outfitted with microchips that, when reaching the multicolored electronic targets in the landing area, relay the players’ distance and accuracy to the screens in each of the bays while playing point-scoring golf games.

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Very Early Adopter - Sunbeam Development invested early and often

A chance investment in the mid-1960s led Miami-based Sunbeam Television to become a major player in the development of Fishers.

Fishers MapFounder Sidney Ansin purchased 640 acres in Indianapolis in 1967, just north of Castleton to the Marion-Hamilton counties border, along Allisonville Road. As the area developed, Sunbeam Television launched Sunbeam Development Corporation, and turned its attention to the next big thing.

“That’s what got them into the Indianapolis market,” said Ken Kern, director of properties for Sunbeam Development Corporation. “The next obvious place after developing Castleton area was Fishers.”

Flexible Zoning

Sunbeam found the seller of a choice location in the small town. The company initially purchased 400 acres from the Reynolds family east of I-69, from south of 106th Street to north of 116th Street.

USA Funds, at the time headquartered in Indianapolis, approached Sunbeam about the property. Then 300 more acres became available, and USA Funds (now Navient) was built and its headquarters moved to Fishers, in 1988. Forum Credit Union soon followed, and Sunbeam bought almost-400 more acres.

“The IKEA location has always been the gem of our properties,” Kern explained, of the high-profile property south of 116th Street. While Sunbeam retains ownership of most of their holdings, working with IKEA was a different story.

“The IKEAs of the world don’t want to lease, they want to buy. In this case, we thought that selling the site to them, the surrounding area would be more valuable,” Kern said.

Kern remembers how crowds packed the tiny former town hall, across 116th Street from the current municipal complex, in 1988 to hear how developers hoped to create something of value in the wide-open fields.

“We went to the town (Fishers) and said “We like this area, it looks like a good place. We think you want to grow,” Kern recalled. “The town council gave us flexible zoning package.”

Sunbeam thought it would be mutually beneficial to have options when it came to development, especially since their entry to the Fishers market came so early in what would become an explosion of growth.

“When it’s a small community like that, we’ve got this great land, what do we want to do with it?” Kern said. “It was just kind of a moving target; we’ll just have to see.”

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Preserving our Railroad Heritage

ITM is an unconventional museum

ITM MuseumUnlike most museums where you visit a building and walk through looking at exhibits, the Indiana Transportation Museum’s main “building” has always been the Nickel Plate railroad track.

Exhibits are the historic trains that visitors ride, like the Indiana State Fair Train and the Polar Bear Express. The Museum seeks to give its visitors the experience of public transportation in the 20th century, linking central Indiana destinations and cultural experiences.

An added benefit for Hamilton County is the museum’s role as a tourist attraction. In a 2015 survey, museum visitors reported directly spending over $678,000 with local businesses. 6 in 10 visitors live outside Hamilton County and 1 in 5 live outside the metro area or out of state.

Much of the museum’s work that isn’t readily visible is the historic preservation work volunteers do on the locomotives and rail cars in its collection. The work is done inside the buildings in Forest Park. Visitors can watch when the museum is open.

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Early Adopter - Meyer Najem anchors new development

Meyer Najem CorporationThe change to the landscape of downtown Fishers, known as the Nickel Plate District, includes the construction of new headquarters for longtime Fishers construction company, Meyer Najem Corporation.

Located on Lantern Road, near the intersection with Commercial Drive, the construction firm was founded in 1987 by Karl Meyer and Anthony Najem. Originally located on Binford Boulevard in Indianapolis, it moved to Fishers in 1997, to 131st Street east of Ind. 37.

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What’s Your Time Worth?

New business addresses one of life’s peskier annoyances

David Letterman made a running joke of waiting for the cable guy. Like so many other things, he got that right: it’s just plain annoying to spend hours waiting for someone to show up. Well, every annoyance provides an opportunity, and Ed Wroblewski is chasing it. For a price, one of his “waiters” will do the waiting for you. The question is: how much is it worth to you to not have to wait for the cable guy?

Everyone is busy

Wait 4U ServiceEd’s a Westfield resident with a full time job, a consultancy on the side and membership in the Westfield Running Club. He’s a busy guy and hates waiting for service providers as much as anyone.

“I imagined that I was not the only poor soul with this ‘problem’, he says. “Everyone is ‘busy’!” He imagined a service where a person could “buy some time” to free up his own time to do the things he wanted or needed to do. “Surely,” he thought, “there is a business that does this sort of thing. Surely, there isn’t! But there was going to be one.”

Ed launched Wait 4U Services about a year and a half ago with a simple goal of matching people who were short of time with others that had some extra time on their hands. He currently has nine “waiters,” who will show up at your home and wait for a service provider to show up, watch the worker do the work and lock the home when they leave. The price: $49/hour with a two-hour minimum.

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Sharing the Healthcare Burden

They’re not insurance, but health share plans are an ACA compliant solution

Christian co-share health plans are increasing in popularity as an alternative to traditional health insurance.

We live in an age of great divide in our country with lots of debate and disagreement over a wide variety of issues, high among them healthcare coverage. Some people feel the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare, did not go far enough, while others think it went too far. There is a lot of talk about repealing and replacing it. Add to that the fact that several big health care insurers have announced they are pulling out of the ACA exchanges resulting in fewer plans to choose from, and those depending on ACA for coverage are left feeling anxious.

There is one thing that most people seem to agree on though and that is that the cost of healthcare coverage is still too high and continuing to climb out of control. Millions of people, especially those that are self-insured, are struggling to pay for plans with astronomical monthly price tags and high deductibles. Simply not buying healthcare coverage is no longer an option with the ACA mandate. So, thousands of people are turning to alternatives.

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The Flaw of Attraction

Research questions the value of tax incentives for economic development

The idea that a municipality must offer bait to lure new business to town is now common practice. Businesses have learned to play local governments against each other to gain favorable tax treatment. Last Summer, Ball State University economist Dr. Michael J. Hicks offered a contrarian view at a Westfield Chamber luncheon. Dr. Hicks consented to an email interview in this exchange conducted in December. It has been edited slightly for clarity and brevity.

Hamilton County Business Magazine: The gist of your presentation was that these incentives don’t work, at least not long-term. Can you elaborate?

Dr. Michael Hicks: There's no doubt that many factors play into business location decisions and effective tax rates are among those issues. Economic theory is very clear on this, but it is also true that few matters lend themselves so well to actually examining the numbers. And, as it turns out, businesses, like households, really care more about the value proposition between local services and taxation. Empirical research very clearly reports that the suite of capital based tax incentives does nothing to induce net employment growth or net business investment. The worst of these are abatements, followed by tax increment financing.

The reasons for this aren't too difficult to follow. First, abatements and TIF generally move tax revenues away from local government, or shift the cost to other local taxpayers. So, the special benefits that accrue to the recipient, actually come at the expense of other taxpayers. This alone dampens the net effect to the point that regional economies show no positive gains to tax incentives or TIF.

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Parker Mortgage: The Home Team

Noblesville couple finds fun in finance!

Parker Mortgage in Noblesville Indiana

To say that Parker Mortgage Team in Noblesville is not your typical mortgage broker is putting it mildly. The company, now in its 6th year, is owned and operated by Mike and Tawni Partin, an under 40 married couple, who have managed to take an industry that is normally dry and boring and turn it into a fun place to work. In fact, just a few years ago Parker Mortgage, a franchise of Finance of America, was voted one of the best places to work in the Indianapolis area.

A lot of this is due to the Partins’ unconventional management style, which includes considering everyone a team member, not an employee; engaging in lots of team events, incentive trips and outings; and hiring by committee.

Hang out and have fun

Their offices, currently located at Mill Top, a 150 year old remodeled Noblesville flour mill, are indicative of their style. Upon entering, you can’t help but be reminded of a chic New York-style warehouse space complete with brick walls, loft, and spiral staircase. You also can’t help but notice that they bring their Old English Sheepdog, Millie, to work with them every day as she is often the first to greet you. They named the business after another sheepdog, Parker, who passed away. “It seemed too arrogant to name it after ourselves,” says Mike.
Mike and Tawni, who have been married 14 years and have literally known each other since kindergarten, knocked around the mortgage and financial services industries for many years in different roles. A desire to get themselves out of debt led them to Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University which they not only passed and incorporated in their lifestyle, but also led courses 15 times helping 200 families through the program.

The great recession in 2008, however, hit the Partins hard, since it began with the subprime mortgage crisis and both lost their jobs. They took that as a challenge, though, and not a defeat. Mike, who is the branch manager and in charge of sales started Parker Mortgage and then Tawni joined him later as Operations Manager.

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Brackets for Good: Channels Tournament Hype Toward Non-profits

On April 4, 2011 while most of Indiana focused on Butler University’s heartbreaking loss in the NCAA basketball championship game for the second year in a row, two Indianapolis marketing professionals – Matt McIntyre and Matt Duncan - were inspired by the spirit that brought the whole city together to support Butler’s team.

Brackets for Good

“Everyone in Indy was bleeding blue and white and it put a magnifying glass on this small school,” said McIntyre, who worked at the time with Fishers resident Duncan in the marketing department at MOBI, a software development company. “We knew that if we could figure out how to bottle this up, we could have a marketing phenomenon.” 

So, McIntyre and Duncan headed to the McIntyre’s basement while their wives stayed upstairs. “I had a whiteboard down there, so we started brainstorming ideas,” McIntyre said.

Voice of Reason

The men knew they wanted charities to benefit from whatever they ultimately came up with. While brainstorming, they realized they could only think of four Indianapolis not-for-profits and they knew there had to be more, so the first problem they set out to solve was how to help potential donors discover not-for-profits they hadn’t been aware of.

They ultimately came up with what became Brackets for Good, a fundraising championship tournament styled after the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournament. Not-for-profit charities are the teams.

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Building a Workforce: Construction Industry Confronts Labor Shortage

“Consider the reality of today’s job market. We have a massive skills gap. Even with record unemployment, millions of skilled jobs are unfilled because no one is trained or willing to do them. Meanwhile unemployment among college graduates is at an all-time high, and the majority of those graduates with jobs are not even working in their field of study. Plus, they owe a trillion dollars in student loans. A trillion! And still, we push a four-year college degree as the best way for the most people to find a successful career?” - Mike Rowe, Host of TLC’s “Dirty Jobs” and founder of mikeroweWORKS, a PR campaign designed to reinvigorate the skilled trades.

While Hamilton County has, for the most part, recovered from the housing crisis of 2008, one industry continues to feel the impact of it every day: the construction industry.

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Finding the Profit in FREE: Web Entrepreneur says it Can be Done

GladliConsumers continue to flock to the internet to shop, as online retailers drive prices down and selection up. A local entrepreneur is taking that pricing strategy to the limit: driving prices down to…free. The selection may be a bit limited right now but that could change quickly.

Meet Trevor Totten, a Purdue grad from Westfield, who thinks he’s hatched the ultimate internet selling machine: free merchandise made available by manufacturers as a sort of sampling website. Think of it as an online business expo, except you only visit the booths you are interested in, you don’t have to endure a lame sales pitch, and you only fill your bag with products you will really use. Don’t expect to find a chip clip here, unless you really need one.

The Cooldown

Totten is betting that manufacturers will pay for the opportunity to give away one or more of their products to potential customers in the hope that once the customers try it, they’ll be more likely to buy more of it. He envisions a marketplace of thousands of consumer items, all provided by manufacturers free of charge, and who are willing to pay him to find new prospects. Totten calls the site “Gladli”, as in “We’ll gladly let you try our product for free.”

But, how to counter the deadly sin of gluttony? As anyone who has ever dined at an “all you can eat buffet” knows, when something is free, people inevitably take more than they can use. Totten has a plan for that, and he calls it a “cooldown.” Consumers initially are limited to just one free product per week. That way, he says, “You’re motivated to only select products you are genuinely interested in. Otherwise, you are just wasting your precious selections.” That’s also an advantage for the businesses, he says, because people who are really interested in a product are more likely to buy it later.

Identity verification is also an integral part of the system. Totten isn’t sharing details about how he does it, but says verifying a person’s identity is important to prevent fraud, like opening multiple accounts to receive multiple products. He also requires a credit card to register, though it “will NEVER be charged.”

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