The Merrillville technology incubator sits at the site of a former cornfield. It was built with $7 million appropriated by the areas Congressman, Rep. Peter Visclosky.
The Congressman went to work securing the money. In January 2002, he issued a news release announcing that he had landed the first earmark, worth $1.4 million, to get the project off the ground. Another $1 million came in October, and by February 2003, Visclosky finished the job by inserting $5.5 million for the center in an omnibus spending bill.
Announcing the news in a release, Visclosky said, Many people have terrific ideas for new companies, but they often do not have the kind of experience they need to make their ideas work. The Purdue Technology Center will provide the know-how needed to help these entrepreneurs start companies that will survive and thrive, and that will be good for all of Northwest Indiana.
The model tenant for the center, then, would be a fledgling enterprise looking for support through its rocky startup period. Hornett pointed to the example from the West Lafayette incubator of Solid State Chemical Information, a company started by a Purdue faculty member and his wife in the sewing room of their home. In 1998, they moved into a 100-square-foot office in the research center but expanded rapidly to occupy 5,000 square feet with 25 employees. The growth eventually forced them into a different building, which the company then bought and operates out of today.
Established companies with steady sales would have a harder case to make to get into a Purdue incubator, Hornett said. We would try to accommodate them, but we wouldnt necessarily try to accommodate them in the context of an incubator. I mean, if someone came to us of a fairly good size, we would probably look for other alternatives.
But among the PMA clients that were the first to move into the Merrillville center, only NuVant Systems could realistically be called a startup. The company also was unique for its brief history with PMA at the time the center opened.
Unlike the other clients of the firm, which had been working with PMA since at least 2002, NuVant, a developer of fuel-cell technology, signed up Jan. 1, 2005, just 12 days before the center celebrated its grand opening.
The other four companies, to varying degrees, were all well-established by the time they moved into the incubator, with headquarters outside the state and, in most cases, several satellite offices across the country. Advanced Concepts and Technologies International had $7.5 million in federal contracts that year; 21st Century Systems had $23.9 million; ProLogic, $32 million; and Sierra Nevada, $122.7 million, according to records compiled by FedSpending.org.
Asked about the seeming maturity of the four companies, officials with the center said they made appropriate tenants for the building. There is no hard, fast rule. What were looking for ultimately is job growth, Hornett said in a follow-up interview.
Added Hanak: Were looking at these companies on a case-by-case basis. Weve never looked at it in terms of the maturity of the overall company. If theyre developing technologies that need this incubator atmosphere, we certainly consider them for inclusion.