John Hanak, managing director of Purdue Ventures
The Purdue Foundry is an entrepreneurial hub on the Purdue University campus that helps founders create businesses around their technology. Flyover Future touched base with John Hanak, managing director of Purdue Ventures at the Purdue Foundry to talk about the program.
How did Purdue Foundry come to be?
Hanak: We created the Foundry in 2013 and identified as one of our strategic imperatives to make it easier for researchers—whether faculty, students, or staff—to commercialize technology through a startup.
We’ve averaged anywhere between 15 and 25 startups per year that are commercializing Purdue intellectual property. We focus on moving technologies in the marketplace, but we also assist others who come to us from the community and from around the state.
Purdue Ventures is a part of the Foundry and focuses on providing access to talent and capital for the startups we work with. We have $40 million in assets under management and are the 10th-largest private equity and venture entity in the state.
The Foundry is instrumental in the ideation phase. We will take them through an ideation, work on a rudimentary business plan, then certification, and then we can license the technology from the university.
What are the most surprising insights you’ve drawn from the data of a particular client?
Hanak: I’ve worked with more than 250 startups, and I would go so far as to say that building the right team and bringing the right talent is a necessary precursor to raising capital. Investors really invest in a team as much as in a technology. They believe the team is vital to moving the tech into the marketplace.
What can West Lafayette do to support entrepreneurs in direct and helpful ways?
Hanak: The West Coast is renowned for having a density of mentors, employees, and investors who are willing and able to help. The cities in the Midwest don’t need to look at replicating that, but they need to do it in their own structures and value systems. You want to create as many collisions as possible of people who are interested in what’s going on in the entrepreneurial world. There are many great entrepreneurs in the Midwest in every region, and communities have to be able to put together the system and structure to support them.
What is the best thing about having a startup in flyover country?
Hanak: I think that we’re really no longer flyover country. When you look at Drive Capital in Columbus, OH, or similar entities in other Midwestern cities, such as Chicago, Indianapolis, and Louisville, they may not have the capital that’s on the West Coast, but they’re very active.
As a result, what I’m seeing today is that West Coast firms are looking at deals in the Midwest and are looking to commercialize technology—but they’re no longer asking them to move to the coast. In fact, people who have been part of the startup scenes on the coasts have begun moving back to the Midwest because of our core beliefs and values, especially when they want to raise families.