Building Indiana’s Hardtech Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: The Power of Local Connectedness

Why Hardtech?

With its leadership and dominance in manufacturing, Indiana is uniquely positioned to lead the U.S. in hardtech. Like any innovation venture, successful technology commercialization and product launch doesn’t come easy. And with hardtech, there are many distinct obstacles along the product-development journey:

  • Products cannot be launched as an early-stage prototype, with software bugs or connectivity issues. For good reason: These products save lives, monitor critical operations, power AI-decision making on planes, trains and automobiles and more.
  • Before a product launch, physical components must be tested and manufactured. That requires machines, a lab and other equipment for analysis, which are expensive for early-stage companies to acquire. Failure during the prototyping stages means more product design iterations, changes to a manufacturing process and raising more money.
  • Additionally, teams need knowledge of engineering, materials science, frontend and backend software developers and more.

Knowing these challenges and recognizing Indiana’s promise as a hardtech innovation hub, Conexus Indiana, Elevate Ventures and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation formed a consortium of like-minded organizations including AgriNovus, HG Ventures and TechPoint, to convene early-stage hardtech entrepreneurs with two main goals in mind:

  • Connect peers with potential mentors, key assets within Indiana’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and with one another.
  • Share insights to help entrepreneurship support organizations (ESOs) understand what resources and dollars are needed to advance entrepreneurship in Indiana.

It’s this connectedness that will help fuel entrepreneurial growth. In fact, a recent finding in a Startup Genome report commissioned by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation revealed regions with the highest levels of local connectedness accelerate their entrepreneurs twice as fast when measured by revenue growth.

Focus Group Summary

On June 21, approximately 20 hardtech founders attended the first Indiana Hardtech Entrepreneurship Focus Group at SoChatti chocolate shop and True Essence Foods innovation lab at the Circle City Industrial Complex in downtown Indianapolis.

Attendees heard from Matt Rubin, founder and CEO of SoChatti, about his company’s startup journey. They participated in a chocolate tasting and facility tour, seeing firsthand how his company has scaled-up operations over the last couple of years. True Essence, the hardtech startup company that leverages the technology responsible for SoChatti’s groundbreaking flavor preservation and shelf stability, has been responsible for Rubin’s ability to create a more flavorful and sustainable global food chain.

Shared Learnings

  • We know the value of peer-to-peer connections, but despite being in the same industry, many of the entrepreneurs in the room had never met each other. 
  • If participants received $100k in funding today, the most common investment they would make is in research and development of their product. 

What Follows

Conexus Indiana and its partners will convene additional hardtech networking events with entrepreneurs in different stages of development. Future events will focus on Industry 4.0, life sciences and cleantech – all of which are served by hardtech companies.

Establishing a more connected ecosystem among Indiana startup companies will help move Indiana’s ecosystem from ‘Emerging’ to a ‘Top 30’ ecosystem contender. If you are interested in learning more, reach out to Ryan Henderson ( to learn more and get involved.

Watch the Video Recap

Hardtech is often defined as product innovation with manufacturing and technology/software components. Two examples are an Apple iPhone (the software component being the mobile apps and the physical component being the phone itself) or a Tesla automobile (the software component being the artificial intelligence for assisted-driving and the physical component being the car itself). Hardtech startups focus on Industry 4.0, circular economy, energy, biopharma and biotech, sustainable materials, water and waste management, agtech, aerospace and defense, software as a service for these industry verticals and more.