INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Small Business Development Center, which is a program of the Indiana Economic Development Corp., honored 14 small businesses last month for their work to help grow Indiana’s economy and strengthen communities across the state.
“With more than 512,000 companies employing 1.2 million Hoosiers, small businesses play a critical role in maintaining long-term economic growth in Indiana and supporting good jobs in our communities,” said Elaine Bedel, president of the IEDC. “As a state, we’re committed to building on the entrepreneurial climate that has helped launch companies like the ones being honored today and equipping Hoosier innovators with the tools they need to start and grow their dream businesses.”
Each award winner received business counseling from the Indiana SBDC, which provides entrepreneurs with expert guidance and resources on how to start and grow a business, including strategy development, business planning and valuation, export assistance and market research. The Small Business Impact Awards annually honor small businesses that received assistance from the organization’s 10 regional offices.
This year, the Indiana SBDC unveiled four new, statewide awards at its program, recognizing the contributions of clients who have made a significant economic or community impact in Indiana. The 2019 honorees are:
• Community Impact Award: Bodyworks Studio (Logansport), founded by Natasha Walters in 2011, is a yoga studio offering programs and services aimed at boosting Hoosiers’ physical, emotional and spiritual health. At its two locations in Logansport and Monticello, the company provides yoga classes for all body types and fitness levels and nutrition programs emphasizing locally-grown products. Bodyworks Studio continues to utilize the Indiana SBDC’s expert assistance to enhance its business plan and secure additional financing. Along with Bodyworks Studio’s local food initiative, Walters volunteers at the Logansport Juvenile Correctional Facility, teaching young offenders through the facility’s Insight Garden Program, which combines permaculture gardening principles with meditation and mindfulness techniques to support their acclimation back into society.
• Innovative Small Business of the Year: Heliponix (Evansville), led by Purdue University graduates Scott Massey and Ivan Ball, is an agbioscience startup that commercialized an automated, aeroponic appliance called a GroPod™ to allow consumers to grow produce in the convenience of their own homes. The company’s innovative technology cultivates produce three times faster than conventional farming methods, using 95 percent less water and without pesticides. For example, the GroPod™ can yield a full head of leafy greens in a single day. Since its inception in 2016, Heliponix has utilized the Indiana SBDC, Purdue Foundry and Elevate Ventures, the IEDC’s venture development partner, to fuel its growth in Indiana.
• Social Enterprise of the Year: Bitchstix (Indianapolis), founded by Indianapolis-native Emily Kennerk in 2016, is a face and skin care company selling lip balms and skin products made with organic, environmentally-friendly ingredients. To support its growth, Kennerk worked with the Indiana SBDC on an exporting strategy, which allowed her to expand into Canadian and European markets. Sales have doubled each year since the company was started, exceeding $400,000 last year, and the company’s brand and social impact continue to gain recognition throughout central Indiana. In support of the community, Bitchstix encourages retailers each year to nominate domestic violence awareness or sexual assault prevention programs to receive charitable support from the company.
• Veteran Small Business of the Year: Hotel Tango Artisan Distillery (Indianapolis) is the first combat-disabled, veteran-owned distillery in the nation and the first artisan distillery in Indianapolis since Prohibition. The company’s name was inspired by owner Travis Barnes’ military background, which included three tours in Iraq with the U.S. Marines. After launching, Barnes, along with his wife, Hilary, utilized the Indiana SBDC for permitting assistance and market research, and continue to work with the organization as they expand production and distribution. Additionally, the distillery closed on a $2 million Series A funding round. Hotel Tango also hosts an annual event with the Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation called Operation Alpha to support Hoosier veterans throughout the state.
The 2019 Small Business Impact Award recipients, based on the Indiana SBDC’s 10 regional offices, are:
• Central: NinjaZone (Indianapolis), founded by Casey Wright in 2014, offers a sports-focused children’s activity curriculum fusing martial arts, gymnastics, obstacle training and freestyle movement to fuel the athletic and character development of boys and girls ages 18 months to 13 years old. The company, which licenses its curriculum to more than 300 gyms and serves over 100,000 children globally, also runs a competition series, the Ninja Games, to showcase the skills and experience children obtain while participating in the program. With Indiana SBDC one-on-one counseling, NinjaZone created a strategic plan aimed at boosting brand recognition and attracting capital. In recognition of the company’s success, Wright was also named the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2019 Small Business Person of the Year in Indiana.
• East Central: Farmhouse Creative (Muncie), founded by Angie Rogers-Howell in 2012, is a woman-owned marketing and branding firm specializing in print and digital marketing. From brand strategy and content management solutions to print marketing materials and website design, the company, which currently has three full-time employees, offers a one-stop shop for marketing services for small businesses and nonprofits in Indiana. Farmhouse Creative continues to work with the Indiana SBDC to enhance its business model and marketing strategies.
• Hoosier Heartland: Little Engine Ventures (Lafayette) was launched by Daryl Starr and Mikel Berger in 2016 as an investment partnership focused on acquiring numerous small businesses per year. The firm’s present focus is in north central Indiana with revenue below $10 million. Little Engine Ventures regularly utilizes the Indiana SBDC for industry-specific market research. The partnership then deploys a one-of-a-kind investment strategy in Indiana and surrounding states, with a goal to encourage company growth by integrating new technologies and operating processes.
• North Central: Ninja Golf! (Granger), founded by John Miller in 2017, is a Japanese garden-themed miniature golf complex with three nine-hole courses, a Kabuki theatre, laser maze and a snack bar featuring traditional Japanese food and beverages. By leveraging Indiana SBDC services such as market analysis and loan assistance, the company was able to overcome key challenges in launching its first Ninja Golf! facility and plans to scale the business with additional locations and franchises.
• Northeast: Spectrum Virtual Reality Arcade (Fort Wayne), a virtual reality games and experiences arcade, was started by Waylon Fisher and Brandon Barker, who both participated in Fort Wayne Community Schools’ New Tech Academy. After working with the Indiana SBDC on the company’s business plan and financial projections, and applying the 21st-century technology skills obtained through the academy, the entrepreneurs opened their first location in Fort Wayne and have since added a second. Spectrum Virtual Reality Arcade allows its customers to immerse themselves in games using virtual reality headsets in rooms that accommodate multiple users.
• Northwest: Lokring Midwest (Valparaiso), an exclusive distributor of Ohio-based Lokring Technology weld alternative pipe and tube fittings, is a veteran-owned business serving nuclear, petrochemical, health care, steel and defense customers across the Midwest. Started by U.S. Army-veteran Steve Burke in 2009, the company, which has four full-time employees in northwest Indiana, has undergone multiple expansions with the help of the Indiana SBDC and plans to break ground on a new warehouse this year.
• South Central: Matrix Integration (Jasper), founded by entrepreneur Brenda Stallings in 1979, is a certified Women’s Business Enterprise and IT solution provider providing technology infrastructure, professional services and lifecycle-managed services. To support its growth, the Indiana SBDC offered location assistance to Matrix Integration, which allowed the company to expand and hire more Hoosiers. The company now has 80 employees across three locations in Indiana and Kentucky, serving more than 1,000 companies in industries ranging from finance and utilities to higher education and manufacturing.
• Southeast: Indiana Caverns (Corydon) is a family tourist destination offering tours and exhibits to the Midwest’s longest cave and the 7th largest cave in the nation. In 2012, the caverns were developed under the leadership of Gary Roberson, who had been actively exploring the cave system since 1967. As part of the Binkley Cave System, in total spanning more than 44 miles and still growing, the Indiana Caverns attracted more than 35,000 visitors in 2018, allowing its guests to experience attractions and explore the cave system at 110 feet below ground. The company is committed to increasing awareness of southern Indiana’s rich geological history, and, with Indiana SBDC assistance in securing financing, adding new attractions to enhance the tourism industry in Harrison County.
• Southwest: Tri-State Cylinder Head (Evansville), which specializes in high-precision, cast-iron welding and machining, is a HUBZone-certified manufacturer founded by Ron Schmitt in 1991. With the help of market reports drafted by the Indiana SBDC, the business was later purchased by Lucas Recker and Kyle Sharrer in 2017. The company recently announced plans to nearly double its workforce and invest more than $2.5 million to upgrade its 20,000-square-foot facility in Evansville, installing state-of-the-art equipment and custom welding infrastructure to support increased demand for its cylinder head remanufacturing.
• West Central: Honeysuckle Hill Bee-stro (Brazil), which opened in 2017, is a family-owned, seasonal restaurant integrating honey produced by owners and local beekeepers, Andy and Jodi Lohrman, in its recipes. The restaurant also hosts private events and has a gift shop featuring its honey and locally-made home and kitchen products. When starting its business, the Bee-stro worked with the Indiana SBDC on its business plan, financial projections and marketing strategy.