The Herald Bulletin

March 27, 2012

Bright Automotive may be gone, but not the future

Central Indiana could pool resources to finance startups

By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin

— There’s no question the demise of Bright Automotive last month represents a blow to Madison County and the hybrid-electric niche it occupies in the automotive industry.

But county economic development officials aren’t willing to let the engineering expertise that existed here with Bright slip away without a fight.

“Bright was a four-year project and they fit well into our technical niche and into our community,” said Charles Staley, president and CEO of the Flagship Enterprise Center.

Madison County, he said, is home to national experts in hybrid power, transmissions and electrical technologies. “I think that’s a sweet spot for Madison County and is something we do very, very well.”

He said meetings have already been scheduled with companies that may be interested in tapping that expertise that exists here and which could potentially be located in the Enterprise Center.

“In this business you kiss a lot of toads before you come to a prince,” Staley said, “but you always miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

One barrier to the creation of small startup manufacturing operations here is a lack of local venture capital, said Pete Bitar, founder and owner of Xtreme Alternative Defense Systems.

Extreme A.D.S. focuses on defense-related nonlethal and counter-IED directed energy systems aimed at providing non-lethal methods for protecting troops and civilians in combat areas.

Bitar added that one key to success is a willingness to take a chance. “We need to foster the risk element of entrepreneurship.”

Too many businesses have to go to the coasts to find venture capital, Bitar said. No local banks would take a risk on his venture “because they didn’t get it.”

Greg Winkler, Anderson’s interim economic development director, agrees with Bitar.

Although he thinks central Indiana has come a long way in the past eight to 10 years, “we really need to foster our connection to capital markets in every way, shape and form,” Winkler said.

One of the reasons Silicon Valley has become the world’s leading high-tech incubator, Winkler believes, is because the entrepreneurs and the investors in their projects all know each other — many even attended the same schools — and that tends to create a high level of trust and comfort, which can mitigate a sense of risk.

And there is no reason why those same kinds of relationships can’t be fostered in central Indiana because “you’ve got some of the most innovative, creative design folks living within 50 miles of Anderson.”