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Those who want to start a business or grow a business in Northwest Indiana can find assistance and advice through a number of programs and organizations.

Area chambers of commerce across the Region work together to help entrepreneurs, said Dave Ryan, executive director of the Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce based in Hammond.

The two largest chambers of commerce in Lake County — Lakeshore and Crossroads Regional — represent more than 1,200 businesses. Last year, the two chambers announced a new economic development alliance called the Lake County Economic Alliance to assist the communities of East Chicago, Hammond, Crown Point and Merrillville in business retention, attraction and expansion efforts.

The LCEA is a nonprofit organization that focuses on new business attraction, as well as business retention and expansion, and marketing efforts, Ryan said.

Located in Merrillville, the Crossroads Regional Chamber of Commerce resulted from a merger in 2010 of the Merrillville Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Crown Point Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to offering networking opportunities for entrepreneurs, the chambers host seminars to help business owners. In January, the Crossroads Chamber of Commerce hosted Launch NWI, a seminar that brought together experts about earning contracts with local, state and  federal governments.

Future Launch NWI sessions will cover such topics as “Cultivating Innovation and Entrepreneurship” and “Locating Smart Money.”

The NWI Small Business Development Center serves seven region counties and offers free assistance to entrepreneurs starting or expanding their businesses.

Through one-on-one consulting, NWI SBDC helps guide small-business owners by offering referrals, workshops, training opportunities and other essential business tools, according to Lorri Feldt, regional director of NWI SBDC. Funding is provided in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, state of Indiana and other local partners.

Purdue promotes success

Another source of assistance is the Center for Entrepreneurship Success at Purdue University Northwest in Hammond. The center, headed by Dushan Nikolovski, aims to encourage and support entrepreneurship in the community, the Calumet Region, the state of Indiana and throughout the nation by offering educational programs and expanding initiatives that support the creation and development of new business opportunities.

“We intend to encourage entrepreneurial thinking and knowledge among students, stakeholders and community members by offering a venue where aspiring entrepreneurs can test their entrepreneurial prowess,” Nikolovski said.

Designed to be a catalyst for regional economic development and technological transfer, the 18,000-square-foot Purdue University Northwest Commercialization and Manufacturing Excellence Center at 7150 Indianapolis Blvd. in Hammond opened its doors in April 2015.

“This center will enable Purdue Calumet and ultimately Purdue University Northwest to positively impact regional economic development by advancing new manufacturing opportunities through state-of-the-art training and transfer of the latest technology,” said Purdue Northwest Chancellor Thomas L. Keon during the ribbon-cutting ceremonies. “It also provides a venue for commercialization of new business ideas.”

One of the center’s components focuses on helping local entrepreneurs and employers advance new commercialization ideas to market in response to current needs and new industries of tomorrow.

Powering up entrepreneurs

For nearly a dozen years, the Society of Innovators of Northwest Indiana has celebrated “some of the region’s most innovative thinkers and doers across our seven-county region (and) original ideas that are helping to change the perception of how we look at ourselves,” said John Davies, managing director of the organization headquartered in the Gerald I. Lamkin Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center at Ivy Tech Community College Northwest, in Gary.

This seven-county region is made up of Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Jasper, Newton, Pulaski and Starke.

No age, income or social boundaries limit creativity and innovation, Davies said. However, having a light shine on those innovative ideas and their creators encourages the dreamers, thinkers and doers, he noted.

Another source of assistance and advice for entrepreneurs is SCORE of Northwest Indiana that provides mentoring through the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce. SCORE mentors include business owners, entrepreneurs and community leaders who work together to support the economic growth, vitality and job market in Northwest Indiana.

Services include business planning, marketing strategies, startup assistance, specialized advisers and workshops. SCORE of Northwest Indiana recently was recognized by the organization's national leadership when it was designated as a 2015 Platinum Chapter for overall excellence in services provided in Northwest Indiana.

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