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New entrepreneurship training program to help foster 'innovation economy' in NWI

Mont Handley, associate director at the Commercialization and Manufacturing Excellence Center at Purdue University Northwest, gives a presentation on his product, PittMoss, to the Munster Garden Club recently at the Lake County Public Library Munster branch. Purdue Northwest was recently awarded a federal grant to promote startup companies.

Purdue University Northwest landed a $386,000 federal grant that will be used to foster an "innovation economy" in the Region by teaching people how to start up new ventures.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration decided to fund Purdue Northwest's Concept to Commercialization 2020, or C2C-2020, program that will teach hundreds of aspiring entrepreneurs over the next two years about start-up strategies, intellectual property, leadership and small business management fundamentals. It was the only project in Indiana to be funded through the program and one of only 44 nationwide.

Purdue Northwest hopes the new program will spur economic development in Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Newton, Jasper, Pulaski and Starke counties. The aim is to "increase the rate at which innovations, ideas, intellectual property and research are translated into products, services, viable companies and jobs."

“Our goal is to foster advanced manufacturing related to entrepreneurship and workforce development,” PNW Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost Niaz Latif said. “The ambitious participants we intend to serve in this program will not only have access to state-of-the-art equipment in CMEC, but will also tap into Purdue Northwest’s vast resources of intellectual capital, leadership assets and community partnerships.”

Purdue Northwest's 18,000-square-foot Commercialization and Manufacturing Excellence Center on Indianapolis Boulevard will host the new program. Participants can take advantage of the equipment and machinery it has for prototype development, testing and proof of concept manufacturing.

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“What makes this program truly transformational for entrepreneurs, though, will be the connections with PNW’s expert faculty, as well as local and state workforce agencies and economic development groups," Entrepreneur in Residence and CEMC Associate Director Mont Handley said. "All will be working together to put participants on a path from concept to prototype to sustainable business."

Northwest Indiana is lagging behind the rest of the state in innovation. Counties in the Region were issued 1.6 patents per 10,000 jobs between 2001 and 2013, as compared to 4 patents per 10,000 jobs in the rest of the state, according to the Purdue University Center for Regional Development. Northwest Indiana also hasn't gotten a Small Business Innovation Research grant since 2014.

But the Region has potential, Handley said.

“There are tremendous opportunities in Northwest Indiana for a venture of this scale,” he said. “Purdue Northwest is well-positioned to be the engine that drives this transformation. It has the real potential to spark new economic investment and produce tangible outcomes in workforce growth both direct, from businesses spun out of the program, and indirect, through businesses needed as a result of these successes.”

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.