One Sunday morning while gazing over his congregation from the pulpit at First Baptist Church North Indianapolis, Dr. Ivan Hicks counted the number of people he knew were unemployed. That thoughtful count and internal desire to help those parishioners build a better life for themselves led Hicks in 2012 to found The Northwest Vision Development Center, known these days as simply The Vision Center.
The idea behind the center was to help those in Central Indiana who want to start their own business move past the fear of the idea and obtain the knowledge and resources necessary to bring their vision to reality. With the help of other business professionals in the community a business incubator called The Grindery was born.
When one thinks of a business incubator in Indiana, the vision that forms is typically one of software, hardware, and other high-tech businesses seeking assistance to grow and thrive. The Grindery, though, is anything but typical, designed to incubate business people and potentially revitalize the near northwest side of Indianapolis.
“We have had a broad scope of ideas for businesses come through,” said Hicks. “Security, upholstery, lawn care, catering, barber shops. We run the gamut of people looking for help to start their own business and achieve their dreams.”
(According to Forbes.com, the fastest growing sector for freelance business in 2011 included auto repair shops, beauty salons and dry cleaners.)
Hicks says the idea is to attract people who have a “million-dollar idea” for a business, but don’t know or are afraid to take the steps to turn that dream into a reality.
To make The Grindery a reality, Hicks reached out to the city’s business and civic communities for support and resources. John McDonald, President and CEO of Cloudone, joined the initiative. McDonald, a former IBM executive, said once he learned of the vision and mission of The Grindery, he knew he had to get involved.
“It was the influence of a former colleague at IBM,” said McDonald. “He believed in paying it forward. I got help in growing and setting up our business. Now I help others do the same.”
Cloudone is a small business based in Indianapolis that has only been in existence for 4 years, but has been on the fast track to success ever since. In August of this year Cloudone was listed as one of America’s Fastest Growing Private Companies according to Inc. magazine. Earlier this month the company secured over $4 million to accelerate growth and broaden the company’s platform.
McDonald serves The Grindery as chair of the advisory board and also led a capital fundraising campaign to fund the creation of a physical presence. His practical knowledge of what it takes to build a new business and desire to give back to the community coupled with Hicks’ vision very well.
Other organizations and community leaders are involved in the effort, including the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, Launch Fishers, The Indianapolis Museum of Art, and Marian University. With great board leadership and support, Hicks developed a curriculum and delivery system to provide education and networking opportunities for those enrolled in the program.
“When [budding entrepreneurs] come, we try to attach resources and relationships to help them get advice and mentorships from the right people to help them succeed,” says Hicks. “When someone comes with a business idea, the immediate challenge is making sure that what they seek to do is their passion. You shouldn’t go into business to make money; it won’t be a success if it isn’t within you.”
Hicks says anyone looking to start a business needs to ask themselves, “What are you doing for free that you could make money at? What has God driven you to do?”
The Grindery’s curriculum is divided into eight weeks. Participants are led through detailed instruction on creating a business network, developing their core idea, sharing that idea, business 101, developing a brand, taking that idea to market, funding and finally starting their business. After the eight weeks is complete Hicks says they hold something called the “Hustle & Grind.”
“The Hustle & Grind is The Grindery’s version of Shark Tank,” says Hicks. “Participants give their ‘elevator pitch’ to the group based on everything they have learned.”
The ultimate prize from the Hustle & Grind is a variety of things, from the opportunity to utilize The Grindery as an office to start their business to possible micro loans offered by the businesses and leaders listening to the pitches. Still, Hicks says everyone wins because they get to listen to each other’s pitches and learn from each other.
It’s been two and a half years since Hicks began The Vision Center. The Grindery classes have been operating out of the Bradley Building, the education structure on the campus of First Baptist Church on Udell Street. A physical presence for the Grindery is currently under renovation in a small strip mall in the 2700 block of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street. Once complete in early 2015, The Grindery will serve as an incubator space providing office support for the start-up businesses as well as classroom space for the program. Hicks believes The Grindery also stands as a beacon of potential in revitalizing a once economically depressed area of the city.
Hicks and McDonald hope that this is just the beginning of more opportunities and more development as they empower people to take a business idea and run with it.
“It really is business helping business and it’s growing,” said Hicks. “All are in agreement that it’s a good idea and people are volunteering to see it succeed.”