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Interest, Commitment Levels High as Indiana's First IoT Lab Opens

Thirteen months in the making, Indiana's first Internet of Things (IoT) lab opens March 21 and will focus on stimulating IoT device and application development.

Thirteen months after it was announced, Indiana’s first Internet of Things lab will open on March 21 in the burgeoning Indianapolis suburb of Fishers.

Fostering technology and innovation has been a focus for Gov. Eric Holcomb, who visited Fishers in February 2017 to announce the Indiana IoT Lab; and officials close to the project told Government Technology that interest levels are so high that they’re confident it will quickly generate significant value.

Mayor Scott Fadness said the lab’s eight office suites are entirely leased and more than 700 people had RSVPed to attend the opening as of March 16 — an indicator of curiosity that, in situations like this where touring the lab may be the most effective way to communicate its purpose, could also drive future commitments.

Originally targeted for opening as early as the summer of 2017, the 24,562-square-foot lab is designed to house a combination of maker areas, development labs and testing spaces for companies to experiment in designing new IoT devices and applications. It also includes a design thinking studio, where teams and clients will be able to work through the creative process.

The lab is expected to be a major driver of innovation and tech for the city, already home to Indiana’s largest co-working space, and for the state. Holcomb’s Next Level Fund, part of a legislative agenda with the same name, is intended to invest a quarter-billion dollars over the next decade into venture capital, a potential stimulus for startups.

The facility, in the former home of Bates Technology, a maker of honing stones and machine shop tooling, will feature resources including a laser cutter, a 3-D printer, a stereolithography 3-D printer and a pick-and-place printed circuit board maker.

The lab is propped up with a long list of sponsors. It will include a wood shop and a metal shop supported by a Stanley Security sponsorship that includes a donation of DeWalt tools, according to John Wechsler, chief executive officer and founder of the nearby co-working space Launch Fishers.

Another sponsorship from Arrow Electronics, a large distributor of IoT-related components, will likely deliver devices like Arduinos and Raspberry Pis, Wechsler said. Others on the list of 35 sponsors include Indiana University, KSM Consulting, AT&T and Allegion.

That list of sponsorships, which Wechsler said is “well into” six figures, also includes the city of Fishers, which the mayor said contributed $150,000. Going forward, the city will pay for the building’s lease; and Launch Fishers, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, will fund daily operations through memberships and sponsorships. Around 50 members have paid $1,000 each to join, which entitles them to work from the facility.

Tenants include ClearObject, an IoT systems integration business whose CEO John McDonald joined Wechsler and Fadness in guiding Launch Fishers; Flexware Innovations, which centers on what Fadness termed “machine-to-machine IoT”; and Rook Security, which helps companies with IoT challenges guard against cyberattack.

“Then, there’s a lot of additional space in the back for more free space, more open space. And we’re to the point now that it’s so in demand that we’re creating office suites even back there. I’m really excited about the initial group of talent that we’ve aggregated into that facility,” Fadness said.

“We think that if we can create the critical mass of workers and IoT engineers and innovators, we’re going to see not only companies from Indiana but from across the country and probably around the world look to be part of this thing long-term,” Wechsler said, noting that lab officials have already consulted their architect about a possible expansion.

During an interview with GT, the Launch Fishers CEO shared details of an email from a California-based utility that had contacted him to express an interest in using the lab remotely; and contact from a Toronto entrepreneur weighing a move to Fishers.

The mayor said people that have toured the lab include representatives of companies like Chrysler, John Deere, Rolls-Royce, IBM and Eli Lilly and Co. Officials met recently with representatives of a smaller Minnesota company interested in relocating to Fishers.

“They haven’t made their decision on where they’re going to go, but what I do know is without having this IoT lab, Fisher, Indiana isn’t on [the] list. This is an example of, by demonstrating your willingness to build these environments in an intentional way, attracts the type of entrepreneurs you’re looking for in your community,” said Fadness, the city’s first-ever mayor.

Rook Security relocated from California to Indiana in 2009, and CEO J.J. Thompson said he believes it has had the opportunity there to find “the right team with the right talent.” The company is “in line” to get office space in Fishers, the CEO said, and is also a founding dedicated suite member at the lab.

“This is going to be something that changes the way that Indiana’s economy fundamentally operates in the future. We wanted to jump in with both feet and be a part of this from the ground up. For us, it’s going to be all about getting closer to the problems,” Thompson said of the lab, referring to its all-encompassing capability to support problem-solving.

Officials don’t intend to “get in the middle of deals,” Wechsler said. But they do plan to make sure the lab is closely connected to academia and key local producers like southern Indiana’s plastic injection molding industry — not only looping in industrial specialties but also avoiding duplication by using area resources.

Discussions are already happening around potential use cases including an automation challenge from a global automotive company that could become a Master’s-level project for Indiana University students; and later this spring, the lab will host its first hackathon on public safety solutions.

But, the mayor said, this has not been a quick endeavor, and he cautioned other state officials contemplating standing up their own IoT labs to circle in local tech types and businesses, and be deliberate.

“Do not try to create this out of a purely government-based lens. It needs to be led by entrepreneurs,” Fadness said. “This vision of an entrepreneurial city was never going to be a one-and-done project. We’re in this for the long haul.”

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for Industry Insider — California, and before that was a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.