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Indy’s 16 Tech Development to Accelerate Innovation, Build Community

A new urban innovation district aims to become the advanced industry epicenter of Indianapolis.

Q2 2018
The 60-acre 16 Tech innovation community is in proximity to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and the IU School of Medicine.
The 60-acre 16 Tech innovation community is in proximity to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and the IU School of Medicine.
Editor’s Note: This article was commissioned by Develop Indy, which approved and paid for this posting. The Develop Indy is a sponsor of Area Development’s upcoming Consultants Forum to be held in Indianapolis, June 4–6, 2018. Develop Indy highlights the 16 Tech innovation community, which “creates a critical mass of human capital and R&D capacity” in Indianapolis.


Indianapolis is known as the “Racing Capital of the World.” And just a few miles from the famed Motor Speedway, plans to build the 16 Tech innovation community are rushing forward at breakneck speed.

Over the last year, the state of Indiana has doubled-down on funding for the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute (IBRI), 16 Tech’s anchor tenant and the brainchild of former Eli Lilly and Company Chairman John Lechleiter. IBRI is a model for shared life sciences research and development with potential to span high-tech industries.

As the city of Indianapolis invests in infrastructure supporting 16 Tech’s master plan, a major philanthropic boost was announced in March: The Indy-based Lilly Endowment awarded a $38M grant for trails, parks, and public art across the 60-acre community, including a new bridge connecting it to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and the IU School of Medicine.

The Urbanization of Innovation
The nation’s high-tech terrain used to appear suburban — from the archetypical Silicon Valley garage to sprawling, self-contained corporate campuses surrounded by acres of parking. But times have changed.

“Today, innovation is taking place in urban areas, near research campuses and business centers,” said Bob Coy, a veteran economic and entrepreneurial development expert who took the helm as 16 Tech’s president and CEO last June. “16 Tech can create a critical mass of human capital and R&D capacity in the heart of one of the nation’s leading regions for advanced industries.”

The Brookings Institution — which ranks the Indy region among major metropolitan leaders in cutting-edge manufacturing, life sciences, and information technology employment and output — has also studied “The Rise of Innovation Districts,” finding dozens of examples in cities across the country. But in many ways, 16 Tech offers a unique proposition for advanced industry businesses eager to plug into an urban innovation ecosystem…starting with a thriving community of corporate and academic partners.

Building on a Strong Foundation
“Indianapolis is one of the most dynamic cities in America for high-tech, high-growth companies,” explained Indy Chamber Vice President Ian Nicolini, who oversees Indianapolis economic development efforts.

“[Cloud computing giant] Salesforce chose Indianapolis for major investment — Indy’s tallest skyscraper is now the Salesforce Tower — and [Indian IT consulting firm] Infosys plans to employ more than 3,000 at a tech hub west of downtown,” Nicolini added. “These are global companies joining a homegrown tech sector that’s created nearly $7 billion in acquisition and IPO capital over the last two decades.”

Indianapolis is one of the most dynamic cities in America for high-tech, high-growth companies. Ian Nicolini, Vice President, Indy Chamber Nicolini noted that while technology gains have headlined recent economic development success, advanced manufacturing and life sciences also anchor a diverse advanced industry cluster: “You can start on Monument Circle at Salesforce Tower and take a 20-minute drive past the global logistics headquarters for Cummins Engine, Eli Lilly’s corporate headquarters and R&D center, Rolls-Royce’s North American ‘LibertyWorks’ advanced technology operation, and end up near the Indianapolis International Airport —– the site of the Infosys campus and the world’s second-largest FedEx logistics hub.”

On the western edge of downtown, minutes from any stop on this impromptu innovation tour, is IUPUI, the joint research campus of Indiana University and Purdue University that includes the IU School of Medicine. And just across Fall Creek from IUPUI, bounded on the west by the White River, is the site of 16 Tech.

The Crossroads of “Place” and “Potential”
According to Coy, this “ideal” location is a unique advantage for a major metropolitan innovation district: “It’s almost unheard of to find 60 acres of available property in the urban core of a large city, adjacent to a major university campus and the heart of downtown, along a stretch of waterfront [the White River] that’s also primed for redevelopment,” Coy said.

The scale of 16 Tech accommodates an ambitious plan that includes the flagship Advanced Research and Innovation Facility, home to IBRI and other laboratory and applied research space, “maker space” for product development and prototyping, business incubator facilities, and mixed-use housing, retail, and offices.

“Eli Lilly has been a driving force for IBRI, and our major advanced industry employers are enthusiastic about 16 Tech, but our plans include ample space for entrepreneurial development,” Coy noted. Indianapolis offers an improving climate for business startups and venture investment; the city jumped from 20th to 10th on the Kauffmann Index of Growth Entrepreneurship (2016 to 2017).

“We see global corporations and high-potential start-ups working side-by-side at 16 Tech, creating new ventures, spin-offs, and strategic partnerships through an innovative, collaborative environment,” Coy explained.

A Talent-Driven Community
For companies of all sizes and industries, talent is a common denominator for success. Indy’s incumbent workforce fills roughly 100,000 skilled science, technology, and engineering jobs. The metro ranks fifth in the nation for pharma employment and is adding computer systems and data jobs at twice the rate of other big cities, based on a 2016 Brookings study.

Proximity to IUPUI offers even greater promise for the future: The campus includes 18 schools granting degrees in health and life sciences, technology and informatics, an array of engineering specialties, and more, recruiting students from across Indiana and beyond (natives of all 50 states and 146 countries are among the current student body).

“We’re graduating significant numbers of engineering, technology, and science students every year, and at least eight of every 10 start their careers in Indiana,” said David Russomanno, dean of the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI. “We expect 16 Tech to further enhance our global appeal and fuel Indy’s ‘brain gain’ by offering these students even more exciting opportunities.”

Today, innovation is taking place in urban areas, near research campuses and business centers. Bob Coy, president and CEO, 16 Tech Coy agreed that the campus creates a critical pipeline for talent and intellectual capital, adding that the master plan for 16 Tech is geared toward attracting and retaining the “best and brightest” with ample amenities — including the parks and trails funded by the Lilly Endowment — complementary residential and retail development, and convenience to the rest of the city.

“Innovation is a social enterprise, so our vision of 16 Tech is a live-work community that’s walkable and accessible to downtown Indianapolis and surrounding neighborhoods,” Coy said, adding that the ongoing expansion of mass transit across Marion County will further bolster the community’s vitality and connectivity.

“We’ve seen employers recognize the value of nearby mixed-use development that serves their workforce,” noted Nicolini. “In Indianapolis, Eli Lilly was the catalyst for the CityWay development, and the Market East district is growing around Cummins — 16 Tech aims to create the same kind of synergy on a broader scale.”

Innovative Development, Inclusive Growth
Coy hastened to add that 16 Tech will also embrace and empower urban neighborhoods beyond the IUPUI campus and downtown business district.

“Many innovation districts are near research institutions that are situated in disadvantaged areas with significant socioeconomic challenges,” Coy said. “16 Tech is no exception, but we embrace the opportunity to be a good neighbor and help drive economic inclusion and upward mobility on the near west side of Indianapolis.”

To make good on this commitment, the city of Indianapolis and 16 Tech have created a $3 million Community Investment Fund (which will grow with investments from future tenants and partners) to support training programs to prepare residents for high-tech careers and other redevelopment initiatives.

“We expect 16 Tech to be home to more than 9,000 jobs at our full build-out, with roughly 4,000 in ‘high-skill’ occupations,” said Coy. “That leaves significant employment opportunities with the right vocational and technical education initiatives accessible from surrounding neighborhoods. If Indiana is known as the ‘Crossroads of America,’ I want 16 Tech to become Indy’s intersection of economic development, workforce development, and neighborhood development.”

Construction is slated to begin on the Advanced Research and Innovation Facility in late 2018, with other capital projects unfolding over the next two years — so Coy is eager to translate this vision to reality: “Our timeline is aggressive but realistic given the incredible public, private, and philanthropic support behind this development. And I want the pace of development to send a message to future industry partners, tenants, investors, and entrepreneurs — this will be a place where innovation moves faster, too.”
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