This Boilermaker Prefers Copperheads to Rattlesnakes

BrewerThis past year was quite the adventure for me. Last March, I left the Indiana Chamber after 14 years to tackle a new chapter in my life. I could blame the move on the brutal winter that year, but I think the time had arrived for me to explore and to feel like I tried something new. With the exception of a semester abroad in college, I had lived all 37 years in the good ol’ Hoosier state. I didn’t want to look back some day and say, “I should have tried” or “what if?” So, my wife and I packed up our two Subarus, then headed west to Tucson, Arizona with great enthusiasm and a terribly confused dog.

I’ve told many friends that this past year was arguably the year I learned the most about myself. I learned how to avoid multiple rattlesnakes on trails. I learned how to carry 100 ounces of water on a mountain bike ride. I learned how important it was to continue to see new places and grow my need for wanderlust. Most importantly, I had plenty of time to think after climbing to the top of four of the five mountain ranges surrounding Tucson, and it made me realize what was most valuable to me… my mom’s pecan pie. Well, her pecan pie made the most missed list, but being in the same area code with my Montgomery County family and all of my friends in Indianapolis was most important to me.

The direct flight from Indy to Phoenix was fairly easy, but life just wasn’t as fulfilling. I missed seeing my nephew’s first start at defensive end for Rose-Hulman’s football team. I missed seeing Purdue thump IU both times during the basketball season. I missed the community feel of my old, funky Broad Ripple neighborhood. I missed my favorite beer at Thr3e Wise Men. I certainly enjoyed the active outdoors lifestyle in mountainous southern Arizona, and I continued Chamber work with four state chambers, but it just didn’t feel right. After one year, we came running back, and the dog was even more perplexed.

My new role with the Chamber starts this week as the advertisement sales director for BizVoice magazine. I really enjoyed my time at the Chamber in membership and helping members, and I’m blessed to have the opportunity to work with the Indiana business community again.

That’s enough reflection for one day. Time to head to Crawfordsville for a piece of my mom’s pecan pie.

A Stroll Through DeveloperTown…

Meet Michael Coffey. He’s a new partner at DeveloperTown — a tech-focused incubator/accelerator hybrid in Indianapolis’ Broad Ripple district. He was hired recently to help organize the company’s operations, and is working to bring to life some of America’s next big ideas. (I met with him today in preparation for a BizVoice magazine article I’m writing on DeveloperTown for the September/October edition.)

But Coffey isn’t a native of Indiana. In fact, he hadn’t spent much time here at all before leaving his Napa Valley, California home — and business he started — behind and relocating his family to help ignite the fire of innovation here — a fire that gets bolder and brighter each year. He pointed to Indianapolis’ cost of living, state and local support for small businesses and family-friendly atmosphere as the reasons for his move.

But I’ll spare you the long version of this encouraging story, and just use this as a tease for the article.

However, I wanted to highlight one of his quotes that resonated with me — largely because I’m so proud of our work with the Best Places to Work in Indiana rankings. My myriad discussions and interviews with these companies over the years have all contained one overarching theme: employees matter. And according to Coffey, they matter more than just about anything.

One of the concepts we push on companies is getting organizations to understand that their number one customer is their employees. The secondary customer is the one who’s paying you money. But if you take care of your primary customer, your secondary customer will always be taken care of… If every organization actually understood that, there would be more emphasis on the actual values and mission of the company.

As Indiana becomes a hotbed of innovation with each passing year, it becomes more apparent that innovation is about a lot more than just technology. It’s about approach. It’s about philosophy. It’s about thinking differently. 

Coffey also mentioned on several different occasions how he hopes to help communicate to local residents and developers that they don’t need to live in California or Boston to be happy or feel successful.

"You actually live in a cool place," he asserts. "And the people here are genuinely kind and want to help you."

Knowing someone like Coffey can happily relocate from scenic wine country because of the possibilities in our state is inspiring — and I’m especially eager to see how DeveloperTown helps our many brilliant-minded thinkers succeed. To see if it can help your start-up or existing company, just reach out.

Hoosier Painter Discovers Art of Social Media Marketing

Indy residents strolling down the Monon Trail in Broad Ripple this summer may see a man on his front lawn in a white T-shirt covered in paint (one could argue getting it on your Hanes V-neck is much safer than eating it, like I did as a child — and I prefer blues, thanks for asking). This painter is Etna Green (Kosciusko County) native Justin Vining. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because you might be one of his many, many fans on Facebook.

Vining, a graduate of Purdue and Valparaiso University’s law school, has built such a huge fan base — largely using social media — that he recently quit his job as a corporate head hunter to become a full-time painter. He credits his newfound autonomy to his ability to take the utmost advantage of marketing tools on Facebook.

"Before the suggest-a-(fan page) button was launched on Facebook (in 2009), I had around 500 fans," he says. "Then I just hit up my friends (to suggest him to others) and would incentivize people as well with either free paintings or even money.

"I don’t think it’s as effective as it once was, so part of the trick was using that tool right when it came out. That kind of goes to the overall gist of social media; be in tune with what’s happening today and how to best utilize the changes that occur so frequently."

He notes that giving away paintings to those who recommended him was quite useful in building recognition and rapport.

"It’s such an invasive thing to do — to ask people to endorse something they may not know a whole lot about, so for me the trick was giving away something of big value," Vining explains. "That made them willing to do something a little more personal."

Vining also credits targeted advertising through Facebook to art gallery owners, professional artists, art teachers, etc.

"But that was when you could advertise on Facebook for pennies on the dollar; now it’s a lot more expensive," he contends. "It’s not that cost effective anymore."

In the span of two years, Vining’s Facebook fan base has jumped from around 500 to over 10,100. He places the source breakdown of his Facebook fans as follows:

  • 6,000 – 7,000 from the suggest-a-fan page button from Facebook
  • 1,000 – 1,500 from targeted advertising on Facebook
  • 500 – 1,000 from organic growth
  • 500 from Twitter

"Part of it is also about engaging the fans," Vining says. "Pretty much anybody that leaves a comment — positive or negative — I try to respond to. It takes probably 30 minutes to an hour each day to do that. But just this morning, I was responding to this guy and — since you can now see your message history on Facebook — I realized I’d actually sent him a note two years ago. So I was able to thank him for his continued support."

He adds, "I have a 3% interaction rate — but with 10,000 people, that’s a lot."

When addressing the effectiveness of social media, Vining relays that he’s yet to find much benefit from LinkedIn, with Facebook and Twitter being his core focus.

"Twitter and Facebook are quite different," he says. "I’ll post something on Twitter and I won’t get much interaction at all, but it seems like the bit of interaction I get is like bits of gold. But on Facebook, I’ll post the same things and get tons of interaction, but it’s more surface level. It’s weird. But following up with all those people is fun and can lead to some really cool conversations — and through that I’ve found that there are some pretty established artists who have been following my work for years."

Vining, who indicated all but several of his current paintings are sold or spoken for, typically paints 24 X 48-inch arcylic work (both color and black & white), normally running $500.  He also offers 16 X 22-inch marker drawings for $40.

His work can be found at;; and on Twitter @justinvining. He’s also offered business advice for other artists at Northwest Indiana Creative.

Butler U. All About Business

Seems more than the Butler football team (10-1; Pioneer Football League champs) and basketball team (ranked in the top 10 in the nation) are making good news in November. The school recently announced a new brand and approach for its business school. The school explains:

A new branding effort that includes key messages and a graphic identity for Butler University’s College of Business (COB) is intended to increase visibility and awareness of the College’s real life, real business™ mission which guides its unique approach to business education.

This applied, experiential structure runs throughout the COB curriculum, from freshman year through graduate programs in the form of live cases studies, semester-long research projects with local and international companies, the development of real student-run businesses, executive career mentoring, required internships, and leadership assessment, coaching, and development.

According to COB Dean Chuck Williams, the real life, real business branding effort is directly tied to the COB’s promise to students, parents, and employers to deliver an innovative, experiential business education on top of an already exceptionally strong foundation in business fundamentals.

“Many universities say they offer experiential education because they have a class here or there,” says Williams. “In the COB, it’s present in everything we do.”

The main messages of real life, real business include engaging learning experiences, empowered self-discovery, business relevance and collaborative partnerships. These messages will be integrated and communicated in new marketing materials – recruitment brochures and a new alumni magazine – but will receive the most attention on the new website,, in the form of feature stories and videos.

The branding effort is also aimed at increasing awareness of the College’s outreach to the Central Indiana business community, which benefits both the College and businesses, Williams says.

“Real life, real business works because we have businesses partnering with us to bring real life business problems and situations into the classroom. We look forward to sharing the stories of these partnerships and in turn encouraging others to collaborate with us in the future.”

The branding effort was developed by the COB’s marketing director with support from Butler’s University Relations department. Advising the College throughout the process is the College of Business Strategic Marketing Board, a group of 12 local business professionals representing Butler University, Butler Business Accelerator, Eli Lilly and Company, Clarian Health Partners, Compendium Blogware, Pensar Ideas, Forum Credit Union, the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, Centaur Gaming and the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership.

Green Living Isn’t for the Birds

Recycling, gardening, composting … all fairly standard for the environmentally conscious Hoosier. But raising chickens in your backyard?

That’s one I never considered. When Tony Nicholas told me a few months ago that was his family’s latest venture toward sustainability, I knew I had to learn more.

After spending an afternoon with the Nicholas clan, the chicken thing started to make sense. Tony’s family rarely needs to buy eggs, and they say the taste is incredible. Taking care of chickens is fairly easy when you only need a few. Read more about how the Nicholas family is living the green life in the July-August issue of BizVoice magazine.

It seems the backyard coop is becoming increasingly popular. The New York Times recently featured a story about the growing number of families raising chickens to increase self-sufficiency.

Now, where can I find some chicken wire?

GUEST BLOG: MotoGP Race Rekindles Speedway History, Brings New Experience to Indiana

Not unlike 2000, when Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened their arms and welcomed Formula One, we now await the full arrival of the most elite form of motorcycle racing in the world — MotoGP — and wonder, well, what will it be like?

How big will the crowds be? Where will the spectators arrive from? What can we expect from this invasion of motorcyclists and their machines … and I’m talking about in the streets, and not at the Speedway.

In anticipation of the big weekend, for some reason, somehow I can’t get the Doors’ song, “Riders on the Storm,” out of my head.

The Red Bull Indianapolis GP is really nothing new to Indy of course … not if you want to go back 99 years to the birth of the Speedway. The first form of motorized racing there was, yep, motorcycles.

So we’ve come full circle, even though it’s one big circle.

It’s now a full-blown international circuit, one that’s been around for nearly 60 years. And despite its decidedly international audience, MotoGP comes with some truly all-American stars, notably Kentuckian (Owensboro) Nicky Hayden. But the points leader and defending champ is the wonderfully named Italian, Valentino Rossi.

They’ll be racing around the Speedway’s reconfigured 2.6-mile road course. After attending a couple of the testing sessions in July, I can personally testify that this will be an awesome spectacle. After all, just think about a pack of riders accelerating to 200 miles an hour down the Speedway’s main straightaway, then braking hard and leaning so far left into the first turn that their padded knees scrape the asphalt.

Indy has done its best to roll out a royal welcome for both the competitors and their fans. Nighttime activities in downtown and in nearby Broad Ripple will augment the action on the track that begins with practice and qualifying on Friday and Saturday and then concludes with four races on Sunday. After the Red Bull Rookies Cup, the 125cc and 250cc events, the big boys will stage the grand finale with the 28-lap MotoGP event.

Three-day, reserved-seat passes cost from $75 to $125. Single-day admissions for Friday and Saturday also are available at the IMS gates (cash only).

The Speedway has put out information that 30 percent of all motorcycles registered in the United States are in the eight Midwestern states, and that the normal audience is 80 percent male, ages 16 to 37. IMS officials are hoping for a crowd of 100,000.

Also not to be overlooked is a Saturday night “flat track” race on the mile dirt oval at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Those riders also come equipped with substantial daring and courage.

In particular, Saturday night promises to be quite a diverse night in Indy, in fact. In addition to the RedBull Indianapolis GP fans, Lucas Oil Stadium will host a Kenny Chesney concert and, on Monument Circle, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra opens its season with a gala featuring violinist supreme Joshua Bell.

Wonder if he’ll mark the occasion by playing “Riders on the Storm” on his fiddle?


Bill Benner is the associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, an Indiana Chamber member. This blog post was written for Building a Better Indiana.