A group of Terre Haute entrepreneurs — many of which are Indiana State grads — work together to enhance the downtown retail environment and to thrive collectively.
Take a walk in downtown Terre Haute, and you will find the street dotted with small businesses. Boutiques, coffee houses and craft stores are just a few of the shops customers can visit. The owners know many of their patrons by name — they know the shoppers’ personal style, their favorite hot drink or type of yarn they use to knit.
“I love the connection I have with my customers, and that I can spend much more time with them getting to know them,” said Lori Mitchell, ’98, owner of Millie & Maude Boutique.
Mitchell, who had dreamed of owning a boutique since she was in high school graduated from Indiana State University with a degree in textiles, apparel and merchandising and a minor in marketing. She worked years in retail before deciding to take the big leap, purchase an existing boutique and make it her own.
“I can make decisions on my own, without answering to anyone,” she said of owning a small business, “and base those decisions on what I know is best for my business.”
With the number of small business owners and entrepreneurs like Mitchell on the rise, a group of four was inspired to help these businesses grow. Thus, Tech Haute and Launch Terre Haute were born.
Shelley Klingerman, ’92 as a marketing major, served as one of the founding members of Tech Haute, because she saw a need for “a local ecosystem for entrepreneurs.”
“The Tech Haute/Launch Terre Haute entrepreneur community is incredibly supportive, helpful, resourceful and collaborative,” Klingerman said. “It’s very high-energy, fast-paced and exciting where anything is possible.”
Klingerman worked for Fortune 500 companies for 18 years, serving in several roles from marketing to event planning, before she jumped into the entrepreneurial world. She is the president of the Stiletto Agency, a small business that educates audiences on personal security issues.
“I liked the idea of making my own decisions, being responsible for my successes and failures, and the opportunity to learn all aspects of business,” she said.
One of the original goals of Tech Haute was to help small business owners promote their products via social media. They additionally connect entrepreneurs with resources and mentors to help them turn their ideas into realities and hold monthly meetings, where entrepreneurs can receive feedback on their ideas. However, with the recent addition Launch Terre Haute, a co-work space, entrepreneurs can connect and collaborate at an even greater level.
“(Tech Haute) serves as a ‘plug-in’ point to the eco-system and offers high potential entrepreneurs and start-ups a place to work with like-minded people, collaborate and get started,” Klingerman said.
This type of community is essential not only in the collaboration phase, but also once a small business is up and running. Mitchell said she appreciates the “healthy competition” between local boutiques.
“We’re all different in what we carry and who our customer is, though we encourage our shoppers to visit the other locally owned stores,” she said. “I would much rather send a customer to another locally owned shop, to support local business and my owner friends, rather than sending them to a ‘big box’ store.”
The Terre Haute community is also looking to add more Indiana State graduates to its list of small business owners. The university is doing their part to ensure students are equipped with the resources they need to dream big. The West Central Indiana Small Business Development Center, which is housed in the Scott College of Business at Indiana State, offers yet another network of resources to entrepreneurs.
Additionally, they have partnered with Launch Terre Haute to sponsor student memberships and encourage students to attend monthly meetings with entrepreneurs and business mentors at Tech Haute.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work with various departments on campus and know there is a dedicated focus on creating a learning track for those interested in entrepreneurship,” Klingerman said.
Mitchell said she believes small businesses such as the Millie & Maude Boutique will continue to have success in Terre Haute.
“I think small businesses are our future, and you’re going to see a lot more of them popping up in our downtown area,” she said. “I think the majority of people are embracing the comeback of boutique shopping and small businesses and appreciate that small businesses help our community thrive.”
Klingerman agreed there is great potential for business owners and entrepreneurs in Terre Haute.
“There is no reason the next big thing can’t come out Terre Haute,” she said. “My goal is to help make this community the prime location for start-up founders to forge new companies.”
Although Mitchell and Klingerman both acknowledge there are many challenges to being a small business owner, they both say they believe the rewards are well worth it.
“From all of my experience and time that I’ve spent in this ‘space,’ I feel entrepreneurship offers some of the best experiences and opportunities,” Klingerman said. “When you do what you love and are passionate about it, you never feel like you’re working a day in your life.”