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Bourdain, Booze and the Midwest Defense Ecosystem--They're all Connected!

By Heath Murray,

Dioltas Partner and Portfolio Director

The late Anthony Bourdain is one of the celebrities I look up to the most. In fact, the painting my wife had custom-made for me of Mr. Bourdain currently sits on top of my bookshelf overlooking me as I write, sometimes with a frown of judgment, sometimes with a smug smirk of modest approval, depending on the day. He had tattoos, said what he felt, he worked in food service (everyone should), but most of all he stayed professional and literate in it all. I have tried to learn from Bourdain about molding to the area in which you work and live, but not losing your sense of character.

Why quote the bad boy chef on LinkedIn in an article about defense you ask? Because similar to our ecosystem, in order to be a successful restaurant, the front of house, back of house, bar, and management must all work together (even though they all have very different tasks and responsibilities), to ultimately create a pleasant dining environment for their customers. While having different goals, these different areas of the restaurant must ultimately work together.

Trust me, I’ve held all of those positions and if you have too, then you get it.

That’s about as far as I could get with whimsical restaurant metaphors before the ghost of Bourdain skewers me where I sit (it’s a frown of judgment tonight).

Transitioning into that ‘this is not who you expect to see supporting you’ area I am going to highlight three entities that fit that exact profile – a brewery, a bank, and a community college.

While I cannot, and will not speak for everyone in our Indiana ecosystem, I will proudly speak of three core sponsors that have been with me since 2018 when I first joined the Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum and had no idea what in the hell I was doing getting a bunch of people together to chat defense.

Not to discount any other sponsors, we’ve had plenty, but these three have been at my side since we first started this bare-knuckle brawl that is growing a Midwest defense ecosystem.

In fact, our very first DEF ‘drink and think’ was at Switchyard Brewing Company. Since then, Kurtis and Kristin Cummings have supplied great beer and/or sponsored all of our DEF events (including both DEF-X events at Dallara Indy Car Factory in Indy). Along with DEF they have also sponsored many other defense-related events in and around WestGate, Bloomington, and Indianapolis. They always (always) bring great staff, style, and beer to what could sometimes be a stale (pun intended) ‘boring defense event.’ Kurtis and I have had many discussions about entrepreneurship within the brewing industry, and how interestingly enough, there are strikingly similar parallels of bureaucracy in both brewing and defense.

In a recent conversation, Kurtis said, “Four years ago if you had mentioned "defense ecosystem" in conversation with me, I wouldn't have had a clue what was being discussed. I certainly would not have thought that a brick-and-mortar craft brewery would fit anywhere within that same conversation, but we do. Switchyard has a place within the ecosystem because we support those who are protecting and innovating our national security community. The old adage "it takes a village" couldn't be more true. I may not know a thing about AI, energy policy, or cyber security, but I do know that relationships (and quality craft beer) fuel innovation and we are happy to be a part of that movement.”

But, while Switchyard has supported me in all of these endeavors, their great beer and staff are not free and they have to make a living too.

This brings me to my next OG sponsor – German American Bank and my friends Steve Bishop and Dave Welch.

Disruption is not something you think of when you hear the term ‘local bank.’ But, along with being a great sponsor, German American plays a pivotal role in the growth of our ecosystem, not just by their awesome banking procedures and insurance benefits for small businesses, but they actually disrupt by ‘getting it.’

When I first talked to Steve and Dave about sponsoring this crazy, but fantastic group that is our Midwest mafia, they instantly responded, “What can we do to make these events continue to happen?”

Steve and I recently chatted about German American and why they continue to support us. He said, “German American Bank truly is a community bank—we believe in serving and giving back to the community. A big part of working with the businesses in a community is understanding their needs to help them start-up, grow, and succeed. That’s why we don’t take a traditional “one-size-fit-all” approach to banking. We are able to focus on the particular needs and goals of our customers to create tailor-made options for them. In the DoD ecosystem, there are lots of ebbs and flows and nuanced aspects that come with each company’s needs. “

From sponsoring our ‘drink and thinks’ to providing some of the best damn smoked meat (and Dave’s smoked baked beans are as Midwest, and fantastic, as you can get), German American is constantly supporting our ecosystem.

Last, but certainly not least is Ivy Tech’s Cook Center for Entrepreneurship and Mr. Steve Bryant, fellow rascal and professional disruptor. Steve emceed our second DEF event and every event since. Ivy Tech has also sponsored our events, and driven attendance, and we can always count on Steve to be...well, Steve, and make sure that everyone has one hell of a good time.

Over a recent Switchyard beer I asked Steve why Ivy Tech continues its support of the ecosystem, “Ivy Tech Community College supports the Indiana defense ecosystem because we need more growth-oriented companies that want to hire our graduates, tap into our training capabilities and engage with our teams so we can better promote economic development in the region around NSWC Crane and across Indiana. We want to ensure that we get behind initiatives and organizations that foster high-paying jobs, innovative new technologies and serve our warfighters across the globe.”

While sponsors are important, what we (I) refuse to do is sell out (thanks Bourdain). From day one we have a strict ‘no sales pitch’ at our events. The minute a sponsor hops on stage to tell our audience the only way to solve a client's problem is their solution is the minute we no longer become agnostic to our audience.

We have started a trend here in the Midwest – having zero barriers to entry to all of our events. So far, in almost four years, we have not charged for a single DEF, Dioltas, or defense event that I have helped lead. We’ve had to get creative, beg, borrow, and steal, to keep those barriers from forming. But most of all, our sponsors allow anyone and everyone to feel included, learn something they didn’t know before attending, meet exceptional people, enjoy great beer and food, and overall, just have fun.

How do you get any more Midwest than that?”


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