For 21 years, Karl R. LaPan has been a visionary, a chief executive overseeing the implementation of plans and programs to help Fort Wayne-area entrepreneurs.
Under his leadership, the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center counts these among its accomplishments:
• Building a broad portfolio of support grants, including the Foellinger Foundation Breakthrough Program, to boost access to entrepreneurial services by underrepresented groups.
• Establishing a Women's Entrepreneurial Opportunity Center six years ago to more effectively serve female business owners.
• Earning a designation as an Indiana Certified Tech Park and Opportunity Zone.
• Being recognized by Entrepreneur Magazine as one of the five best under-the-radar incubators in the U.S.
LaPan says it has been “an honor and privilege to serve our entrepreneurial community and to work with the professional team at the NIIC to build a more inclusive and entrepreneurial community in northeast Indiana.”
But the longtime businessman has decided it's time to move on, accepting a job where he will have similar responsibilities with the University of Florida.
The innovation center Friday announced LaPan accepted the position of director of UF Innovate | Incubation Services for the University of Florida. The job includes overseeing the administration and operations of the UF Innovate | Sid Martin Biotech and the UF Innovate | Hub and serving the university's commercialization interests with Progress Park and the Gainesville Innovation District, according to a news release.
LaPan, 55, became the first president and CEO of the innovation center in October 2000. Before that, he was president and CEO of NBS Imaging Systems Inc., an advanced biometrics identification company in Fort Wayne.
“I am so grateful to the NIIC Board for trusting the development of the NIIC to me,” LaPan said in a statement. “I appreciate the entrepreneurs, donors, and stakeholders who believed in and engaged with us over the years.
“Growing the hometown team, delivering higher quality, higher-paying jobs, and advancing and advocating for entrepreneurs, innovators, and inclusive business builders have been important strategic initiatives I have been committed to and been passionate about for the past several decades,” he said.
With LaPan in the lead, the innovation center has seen 196 client patents applied for or granted and nearly 500 commercial products.
The staff also launched Kiva Northeast Indiana, one of less than 30 such hubs in the U.S., in collaboration with the city of Fort Wayne, SEED and the Indiana Economic Development Corp.
Kiva is devoted to funding inclusive, diverse entrepreneurs.
“We have been fortunate to have Karl lead and position the NIIC as an award-winning, best-in-class resource center for entrepreneurs and innovators,” Larry Rowland, board chairman for the innovation center, said in a statement.
LaPan's ability to execute the center's strategic plan “resulted in global recognition and awards, significant economic impact in our community and state, and the advancement of many important inclusive prosperity initiatives to deliver services to underrepresented segments of our community,” Rowland said. “We greatly appreciate how he has championed and supported the development of a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem in northeast Indiana. He is a strong advocate and has raised the awareness and significance of entrepreneurship globally.”
The innovation center has a succession planning process, although it did not outline specific time frames. Rowland will appoint a Presidential Search Committee, led by the center's Vice Chair Ron Elsenbaumer, the chancellor for Purdue University Fort Wayne.
The search committee will make recommendations to the Executive Committee and the board on a suitable replacement.