8 Questions With...

Karl R. LaPan, president & CEO of The NIIC
Sep 6, 2019
Alicia Tharp
Jeffrey Crane
8 Questions With...

Karl R. LaPan is passionate about helping entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses in northeast Indiana. As the president and CEO of The Northeast Indiana Innovation Center (NIIC), LaPan leads his team in accomplishing that mission every day. For almost 20 years, The NIIC has been making its mark as a center for serious-minded innovators and entrepreneurs, serving businesses at every stage. With 74,400 square feet of space on 55 acres and a can-do attitude, The NIIC has become an entrepreneurial community of choice.

Q1: What led you to The NIIC? 

I was running an advanced biometric company, a Fort Wayne headquartered entrepreneurial company owned by a group out of Canada, that we sold, and I stayed on for a few years after the sale. My wife and I were having our second son. We wanted to stay in Fort Wayne, and I had done some corporate venture work and enjoyed it. I was attracted to The NIIC because it was about building homegrown companies – creating jobs and companies committed to our community success.

Q2: What are you most proud of at The NIIC? 

I am passionate about the range of projects, clients and programs we offer. I’m proud of the difference we are making in creating sustainable, growth-oriented companies. We have a global reputation and are a recognized entrepreneurial thought leader. We have achieved this status because we see a wide range of ideas, inspiring business builders and cool companies. I am proud of the clients who entrust their dreams and ideas to us and our team for delivering exceptional value and services every day.

Q3: The NIIC is a unique entity in northeast Indiana, tell us what sets it apart. 

The NIIC is very special. We are driven by helping entrepreneurs and innovative companies be successful. Our metrics prove that. We help business builders across the spectrum of type and stage of business. We also do significant community outreach into underserved communities to grow the hometown team. We are inclusive, evidence-based and entrepreneurial. This is what sets us apart. We bet on the business builder – we play different roles depending on their needs – advocate, trusted advisor, accountability coach and/or a component of their support system. 

Q4: Why does entrepreneurship in northeast Indiana mean so much to you? 

Entrepreneurship is what makes most communities like northeast Indiana thrive. Entrepreneurship is a great equalizer for economic prosperity. Every day we make a difference, inspiring and nurturing business builders. It is both humbling and gratifying. At its core, entrepreneurship is about pursuing opportunity, creating and capturing value and managing uncertainty. We help accelerate the growth and development of innovative ideas and companies. Our region will only be successful in achieving its aspirational goals – higher per capita wage rates, population growth and better quality of life – to the extent we embrace, encourage and nurture entrepreneurial energy and entrepreneurial action.

Q5: When you’re not helping others build businesses, what can you be found doing in your free time?   

I enjoy spending time with my family. We love spending vacations at the beach or on a cruise ship. In 2018, we had to put down our 14 years old lab, and so our new puppy takes a lot of our free time since two of our three sons are away at college. I am also a voracious reader and agile learner. You will find me taking classes, listening to podcasts and connecting with smart people all over the world. In addition, we are a devoted tennis family, so we really enjoy watching our youngest son play tennis for Bishop Dwenger High School.

Q6: What advice would you offer to those looking to start their own business? 

Find people who make you better. Question everything. Focus your energy. Stay in your lane. Lean in. Be authentic and self-aware. Pause occasionally and just get started!

Q7: What is the hardest part of your job, and how do you overcome or balance that?

The hardest part of the job is sometimes you want more for the clients as the business coach than the client can yet see or desire in themselves. As a coach, you have to push/drive for progress and results, but you must always respect that it is the entrepreneur’s dream not yours. You must work to the entrepreneur’s timetable and not your own.

Q8: What is your favorite Fort Wayne feature or place to spend time?

My wife and I enjoy The Embassy Theatre and the Broadway series. It is both an incredible entertainment venue, and an exceptional and historical building to see and experience great national traveling shows.



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