“I really thought Stuart [Williams] was full of crap,” Mike Martin said. “There’s no way this guy is really going to do that.”
When Martin first heard about an In Place Impact class at the College of Charleston School of Business in Charleston, South Carolina, he said he didn’t believe it would affect any area, let alone Muncie, Indiana. Creator of Impact Economics, Stuart Williams, asked Martin, “What's it going to hurt to let me show you?” and after Martin took the “Impact X Class” in Charleston three separate times, he realized the effect the course could have on an entrepreneur, experienced or not.
Seven years later, Martin, along with Christina Mann and Kory Gipson, are set to teach a 12-week “Impact X Class” starting September 13, a collaboration between Ball State University’s Entrepreneurship Center, the City of Muncie and the In Place Impact Muncie Initiative, hoping to help Muncie’s entrepreneurial and economic scene grow, as seen in Charleston.
“We love the past and the industrial things that built Muncie, [but] it's not going to be the future of Muncie,” Martin said. “If we can create a startup culture here and a tech culture, getting those things going can be just a huge change in the way that things have always been. Profit with a purpose.”
Martin said while a city like Charleston may not necessarily need a course like “Impact X” to help their community grow and thrive, Muncie does. Each hailing from Fairmont, Indiana, Gipson agreed, as he said all you have to do is look at the success this program has generated in areas like Charleston and even Argentina.
That said, Gipson stressed that anyone, Ball State student or not, is encouraged to attend the “Impact X Class,” so they can not only put their ideas into motion, but work together with other members of the community to help make Muncie a better, stronger place.
“This isn't coming from a giant corporation. This is coming from a couple of hillbillies from a small town,” Gipson said. “The invitation is literally open to everybody and that doesn't necessarily mean just the class. This could have an impact on the entire city. This community does have a history of corruption and neglect for the poor and all of that, and there's a lot of people that have a lot of naysaying, and the truth is nobody's coming to save this. This is going to have to be done from within.”
Martin, with Gipson, is a co-owner of Common Market in Muncie. From 2006-2013, he was the co-owner of Doc’s Music Hall in downtown Muncie and is currently a musician in his band, Mike Martin and the Beautiful Mess, along with a handful of other business ventures.
After taking the class in Charleston and shifting his mindset on the program entirely, Martin said he wanted to bring the class from Charleston to Muncie but needed a partner, and a university partner at that. As a Ball State employee, Mann was able to make that connection. Martin and Mann met while Mann was an inspector with the Muncie Health Department, permitting and reviewing retail food establishments.
Mann said she saw many people involved at Ball State excited and willing to see this class in action, including Dean of the Miller School of Business Stephen Ferris.
“I truly believe it's going to be sustaining,” Mann said. “The commitment from their part with the facility, allowing me to participate as a faculty member, by welcoming our guests at the university, by providing parking and opportunities like that, this is a program that's going to sell itself.”
Martin and Mann said a class like this has been talked about for Ball State and the Muncie community since the 1990s. Mann said during that time, people that didn’t live, attend or work at Ball State didn’t come to campus, like there was an “invisible wall.”
Mann, Martin and Gipson each said they believe this class will help further the relationship between Ball State and the City of Muncie. Muncie Mayor Dan Ridenour furthered their statement.
“Whether you are a government entity, or whether you are a business, or whether you are a supplier, whether you are an employee, whether you are a nonprofit, whether you're just a neighbor, we are all connected to each other,” Ridenour said. “We certainly will have more success if we do things in our decision making [process] that help us do more to help all sides.”
Ridenour, like Martin, first heard of this opportunity through Williams and the class at the College of Charleston. Ridenour and those who worked to make this class possible saw the success those in Charleston had with their “Impact X Class” and wanted to bring that success to Muncie.
“What I have always found is, it's a lot easier to model success than to try and create something new on your own,” Ridenour said. “So if you find something that's working in another community, as a mayor, it's helpful to model what they are doing and [to] follow the mistakes and the learning experiences that they went through and eliminate those from our process.”
The biggest goal, from all accounts, is to “cultivate innovation” in Muncie’s community, on and off Ball State’s campus. Gipson said innovation is about survival.
Gipson said in an increasingly digital world, business models have to adapt to thrive, and this class teaches students and entrepreneurs about business and entrepreneurship.
“One of the cool ideas behind this is, adapting at its core is problem solving,” Gipson said. “That's what this seems to generate people who really genuinely want to solve problems. One of the cool things about it, even inherent in its name, In Place Impact, implies that the solution is in the place that you're at. The solutions are here; they're not going to come from outside.”
A large aspect of the class is that anyone can attend, and it is free to enter. Martin said this way they can “eliminate barriers for entry” and hopefully let citizens know they’re “invited to an institution of higher education where maybe they didn’t feel welcome.”
Ridenour said the goal for this class is for it to be inclusive and for it to “hit all segments of the community.” Martin said if these goals of helping “underserved” sections of the Muncie community and springing innovation from the city are met, it would be a unique feat.
“I think going forward if we see that relationship really grow into what's possible, with the resources of the university and the city together actually collaborating with citizens who are bringing ideas forward, you are talking about something that's never necessarily been done,” Martin said.
Martin said with both the City of Muncie and Ball State University working together, this project feels like a “genuine effort” to connect the people of Muncie and bring them together in the spirit of innovation and growth.
Ridenour said while the course may not produce results immediately, he is confident results will come with time.
“You may not be able to see the difference in the first year, but [in] two years, three years, four years, five years, somebody is on a completely different trajectory for their life, their family, their neighborhood and their community,” Ridenour said. “That's what we hope to happen, to make a small difference and be able to extend it over time.”