Members of the IU Angel Network have backed the group's first stealth-mode startup, SummaForte, with a $35,000 investment in its first round of external funding. The athletics health-and-wellness company is preparing for its first product launch in the athletics market.
Founder Jeff Thinnes said it's the opening of a new door even at a later stage in his career.
"One of my sons, a Kelley School of Business graduate, is helping lead our go-to-market strategy. In fact, all four original founders are IU grads," Thinnes said. "A little more than a year ago, we decided to plant our flag in the creation of a high-quality, science-backed brand whose products promote both health and performance."
After decades trotting the globe helping major American and German companies bridge the Atlantic through strategy and compliance, Thinnes found himself back home in Indiana. Thinnes grew up in Indianapolis and caught the travel bug while attending the University of Notre Dame's Innsbruck, Austria, program. His further education at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law launched an international career that also led to two more master's degrees along the way, one in European law in Germany and one in public administration at Harvard University.
"My deep network of global connections will be a major asset for SummaForte's future, but I couldn't imagine a better place to launch the business than Indiana," Thinnes said. "Hoosiers are truly unique in being very helpful, available and wanting to see others succeed. The team at IU Ventures has really personified that."
One of the first people Thinnes met on his return to Bloomington was Jason Whitney, executive director of the IU Angel Network and associate vice president of IU Ventures.
"Interestingly, our relationship with the SummaForte team developed during the stay-at-home orders," Whitney said. "We had never met in person until recently, but we had faith in the management team, and the need for the product was obvious in multiple verticals."
Thinnes' career as a business consultant and professor has given him ample speaking experience, but pitching in the startup world is a new frontier for him.
"One of the things I love about being in a startup is that you are constantly confronted with new things. It's invigorating," he said. "Connections have led to more connections, and soon we are meeting people who are active in our space in funds or coaching us with their own deep experience in our business field and in investing."
After a virtual presentation for the IU Angel Network, SummaForte raised more than its goal for its first friends-and-family round.
"It's not just the roots of the company that are in Indiana, but current Hoosier investors who are now offering valuable advice and networks," Thinnes said. "Yet another example of the Indiana bond is Aaron Burks, a 2011 IU graduate and former member of the Hoosier football team. Based in California with United Talent Agency, Aaron is providing valuable support for our influencer strategy."
Whitney is also excited by the collaboration.
"This project, more than any other we have done, has allowed us to tap into our vast network of alumni and have them assist with marketing, funding and business-development efforts for the company," he said.
SummaForte's advisory committee is a product of many powerful networks, including Dr. Peter Grinspoon of Harvard Medical School; Dr. Thomas Klein, a leading orthopedic surgeon; John Venardos, a seasoned compliance expert in pharmaceuticals and nutritional supplements; and Elizabeth Whitmore, a debt and equity expert. Supported by John Reichel, whom Thinnes describes as a "digital go-to-market ninja," the startup plans to exit stealth mode only when it has a product ready to sell on a purely digital platform later this year.
"Everything from the science to the production is being vetted through careful due diligence, because we are committed to being at the top of the quality pyramid," Thinnes said.
Thinnes is confident the product will make an immediate impression on the market because it's backed by so many experts in their fields all working together to address needs that are currently unmet.
"If you're willing to recognize what you don't know and find the right people to fill in gaps, things are so much easier," Thinnes said. "Ironically, decades of experience make it easier to be comfortable with your own vulnerability.
"From friends and colleagues to peers at IU Ventures and the Angel Network, I am lucky to have lots of people to turn to and get advice as we prepare for this exciting launch."