Lilly Endowment Grant to Help Wabash Heartland Innovation Network Foster Economic Ecosystem

Lilly Endowment Inc. has approved a $38.9 million grant to Northwest Central Indiana Community Partnership Inc. to help the Wabash Heartland Innovation Network (WHIN) create and implement a plan to foster a prosperous economic ecosystem in northwest central Indiana.

WHIN’s goal is to make the 10-county region, which includes Benton, Carroll, Cass, Clinton, Fountain, Montgomery, Pulaski, Tippecanoe, Warren and White counties, the global epicenter for agriculture and next-generation manufacturing using the sensor- and digital-based networks known as the “Internet of Things” (IoT).

IoT connects a wide range of services, products and devices to the Internet and is a rapidly growing resource for companies seeking valuable data. For example, IoT technology helps manufacturing companies track inventory, expedite deliveries and more efficiently schedule equipment maintenance.

These strategies emerged in 2016 from a series of community conversations and planning meetings and the publication of the Strategic Plan for Economic and Community Prosperity in the Wabash Heartland Region, which was prepared by Battelle Technology Partnership Practice. These efforts and the report, which detail the region’s three critical economic drivers—next-generation manufacturing, high-tech agriculture and Purdue University—were funded by planning grants from Lilly Endowment.


WHIN’s decision to focus on IoT technology was bolstered by research about the projected global impact of IoT in the next decade. Research from Deloitte released in 2015 predicted that by 2025 some 25 billion IoT devices will be in use worldwide. A McKinsey Global Institute report from 2015 states that by 2025 the potential global economic impact of IoT may reach as much as $11.1 trillion annually.

“WHIN will achieve its vision of becoming an IoT technology center by harnessing the strengths of the area’s manufacturing and agricultural leaders with Purdue University, community foundations, Ivy Tech Community College, AgriNovus Indiana and other area stakeholders,” said Gary Henriott, chair of the WHIN board of directors. “We appreciate Lilly Endowment’s generous support of our plan for the region.”

Titled “Creating a Prosperous Economic Ecosystem in the Wabash Heartland,” WHIN’s plan, which arises from the Battelle report, outlines how it will coordinate initiatives using IoT sensor- and digital-based technology. The grant will enable WHIN to:

  • Collaborate with Purdue University and Ivy Tech Community College to build and support “testbeds” for the development of IoT applications in agriculture and in manufacturing
  • Establish training centers to educate students and retrain existing workers for the IoT field
  • Enhance and provide additional support to Purdue’s Birck Nanotechnology Center for IoT sensors and data analytics in service to the new testbeds
  • Establish a regional initiative fund to provide grants or other support for charitable, educational or scientific programs that connect leaders in manufacturing and agriculture to IoT experts and college and university researchers
  • Create a Regional Cultivation Fund to make grants in collaboration with community foundations in and around the 10-country region to support place-making improvements that increase the attractiveness and livability of the region.

“We share the goal of making this region an international focal point for agriculture and next-generation manufacturing,” Purdue president Mitch Daniels said. “Building the Indiana economy—by attracting existing business, creating brand new businesses, or recruiting and developing topflight talent—is absolutely central to Purdue’s mission.”

Work gets under way in 2018. The grant provides five years of funding. Activities include seeding projects throughout the region that will bring the expertise of Purdue and Ivy Tech to regional fields and factories.

“Lilly Endowment’s grant is helping WHIN establish the Regional Cultivation Fund, which will make matching grants in the 10-county region to strengthen the quality of life in our communities,” Henriott said. “Community foundations are critical partners. They will be instrumental in helping to secure additional support for the initiative and meet the matching requirements of the Regional Cultivation Fund.”

Through the Regional Cultivation Fund, WHIN and its community foundation partners will work to identify the recreational, educational and entertainment amenities the region needs to attract and retain a talented IoT workforce in northwest central Indiana.

“WHIN is positioned to encourage synergistic collaborations among Purdue University, Ivy Tech Community College, AgriNovus Indiana, and the region’s community foundations and businesses,” said Ace Yakey, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for community development.  “All of these groups have exceptional strengths and resources to contribute to advancing prosperity in northwest central Indiana through WHIN’s efforts to build the region’s IoT capabilities, regional identity and sense of place.”

In early 2018, the WHIN board will host a kickoff event for interested parties from the 10-county area who can learn more about how the funding will be used, what various partners’ roles will be and the potential economic benefits, Henriott said. The event, with the date to be announced, will also showcase sensor development and how it can be applied in industrial and agricultural settings throughout the region.

About Lilly Endowment Inc.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based, private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family—J.K. Lilly, Sr. and sons J.K., Jr. and Eli—through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, the Endowment is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct government board, staff and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion and maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana.

 About Wabash Heartland Innovation Network Inc.

Founded in 2015 to create and implement a plan for a prosperous and connected economic ecosystem in the 10-county area that includes Benton, Carroll, Cass, Clinton, Fountain, Montgomery, Pulaski, Tippecanoe, Warren and White counties, the nonprofit Wabash Heartland Innovation Network is governed by an 11-member board of directors, representing leaders from the agriculture and manufacturing sectors, Ivy Tech, Purdue and The Community Foundation of Greater Lafayette. WHIN’s guiding values are to be industry-led, regionally focused, with inclusive input and ownership to increase the global competitiveness of the region and to be sustainable. More information will be on The Community Foundation of Greater Lafayette website,, pending launch of WHIN’s own website.