Entrepreneurial Spirit Drives Dustin Sapp to Success

Friday, September 13, 2013
Dustin Sapp

Young Entrepreneur: Dustin Sapp's latest venture, TinderBox, was cited among the Indiana Economic Development Corporation's 35 "Companies to Watch" this year. (Photo by Chris Minnick)

Dustin Sapp was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug during a summer internship with an Indiana tech startup after his sophomore year. His life really changed after taking an entrepreneurship course and earning a small grant to investigate how handheld technology would impact the mobile workforce.

"To get an A in his class, (Engineering Management Professor) Tom Mason challenged us to write a business plan that could get funded. We knew he was half-joking, but saw it as an opportunity," Sapp says. "As a junior in college, a [Rose-Hulman] trustee loved my student group's idea and offered to fund us if we put in our blood, sweat, and tears."

That project, NoInk Communications, became the first of three Indiana tech startups launched by the 2000 computer engineering graduate. The mobile sales software was purchased by Silicon Valley-based Everypath in 2004. A year later, he helped launch Vontoo, which developed software for sending audio marketing messages to phones. It was acquired by Ohio-based One Call Now. In 2009, he founded TinderBox, which sells a web-based service that simplifies the creation of sales proposals. It was cited among the Indiana Economic Development Corporation's 35 "Companies to Watch" this year.

While Rose-Hulman prepared Sapp to become an entrepreneur, Indianapolis' vibrant tech community has encouraged the development of innovative ideas.

"Rose-Hulman forces incredibly bright people to attain presentation skills and the ability to work cooperatively," Sapp says. "Indiana is such a great place to start a business because it's not a cut-throat environment. I can call an executive at any local major tech company and somebody will sit down with me. It must be that Midwestern attitude of a rising tide lifts all boats."

Sapp says opportunities abound in innovative startups, not only for recent Rose-Hulman alumni, but also mid-career professionals.

"There's a big gap in mid-level talent," he says. "It's much easier to get a 22-year-old to take a risk for a year or two rather than a 45-year-old who is about to send a kid off to college. Yet young and high growth companies are starving for that level of talent."

Sapp says the biggest benefit of working in a startup is the opportunity to learn more quickly and have a greater impact on the business. "Every day, every person in our company has the ability to drive our company," he says. "That sense of making a difference is a big gift."