Vennli charting a course in software

Author: Kevin Allen, South Bend Tribune

As Posted on Sunday, October 26, 2014 6:00 am | Updated: 6:26 pm, Sun Oct 26, 2014.

Gary Gigot sees 'reason to believe' in South Bend

SOUTH BEND — Gary Gigot knows what it takes to be successful in the technology business, so it’s an encouraging sign for South Bend that he chose to start a software company here.

Gigot, an entrepreneur and investor who has spent most of his career working for Microsoft, Ogilvy & Mather, Visio and other companies on the West Coast, founded Vennli last year with Joe Urbany, a professor in the Mendoza College o Business at the University of Notre Dame.

Gigot isn’t a remote investor, either. He moved here from Seattle in June to tend to the startup venture full time.

“All of the characteristics a city has to have, we’ve found them here — or they’ve found us,” Gigot said recently inside Vennli’s offices on the fifth floor of the Citizens Bank & Trust Building in downtown South Bend.

Those characteristics include: a diversity of business types, expertise from local accountants at Crowe Horwath and attorneys at Faegre Baker Daniels, investment capital from 1st Source Bank, Great Lakes Capital, Magnet Investors and the city’s Industrial Revolving Loan Fund, and — perhaps most importantly — a university that pumps out technical talent and intellectual property.

“All the horsepower of Notre Dame coupled with the city’s commitment to change the trajectory of the business economy has made Vennli possible here,” said Gigot, a 1972 Notre Dame graduate and the benefactor behind the university’s Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship.

“I don’t look at South Bend as an area that’s restricted by its geographic boundaries,” he said. “I look at what it can do as a hub and how it can connect to these immediately accessible hubs around the Midwest — Chicago, very obviously; Grand Rapids, with a lot of interesting companies up there. Indianapolis is a major, major site for us. We’re also having conversations with people in Columbus, Ohio.”

Vennli, which helps businesses chart and execute growth strategies, signed 79 customers to try the beta version of its software earlier this year, and 23 of those are local companies. The list includes health care providers and national nonprofit organizations as well as global automotive and pharmaceutical firms.

The company already has 20 full-time employees and three interns. Eight of those employees relocated to South Bend to work at Vennli. The company’s head of research, Bart Frischknecht, moved here from Sydney, Australia, for the job.

“There’s a very strong base to build from. It’s just sort of coming to life now,” Gigot said of South Bend’s new economy. “I think there are real tangible reasons to believe.”