The Mill Hires John Fernandez to Develop Tech Center, Trades District: Innovation cluster to fuel startup growth, catalyze regional economy
The Mill today announced that it has hired John Fernandez to lead the development and marketing of the Trades District. The former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, Fernandez also served as mayor of Bloomington from 1995 to 2003. As senior vice president for innovation and strategic partnerships at The Mill, Fernandez’s first priority will be overseeing the construction and launch of the new Technology Center.
“John Fernandez has an exceptional, global track record in innovation-oriented economic development,” said Pat East, Executive Director of The Mill. “It is truly a coup for Bloomington that he’s bringing his world-class experience home to catalyze our regional economy. His skills and connections, combined with The Mill’s successful entrepreneurial programming, are going to supercharge our work to grow cutting-edge startups, attract investment, and create new careers and opportunities.”
Fernandez most recently served as Global Chief Innovation Officer at Dentons, the world’s largest law firm. At Dentons, he cofounded and lead the $20 million Nextlaw business portfolio from the ground up, as well as Nextlaw Ventures, the world’s first venture development organization solely focused on the legal tech sector. Nextlaw Ventures completed its first successful exit in 2019.
As Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development in the Obama administration, Fernandez launched the Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship at the US Economic Development Administration. There he led the execution of inter-agency regional economic strategies, and designed innovative investment competitions such as the Jobs & Innovation Accelerator Challenge, the i6 Challenge, and the i6 Green Challenge.
“John’s expertise in forging multi-disciplinary, private/public partnerships is exactly what we need to capitalize on local assets to build this region into a thriving hub of innovation,” said East.
“We are thrilled that (three-time IU alum) John Fernandez has decided to serve in this role supporting Bloomington’s entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Michael Huber, Indiana University vice president of university relations. “Since his time as mayor when he collaborated with the university to develop Bloomington’s Life Sciences Partnership, John has been a long-time partner to IU, and a strong advocate and innovator for economic development in Bloomington.”
As mayor of Bloomington from 1995 to 2003, Fernandez also launched the Bloomington Tech Partnership. His initiatives leveraged university and private sector assets to accelerate business growth, secure over $143 million in private investments, and create over 2,300 jobs.
“In the Tech Center and the district as a whole, we have a golden opportunity to design an innovation cluster that is uniquely Bloomington,” Fernandez said. “Our ecosystem is in a sweet spot right now. Yes, we’ve got the resources startups need, but so do a lot of places. What sets us apart is that founders can actually access those resources here, whether it’s capital, IP, talent, or connections to peers and mentors. The Mill has already made rapid progress in building a thriving startup community. I’m thrilled to join this team and to lead the development of the Tech Center and the Trades District. We have exciting times ahead of us.”
The Mill, an award-winning nonprofit center for entrepreneurship, bills itself as “Bloomington’s home for innovators.” Over the past two years, Flywheel Fund, The Mill’s micro-investment fund, has invested $1.6 million in 29 Indiana-based startups. That seed funding has allowed those small, fast-growing, companies to attract $8.9 million in additional outside investment, according to The Mill.
In January 2023, the Bloomington’s Redevelopment Commission signed an innovation partnership agreement authorizing The Mill to manage the development and marketing of the Trades District, a 12-acre portion of the Bloomington Certified Technology Park. The Trades District Technology Center is funded in part by a $3.5 million Economic Development Administration CARES Act Recovery Assistance Grant awarded in 2021. The EDA projects that the grant will create 530 jobs and generate $51 million in private investment in the region.
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