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Indiana Tech Company Surges Forward Bringing Mapping into the 21st Century

For Chris Walls, it all began with a love for maps.

“I always loved maps.  When we were in the car when I was growing up, I was always looking at where we were going.”

Walls says his favorite maps were made by Rand McNally, who was the premier publisher of paper maps and atlases in the United States.   Being on the road with his family taught Walls an important thing—geology doesn’t change, but with the evolution of tech, how maps were presented to consumers had to.  So, Walls went to Indiana University, obtained a degree in geology and began a career in Geographic Information Systems.

Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, is computerized mapping.  It takes all the information needed for a flat paper map; coordinates, topography, roads, etc.; and inputs it online.  As Walls says, working in GIS, “is kind of like being immersed in Rand McNally, and creating it for the 21st Century.”

After school, Walls worked as a GIS Tech at the Indiana Geological Survey and worked on a project for the GIS Atlas for Southwestern Indiana.  While there, Walls was approached by then Secretary of State Todd Rokita to create a GIS for the local governments and the state of Indiana.  In 2004, Walls and his partner opened a GIS company they named 39 Degrees North with “two computers I bought with student loans was still paying on.”

 “We are advanced when it comes to GIS,” Walls says.  “Who would have known that when you talk about GIS they would talk about Indiana?”

In 2007, 39 Degrees North became heavily involved with two of the local chapters of the counseling arms of SBA, SCORE and the Indiana Small Business Development Center (ISBDC).  Both of these organizations are partially funded by SBA and provide free mentoring services for small businesses.  Walls also signed up for email alerts and newsletters from the SBA Indiana District Office and in early 2017 received an email about the free SBA Emerging Leaders Program.  Walls was wary, though about signing up, because the price.

“I was skeptical because it was free,” Walls says. “I’ve never been handed something free.”

Emerging Leaders is an intensive, seven-month training program which Indiana District Office Director Stacey Poynter says is a ‘mini-MBA’ program whose goal is to provide established small business owners with the knowledge and resources they need to build a sustainable business.

“Classes teach students how to think strategically,” Poynter says, “about where they want to move forward, and how they want to expand their business outside of their comfort zone.”

Walls credits Emerging Leaders Program Coordinator Sharon Harvey for convincing him to take the plunge.

“Sharon was the contact, so I called her,” Walls says.  “Then she called me.  We emailed and played phone tag for a little bit then she left me a message saying ‘congratulations, you’ve been accepted in the Emerging Leaders Program, ground zero session is (date).’  I decided to go for it and came to class.  It’s too good to be true and it really is because staff like Sharon who are so engaged.”

Walls and his Emerging Leaders classmates are about 50 hours in to the 100 hour course.  He says that it is a commitment but that he’s learned a lot—especially that “if you want to grow a business, you have to work at it.  I wasn’t doing that.”

Once Walls graduates from Emerging Leaders in October, he says that he doesn’t plan on ending his relationship with SBA programs and resources.  In fact, he’s currently working with the Indiana District Office learning what he needs to do to apply for 8(a) Certification, a nine-year business development program designed to assist entrepreneurs to become more competitive in the federal contracting marketplace.

Learn more about the geo spatial data created by 39 Degrees North on their website at www.39dn.com .  For more information about SBA programs and events throughout Indiana, sign up for email updates, as Walls did, on the SBA Indiana District website at www.sba.gov/in .

Company Name: 
39 Degrees North
Location: 
Bloomington