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One Indiana Startup Is Putting A Stopper In The 'Brain Drain'

Sakeeb Sabakka


There’s been a lot of attention given to how your online browsing habits can be used by companies like Amazon and Google to target you with ads. But one Indiana startup is now using the same techniques to help solve the state’s “brain drain” problem.


On Purdue University’s campus, graduates in caps and gowns are lined up, waiting to take a picture under the school’s iconic arch. Alle Musser is there with her parents a day before graduating.


"Oh my goodness, I'm scared, I'm excited," she says. "It's all there, all the feelings."

Musser got a job in Dallas and although she’s from Indiana, she says she can’t wait to leave.


"For me to come back to Indiana, it would take a lot better weather and a definite pay raise on that," she says.


Indiana struggles to retain highly skilled college graduates like Musser. Last year Purdue and Indiana University – Bloomington both estimated the majority of their graduates left the state while Notre Dame reported closer to 90 percent left. 


Adding to that, a congressional study published this year placed Indiana among the ten worst states for losing highly educated workers.


Timothy Zimmer is an economist at University of Indianapolis. He says while it’s great the state produces so many college graduates, it’s a bad sign that it can’t retain them.


"It would be like the state going out and investing and buying all this high tech equipment and then turning around and then sending all this high tech equipment to other states," Zimmer says. 


To combat this, Indiana launched a "brain gain" initiative out of Purdue University – started by the former governor and university President Mitch Daniels. 


But in the past year, one Indiana startup decided to take on the challenge with a very 21st century approach. 


Ed Sherman is the vice president of talent development at Talent Mapping, or simply, TMap. He’s demonstrating with a coworker on the phone line how they reach out to potential job candidates to see what it would take to get them to move to Indiana. 


“If I had to sum up what TMap does in one sentence, our goal is to grow the Indiana economy,” he says.


Those phone calls aren’t random. Sherman is pulling from a list of people TMap generates after they scrape social media profiles and buy databases of information to find people with ties to Indiana. It works pretty much the same way Amazon knows to send you ads for blenders after you’ve Googled smoothie recipes.


TMap was started by Bill Oesterle, the founder of another company made possible by the internet called Angie’s List.  He says the little online bread crumbs we create when surfing the web can be used to target marketing for Indiana jobs.

Bill Oesterle is the CEO of TMap and the founder of Angie's List.

“Are they from the place, do they go to Colts game, do they talk about Indiana on Twitter?" he says. "In a nutshell, the world wide web is a wonderful place to go get information about people.”

Vanessa Ruminski is one of the first job candidates TMap found. She’s from LaPorte and graduated from Indiana University, but for the past 15 years she’d been living and working in Wisconsin as a buyer for a corporate retailer.


"I actually thought for sure there would be no opportunities for me that I would come back for," she says.


When the company she worked at closed, Ruminski was referred to TMap. Based on her career goals, they paired her with a startup in Indianapolis that helps retailers sell products on Amazon.


"I mean it was really exciting," Ruminski says. "It was something that, wow, if it worked out, it would check a lot of our boxes. I wanted to really refocus my career on the future of retail and it's also great to be closer to family and friends


And work out it did. She was one of about 40 people TMap brought back to Indiana in its first year. Oesterle says he hopes that with increased cooperation between TMAP, universities, and lawmakers they can guide more graduates into Indiana jobs.