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A Home Field Advantage

A Home Field Advantage

BY STACEY MICKELBART

The thing about being an entrepreneur, or a visionary of any sort, is that sometimes your ideas will seem ridiculous. At first.

Neil Mylet (BS ’08, ag econ) is used to that. As an entrepreneur, he says, “You have to want to go against everything you’ve been taught but also utilize everything you’ve been taught.”

Mylet did just that when he graduated. He continued to grow corn and soybeans in Carroll and Cass counties on the family farm with his parents Tom (BS ’72, agricultural & biological engineering) and Linda (BS ’73, MS ’78, education). But he also formed LoadOut Technologies to make farming easier. His YellowBox App allowed a driver to fill a grain truck using a wireless device, and he’s now working with partner Ben Dillon (BS ’62, ag econ) at Tribine on a new combine architecture that allows farmers to harvest, plant and fertilize crops with the same machine.

Mylet has always been interested in technology, but credits Nathalie Duval-Couetil, director of Purdue’s Certificate in Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program, for channeling that interest. He was a manager for football coach Joe Tiller and needed a class that fit with the spring practice schedule when LeeAnn Williams, director of advising and student services in the Department of Agricultural Economics, suggested he give entrepreneurship a try. With the inventor of voicemail, Scott Jones, as his adjunct professor that semester, Mylet realized he could be an entrepreneur, too.

This panoramic view shows the mural and partially rebuilt balcony of the former Camden opera house, which Neil Mylet (BS ’08, Ag Econ) is converting to a rural tech center.

One of the tricky parts of developing farm technologies, however, is internet access consistent and fast enough to run them. This prompted another of Mylet’s big visions: broadband access in rural communities.

That project became more urgent when schools closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mylet partnered with rural school corporations, using CARES Act funding to create e-learning zones for Delphi and Camden. In Delphi, he installed connectivity hardware on existing infrastructure to provide high-speed internet.

His RuralUrban Center in Camden is a far more ambitious plan. In 2019, Mylet purchased the former Camden Opera House, which he is gradually renovating into a rural tech hub. Community and personal history infuse the project. “I mailed my first patent application from the post office right across the street,” Mylet remembers.

The 1910 building, over 18,000 square feet, began as a performance space with a stage, elaborate murals and even balcony seating (which Mylet is now restoring). It was later converted into a seed company, with storage bins in the second-floor theater and holes in the floor for grain chutes to the ground level.

Now Mylet is framing out spaces for a coffee shop, classroom for coding courses or online degree programs, and workplace for the formation of startups or remote work for tech companies. One room is designed with thicker walls, soundproof for telehealth appointments — especially important, Mylet says, “because mental health in rural America is such a big issue.”

Even unfinished, the center has started benefiting rural residents: Mylet’s team coordinated running fiber optic cable to the building, connected it to an internal network and installed a transmitter on the roof for community internet access. He is passionate about hiring local residents, including builders, and has provided part-time work for at least 15 community members.

“I wanted to engage people at a grassroots level. People who I knew had a good work ethic and strong values, but just needed an opportunity,” Mylet says. Brianna Manning and Alicia Carter, two servers in local restaurants he frequents, wanted to learn more about technology, so Mylet trained them to program and test internet receivers.

Mylet thinks of the center as a home court for rural people. “When I look at this project, I think about the movie “Hoosiers.” There are basketball gyms across America, but there aren’t technology hubs across rural America. I envision this project enabling that sense of community spirit and unity, and celebrating each other’s unique skills and attributes. And whether that’s working for a tech company or starting a business — it’s being able to acknowledge each person’s potential.”

He's tapping his network to discover funding opportunities and form partnerships with those who can benefit from what the RuralUrban Center will offer, including local schools, the Eleven Fifty Academy (the coding boot camp founded by his mentor Scott Jones), rural Purdue Global students and Purdue engineering students who could help teach robotics.

“People shouldn’t have to leave their community, their families and what they’re passionate about just to pursue a dream or an idea,” Mylet says. “The more we can make places like this a reality, the more people can truly have a fulfilled life on their terms.”

Category Alumni, Summer 2022

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