By Britney T-M
“Louisville is extremely strong in the manufacturing, distribution, and long-term healthcare sectors. How do we cross-pollinate and innovate around them?” – Vik Chadha (director of iHub)
iHub is a coworking space within Nucleus (a research park), located in downtown Louisville. For just $80/month, membership grants you access to the entire space (which includes mailing services, meeting rooms, and events), free coffee, and free parking.
My host, Vik (director of iHub), was inspired by the cross-pollination and networking aspects of coworking, and in six months time, turned around what used to be a storage building for Nucleus into a coworking space. For Nucleus, it’s a great way for vertical industry cross-pollination, and can act as a sort of feeder into their main facilities, which include office spaces, laboratories for research, and business management and consulting services.
They are very open to first-time users, offering free use of the space to them. Vik emphasized not having to monetize services, by having the right alignment in order to be a magnet for those who will best carry out the initiatives you are trying to implement. In the same way that word-of-mouth is the most effective form of marketing, alignment is the most effective way for a coworking space to exist. “It’s all about identifying the needs for the ecosystem,” said Vik. “Louisville is extremely strong in the manufacturing, distribution, and long-term healthcare sectors. How do we cross-pollinate and innovate around them?” In answering this question, iHub creates a sort of ‘critical mass’, a density if you will, for creativity and innovation, that it will eventually feed into the science park and in turn, serve as a beneficial ‘Nucleus’ (puns intended!) for the entire city.
“We want to create our own future by creating ecosystems for innovation. How can we create a foundation for that?” -Vik Chadha, iHub Director
The launch of XLerateHealth’s Accelerate SMARTCAP Program at iHub could not have been an anymore serendipitous example. Vik extended an invitation for me, as it was scheduled during our time to meet. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer was in attendance, as well as Ted Smith, the chief of economic growth and innovation. An initiative of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI), the SMARTCAP program will be an accelerator program, with awards in $20,000 to each selected participating early-stage startup companies who address healthcare barriers in space to address problems here on earth, such as access to remote areas, limited resources, and patient evaluation. (Space flight will also turn commercial within our lifetimes, so look out for that as well.) Selected start-ups will also have full access to Nucleus services, and of course, access to a network which includes NASA. They are currently accepting applications. Louisville is a prime location for this program to emerge, not only because of Nucleus, but also because of the city’s rich history in distribution and healthcare.
With all of this wonderful news, I couldn’t help but wonder how all of this benefit would include/enhance the lives of the people living in Louisville, and in Kentucky. The answer? Organic growth (of the economy), of course.
“The more I explore it, the more I realize that what we don’t have is a space that’s constantly trying to benefit and grow the creative economy in Louisville. That’s what I want to do in this space.” -Christopher Davis
The next “space” that I would visit has not yet opened it’s doors, but founder of what will be Method in Louisville, Christopher Davis, was more than willing to meet with me. We met of course, at the place that parented the whole coworking concept: a coffee shop.
A young up-and-coming designer and entrepreneur himself, Chris is not only trying to cultivate an industry, but looking to grow the city as a whole. What started out as an initiative to open a coworking space has turned into an analysis of Louisville’s ecosystems and cultures that led Chris to innovate around what so many smaller cities (including Honolulu) experience: the dreaded brain drain. “…it’s harder to find talent here in Louisville, which is so ridiculous because I have so many friends who were, and are, moving to places like the Valley and Austin and Chicago because they can’t get jobs in Louisville. Or, they think they can’t get jobs in Louisville.”
The more he looked around, the more Chris realized that Louisville needed a physical space for a designer and developer culture to form (much like what Nucleus is doing for the entrepreneurial, science, and healthcare culture); for people to come, create, build, and ‘”organically” develop the identity of the designer and developer cultures that are not yet in place. Realizing that renting desks would not feasibly sustain a space and distracts from other financial opportunities, Chris wants to build Method with the intentions of it being a creative commons; a place to cultivate creativity in Louisville. “The more I explore it, the more I realize that what we don’t have is a space that’s constantly trying to benefit and grow the creative economy in Louisville. that’s what I want to do in this space.” His ideas build a sort of support matrix that would patch a lot of holes that many urban areas see (such as unemployment, lack of educational opportunities, and outsourcing). Workshops and events open to the public, a three-tiered educational plan, and a “Startup Weekend” type of event to act as a crowd-sourcing program to address the city’s problems.
Chris is one of those people whose emanating love for their city keeps its heart pumping. Literally, a place would only be a bunch of buildings if it weren’t for the initiative of its citizens to contribute to its life flow. As a millennial, it can be overwhelming to figure out where to start as our generation ages into the professional world and leadership positions, but there are great examples of peers we can look to for that glimpse of guidance.
Yesterday had me going from the moment I got off the plane, but the first full day in Indy took me all around the city. These four spaces visited took me uptown, downtown, and also out-of-town. Even though the Midwest is slowly growing its coworking scene, there have been a number of developments in the last few years, and had me quite busy during my Indianapolis stay. Day 2 rounded out a total of six different sites in the city, and will probably see a few more as time goes on.
In a neighborhood of office space buildings in the suburban area of Castleton, Indianapolis, it looked like what the Service Center’s lot used to be – bustling malls, loads of restaurant, and of course, covered in asphalt with no sidewalks. To get there, the bus line took me straight through the mall parking lots which was convenient, but dropped me at a stop on the side of the highway, which made me feel kind of like a hobo.Walking to the space, there were properties of companies such as Spectrum Technology, JBD, and even Wendy’s! Finally arriving at Indy CoZ, I was excited to see the layout of one of these behemoths.
I met with Megan O’Donnell, a coordinator at Indy CoZ, who took me on a tour of what was once a church. Founder and building owner Frank Howard also acquierd EventzPlus which also operates in the space. There is a tiered membership pricing (base, midlevel, and high), with special discounts on use of the event facilities.
Although they do not yet have sponsorships, larger corporate entities (perhaps some of their Castleway neighbors?) would do good by having their employees work out of there for networking purposes and gaining the event space discounts for large events. With hotels and malls in the surrounding area, there is incredible potential for events such as regional meetings, company retreats, and team building purposes. They had just hosted a college athlete mentorship program in one of their spaces, which made me think of one of our members. I wish we could offer the same amenities!
Their members are mostly individuals whose companies have many tele-commuting employees, are B2B companies, or consultants. Jared Laughlin for instance, has been a member since opening. He happened to just stumble upon Indy CoZ one day, liked Frank and his vision (as well as the price) and decided to join. The company he works for is doing software development for the healthcare industry and is based out of Madison, WI.
When asked what some unexpected challenges were for the space, Megan said that getting their name out and translation and education of the coworking concept to people and what they are trying to do were the most difficult aspects. Their location probably doesn’t help with exposure or convenience to the individual worker, but if more companies had employees as Indy CoZ coworking members, their access to a network of other professionals and access to space would be entirely beneficial.
After Indy CoZ, Scottie picked me up, and we traveled to the southeastern district of downtown known as Fountain Square. It is here that the neighborhood of restaurants, events, and ma + pa stores still thrive because of the spirited community in this historic district. A part of Deylen Realty‘s newest property, The Hinge, The Hinge Bureau is a coworking space in a ‘mixed-use’ building in an area between Fountain Square and downtown Indy. The Hinge features studio apartments, 1-2 bedroom apartments and loft style apartments, all with private balconies, terrace access, and a workout facility that may also be accesible to The Hinge Bureau members. Nestled right next door to the Bureau is Rook – the newest restaurant from the creator of Siam Square and Black Market.
The Hinge Bureau is still under construction, Todd VonDeylen (president, Deylen Realty, Inc) was willing to show us around. Throughout our meet, Todd was quite busy answering construction questions, having conversations with contractors, and speaking with potential tennants, so I was incredibly grateful for the time that he set aside for us to visit.
As Todd walked us through the space, it amazed me that he hadn’t been to many coworking spaces. “It’s always something we wanted to try,” he says. Even though it is still in the process of construction, I can say their first attempt is on point – mailboxes and lockers right next to the recycling center, general work desk area, kitchenette, two conference rooms, three telephone booths, and ten private offices.
Nikki Sutton was enlisted for The Hinge’s interior design, and does an incredible job making the space aesthetically pleasing while leaving room for creativity and productivity to breed, and for functionality to take place. Sutton was also the designer for The Speak Easy, and has already made quite an impression with her work in the Indianapolis community. There were a couple elements that are similar to the BoxJelly – the red corrugated plastic panels and wood elements made me feel right at home.
Built to accommodate 54 members, The Hinge is positioned towards young professionals. There was an “if you built it, they will come” sort of mentality, which never seems very sustainable. However, Todd pointed to all the different vantage points that position The Hinge for its residents and users – the walkability of its location, the cultured neighborhood, the centralized location in the city, and the large number of independent workers in the software, tech, and creative fields in Indianapolis.
When asked what type of community he envisions for the coworking space, he sees a lot of creative types, writers, coders, and marketers. I thought it interesting when he said ‘writers‘; it seemed to indicate an understanding of and interest in the existing community they were entering.
Once we finished touring the space, Scottie and I stopped off at Rook – a non-traditional banh mi shop featuring a menu that has Thai, Laotian, Vietnamese, Indian, and American influences for their sandwiches.
I’m a sucker for anything in a peanut sauce, so I got the Black Wing which featured beef in peanut curry – the flaming spices were gently toned down by the smooth peanut curry and cooled with the traditional carrots, radish, and peppers. Scottie got the Crow’s Nest, which features Chinese BBQ pork – that salty and slightly-sweet taste tango danced me away to a feeling of satiation, and filled all of my palate’s desires.
It took a while for the order (probably because there was a table of 10 right before us), but looking around at all of the design elements was an inspirational feast. There was a paper roll for the menu, monochromatic billings from old performances in Fountain Square lining the walls and ceilings in the ordering station, and a condiment area that hygienically stationed the recycling and trash all into one compact space. But it’s when I saw the whole lineup for Siracha, all in the 28oz. bottle size, that I knew these people weren’t f*ing around.
Taste, design, and style are all important elements, but when all of that successfully incorporates functionality into a space, it is nothing short of amazing. The Hinge, the Hinge Bureau, and Rook – all of it was inspiring, even in the simple fact that knowing that places such as these not only look good in the plans, but also show promising signs during their fruition.
After such a delightful lunch, it was hard to get back into work mode. The thought of traveling into the center of the city (and later 30 minutes out of it), was slightly draining. But you don’t come all the way for nothing, then cry about it when you go home because you didn’t go big…so even without a confirmed appointment, I thought we needed to stop by this space.
Why I say ‘need’ is because The Platform is a coworking space with tenant organizations that are focused around social innovation – which is unique in the coworking industry in general, and exactly what we’ll be learning about at George Mason. An initative of LISC, with the city of Indianapolis, The Platform is geared specifially towards non-profits devoted to neighborhood revitalization.
As the old west wing of the City Market, it would have been demolitied if not for LISC’s idea to make a coworking space. The $1.5 million renovation of the 14,000sq.ft. space was funded by Rebuild Indy (Mayor Ballard’s economic development fund). I wasn’t able to schedule a meeting with someone from The Platform, but I thought I’d stop by anyways to see if we could have a general tour. Elise at the front desk was very accommodating, and took us around the space. She works with the Food Coalition of Central Indiana, which operates out of the space and mans the front desk as part of a services-for-membership trade.
The first floor is composed of the front desk offices, a large general space which can be used for events and is used for the farmer’s market in the winter, and workplace area. The second floor has the tenant spaces as well as conference rooms and meeting rooms, and a lounge area. When going into the City Market, we realized that it actually connects to The Platform through the back of the LISC offices!
It describes itself as a design center where the Indianapolis people can design their communities. All tenants are related to neighborhood revitalization and building – Growing Places Indy, Indianapolis Coalition for Neighborhood Development, and Wishard Health Services are just a few tenants to name. It’s great when you’re working next to someone and get an answer to your quick question about WordPress plugins, so just imagine how that will translate to the next macro level of communication between organizations. Hours of research and barriers to information can be reduced, and the productivity needed for change and implementation can be increased to the next power of progress. It’s all very promising!
Indianapolis, Day 2 continued in Part II…
Indianapolis, Day 1
By Britney T-M
Arriving to the Service Center for Contemporary Culture and Community was like coming upon a peaceful oasis in a midwestern wasteland of forgotten suburban shopping malls and streets void of sidewalks. I missed the opportunity to meet anyone from the Center, but found that the space spoke for itself.
The mural was the first thing we noticed – I mean, how could you not, it’s a huge wall mural. It was one of the murals commissioned as a part of 46 for XLVI, and was what told us we were in the right place. And by “right place” I mean the correct address, but also a positive state of being. In May 2011, Big Car converted this old tire shop in an abandoned mall lot into a community center that includes a library, computer lab, event exhibition space, and a coworking space. Big Car is a non-profit organization, run by a collective of artists, musicians, writers, and active citizens who couple art projects with economic development in order to uplift communities. The Service Center hosts events and offers a wide range of tools and services by and for the community to fulfill director Jim Walker’s intentions to include the community artistically.
The space is very organic in that sense of development. This wasn’t simply made for a community, but a place that was to be made by the community. Vegetables grew in huge planter boxes atop the large asphalt parking lot, chickens clucked in the pens, and you could see the progression of the the ceiling mural of clouds and blue skies.
I peered into the building from the glass of the garage doors into a space that may have been empty of people, but was certainly brimming with life. There looked to be projects in every corner of the garage space with various tools and materials about. There were flyers up for Big Car and Service Center events, as well as events in other places around Indianapolis.
My focus is in social innovation and placemaking, so this sort of space is like a realized dream. Staring from the outside in, it sort of felt like I was missing a really great party. In a way, it was a gentle reminder that community uplift and improvement are far beyond plans or instantaneity; it’s a cultivation and long-term investment, the benefits of which are collective among those in the present, and may not even be realized until the future.
This made me think of all the development going on in Honolulu. Whether they are for community or commercial purposes, how sustainable will the projects be? Will they implement action by the community or be impositions upon the community? The midwest is often perceived as a dismissable region that’s only good for corn, but it’s organizations like Big Car and The Service Center that earn the title for the Heartland of America.
For the next space, I gave Scottie a couple hours off so I could use Uber to get to The Speak Easy. When I was looking at The Speak Easy’s twitter, I stumbled upon a retweet from Chris Nakutis about “$20 off your first Uber ride”. Uber is an on-demand request tool for private drivers. The app pinpoints your location, notifies a driver of your request, gives you an estimated time of arrival, and can even give you a fare estimate. Payments are charged through your app service account, so the experience was very seamless. I had the pleasure of riding with Moses. We chatted about Nigeria (where he is from), Hawaii, and his dreams of traveling to the Aloha state. He also asked if I was meeting Thomas, who has been working out of The Speak Easy helping Uber Indianapolis establish itself. “Oh, no, I am not,” I said, but I serendipitously ended up meeting him anyways while I was there.
It was also serrendipitous that I ran into a member outside who was able to grant my entry into the place. There are key cards for the door scanners, so its no wonder that the feeling inside is one of trust and security. Opened in January 2012, The Speak Easy is adjacent to DeveloperTown, a venture development firm and tech accelerator, who owns the building which houses the two, along with TinderBox and another organization I neglected to get the name of.
A coworking space for entrepreneurs and startups, The Speak Easy has a large private classroom with chalkboard walls, four smaller meeting rooms, a reception area, book nook, large common area, kitchen and bar, as well as a lofted work area.
Unfortunately, Denver (exec. director) and I were unable to meet, but she graciously invited me to tour the space and use it for a webinar I had to attend for George Mason. The Speak Easy member Lily Smith and her coworking coworker who let me into the building, were also gracious enough to help me get acquainted with the space.
As I was attending the webinar, I picked up on words like “cities” “drivers” and “Uber” from the guy next to me. At this point, The Speak Easy can claim they are, in fact, fosters of serendipity. “The guy next to me” turned out to be Chris himself, the same guy that tweeted the Uber promo, and Uber Indianapolis’s AGM.
Once I was finished with the webinar, it was time to explore. At first I felt a little awkward in the space; in any coworking environment, being the ‘new guy’ is inevitable because you are walking into an apparently functioning community that has a culture and set of rules you are still being introduced to. It reminds me of when you are first introducing ideas as an entrepreneur, but instead of presenting business models, you’re presenting yourself. You’ve just got to jump in the water; even if you don’t know how to swim, you’ll never learn without getting in. The awkwardness quickly subsided as I talked to members willing to share their Speak Easy stories.
Stephanie works for the 3rd Street Attention Agency (“basically an ad agency that’s more engaged with clients”). She likes sharing in the energy of the space and the relaxed atmosphere. Her company gathers at The Speak Easy when they don’t want to be virtual, and has offered to pay for her membership. As a 22 year old professional, it will be exciting for her to grow her career in an environment with such a network of developers, programmers, and entrepreneurs.
Founders of App Press, Smith and Glass have been members from the very beginning. They said working at The Speak Easy “…has made it easier. There’s opportunity to run problems [among other members].” They’re open to listening to others, and appreciate the proactive spirit for problem solving that’s ubiquitous among members. Chris also commented on this, even after spending just 16 days in the space.
Both Peters and Graham work for Formstack, which likes its employees to acquaint themselves with and become part of the community. “There are different distractions at Formstack,” mentions Peters, “that are not here at the Speak Easy.” The dynamic spaces can lend a more social experience if they sit downtstairs, or a more concentrated environment if they work up in the loft or private meeting room. Formstack is a sponsor of the Speak Easy, so their memberships are paid for as well.
Talking to members, the ecosystem of industry in Indianapolis started to unfold itself into something bigger than I had fully comprehended. It’s location in relation to the rest of the country is strategic for companies that have a national or global spread; as a crossroads point of the mainland, its history of production and affordability lends much potential (and capability) for investment; there’s a high number of skilled workers (IU, Purdue, Butler, and a number of large universities are in the neighboring areas). with such a large population, workers as well as organizations have an immediate need to be innovative, and thus, have much more of a support system to be so. It seems like the coworking industry will develop similarly to the tech park industry in Indiana. It made me think of Hawaii’s ecosystem; what are our advantages? Where are our barriers? What are we doing that is inhibiting us? Within the past 2 years, Indianapolis already has five coworking spaces, while Honolulu only has one that is open. Scale is obviously part of this issue, but maybe we are not as progressive back home as we think we are.
I finally ended the day and got to Mark’s house, where I couch surf every time I’m in Indy. I met Mark at Hanover, and while his admission stopped after sophomore year, our friendship continued. As a graduate student of IU’s philanthropic studies program, his insight on funds and endowments in the area started to make sense for the resources that are available to non-profits and businesses. Granted, Indiana as a state tends to be urban-centric, neglecting problems in rural areas; but, the initiatives and actions of those in the Hoosier state are nonetheless amazing, and something the rest of the country would be smart to look twice at.