Launch Fishers Founder on Growing a Startup Cluster in a Suburb
Launch Fishers wasn’t the first co-working space to open in Indiana, but in less than four years it has become a model of success that others hope to emulate.
Established in 2012 as a way for the Indianapolis suburb of Fishers to keep its entrepreneurs close to home, Launch Fishers now has about 575 members representing more than 300 businesses. With the city’s continued support, this month it moved from a library basement into a 52,000-square-foot building of its own, more than tripling its footprint.
Startup veteran (and Indiana Xconomist) John Wechsler helped to develop a facility that would support entrepreneurs working to start and build high-potential enterprises, and we talked to him about its early success and ongoing evolution.
Launch Fishers offers startups an alternative to long-term leases that will probably never be a perfect fit, Wechsler said. In addition to the communal work area and plenty of meeting and training space, the new location has 50 dedicated desks and 13 private offices, so members can grow in place for as long as possible.
The new location also has room for a theater that will be able to accommodate events—pitch days and demo days, for example—for up to 150 people at a time.
Here is an edited version of our conversation:
Xconomy: Launch Fishers is not a business incubator, but the results suggest it offers more than shared office space. What is the secret ingredient?
John Wechsler: First and foremost, there’s a vision for making Fishers an entrepreneurial city … that really supercharges everything we do. Number two, when you look at what we provide entrepreneurs, we really do change the game when it comes to startup activities for growth companies.
Let’s say you and I wanted to start a business, and it was going to be really rapidly growing business like Bluebridge Digital [which started at Launch and now has a staff of 40]. The big challenge they face isn’t whether they can pay their rent. The question is: How do they space plan for six months out or a year out or two years out?
I have to give credit to Mayor Scott Fadness, who coined the term ‘21st century infrastructure.’ The city views things like co-working spaces and high-speed fiber connectivity … as part of the 21st century infrastructure these types of companies need. I think we fit in so well with what’s happening in Fishers, it just amplifies everything that we’re doing here. That’s the special sauce.
X: In addition to having new space for members, the new location has room for strategically selected tenants, including Ball State University and Eleven Fifty Academy. How will they help Launch Fishers?
JW: We went with very specific choices – it wasn’t just anybody. Look at Ball State and their leadership in entrepreneurship education; they’re really creating the next generation of entrepreneurs. Eleven Fifty is filling a gap in the workforce, taking people through introductory coding training and then mentoring them so they can be productive coders and developers. And then you look at the appetite for our ecosystem here, and it all fits together pretty nicely.
[Six teams of Ball State students are working on projects with startup companies at Launch Fishers, Wechsler said. Companies also will be able to work with university professors on research or innovation—Eds.]
X: It’s not likely that every Launch Fishers member will come up with something as successful as Bluebridge or as promising as Recovery Force, but you have enough experience to recognize potential when you see it. What do promising startups have in common?
JW: I wish there were an easy hit list of three things or five things and ‘you know,’ but it’s not like that.
I will say that it often starts with the [individual] entrepreneur. Just having the conviction of belief—that you’re onto something, or you’re going to do something great—having the tenacity to just stick with it. The ones that [succeed] are the ones that have the hustle and the moxie and the fortitude to stick with their vision. That is one thing that I really value when I’m assessing talent. And it’s one thing I think is a hallmark of successful entrepreneurs. No one knows how hard it’s going to be, and I think if most people did they might not even do it.
You’ve got to have that willingness to tough it out. I’ve always said that as an entrepreneur, I can hold my breath longer than anyone can hold me under.
X: Launch’s annual FailFest event celebrates failure and the role it has on innovation. But it still can be painful when a startup fails. How does the community react when a member stumbles?
JW: It is counterintuitive: What happens is you have a team that is presumably high-functioning and talented—most of these teams are—and they redeploy right back into all the other companies. … It’s surprisingly additive to the ecosystem. It actually has a purifying effect of getting talent to the best opportunities, and as [startups] fall off they just connect right back into others and nobody misses a beat. Failure is never permanent. It just takes a little bit of time.