The next great startup / entrepreneur hub may be … (pause) … Indianapolis

When you think of startup culture, or tech projects, or entrepreneurs throwing money at the next big thing — be it a behind-the-scenes software or an out-in-front platform like a Facebook — you probably think of the Bay Area, maybe New York, possibly another oceanside community like a San Diego, potentially a Seattle (where you’ve heard hipsters and tech companies are moving), maybe Denver, maybe Boston … with the possible exception of Chicago (the true crossroads of America) and maybe Kansas City (because it has Google Fiber), you’re probably not picking anything from the central-to-upper-middle portion of the country (Austin doesn’t count; Texas, as far as businesses and growth go, is its own world). But maybe you should be: the future of the startup culture could be in Indianapolis.

Here’s a shorter-form look at the emergence of Indy as a startup hub; here’s a much deeper dive, from the October 2013 issue of Indianapolis Monthly. This all started to become a big story because ExactTarget, an e-mail marketing provider, is based in Indy; in July, they were purchased by SalesForce, the No. 1 CRM platform in the world. Angie’s List and Aprimo are also based in the city, as is Scott Jones, who (a) help develop the concept of voicemail and (b) owns part of the process underlying the iPod. The local startup group is called Verge; it has around 2K members now. They sponsor events regularly, including the Powder Keg conference last year.

The Speakeasy is a communal space that’s cropped up for the development of startups and projects, and IU down in Bloomington has a well-regarded Center for Entrepreneurship. To quote Entrepreneur regarding the culture in Indy:

“Pound-for-pound, Indy might be the best city in America to launch and grow a startup right now.”

Damn! The city seems pretty cool otherwise, too: they turned an abandoned tire store into a living arts and community space, for example. Forbes has them on a list of cities creating the most tech jobs (also see here), and by some estimates there are 110+ startups in the city of less than 1 million. Two weekends ago, they had a ‘Startup Weekend’ with some big-name sponsors, with Fancy Pants emerging as an award winner:

The startup scene is geographically everywhere in the city, and this article — from January 2011 — explains why a culture cropped up here. Essentially, competition did play a role; it’s hard to get a foothold in San Francisco, Seattle, New York, or London — and you’ll go broke faster, either renting space or paying your own rent, or both. Numerous major research universities are within driving distance of Indy, and the weaker economy has made a major life change — like moving to The Bay — harder for recent graduates. Indianapolis, honestly, can seem more manageable. They also are continually adding resources. The Mayor even seems to get it:

Seemingly, so do the airlines:

I love this whole concept. I love that Google Fiber started in KC, making it more attractive to run a web business from there, as opposed to starting in some place like Seattle. Being young in America is tough as hell right now, especially if you have motivation. You probably rolled out of school with a ton of debt, but getting people to listen to you is harder than ever (more distractions) and the 25-years-at-one-company model is ostensibly dead. Plus, 19 people are giving you 19 different elements of advice, and the big cities — the most alluring places to head — are more expensive than ever. I love that these cultures are popping up in Indianapolis, which an east coaster might define as a flyover city, and I love that big companies are noticing the products and buying ’em up (hopefully they’re not absolutely destroying the culture of the place in the process, but we may be in omelet-eggs territory there). The intermediate-distance future of the U.S. is in smaller, manageable cities developing strong communities and business lines (the long-term future is probably in cities where electric cars are doable). Indianapolis is a tremendous model. Hell, I hope someone out there wants to hire my ass.

Ted Bauer