Big Exits, Affordability, and Tech Transplants: Why Indianapolis Is the Next Big Startup City – repost

This Midwestern city is racing to recruit entrepreneurs.

By: Kate Rockwood


Many cities are vying to be the next Silicon Valley. Indianapolis has thrown its hat into that ring now, and seems to be doing all the right things to get it done. If you’ve never visited Indy, you should do so before you make up your mind where you’d like to spend your career.

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Affordability, a new rapid transit line, and a business-friendly government are helping Indianapolis become a hotbed for B2B startups. Here’s what to know.

Startup Neighborhoods

Salesforce, Angie’s List, and email-marketing software giant ExactTarget are all within blocks of one another in downtown’s Monument Circle, a neighborhood packed with tech startups. There’s no significant cost premium to locating in the heart of the city, which allows many companies to be close to the action.

Indy’s $96 million, IndyGo Red Line is a bus rapid-transit route that connects downtown to trendy Fountain Square. The HGTV-featured neighborhood has become a haven for creative startups that want to bypass the parking shortage downtown.

Just northeast of Indianapolis is Fishers, a suburb that has spent the past five years wooing tech companies by lowering taxes and raising new office buildings. Nearly 600 members have joined the new 52,000-square-foot co-working space Launch Fishers, while the Indiana IoT Lab attracted 3,000 visitors and 15 internet-of-things-focused companies in its first year.

“$14.8 million: Indy’s seed capital in 2019, up from $1 million in 2013.”
Source: PwC’s MoneyTree tool.

Talent Pipeline

To fight brain drain, the Orr Fellowship annually places 60 college grads at startups such as talent-management platform Torchlite and training software company Lessonly.

Business owners recommend TechPoint for finding both entry-level and senior-level hires. For tech talent, Kristen Cooper, founder of Startup Ladies, endorses Indy’s nonprofit coding academy Eleven Fifty and networking events at Women & Hi Tech.

Companies to Watch

Emplify made apps for churches until it pivoted in 2016 to become an employee-engagement platform. Since then, the company has seen annual growth north of 250 percent.

Big businesses turn to 250ok to crack their customers’ inboxes. The eight-year-old email-marketing startup counts Adobe, Salesforce, and Pinterest among its customers.

Recovery Force, a favorite of athletes and medical professionals, incorporates tiny titanium batteries and memory fibers in its compression clothing to make the fabric expand and contract, which improves circulation. A $10 million Series A funding round brought the company’s products to market. The National Institutes of Health kicked in another $1.8 million.

The Players

From left: Max Yoder, Lisa Laughner, Chris Baggott. 


Max Yoder is a co-founder of Lessonly, which sells employee-training software. The startup has raised more than $14 million in funding. In March, he released his first (and we’re betting not his last) book, Do Better Work.

Lisa Laughner, a former exec at jet engine maker Rolls-Royce, is obsessed with resiliency–specifically, how renewable-energy microgrids could be used to create uninterruptible power systems. Her startup, Go Electric, has secured more than $4 million in funding, and proved its emerging technology in data centers, hospitals, and indoor agricultural facilities.

Chris Baggott is the co-founder of both ExactTarget (acquired by Salesforce) and content-marketing platform Compendium (acquired by Oracle). Now, Baggott is rethinking restaurant logistics with ClusterTruck. The delivery-only food concept uses “ghost kitchens,” has zero physical restaurants, and has expanded to Denver, Columbus, and Kansas City, Missouri.

Work in Progress

Nearly 30 percent of local tech workers are transplants, according to the 2019 Indiana Tech Census. And there may not be enough room for them. Founders are concerned about a tight supply of office space.


“Recruiting out-of-state people who have never been here before is hard,” says Kristian Andersen, partner at venture studio High Alpha. “The city doesn’t have a national reputation, and there’s the sense that if a job doesn’t work out, there aren’t a ton of large tech companies to fall back on.”

Indy’s relatively low density means you’ll find yourself in the car–a lot. While 200 miles of recently constructed bike lanes and the Red Line offer greater accessibility, Indianapolis is a hard sell for grads who dream of a car-free life.

$2.5 billion: What Salesforce paid for email marketing
platform ExactTarget in 2013″

Notable funding

$100 million: Kenzie Academy, tech-training college alternative (2019)

$22.5 million: Zylo, SaaS enterprise-management platform (2019)

$15 million: Emplify, employee-engagement platform (2019)

$2 million: Parker Technology, parking tech firm (2019)

Where to Talk Shop

Pearings–a café just half a block from Monument Circle–is “everyone’s conference room away from the office,” says Andersen.

To break out of the usual coffee-and-convo routine, try the 3,900-acre Eagle Creek Park. “It’s not crazy to be hiking in the woods and run into other founders,” says R.J. Talyor, founder of social A.I. platform Pattern89.

The Speak Easy, in the Canterbury neighborhood, keeps a low profile, but those in the know can meet with clients in industrial-chic breakout rooms, or sip cold beers with teammates.


(The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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