Growth sending Fishers business incubator into new location

A two-year-old business incubator in Fishers is developing so many entrepreneurs that it needs a new building.

Launch Fishers, housed in a 16,000-square-foot shared working space in the basement of Hamilton East Library in Fishers, now has 500 members, mostly technological business startups, and wants to keep adding. Having partnered with the city of Fishers three years ago, the facility has the city's support and financial backing to fuel its growth.

Launch Fishers is an early leader of a trend in Indiana for the development of shared working spaces, or co-work spaces, and business incubators for entrepreneurs. These partnerships are typically housed in large buildings or building floors that provide new technology businesses with the office space and resources they need to get started.

Nearly 50 shared workspaces or business incubators are in communities across the state, according to the Indiana Office of Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

Launch Fishers was the result of a brainstorming session between serial entrepreneur John Wechsler and Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness, who was the town manager at the time. Wechsler was looking for space for a business venture in Fishers, and Fadness showed him the unused basement space of Hamilton East Library. The two immediately starting sharing ideas for developing an incubator space for Fishers entrepreneurs.

The concept was later approved by the Fishers City Council. The city committed $225,000 for a remodel of the space and $125,000 in seed money for the venture.

"I had become convinced that only chasing companies and trying to get them to come to Fishers would not serve our community well in the long run," Fadness said. "I felt like we needed to evaluate new ways to create new wealth in our city. Ventures like this are changing the way economic development has been done over the last 30 to 50 years."

Launch Fishers is now preparing to move out of its current space and into a 51,571-square-foot office building in Fishers this fall. The city purchased the building for $3.1 million and has committed $400,000 for remodeling it. Launch Fishers is responsible for operating the space, selling memberships and leasing dedicated workspaces, small office pods and larger office areas. Wechsler estimates that the facility will cost $100,000 a year.

In addition to the financial backing of Fishers, a big reason for Launch Fishers' success is the much-in-demand help it gives to entrepreneurs starting out. The facility provides them with a high-speed Internet connection, more professional workspaces and several opportunities to network with others striving for similar goals.

One of the biggest challenges that business startups often encounter is finding the right office space within their budget. Most often, they have to look for space in a low-rent district and make the best estimate they can on what their growth will be during the next few years, said Wechsler, founder and executive director of Launch Fishers.

"The traditional commercial real estate model doesn't fit for the high-growth entrepreneur," Wechsler said. "They either end up signing up for more space than they need or too little. Whereas, with spaces like Launch Fishers, you provide entrepreneurs with more flexible environments to start their companies."

Securing office space at Launch Fishers starts with buying a membership. Members pay $500 a year for general use of conference rooms and furniture throughout the general open spaces. Then, members can upgrade as they grow. They can rent a desk, chair and locking cabinet for an additional $150 per month. Every time a member company adds a new employee, they pay an extra $150 per month and receive another desk, chair and locking cabinet.

This build-on-as-you-grow office space model tends to be a much better fit than the traditional commercial real estate market for the average startup, Wechsler said.

Launch Fishers member Jason Hutcheson, CEO of Iconic Digital Agency, a digital marketing firm, was initially drawn to the conference rooms and flexible office space of Launch Fishers. Before signing up, he conducted most of his business out of his home and at coffee shops. After his company hired its first employee, though, he wanted real office space to appear more professional to clients. They became members two years ago, shortly after Launch Fishers opened.

Iconic Digital Agency has gotten more out of its membership than Hutcheson ever expected. In addition to the flexible office space, Launch Fishers regularly hosts entrepreneur networking and symposium events and offers the opportunity to work with other talented, creative young professionals. The business owners become friends and often refer each other to potential clients or hire each other for work outside their own spectrum, Hutcheson said.

The member companies at Launch Fishers represent a wide range of industries with high-growth potential. Most of them are known as disruptive innovation-driven entrepreneurs, meaning that they develop new technology that improves an existing product or service in a way the market does not expect, such as wearable technology, computer products such as smartwatches and fitness trackers that are worn on the body.

Having so many creative people working in open spaces in one building, great things happen, Wechsler said.

"When you have this critical mass of companies working together in the same building, you get what I like to call serendipitous collisions," Wechsler said. "People just bump into each other and get stuff cooking all of the time. They might meet over a cup of coffee, and the next thing you know, they're working on a software project together."

Although Iconic Digital Agency has grown to five employees since becoming a member and their clients continue to multiply, they have no interest in moving out anytime soon. The plan is to move with Launch Fishers to its larger new location.

"It's been fun to watch Launch Fishers take off and see other communities start to develop their own co-working spaces," Hutcheson said. "It's exciting to see what this trend can do for the Indiana economy."

Fadness encouraged other city and county governments to think creatively about economic development and consider bringing a business incubator or co-working space to their own communities. It's been a wise move for Fishers, he said.

"I think it was money well spent, and the return on investment will last for many years to come," he said.

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