Three Housing Solutions For Startups

“When you’re an entrepreneur, the last thing you want to do is worry about where you’re going to live.” – Connor Bowlan, Cintric

startup housingAs more cities look to attract young entrepreneurs and homegrown startups, housing is not usually the first topic of conversation, but is an important factor in attracting the next generation of talent.

Here are three examples of unique programs helping provide housing for young entrepreneurs:

Startup Residence Hall

The Brandery in Cincinnati is one of the country’s top startup accelerator programs. They attract a new crop of young entrepreneurs each year, most from outside of the area. Many of these companies are actively building the startup that just earned them a place in The Brandery’s program. Housing in a new city is the last thing they have time to worry about.

To solve this problem, The Brandery teamed up with Urban Sites to a create a first-in-the-nation housing model for startups that participate in their program. The accelerator signed a lease for two buildings to house the 10 to 12 startups that it accepts annually. And for the startups? They get affordable housing, close to the office, with landlord who’s willing to negotiate a short-term lease.

Startup Crib

Billed as as Airbnb for startups, Cribb is also helping solve the temporary housing problem for teams that just need a space for 3-6 months. Cribb is a platform which enables investors and celebrities to offer promising startups the use of their vacant homes for free, in return for equity.

Startups apply on the site and Cribb reviews each company. Those that pass the screening process are introduced to homeowners who match their needs and interests. The homeowner can then decide to accommodate the startup in return for five percent of their business. Homeowners get to invest and startups get to innovate… in style!

Housing Revitalization

Frank Wells has a plan to house startups that helps revitalize the cities that attract them. Clusters of abandoned, boarded up homes are driving down property value across the country. Turning these parts of a city around requires more than a paint job; it takes profound revitalization.

Wells is the President and CEO of Venture House. The St. Petersburg, Florida organization plans to buy multiple clusters of 5-10 homes across the area, fix them up, and then offer them to entrepreneurs that commit to live there and be involved in their new community.

“You can’t make a dent in the problem thinking about it as one house at a time,” he told Fast Company of the $5 million plan. “We have to think about it as 100 houses and a whole portfolio. That’s the kind of scale to make a dent.”



image by Venture House


Pigeonly’s Frederick Hutson: Lessons From An Unexpected Innovator

Frederick-HutsonI had the opportunity to meet Frederick Hutson at the Collision Conference in Las Vegas. During an event full of world-class startups, speakers and investors, one of the most innovative people in the room was from one of the most unlikely places of all.

Hutson is a serial entrepreneur and founder of Pigeonly, a leading startup in the field of VOIP (Voice Over IP) communications. The fact that Pigeonly has raised $3 million in funding and recently joined the prestigious Y Combinator program is not that unusual. The fact that Hutson served a four-year federal prison sentence for drug trafficking is.

Pigeonly’s products serve prison inmates, their family and loved ones. Telepigeon significantly lowers the cost of prison phone calls and Fotopigeon makes it easy to send photo lab quality printed photos to inmates, right from your phone.

It was unexpected to meet Hutson and hear about his success, but it should not be a surprise. The people in prison are “highly entrepreneurial minded,” he said. “They understand the basics of business. How to buy a product and how to sell a product.” In fact, Hutson notes that prisons are a natural pool of entrepreneurs. Much like in his case involving the sale of drugs, the business model was just wrong. “You got the product wrong, the goal was wrong, but if you can apply that same drive and bottom line principles to something positive then now you have a viable business.”

Hutson’s story of success also offered several innovation lessons that any business can apply:


Hutson had plenty of time in prison, but he still had to be disciplined to think about new developments. “My creative outlet is thinking of ideas,” said Hutson. To hone his skills and pass the time, he would find problems and then think of ways to solve them. He encouraged others to focus and find time to simply think. Hutson left prison with a “pile of business plans” based on his time spent problem solving.

Share Your Ideas

“Prison is a reflection of the outside, but in a smaller scale,” said Hutson. Inmates tend to gravitate to like-minded individuals and Hutson benefitted from a group that was hungry to learn. He had the ability to bounce ideas off “all sorts of people.” There were white-collared guys that were experts at trading, guys that knew insurance and many different experiences running a business. Hutson was able to create a “powerful environment” that allowed him to hone his ideas. What people are you sharing your ideas with? Do you meet regularly with like-minded individuals? Does that group include a variety of disciplines and industry backgrounds? Every would-be innovator should build this type of opportunity for themselves.

Pay Attention to Problems

Inmates want to connect with loved ones, but there are only a couple of companies that handle the vast majority of communications in and out of prisons because messages need to be carefully screened. This means that prisoners — who are already vulnerable and often lower-income — get gouged. Three hundred minutes can cost as much as $70. Hutson understood this pain point, because he experienced it. Pay attention to the problems in your day to day life. solved a problem “that nobody knew existed.” What other underserved areas are ripe for new solutions?

Your Background is Your Qualification

“The problems we’re solving, folks in Silicon Valley can’t solve.” Hutson’s background uniquely qualified him to build a business that nobody else understood. What are you uniquely qualified to deliver to the world? We all have different backgrounds, different experiences and different skills. Much like Frederick Hutson, everyone is capable of being a unique expert for solving a problem in the world.

Problems, Not Trends

“Don’t follow the trends, follow the problems,” said Hutson. Pigeonly focused on a real problem that Hutson understood and was able to solve. There is “value in going where nobody else is going” and “working on something nobody else is paying attention to.”

Focus on the Consumer

Hutson strives to keep Pigeonly’s focus on his customers. “We have thousands of people that need our product and rely on us every day. We want to focus on our customer needs… the families, the loved ones.” There is value in understanding your customer better than anyone else can.

Good Business

Pigeonly is admittedly a business focused on a social problem as much as it is on profit, but Hutson never questioned setting the company up as a for-profit organization. “Profit and doing good are not mutually exclusive. You have a lot more leverage to build what the user needs in a for-profit model.”

Customers Matter

Because of Pigeonly’s success, Hutson is often asked how he convinced investors to back his ideas. “The easiest way to convince someone that what you’re working on matters is to have paying customers.” This is a valuable lesson for both startups and established businesses. Provide true solutions for unmet needs in the marketplace, and support will come.

Frederick Hutson is not the usual innovator. He didn’t follow current trends, but instead chose to solve a problem he experienced firsthand and knew was underserved. He didn’t focus on raising money, but instead focused on building the best products for his customers. He didn’t share the same background as other tech entrepreneurs, but this is what enabled him to solve different problems that nobody else was solving.

Beer Solves Business Problems AND Makes You Happy

During her interview for the IBJ’s 2015 Forty Under 40, Speak Easy Executive Director, Denver Hutt, spoke about the important roles socializing and beer play in the collaboratiove environment being built there.

“Members grab beers, hang out and are more social at the end of the workday. They put their guard down. They discuss business problems. That’s great.”

Turns out that beer not only helps create a more collaborative social environment for entrepreneurs, it can also create a more pleasurable environment for employees of larger corporations.

According to Fast Company, construction workers were found to be the happiest in TINYpulse’s 2015 Best Industry Ranking Report. The reason? Beer.

“This is an industry that has many walks of life with people working in an office to people out on site,” he says. “One thing that unites everybody at the end of the day is kicking back for a little bit with a few beers and talking stuff out—the good and the bad. If people have an issue, they will come see a manager during office hours, but sometimes the best environment is when people can relax a bit and just have a drink alongside a manager.”

Go raise a glass, or a pint, to collaboration and happiness in your work!

Innovation Lessons From The IBJ’s Forty Under 40


The current issue of the Indianapolis Business Journal recognizes their 2015 Forty Under 40 recipients. This group of leaders represents all industries from technology, academia, health care, construction and many more. Interviews with the group also reveal many lessons on what it takes to be more innovative in your own work and organizations.

Innovation Lessons from the IBJ’s Forty Under 40:

Get Out in The Field

Milhaus Development’s Micah Hill shares the importance of working out in the field to gain a better understanding of the industry he is now a leader in. During his college years, Hill worked in construction. “I was fascinated with the creation and formation of things… It was great experience in understanding…”

Collect More Dots

Innovation is about collecting and connecting dots. And if you want to connect more dots, you’ve got to put more dots on the canvas. Speak Easy Executive Director, Denver Hutt, emphasizes that one of her missions is “to meet cool people doing cool things.” This put her in position to meet many area founders and led to her job at The Speak Easy.

Continued Learning

Mainstreet’s Adlai Chester, discusses the importance to always be learning about your industry. “It’s too easy to think you have it figured out,” he said, “but that’s the time you set yourselgf up for failure… We have to make sure we are in the front edges of changees in the industry.”

Be Curious

The Colts’ Carlie-Irsay Gordon admits that she is “interested in everything”. This appetite for new knowledge led to studies in both religion and phsychology. It also helps drive her involvement with many different Indianapolis organizations including Park Tudor School, Riley Children’s Foundation and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art.

Experian principal, Vijay Mehta, also emphasized the role curiosity plays in his success. “The best way to grow is try new things and never settle for the status quo,” he said. “I’m always looking for new opportunities, new ideas, new technology…”

Don’t Let Off The Gas

Many organizations find it tempting to take it easy after launching a successful innovation. The Excel Center’s Joe White issues a lesson in taking your foot off the gas. Twice during his football career, Joe found himself not taking his training seriously. “The biggest lesson I learned through athletics is to always prepare for transition,” White said. “You can be good where you are, but you have to prepare for what’s coming next.” That means you should always be innovating. You should be the organization that replaces your own product in the market with the next big thing.

Step Off The Trail and Explore

Governor Pence’s Health Care Policy Director, Brian Neale, tries to look at the map in business or travel for opportunities to find new routes. “What we’re trying to do with health care is to extend the trail of reform into new territory. The scenery changes when you step off the trail, and that can be some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.” Go explore.

To help spark ideas for Milhaus’ construction projects, Micah Hill prefers to travel, especially to visit other cities “to see what’s going on there with development and architecture.” Find ways to explore your industry in new places and new settings.

Be Social

A dominant feature of The Speak Easy is its bar. Denver Hutt emphasizes the key role it plays in developing collaborative relationships and new ideas. “Members grab beers, hang out and are more social at the end of the workday. They put their guard down. They discuss business problems. That’s great.”

Improv Night

Novelist Ben H. Winters shared about the important role performing improvisation has played in his writing success. “That’s how conflicts are created. You also learn to collaborate.” And don’t think improv is just for creative artists. Local improv group, ComedySportz Indianapolis, offers team building and corporate training. It turns out that that improv fundamentals work very well in business – the importance of co-creation, building on others’s ideas and working without a script.

Be Risky

“People believe they are forced to take the first thing for stability,” says Central Indiana Corporate Partnership’s Betsy McCaw. “But to take a risk – to trust yourself and the skills you’ve built – that can go a long way in one’s career and one’s life.”

Embrace Creativity

The final lesson comes from Hillenbrand Director of Human Resources, Jason Riley. When asked what will make it easier to recruit locally, he said, “Indianapolis is growing and evolving, which is exciting. But it has a reputation for being conservative. The more we embrace creativity and take calculated risks, the more we turbocharge the city.”

Start applying these lessons and you’ll not only turbocharge your city, you’ll also turbocharge innovation in your organization.

Where do you people watch?

people watch

“I like people-watching and fading into crowds.” Kristen Johnston

At TEDx Indianapolis 2014, visitors to the Analog Lounge were asked to write down the best places in Indianapolis to people watch. Where are your favorite places for the sport of people-watching? These answers give you several to check out.

The best place in Indianapolis to people watch is…

at Sporting Events

  • Indianapolis 500
  • Indiana Pacers games
  • Indianapolis Colts games
  • Indy Eleven games
  • Indianapolis Indians games
  • Circle City Classic

at Annual Events

  • Irvington Halloween Festival
  • Indiana Black Expo
  • TEDx Indianapolis
  • The Indiana State Fair
  • Gay Pride festivities

at Special Events

  • First Fridays
  • Weddings on Monument Circle

in Neighborhood Places

  • Mass Ave.
  • The corner of Michigan and Senate
  • The bus stop
  • East 10th Street
  • My front porch

in Coffee Shops and Restaurants

  • Tin Comet Coffee
  • Bub’s Burger’s on the Monon (Carmel)

in Bars and Nightclubs

  • Talbott Street
  • Chatterbox Jazz Club
  • Chumley’s (Broad Ripple)

in City Places

  • City-County Building
  • Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (Hilbert Circle Theatre)
  • IUPUI Campus Center

at Outdoor Attractions

  • 100 Acres Park (Indianapolis Museum of Art)
  • Monument Circle
  • Canal Walk
  • Monon Trail
  • B-Line Trail (Bloomington)

in Creepy Places

  • Their closet…


“I’ve learned people are watching, so don’t do nothing stupid.” Bruno Mars



How do you pause?

I pause by

“Learn to pause… Or nothing worthwhile will catch up to you.” Doug King

At TEDx Indianapolis 2014, visitors to the Analog Lounge were asked how they “pause”. Their answers reveal some great lessons on how to hit the Pause Button in our own lives:

I Pause By…


  • Walking in the woods
  • Walking my dog
  • Going on a walk by myself
  • Taking a walk in the park


  • Driving nowhere
  • Taking a long drive with the windows down
  • Singing loudly in my car

Enjoying Nature

  • Quiet time in nature
  • Standing in my garden
  • Hiking
  • Bootcamping
  • Going rock climbing
  • Sitting under trees


  • Writing in my diary
  • Journaling
  • Practicing my creative writing

Taking Intentional Actions

  • Turning off my phone
  • Reminding myself to live in the moment
  • Challenging the status quo


  • Listening to music
  • Listening to Il Postino
  • Indie Rock n Roll
  • Listening


  • Going to a busy place, chillin’, and watching other humans be busy
  • Watching mindless reality TV

Being Creative

  • Playing guitar
  • Drawing something
  • Sketching ideas

Enjoying a Drink

  • Drink cold beer
  • A good cup of coffee

Being Calm

  • Meditating
  • Breathing deeply
  • Praying
  • Chillin’

Enjoying Kids and Pets

  • Playing with my son
  • Giggling with my daughter
  • Pet my cat

How do you pause?

 “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” Ferris Bueller


Life Lessons From Indianapolis Leaders

The Interview Issue

“Let’s be Indianapolis and be awesome at being Indianapolis.” – Denver Hutt


What I learned from the IBJ’s Interview Issue:

 Be professional, not serious.

“Take your job seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously.” Scott Newman – Former Prosecutor, Marion County

Failure is okay. In fact, embrace it.

“The idea is to learn from mistakes. How can you learn from mistakes if you focus on the negative?” Sarah Fisher – CEO, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing

“I tend to think that if you’ve never failed, you probably also aren’t pushing yourself that hard. You’re probably not challenging the status quo.” Denver Hutt – Executive Director, The Speak Easy

We are all innovative.

“Americans are innovative. We’re going to create new businesses… The opportunities to latch on to some of this innovation are innumerable.” Richard Lugar – Former US Senator

Talk to people.

“There is still something very, very powerful in the spoken word. It’s still what initiates faith, and sustains faith, and encourages and empowers people.” Jeffrey Johnson – Senior Pastor, Eastern Star Church

Break bread with people.

“Having breakfast or coffee or a beer with that source allows you time to get to know the person a little bit before you get to the serious business.” Matt Tully – Columnist, Indianapolis Star

Be open minded.

“You ought to be able to have an ongoing dialogue with people who have different points of view than you. You ought to be able to sit down and be able to work on matters of practical significance.” Scott Pelath – Minority Leader, Indiana House of Representatives

“There is no possibility of evolution or change if people stay in their own camps and never step outside their boundaries. Change comes from interaction. When people see how our difference are fewer than the things that are same, that’s where change comes.” Michael Feinstein – Artistic Director, Center for the Performing Arts

Seek joy, not happiness.

“Happiness is all external. Joy is what you feel on the inside.” Amp Harris – Owner, Amp Harris Productions

It’s okay to enjoy cheap beer.

“I invented the Schlabst! Milwaukee’s black and tan, Schlitz on the bottom and Pabst on top.” Peter Wilt – President, Indy Eleven

My money saver of choice… High Life! Although I can’t wait to try a Schlabst.

Play is important.

“I look at my team now, and we have managers and executives from all different industries and backgrounds. It’s kickball, so it’s our break from the work week, but those relationships also allow us to talk very candidly about what we’re working on and ways that we can help each other.” Denver Hutt

Help others.

“God wants us to be concerned about other people. Jesus was always blessing other people and never looking out for himself.” Jeffrey Johnson

“No matter what I’m working on, my mission is to help.” Amp Harris


“My favorite place to go? Anywhere there’s not a phone.” Scott Newman

Integrity matters.

“Back then, we took tobacco dollars. But now we’re from the school of thought that we’re not going to put a sponsor on something just to make money. From an integrity standpoint, we won’t do it.”

“We have to keep ourselves up to speed on what youth want and what they are interested in. But if we don’t approve of the language, we’re not going to do it.” Tanya Bell – CEO, Indiana Black Expo

Drink coffee.

“Once you have caffeine in you, all things are possible.” Matt Tully

It’s up to you… to be awesome!

“It’s really up to you to decide what kind of impact you want to have on the city. You have the ability to make an impact here at any age. You have the ability to do something awesome at any age. And you have the opportunity to rally, motivate, excite, educate, collaborate – all across the board.” Denver Hutt



ExactTarget Connections Heads to NYC. They’ll Be Back.

My reactive thoughts to this morning’s announcement that ExactTarget (er, has made the decision to move their Connections conference from Indianapolis to New York City: That sucks! They’ll be back.

That Sucks

I had the opportunity to experience my first Connections this year, and I was only there for the opening day. Wow! What an amazing event for Indianapolis. This city is truly becoming one of our country’s centers of innovation and Connections reflects this. Started less than a decade ago with just a few hundred folks, Connections has grown into one of the country’s largest marketing events with 10,000 people flocking to Indy this year. Indianapolis is at the center of the digital marketing world and this event provides the cherry on top.

It sucks to be losing an event that shines such a bright spotlght on Indianapolis. Of course it is important to bring 10,000 people in that provide an estimated economic impact of $7.9 million, but it is equally important for the impression this event leaves on folks. “Wow, that happened in Indianapolis?”, “Indianapolis is a great city, I should visit here more often.”, or “Indianapolis is full of talent. I made some great connections this week.”  Also, what about the pride this event gives those that live and work here, especially the hundreds at ExactTarget and thousands more working in the same digital marketing industry. Connections gave us bragging rights.

They’ll Be Back

I hate to use Lebron James for a comparison to anything, but he was one of my first thoughts when reading the news about Connections this morning. He chased the brighter lights of Miami, had some success (arguably unfulfilling success), and is now back where it all started in Cleveland. has it set in their mind that New York City has more to offer for Connections. The championship they are chasing is attendance and sponsorship dollars. Sure, the short term payoff may be there in New York, but this event has the potential to do just that in Indianapolis.

Attendance. Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis and more. I’m sure the folks at Visit Indy can rattle the numbers off the top of their heads, but all you have to do is look at a map to see how well positioned Indy is geographically to bring in attendance from a large portion of the country’s population. There’s a lot to be said for being able to hop in a car for a 4 hour or less drive than dealing with the headache of flying in for a multi-day conference.

Amenities. I spent years working event security in Indianapolis and had the opportunity to help support major events at both the convention center and professional sports venues. Visitors and event managers genuinely love Indianapolis. It costs less to visit here, it is easy to get to and most importantly, once you’re here, they love the experience downtown Indianapolis provides. In New York, the convention center is an expensive taxi ride away from the bright lights of Times Square, Central Park and other areas folks want to visit during their trip. In Indianapolis, Monument Circle, the White River Canal, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail and much more are just steps outside of the convention center doors. Connections is focused on maximizing their own product and ignoring some of the amenities that adds value for the customer.

TechPoint’s IndyX initiative is embracing the fact that young professionals want to chase the bright lights of bigger markets after they graduate from Indiana’s colleges and universities. Let them go. They’ll expand their worldviews, increase their networks and learn from new environments, but… they’ll be back. As these same young professionals start getting the itch to settle down, but still want to maintain a successful tech enviroinment, TechPoint is stepping in to remind them of Indiana’s benefits.

I say the same thing about Connections. Let them go. They’ll be back. Sure, attendance may increase in New York next year, but many current attendees won’t be happy about the move. We know that has already committed to maintaining a presence in Indy. ExactTarget isn’t going anywhere and the corporation wants to build their next office tower here. I think they’ll come back around to viewing Connections in the same way.

If you build it, they will come. ExactTarget continues to build Connections into a must attend event, not only for their customers, but for any marketing professional. The same success they envision in New York is absolutely attainable here in Indy. Continue growing Connections at the rate they are and the bright lights will come to Indy for it, they won’t have to take their show on the road to chase those lights. Ask Lebron James, he would probably tell you the same.



Nacho Mama!

ThinkKit 2013.13

LOL-Worthy. When did you laugh out loud this year?

yo mama ipad

One of the best parts of being a parent is getting to hear all the same jokes that I told as a kid when my own learn them at school (i.e. “spell I CUP”). Our oldest hit middle school this year, which brought with it the “Yo Mama” jokes. Most I had heard before, but this one had my wife and I rolling. Gotta love that a new generation is adapting an old joke to fit the times.

You wanna taco ’bout how funny this video is? “I’m nacho friend” and “let’s just taco ’bout it” are now official sayings in the Williams’ household. I laugh out loud just about every time. It just doesn’t get old.