Launch Indy: Providing Coworking Space and Support to Small Businesses in Indianapolis


In this week’s episode, I talk with Katie Birge, executive director at Launch Indy, which is located in Union 525. Launch Indy is a coworking space and entrepreneurship center for nonprofits, remote workers, and any small business. As a coworking space, they are there for anyone looking for a downtown, part-term, daytime office solution. In addition to providing office space, they offer recurring meetups as well. 

I think that starting a business is, in some ways, easier than ever because we have good tools. But it’s also harder than ever because you have to have access to those tools.
— Katie Birge

I am excited to talk with Katie about the 12-week social impact accelerator hosted by Launch Indy. This program is for early-stage enterprises that are either a nonprofit or a for-profit entity with a social impact angle. She discusses details of the accelerator, including a mentorship program, in order to pair local business owners and entrepreneurs with appropriate members of the accelerator. Launch Indy is seeking mentors as well as volunteers for the next cohort. To learn more, please go to

Topics in this episode

  • Goal of the current accelerator

  • The social business model canvass

  • Preparing your pitch deck

  • Details on pitch day at the end of the 12-week program

  • Future accelerators of Launch Indy

  • The digital divide

  • Program to provide laptops to local entrepreneurs

Contact Info


Mike Kelly:                          Welcome to the podcast. Today we have Katie Birge, who's the executive director at Launch Indy at Union 525. Katie.

Katie Birge:                         Hello. Happy to be here. Thank you. Glad you could be with us. All right. I'm giggling because of some of our pre show talk, which I'm going to ambush you with halfway through this. I just want you to know that. All right. Why don't you tell us about Launch Indy? What is Launch Indy? What do you guys do?

Katie Birge:                         Yeah, we're a nonprofit coworking space and entrepreneurship center for nonprofits, remote workers, any kind of small business, really. We do have tech companies there because we're in the Union 525 building, which is all tech office space but we're certainly, as a coworking space within it, very open to anybody that's looking for a downtown part-term or daytime office solution.

Mike Kelly:                          All right. And then I wanted to have you on because you had mentioned that you guys are getting ready to launch a social impact accelerator.

Katie Birge:                         Yes. Thank you for mentioning that. So as a coworking space, we do provide office space but we also have some recurring meetups and then something that we're really excited about this next cohort, and that's our social impact accelerator.

Katie Birge:                         It is a 12-week program for very early stage social enterprises. That can be a nonprofit, it can be a for profit entity with a kind of do good angle to it. Think about Tom Shoes, but on a much earlier stage in their business process scale. It could be a benefit corporation. And we're really just looking for, again, very early stage companies, so either pre-revenue or very early revenue.

Katie Birge:                         It's not really for the, we have several hundred thousand dollars in ARR and we're seeking $1 million in funding. Our goal is to get you to the point where you can be that way quicker.

Mike Kelly:                          Okay. What is the programming made up of? What would I ... Let's say I was bringing you Mike Shoes.

Katie Birge:                         Yeah. Excellent.

Mike Kelly:                          What would be the-

Katie Birge:                         I love the idea for Mike Shoes.

Mike Kelly:                          What-

Katie Birge:                         I'm onboard already.

Mike Kelly:                          Super original.

Katie Birge:                         Yes. So it is catered to social enterprises and not tech companies specifically so some of the topic areas are broad because it has to encompass business assistance for both tech companies and non tech companies. But you'll be covering the social business model canvas, which is an updated version of the traditional business model canvas that a lot of people use to create kind of nimble, agile business plans.

Katie Birge:                         And then we'll go over customer discovery, how to prepare your pitch deck. And that's, again ... Preparing pitch deck, people can ... People have wildly different opinions about what should be on it. In this case, it's to prepare you for our pitch day at the end of it. So it might not be a pitch deck to prepare you for funding because it's a very different type of pitch deck. But for a lot of the businesses that are either just starting out, social enterprises or non tech social enterprises, pitch decks are kind of a new topic.

Katie Birge:                         The goal is just to get people to the point where they can pitch on that comfortably and to provide them the practice. We also have a mentorship program through it, so we pair local business owners, entrepreneurs with appropriate businesses for them. If you're a successful education entrepreneur and you've got a social enterprise that's focused on the education field, I'm going to put you together.

Katie Birge:                         Those mentors are actually ... By the way, quick plug, always seeking more mentors. But those mentors meet one on one on a regular, semi-regular basis or communicate by email semi-regularly through the course of this 12-week program.

Mike Kelly:                          If somebody wants to become a mentor, how do they do that?

Katie Birge:                         Yeah. For any of this, if you want to learn more, you can just email That's just a standard K-A-T-I-E We also have information about the social impact accelerator on our website.

Katie Birge:                         Right before I got here I had to write down how to find it and I was hoping it would just be like or something like that. But it is not. You'll go to then you'll click on get involved and then there's a social impact tab.

Mike Kelly:                          It's not that bad.

Katie Birge:                         Yeah. But the actual URL involves lots of hyphens and slashes and long words. So just LaunchIndy's website, get involved, social impact. And we're updating that all the time.

Mike Kelly:                          Who attends pitch day?

Katie Birge:                         Ah. The very first pitch day ... This is going to be our second cohort. We ran the first one late December through late March this year and the ... Pitch day we had about a hundred attendees. And in full transparency I did not market it very well so I thought a hundred was kind of amazing.

Katie Birge:                         And we had investors that were interested in learning more about social enterprises. You know, more and more investors are saying, "I want to do something good. And one way that I can do good as an investor is to invest in social enterprises."

Katie Birge:                         In fact, there are some venture firms now that just focus on social enterprises, which is great. But lots of just one person investors that are looking to diversify their portfolio in a way that makes them feel good. So we had several of those. People from local and regional community foundations were in attendance, several bigger social enterprises came to show support. Mentors, obviously a few Launch Indy members in there. And then just people who are interested in the social enterprise space but don't know how to get involved yet.

Katie Birge:                         One really great outcome of the first pitch competition was ... I think that we had nine companies participate in the program and I think that every one of them, after their pitches, had someone come up to them from the audience and say, "Hey, I want to help you with X."

Katie Birge:                         In some cases, people's first round of their pitch deck was a relative disaster. But people came and said, "Hey, I can help you with your pitch deck. It needs a ton of work. I'm ready." Or, "Hey, I'd be very interested in interning for you this summer for free because it's something I believe in."

Katie Birge:                         So really great feedback from the audience and just proud of people that are interested in social enterprise.

Mike Kelly:                          Do you know when that next pitch today is going to be?

Katie Birge:                         Great question. I do not. I can tell you that I just adjusted the timeline and applications for the program are live now through August 31st.

Mike Kelly:                          K.

Katie Birge:                         Let's see. September, October, November. You're looking at a late November pitch day, possibly first week of December. More information to follow at Get involved. Social impact.

Mike Kelly:                          You know you could create a Bitly.

Katie Birge:                         I know.

Mike Kelly:                          K. All right.

Katie Birge:                         I know.

Mike Kelly:                          It's all good. I expect more from somebody who had their own morning show in college.

Katie Birge:                         Yeah, yeah.

Mike Kelly:                          All right.

Katie Birge:                         No and listen, that's the beauty of a morning show. Am I awake yet?.

Mike Kelly:                          Real quick, tell me more ... I've not seen the social business model canvas.

Katie Birge:                         Yes.

Mike Kelly:                          What are the different parts?

Katie Birge:                         Yeah, absolutely.

Mike Kelly:                          Tell me about them?

Katie Birge:                         It's really similar ... I haven't looked at it in about five months, but it's very similar to the traditional business model canvas, but it has a couple of additional categories for impact. For example, when you talk about revenue streams on a traditional business model canvas, there's also a section for how some of that revenue will be used to make social impact.

Katie Birge:                         If you're Tom Shoes, that answer is to manufacture more shoes-

Mike Kelly:                          Right.

Katie Birge:                         -To give to people in need. If you're ... I'm trying to think of other benefit corporations. If it's Patagonia, it might be their extra revenue will go towards carbon offsets or planting new trees or something. I have no idea what Patagonia's business model is.

Mike Kelly:                          You probably nailed it.

Katie Birge:                         Yeah. It's a good guess, I would say. An educated guess. So it includes an area for that and then it also ... On a traditional business model canvas, there's this section where you talk about who are our customers and for a lot of social enterprises there's an answer to who your customers are in terms of who is buying your product or your services. But then there's also a component of who are the beneficiaries. So identifying who benefits from it.

Katie Birge:                         So if you're ... Gosh, this is really testing my level of knowledge on well-known benefit corporations and social enterprises. But for example, if you're a marketing firm, this is an actual B corp in Indiana. If you're a marketing firm that donates a portion of your proceeds to provide web development for nonprofits, your customers are going to be different than your recipients. Your customers will be companies that need marketing assistance.

Mike Kelly:                          Right.

Katie Birge:                         And your beneficiaries will be nonprofits. So it's very similar to traditional business model canvas, but it does include what I would call sections for impact.

Mike Kelly:                          I like it. Thanks. Sorry to put you on the spot.

Katie Birge:                         Check it out. Yeah.

Mike Kelly:                          Yeah.

Katie Birge:                         It's okay. I'm very impressed with myself for getting through that.

Mike Kelly:                          Good. This is your second cohort for this ...

Katie Birge:                         Yep.

Mike Kelly:                          Accelerator. What other accelerators do you guys have?

Katie Birge:                         We currently don't have any. I've got a few grant applications out for some other specialized programs and so depending on if we get any of those or when we get them, it might be specialized topics.

Katie Birge:                         I would love to do a software focused or just specifically maybe a SAS focused accelerator but gear it towards audiences that are not already part of the SAS ecosystem here. So maybe people who it's their first time business or they've never worked for a tech company, but they have an idea for something that could be a SAS product.

Mike Kelly:                          OK.

Katie Birge:                         If I had to pick what would be next, I would do something like that. And then, again, pending some funding, I've got a lot out there, but I'd love to do a spread out over the entire school year accelerator program for collegiate women's companies.

Katie Birge:                         In Indianapolis, we have the opportunity to work with several colleges and universities.

Mike Kelly:                          Yeah.

Katie Birge:                         And then if you expand it within a 50 minute drive, you're adding Purdue, DePaul, probably Wabash, I don't know. Franklin. Several. So you do have a really robust network. And my observation, spending my time in Bloomington, business programs have a lot of work still to do in diversifying the men to women ratio so I would love to create a really strong support network, sisterhood, of women in business starting their own companies over the course of the year.

Mike Kelly:                          What does it take in grant funding to, to run a program like this?

Katie Birge:                         It depends on who you ask. We run a lean ship at Launch Indy, so for us any grant funding we're asking for would be to cover pretty much just the staff and a little bit of marketing materials. And so, that's gonna vary based on the size of the program.

Katie Birge:                         In the case of ... Well, I mean this first one we ran without any funding except some sponsorship from local software company One Cause, who provided the money for the pitch prizes. Everything else is just done by extra manpower, womanpower, whatever on my part.

Katie Birge:                         But I think that we're currently limited in our scope because of staffing because it's a party of one at Launch Indy. So until that changes, any grants that we apply for, based on the size of them, will be incredibly different based on how I envision staffing it.

Katie Birge:                         For example, tacking on an additional accelerator that's the scope of our current one would really just mean having the funding to pay someone part-time to do administrative stuff for the coworking space so I'm not doing administrative stuff. Or if it's someone who's interested in running the program, covering their salary and a little bit of marketing materials. Or everybody wants a T-,shirt until they don't cause they're tired of tee shirts. But for now everybody wants a T-shirt. So covering the cost of shirts, marketing materials and catering for demo day or something like that.

Katie Birge:                         In terms of bigger scale ... I have some curriculum written out for bigger, larger scale accelerator programs that require a staff of two or three people. So you're talking much larger grants on a national level that I'm just going for and swinging for and eventually one of them will be a good fit.

Mike Kelly:                          That's awesome.

Katie Birge:                         Yeah.

Mike Kelly:                          Have you talked to any of the local venture firms or communities about potentially sponsoring accelerators like those?

Katie Birge:                         I've had casual conversations, but I needed to lay a lot more groundwork in terms of what materials to present to them. This is probably the third time I've shared information about the accelerator on the podcast, but I've not done any active recruiting for funders on a local level.

Mike Kelly:                          Okay. All right. I'll let it go. But that sounds great. Anyway-

Katie Birge:                         If you're interested in sponsoring-

Mike Kelly:                          Yes. Exactly.

Katie Birge:                or, get involved, social impact.

Mike Kelly:                          You got to shorten that.

Katie Birge:                         I know. Bitly forthcoming.

Mike Kelly:                          What else are you guys doing right now?

Katie Birge:                         Right now, we're bringing back a monthly recurring pitch night for social enterprises. So this is independent of the accelerator program that we're running.

Katie Birge:                         The local chapter of Social Enterprise Alliance, which is a nationwide network of ... Think of it kind of like a Chamber of Commerce for social enterprises in your city. An Indianapolis Chapter, Central Indiana Chapter Rather, just spun up last Fall and it's actually kind of what prompted the first cohort of the accelerator. At their kickoff party, I ran a social business model canvas session and received feedback from the ... There weren't very many participants in my session. There were like five people and every one of them was like, "I need more help than this and you could help."

Katie Birge:                         So that's kind of what prompted the accelerator. But to support them as they grow, I think one thing launching you can do to contribute, and it's something that we did in the Fall and Winter and we kind of put off over the summer and we're ready to do again, is just a monthly pitch night to get people out of the woodwork to start meeting each other.

Katie Birge:                         And so, the companies pitching .. It's very, very low structure. So we've got one or two social enterprises that just do however long a pitch they want, within reason of course. I'm talking like five minutes or less.

Mike Kelly:                          That could be dangerous. Whatever. Yeah.

Katie Birge:                         That's what I mean. Anything you want.

Mike Kelly:                          K.

Katie Birge:                         It could be ... In some cases we've had people prepared to just stand up without any slides and just be like, "Hey, here's my name, here's my business, here's how we make money. Any questions?"

Mike Kelly:                          That's the Mike Shoes pitch. It's that easy.

Katie Birge:                         Yeah, it's that easy. It's like Tom Shoes for Mike's, like that's how you describe it. I also liked the idea that it only benefits people named Mike, so your beneficiaries and-

Mike Kelly:                          Correct.

Katie Birge:                         -Your business model canvas are only people named Mike who need shoes.

Mike Kelly:                          Turns out that still a third of the world's population.

Katie Birge:                         Yeah.

Mike Kelly:                          But, yeah.

Katie Birge:                         See? So it's a winning business model, frankly.

Mike Kelly:                          Yes.

Katie Birge:                         As a redhead, I always think how hard it would be for me to start a redhead specific business because of market share. It's so small and I've seen several redhead specific makeup companies fail because they can't get the market size that they need. But I always think man, like if only it were makeup for people named Mike or something like that. You'd be much better off. I think Mike Shoes, you're onto something there.

Katie Birge:                         Anyway, the structure is very simple for those enterprise pitch nights. It's really just one or two social enterprises. And then we try to bring in a resource partner. We've featured Central Indiana Social Enterprise Alliance before for them to talk about what they do. We've brought in attorneys before to talk about the state of social enterprises in Indiana because it's an area of interest to them and what makes your legal considerations different if you're a benefit corporation or a social enterprise than if you're just a standard brick and mortar business or software company.

Katie Birge:                         We've brought in investors several times to talk about why they like investing in social enterprises. So it's kind of ... It's a multipurpose event. It's to get people out of the woodwork. It's to get people talking to one another. And it's also ... One of the reasons I was doing it is I felt like people would come up to me, social enterprises would come up to me and go through this cycle of talking to me and then I would recommend they go talk to someone and then that person would go recommend someone else. And it was just this kind of unending cycle-

Mike Kelly:                          Less efficient.

Katie Birge:                         -Conversation and I can't stand inefficiencies like that so I was like, "Let's just get everybody together." So we're bringing those back for the Fall. It'll tie in nicely with what we're doing there. And then we also really recently fancified our coworking space and we have an art gallery now. So every quarter we going to new art installment from local artists and we just got a new one in last week.

Mike Kelly:                          Nice.

Katie Birge:                         Yeah, I encourage you to stop by. We don't do the curation. Someone does that for us, which is good because it would just be like me finding kids that do finger paintings or something.

Mike Kelly:                          Who does that?

Katie Birge:                         Putting it on the wall. Her name is Amy. I can look it up while I kill some time. Our current artist is Alyssa Frazier and she does digital collages and she is very cool. Amy Ward handles our curation of local artists and she also does the coffee shop inside the Union 525 building as well. And I think she painted the murals in the coffee shop.

Mike Kelly:                          Nice. All right. And then you recently twisted my arm to get me to buy a couple of laptops.

Katie Birge:                         Yes.

Mike Kelly:                          Why don't you talk about that?

Katie Birge:                         Yes. Thank you, first of all, for your donation and second for giving me an avenue to talk about that.

Katie Birge:                         One thing that I have loved about the social enterprises is that the business owners are coming from all kinds of places. So you've got software developers at existing companies spinning off a social enterprise for robotics program. You've got a recent college graduate who's running a nonprofit coming to the table to grow her enterprise. And then you've got people from, for example, economically depressed parts of the city who have really compelling ideas that can make an impact in their community but they've never started a business before and also have probably not had a job that mandates they know how to build a pitch deck or work collaboratively on documents or something.

Katie Birge:                         So one thing that came out of the first cohort was that several of our participants ... We had a great session on how to build a pitch deck, but the reality of the situation is that not everyone has a computer. And it's something that ... In the early 2000s, academic researchers were really hip to the digital divide and they were like, "There is a growing digital divide amongst America. And it comes down to several types of access."

Katie Birge:                         So physical access, do you have a computer? Motivational access, are you motivated to use it? Skills access. Once I have a computer, do I know what to do? And then just usage access, like the basics of open Google, find what you're looking for.

Katie Birge:                         So that's a conversation that was like very hot in the early 2000s and then kind of fell out of fashion because the business world really caught everyone up as far as they were concerned on access. But it's something that's actually still really prevalent. So I think about the fact that when I was in high school, we were one of the first schools in southern Indiana to get laptops. To me that means, first of all, cool for us, but second, it means that almost every school in the region didn't have laptops for several more years. And then there are probably some school districts that have still never gotten them. And we take it for granted working in the tech and business world that everybody probably has them now or oh, your smartphone can do anything.

Katie Birge:                         That's fine, but I think there are whole generations of people my age and older that have never had a computer, are missing some of the key components of types of access that I was just talking about. And that's having an incredible impact on how much they can accomplish in terms of starting a business. I think that starting a business is in some ways easier than ever because we have good tools, but it's also harder than ever because you have to have access to those tools.

Mike Kelly:                          Right.

Katie Birge:                         So in light of that, and to support a couple of the entrepreneurs in the first social impact cohort this Spring, we've got a fundraiser going out of Launch Indy. Every $200 we raise funds a Chromebook, which is ... I don't know how much time you spend on a Chromebook. It's kind of like computer lite. So it's kind of a-

Mike Kelly:                          Computer Lite.

Katie Birge:                         It is.

Mike Kelly:                          Google is not a sponsor to this podcast.

Katie Birge:                         No, Google is-

Mike Kelly:                          Now they never will be.

Katie Birge:                         I know. I mean I have a Chromebook that I use at Launch Indy. It's like the exact same model that we give the recipients. But in the same way that your phone runs Android operating system or IOS and IOS is not the same as what's running on your MacBook.

Mike Kelly:                          Yeah.

Katie Birge:                         Chromebooks are very similar, so you'll have icons for email on it and it'll just bring up your Gmail account. Same with Google Docs. So the beauty of Chromebooks is that they are so affordable and they really are lowering the cost of entry for tech.

Katie Birge:                         So again, every $200 we raise is going towards a Chromebook for a local entrepreneur who doesn't have access to a computer. And the academic scholar in me, because I did study technologies, technology access in grad schools so I can't get away from this, is-

Mike Kelly:                          This is why you know so much about the digital divide.

Katie Birge:                         Yes.

Mike Kelly:                          All right.

Katie Birge:                         Absolutely.

Mike Kelly:                          Good.

Katie Birge:                         Taught classes on it.

Mike Kelly:                          I was wondering where that was coming from.

Katie Birge:                         Right. As Vandyke would say in 2002 ... The beauty of the, though, is that because keeping all of this in mind that we know about digital divide and access, we're not just giving away Chromebooks and telling everybody to have a nice day. So we're hosting numerous lunch and learns out of Launch Indy that are how to use free tools that entrepreneurs need to grow their business.

Katie Birge:                         The timeline and turnaround for this was very fast. The first iteration of it was Fundly, which is just like a Go Fund Me, for the first five and that was over two months, April and May, gave away the first four Chromebooks the first week of June.

Katie Birge:                         So very fast turnaround. Just an important public service announcement. If you buy Chromebooks on Best Buy's website, you can only do it two at a time. But if you go into the store, you can buy more. It doesn't seem like something that would matter.

Katie Birge:                         But we're already doing these lunch and learns. So we started them in in mid June but in a relatively short amount of time we've done how do you use Trello for project management, how do you use Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Forms, Google Slides. Because Google Slides actually has some really nice templates for PowerPoint presentations that you can use for pitch decks.

Mike Kelly:                          I live in the Google Slides.

Katie Birge:                         Yeah, exactly. The idea that you don't have to be spending money on all of this ... We did a session on Canva for all of your graphic design needs because Canva's free or if you buy the enterprise version, it's like $12 a month.

Katie Birge:                         And we recently did one on how to build a website in Squarespace. So we're really just trying hard to help level the playing field for small businesses in Indianapolis that were not previously participating using computers.

Katie Birge:                         So it's been great. We've already raised funds for, now thanks to you, 11 laptops. And we've actually got them all spoken for. I've got one more person waiting to pick one up and then we're good to go. And that's without really marketing it. I let a couple of local business organizations know that we had them and that's all I did.

Katie Birge:                         So it's certainly something that there's a need for and I think it's something that's easily scalable, doesn't have to be done by Launch Indy but I'm happy to keep running that operation. So it's something that's been really fun and really fast. I really like when things come together in a very smooth manner and local businesses have been great about stepping up and offering to teach the courses because you don't want me teaching how to use Trello for project management.

Mike Kelly:                          Nice.

Katie Birge:                         Can't do it.

Mike Kelly:                          Who taught that?

Katie Birge:                         That was Drew Kensius from B Life. They teach agile development and he's like a Trello Guru so he stepped in and volunteered to teach that. I was worried I was going to have to try to train myself how to use Squarespace or force our software development intern to do it and then one of our member companies, KS Gilmore Consulting, stepped up and offered to do it.

Katie Birge:                         So I've been really lucky that people have stepped up and offered. I have had to teach a couple of sessions myself. I offered to myself, to do the Google Slides, Google Docs session. But I'm always open to new ideas, too. I'm not a tech entrepreneur, myself, and so the tools I use are not necessarily the tools that are always going to be most relevant. So I also welcome suggestions there.

Mike Kelly:                          You've a lot of awesome ways for people to get involved.

Katie Birge:                         Yes.

Mike Kelly:                          At whatever level they want to.

Katie Birge:                         That's why we have a whole tab for it on the website.

Mike Kelly:                          Yes. A whole tab.

Katie Birge:                         Yes. Yeah. So we really always welcome volunteers for those lunch and learns. If companies want to make small donations that make a big impact, those Chromebook donations are just a really easy way to do that. And then at Launch Indy, the programming that I offer is limited only by my bandwidth. So if big companies are looking to make a corporate level donation for something that can really make an impact, we're also always looking for sponsors of our space as well.

Mike Kelly:                          Awesome. All right. Is there anything we didn't cover that you hoped we would? We're just about out of time.

Katie Birge:                         Gosh, I don't think so. I think you ask all the right questions. We did all cover.

Mike Kelly:                          All right. I'm sure people have no idea how to get ahold of you-

Katie Birge:                         Yeah.

Mike Kelly:                          -If they have a question. If they had a question-

Katie Birge:                         Check the get involved tab. No, you can email me You can call the number on our website. I'm the only person who gets that so I will pick it up. I can't ignore it in case it's a telemarketer because it could be something important. So I will answer your call every time. Or just stop by Launch Indy. I'm there every day.

Mike Kelly:                          Awesome. Hey, real quick.

Katie Birge:                         Yes.

Mike Kelly:                          Where in Union 525 are you?

Katie Birge:                         Oh, excellent question. We're in the south/southeast quadrant of the building and I know it's a labyrinth but we're in suite 1C so during business hours you can reach us by going through startup alley from the lobby and look for the doors that say Launch Indy. We are pretty well marked. Or you can go back through the coffee shop and just rattle the door handle until someone comes to open it for you.

Mike Kelly:                          Right on. All right. Hey, thank you so much.

Katie Birge:                         Yes. Thank you for the opportunity.