Making your Coworking Space a Catalyst for a Tech Ecosystem


In many large cities, Coworking and shared office spaces can be found on most city blocks. What does the future of Coworking startups and technology-enabled companies look like, and where do shared workspaces fit in?

Known for flexible membership terms, shared meeting rooms, and access to amenities like parking, coffee and a printer, Coworking spaces play an important role in spinning up new companies and helping burgeoning startups grow.

At Launch Indy, a Coworking space for startups, non-profits, and social enterprises, we’ve found our location within a much larger ecosystem to be our biggest advantage.

You can find Launch Indy nestled in a modest office space within Union 525, an innovative 120,000 square foot former high school repurposed for tech startups and scale-ups. Union 525 celebrates 2 years of operation in downtown Indianapolis this fall, and here’s what we’ve learned about how both our Coworking space and the greater building are allowing companies to reach greater heights than in a traditional office environment.

Consider the Life Cycle of Technology Companies

The old adage that Rome wasn’t built in a day is equally true for burgeoning technology companies. In their infancy, many startups begin as a part-time ventures or side projects after a typical 8-to-5 workday.

As they mature, startups need space they can grow into as they scale. Here are some critical considerations we’ve embraced at Launch Indy and Union 525 and they may apply to many other operators for the same benefits:

* 24/7 building access for all tenant companies – This is true for part-timers working out of Coworking spaces as well as high-growth companies putting in extra hours before their next software release.

* Embrace flexible and short-term leases – Tech companies face uncertain growth. A 35-person company can double to 70 in only a few months if new funding comes through or a record-shattering quarter hits. Traditional commercial real estate leases aren’t built for that kind of rapid expansion. In addition to month-to-month options at Launch Indy and small office suites within Union 525, all of our leases for larger suites are relatively short-term (1-to-3 years). We’ve found that this has allowed us to attract companies in that sweet spot of rapid growth, and our companies don’t feel trapped by the 7- or 10-year leases most buildings offer.

* Know your size limits – While we love seeing Union 525 tenants succeed, we also know there may come a time that they outgrow the square footage here. When companies reach a size of 100-150 employees, we’re prepared to have conversations about their next move. Their success grows the whole ecosystem, even if it means watching them move to multiple floors in a much larger building offsite.

Regardless of the size of your space, it’s important to consider what you can offer to companies from 5 to 50 to 500 people. We’ve found that being able to accommodate for uncertain growth has been an asset to us as companies mature and fill any vacant space we have, creating a pipeline of tenants for our entire building.

Bring Everyone to the Table

Once a month, we gather representatives from the bigger tenants of Union 525 for open dialogue. It’s a brief meeting that covers upcoming events, building-related updates and any questions or concerns that might arise.

Last July, when 150 high school freshman descended upon the building for Purdue Polytechnic High School’s inaugural year, these meetings were instrumental in ensuring a smooth school year for the students and the tech companies in the building.

This intentional ecosystem-wide community building also has advantages from a real estate perspective. At Union 525, companies have been willing to swap out one office for another for the sake of helping neighboring tenants expand into the best spaces for their future growth. It has allowed us to keep growing companies here for as long as we can before they exceed our capacity.

Add Key Resources

While the vast majority of our 120,000 square feet at Union 525 is dedicated to technology companies, we’ve also found it beneficial to fill some of our smaller offices with resources vital to the tech ecosystem. Here are a few non-tech tenants who are actively contributing to the growth and success of companies here:

* University partners: We’ve found that several universities expressed an interest early on in participating in the building’s larger ecosystem. While we’re still exploring more ways to do this, we recommend embracing partnerships with nearby academic institutions. This benefits the researchers spinning up new ideas, but it also helps fill the talent pipeline in the building with interns and future hires.

* Industry partners: As Indiana’s leading supporter of technology companies and tech talent, Techpoint retains a satellite office here to stay in the know about the companies and programs at Union 525. Their presence here has allowed them easier access to growing companies and has given tenants the opportunity to be featured in Techpoint’s newsletter and blog. If your city, state, or region has industry resources looking for companies to feature, consider providing a space for them in your building. It helps them churn out content, and it’s free promotion for your building and the companies in it.

* Legal assistance: Companies of any size need some form of legal advice. We recommend open office hours featuring business-oriented attorneys and IP experts. Some tenants may already have legal representation, but if we can reach smaller companies when they’re not sure what types of legal help they need, we’re able to point those startups in the right direction much faster.

These resources, along with digital marketers, app development contractors, visiting venture capitalists, and consultants working out of the Coworking space, connect all the dots for startups and growing business. The presence of companies that provide valuable services for the tenants of the building is just as beneficial to the ecosystem as the tech companies themselves.

Celebrate the Space and the People in It

Dating back 123 years ago, the building that is now Union 525 opened as the first technical skills-focused high school in Indianapolis. It’s gone through a few renovations since then, but we’ve done our best to repurpose it for a modern workforce while still paying tribute to the building’s history.

The original basketball gym, now affectionately nicknamed “The Gem,” has been restored to its former glory and now plays host to pitch events, large training sessions, networking nights, and company parties. Building tenants have come together in the Gem for 3-on-3 basketball tournaments, end-of-year gatherings, and funding announcements.

We’ve outfitted the building’s courtyard with a 3-story slide, string lights, and tables — a big upgrade from its original use when the building was a school, but even more, a unique amenity we can boast to prospective building tenants.

In recent months, we built a coffee shop in the lobby of the building. Not only are we supporting a local coffee entrepreneur in the process, but more importantly, we’re bringing tenants out from their offices and creating meaningful interactions between companies in this common gathering place.

We’ve seen the coffee shop bring in customers from outside the building, too, connecting us to nearby business goliaths like Rolls-Royce and Eli Lilly.

Some of these additions and changes represent inspiration for changes you can incorporate into your space, while taking on a personality of its own.

As we look to expand Union 525’s footprint in coming years, we’d love to provide more spaces for our existing companies to grow into while bringing even more startups into the fold.

Consider building design and location as top of your list, but also the people behind these startups. Strive to create an environment that makes starting and growing companies as easy as possible, and always be responsive to the needs of the current and future tenants of your space.