Tim Valentine and Joshua Gaal started Train 918, their video-production company, at Butler. But after graduating in 2016, they needed a home base.
They found it at the Broad Ripple Speak Easy, which bills itself as “a place for entrepreneurs to create, collaborate, and learn.”
The Broad Ripple Speak Easy only offers community space, though, and with their business growing, the Train 918 partners needed dedicated office space. So they moved to the downtown Indianapolis Speak Easy—of which Butler University is a founding partner—where they have an office and a secure place for their equipment. Not only that, but they work alongside lawyers, graphic designers, programmers, and others trying to build new businesses. The opportunities to collaborate are abundant.
“What’s nice about the Speak Easy is the community,” Valentine said. “If you ever have a question, there’s tons of people that are here as resources. I can’t tell you the amount of times I get up and walk across to the guy next door, who’s a venture capitalist, and ask him a question about an email I’m going to send or a marketing strategy or anything like that. Everyone’s here trying to help each other out to get to that next step.”
Butler got involved with the Speak Easy in 2016 when the business was looking to expand beyond its Broad Ripple location. Andy Clark MBA ’99, a founder of the Broad Ripple Speak Easy, approached the University with the idea of a partnership downtown.
Melissa Beckwith, Butler’s Vice President for Strategy and Innovation, Chief Information Officer Pete Williams, and Lacy School of Business Dean Steve Standifird saw the potential.
“What an interesting opportunity from the standpoint of experiential education,” said Beckwith, who’s now a Speak Easy board member. “If you have this very entrepreneurial co-working space with all of these companies, it is another way to connect Lacy School of Business students into the working environment of these companies. There are all kinds of possibilities for internships and job placements. It’s another way to connect our students with the business community.”
The downtown Speak Easy, located at 47 South Meridian Street, is situated in a 12,000-square-foot space. With its exposed brick and pipes, rustic woodwork, and large common area where members can avail themselves of coffee and beer, it looks like something you’d expect to see in Seattle or Silicon Valley.
Travis Herring, Speak Easy Experience Manager, said the downtown venue has 17 offices with tenants. (Over all, the Speak Easy now has about 1,000 members and five locations in Central Indiana.)
Herring sees the space as a middle ground for fledgling businesses for whom working from a coffee shop might not be conducive to doing business but renting a large office might be too expensive. Membership costs $75 a month, or $750 a year (office space is additional), and gives members access to community space in the five Speak Easy locations.
Valentine said the office that Train 918 rents for about $1,200 a month has been “100 percent worth it. We as a company make that back monthly—easily—just by the connections that we make.”
Beckwith said the Speak Easy partnership has been worth it for Butler too. Butler students have been able to get involved with companies housed at the Speak Easy. Representatives from some of the companies have come to campus to work with students in the Real Business Experience classes. The Small Business Development Center, which became part of Butler on January 1, is housed in the Speak Easy. And the Speak Easy and Butler’s Executive Education program are working to develop a non-degree certificate program for Speak Easy members.
“There are so many benefits for us partnering with startups and creating synergies we can potentially offer beyond academic,” she said. “This is giving us an opportunity to be in the middle of a lot of companies.”