by Neil Brown
The droning hum and patterned ripple of that relentlessly scrapped pavement borders the maddening as I hurtle across the flat lands of southern Illinois. I’m alone on a two-lane state highway with the sun painfully crawling down the rear view mirror. Initially, the plan was to meander across the midwest. Check out Lincoln and Omaha, then Des Moines. Spend a couple of days in Chicago. Hit Toledo, and then Cleveland. However, the best plans are laid to waste—as we’ve learned. Distraction. New friends. Attention arrested.
Kansas City captured my imagination, and my time. Left to fend for myself, Jen flew to New York on Sunday for a week long intensive on sustainability and ethics in fashion and textiles at the Fashion Institute of Technology. It’s now Tuesday morning and I’m cranking through emails while filling up on caffeine at my temporal office, the Filling Station, in downtown Kansas City before hitting the road again. I have a deadline, Pittsburgh by Friday, to pick up Jen from the airport. Five states away. Three and a half days. Time is stubborn. It will not budge, not even for me. A recurring theme.
The Indianapolis skyline should be cresting the horizon. It is not. At the earliest, I will arrive close to 11 p.m. at my AirBnB host’s home — how inconsiderate! Thankfully, Matthew and Fae are wonderfully welcoming, and are not the least bit bothered by my late arrival. We talked beyond the stretches of midnight. As I learn about Matthew’s work, I’m fascinated. He develops and renews diverse, thriving communities through his role as Real Estate Director at King Park Development Corporation, a catalyst for improving the quality of life in the area’s neighborhoods. “Indianapolis is unique in that there are over a dozen similar organizations working in the city, while other cities our size have one, maybe two at most.”
King Park, situated adjacent to downtown Indianapolis, is experiencing significant change. With a desire and plan to develop a new model of neighborhood rebirth, all are welcome – new neighbors and long-term residents — and each is encouraged to have an equal contribution to neighborhood life and opportunities. Whether assisting local residents with home repair, presenting a variety of volunteer opportunities, providing local business investment, or acquiring the Tinker Flats building for preservation and to remediate environmental conditions, Kings Park Development’s goal is to build anew without losing (nor bulldozing) the heritage of the community. The organization fully realizes the inherent value of an inclusive and diverse neighborhood as the critical element to economic development. The area has a wide mix of residents representing various ages, races and religions. With a population over 7,500, the median age is 33 and the average income is just shy of $40,000. This diverse, dense population has afforded many entrepreneurs a prime market to launch a broad scope of successful, niche businesses ranging from a cafe and a coffee shop to a brewery and several restaurants to a small grocer and a collaborative commercial kitchen. Indy is making long-term community investments.
After a dashing glance at the hour-hand on the watch circling my narrow wrist, I bid my welcoming hosts goodnight and retreat upstairs to the attic ‘loft’ they let via AirBnB.
There is no rest for the weary. Shortly after sunrise I am on the hunt for Calvin Fletchers Coffee — cafes are a constant in our life these days — to meet with Melissa Martin, Indy AIGA President, after she wraps up her weekly with the creative team of Pivot Marketing where she serves as Art Director. Her genuine excitement for the creative community of Indy is infectious! An artist at heart, Melissa sees much in the future for Indianapolis. With a keen passion for personal development, she actively promotes educational opportunities for professional designers and students through her role as AIGA President.
Melissa has been with Pivot since 2012, shortly after they planted roots in Fountain Square — an up-and-coming neighborhood in town. She has experienced and actively supported the continued growth of the thriving, regional agency. “It’s been an amazing opportunity to be a part of a growing company” she explains, “and I’ve learned so much more than I ever expected.” Pivot is a dynamic and evolving agency in Indianapolis with plans to expand to other top regional markets. Founded a decade ago by Jenn Hoffman, the agency has flourished under her exceptional leadership. The commitment to their community is evident within their portfolio of stunning work. While their portfolio boasts a variety of local business clients, the firm has also been instrumental in developing many non-profits and institutions that are wholly focused on serving their city: NEAR, Indy Welcomes All, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, and more. Melissa is keenly aware of the benefit she’s received as a team member who has stayed committed to the course.
Staying the course – regardless the strength of the storm or height of waves – is a common experience for Kristian Andersen, co-founder of the recently launched High Alpha as well as many, many other ventures through the course of his career. A designer turned venture capitalist, Kristian is no stranger to commitment and risk. He has started over a dozen entrepreneurial endeavors. High Alpha is a venture studio specifically designed to conceive, launch and scale next generation enterprise cloud companies. Long-time collaborators and co-conspirators, the diverse founders and managing team of High Alpha have a wide breadth of experience and expertise. As a newly minted endeavor, the team came out of the blocks fast and strong with a capital fund of $35 million.
Andersen did not simply fall asleep one night a designer to awake an investor. Kristian started out in his early days working a typical design job — as do many creatives. It lasted less than a year. He struck out on his own, hustled hard, quickly becoming a successful freelancer. One day his father asked when he planned to make a real go of it — to build a real business and stop fooling around. Blunt yet wise, as many fathers advise. A moment of gravity for the young Andersen, he took notice of the pivotal consideration. His trajectory changed. He locked into Indianapolis to build a real business. Over the years, the agency Studio Science flourished by working with startups, early stage companies and acutely focusing to support businesses with high growth potential. That commitment combined with consistently delivering effective outcomes forged strongly bonded relationships with exceptionally talented business leaders.
Over time select relationships grew into partnerships. Real partnership. Not marketing jargon for a mediocre splash page nor mild blog post. Through partnership and shared risk, the challenges (read opportunities!) began to grow. The risk brought reward. It brought failure as well, which was embraced as simply part of the process. Andersen explains “The risks we took came to us naturally because we had such strong relationships with our clients. They knew we were committed. The transition began simply.” Ultimately it solidified a new perspective of possibility and fresh approach to developing revenue through shared outcomes in partnership rather than exclusively focusing on the simplistic method of monetizing the labor hour at 3x its cost. This shift fundamentally altered the course of what many would have considered a valid trajectory for the firm and a solid career path. Yet the direction Andersen pursued has put him well ahead of those still treading the expected route.
The unexpected, the great misadventure, is reserved for the daring. There is no entry fee, no velvet rope, no bouncer. Life is exploration — through small side projects or brazen experiments. Start small. Build capacity. Grow courage. The daring and the creative set the pace. Join their ranks! They welcome with open arms.
I raced through Indianapolis, staying only a single night and half a day, on my way to Cleveland, Ohio. The citizens of Indy whom I met as I passed through left an indelible impression — their pledge inspires. They have planted a seed in the city and are actively nurturing its growth. Indy will make its way back on our itinerary, but we have many miles ahead and more ground to cover. Our travels thus far have been enlightening. Not the miles and miles of pavement, rather the brilliant, the courageous, the daring, the creators. Those individuals working collaboratively to invest in their community are crafting our collective future. Optimism abounds. It’s a sprout, flourishing in the garden of possibility. Those who are bearing the burden, yolked by their passion for what could be, blurring the line bifurcating work and life — you are the ones who inspire. You are our future. Thank you!
We are contemplating and considering the next segment of our itinerary as we look west. The best travel involves meeting new people, leaving as old friends. We’d be thrilled to connect in person while we journey across this great land. Please reach out directly, and hopefully we can buy you a coffee! And be sure to follow our adventures at social.bakerbrownco.com.
Neil & Jen Baker Brown are design futurists, navigating the adventure that is life for the last 12 years in marriage and partnership across a variety of entrepreneurial endeavors and experiments. They have collaborated with others on projects ranging from an arts and event space in Manhattan, to a grassroots film festival; they have taught leadership development in Vietnam, coached young entrepreneurs, and built an agency to partner with early stage companies. You can consistently find them on the road and online. www.bakerbrownco.com @bakerbrownco