Ladies, Be Careful Not to Silence Yourself

Shelley Klingerman | Managing Entrepreneur for NEXT Studios and CEO & Founder of Stiletto Agency

Photo by Chelsi Peter from Pexels

Building a company with partners is a whole different experience than building a company by yourself. Ask me how I know. Both are rewarding and challenging, but they are different journeys. When you build a company yourself, you are 100% in control of the decisions that, for the most part, only affect you.  It’s your success or your failure and you know that. It could be a great payoff for you, but you could also lose it all if it doesn’t work.  And when it’s just you, you can control the level of risk you’re willing and comfortable in taking. Most likely that level of risk will come with a lot of questions; such as, “Do you have another source of income to get you by? Do you have a spouse that can support you while you test the waters?  Are you going to jump in with both feet and burn the boat?”  It doesn’t matter what you do, because you only have to “worry” about yourself.  You can’t be silent because you’re talking to yourself and making independent decisions that you will immediately know about.

In a partnership it’s different. You are bringing various experiences and perspective to the table to build a company. No single partner’s thoughts, opinions or experience trumps another, UNLESS YOU LET IT.  If you don’t speak up, it’s on you. Most partnerships come together because everyone is bringing an important perspective to the table and you are stronger together than you are independently. Always keep that in mind, you are there for a reason.  There might be times when you feel your perspective doesn’t align with the majority so, “I must be wrong” or you trust the others. That’s common, however, your purpose for being at the table is to disrupt the group think and provide a DIFFERENT perspective. One that might be completely opposite of what’s being discussed, but it’s your responsibility to make sure it’s considered.  It might not be the way things go, but at least it was considered.  I’m here to tell you, it can be intimidating and misinterpreted (by you) that, “I don’t see it that way, so I must be wrong”.  Yet, it is so important that you don’t silence yourself. You need to be heard for the benefit of the company that you’re equally responsible for building and its success. If you are a female, this whole experience has the potential to be exacerbated.  

As someone who is passionate about this challenge, I spend a lot of time empowering women on how to seize control of their safety through my work in Stiletto Agency, as well as empowering visionaries (entrepreneurs) to seize control of their future through my work as a Managing Entrepreneur with NEXT Studios. And to be completely honest, I spend a lot of time managing this for myself. Ladies, if we’re going to come to the table, we have to check any insecurities, passiveness, and 100% trust at the door. Acknowledge feelings when they surface and know they were given to you as tools to guide you through life in both personal and professional situations. There is NO feeling that should be dismissed. Every feeling/emotion has a very important role. Some are meant to pause you; others are meant to make you act. They are YOUR feelings. You own them. No one can tell you they’re wrong.  

You may allow others to provide you information that you can take into account to work through your feelings, but they can’t change them, only you can.  My point is, when something doesn’t FEEL right to you, it’s real. It might not be the way someone else feels, but that doesn’t mean your feelings aren’t valid.  When you’re building a company or making your way through a corporate environment, don’t not address something that doesn’t feel right to you.  Unchecked, these feelings will manifest into things like resentment or panic, which become a much larger distraction and can unnecessarily derail your success.

Women get concerned about being labeled, so we don’t speak up. We need to. For our own good and for the good of our business. Do not silence yourself. I often go back to this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

NEXT Studios Launches NEXT Up Program to Advance Indiana’s Rising Startups

Venture studio helps launch ideas into companies with accelerated NEXT UP program

INDIANAPOLIS, April 21, 2021 – NEXT Studios, a Midwest venture studio designed by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs, with entrepreneurs, announced today the launch of the NEXT UP program.  The program is launching its inaugural cohort starting Monday, May 3, 2021 with women-led startups from around the Midwest chosen to take part. 

Each month, a different community of underserved entrepreneurs will be invited to hone their ideas during a five-day “Discovery Week.” Those with a unique concept and clear identity will be invited to pitch for a potential investment from an affiliated local impact fund. Once accepted into the second phase of the program, an intense and focused six-month journey will accelerate the typical 12 to 18 month startup process. Pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams will become a full-time job as entrepreneurs work directly with mentors, experts and sponsoring institutions to refine and productize their businesses. A tailored group of services such as management, hiring, branding, finance, operations rapid prototyping and development expertise will help get products to market and generate that first dollar of revenue. 

In collaboration with and support from the Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF) who supports creating a community where everyone has an opportunity to thrive, the third and final phase of the NEXT UP program will provide entrepreneurs an opportunity to pitch for additional funding to officially launch their company. 

“It’s an exciting time to be helping create an ecosystem of inclusive entrepreneurship,” said Joe Cudby, managing entrepreneur of NEXT Studios. “Entrepreneurship is hard, messy, complicated and NEXT Studios looks forward to using the cohort model to help actively think about the team element for driving company success and accelerating the lifecycle of startups from big ideas to get them to market faster.”

Four founding teams will be selected to take part in the inaugural “Discovery Week.” Founders seeking to apply for this or later cohorts can visit or email To learn more about NEXT Studios, please visit

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About NEXT Studios

Founded in 2020, NEXT Studios is a venture studio that is a partnership of experienced entrepreneurs who help visionaries share their ideas, craft them through a repeatable process, and move them forward with capital and talent.  The studio works with entrepreneurs across the state to move their ideas into products and their products into companies.  The studio uses a proven process to reduce the risk for investors and encourage more local investors to get involved in our local innovation economy.

Why Are Venture Studios Popular?

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

It is estimated by Enhance Ventures that there are now over 550 studios in operation around the world, having grown by 625% since 2013.

This growth may come from several factors:

  • Due to the rapid growth of large cloud-based platforms like Google, Amazon and Microsoft, there has been a reduction in the availability of venture capital for early-stage startups. Investors are increasingly wary of funding a startup which could be seen as a competitor to one of the platform companies. To the degree that VCs make earlier stage investments, the risk reduction provided by venture studios makes those startups more attractive.
  • Many of the bigger opportunities for startups come from machine learning, deep computing, and other technologies that are beyond the capabilities of first-time entrepreneurs. Solving these issues usually requires the deep experience that few startups can afford. Studios offer this expertise in a teamed approach with the startup founders, which allows the company to be more ambitious in its goals, which could drive larger returns.
  • The typical ten-year cycle for a startup that focused on the largest sale price of the company is not the ideal training ground to develop new entrepreneurs and seasoned teams. It also tends to result in a lack of diversity in investors and founders, because the only objective is the best return on the investment, so anything outside of the “tried and true” is perceived to add risk. Studios can be tailored to cater to different geographies, diversity in founders and objectives beyond the biggest “exit.”

What is the difference between venture studios and startup accelerators?

Venture studios are not the same as startup accelerators such as Y Combinator or Techstars. A typical accelerator may offer a 10-to-12-week program focused on ideation or productization in exchange for $10,000 to $100,000 in funding and an equity stake. The objective is to help the founder move their business along to the point where investors might be interested in funding the next stage. It is expected that most of the startups will fail, and so an accelerator becomes an effective way to “play the field” and invest a relatively small amount of money in many different startups at the same time, such that if just a handful are winners, they offset the losses for the majority that don’t succeed. 

While it’s possible to succeed as a startup founder without the support of a venture studio, partnering with one reduces the risk of failure and can accelerate your ability to access venture capital and the resources you need to succeed.

Written by the NEXT Studios Team

How Do Venture Studios Work?

The new engine of intentionality in the world of startups and innovation

Sometimes called “startup studios,” venture studios are organizations designed to create new startup companies. They do this either by generating new ideas for startups or by recruiting founders with ideas, and then they apply significant amounts of time and capital to the process of growing the startup successfully.  At the heart of every venture studio lies a process, which generally has four steps (though each studio may give them slightly different names):

  1. Ideation – the process of coming up with a new idea and “pressure testing” it with potential buyers through conversation and the sharing of prototypes
  2. Productization – the process of developing the “minimum viable product,” or MVP, which is not the final version but is enough to share it with customers for feedback and continued development
  3. Launch – the process of creating and initiating a go-to-market strategy, including sales, marketing and customer support 
  4. Scale – the process of building an organization around initial market success that will help it grow

Venture studios are often outgrowths of venture capital funds, as each stage of the process requires capital funding to pay for each activity. Depending on the depth of the involvement, the equity stake taken in the company can be quite high, as startups are risky and most fail.  The involvement of a studio in the startup tends to reduce the risk for investors, as the process and the experience of the team can help to avoid common mistakes that would cause others to not succeed.

There are several different models for venture studios, but most of the differences center around how much of the company is owned by the studio as compared to the founders.

  • 1st Co-founder studios are designed for founders with an idea but little to no expertise in how to start a company. Generally, the studio will take half of the equity in your company, leaving you with the other half, and then they will do practically everything else from validating the idea through development of the product through the launch of the product into the marketplace. Usually, the founder will move into the role of CEO at the launch stage, and the company then operates like other new startups.
  • 2nd Co-founder studios are designed for startups that are further along in the process. Often, they have a minimum viable product and some degree of customer interest but are struggling with a go-to-market strategy and the funding required to launch the product and scale a team. This is frequently seen with engineering-oriented founders who are experienced with a technology and have created the basic product but lack the business skill and experience to create a company around it.  More of the equity is held by the founder in this model – typically 65% with 35% to the studio, and the role of the studio is to supplement the founder’s team with additional resources working in concert to move the company forward.
  • 3rd Co-founder studios are designed for startups that have a solid team but have certain “holes” they need filled. A very typical need is for someone to manage the product or technology, or perhaps to setup and manage a sales team or a marketing team. In this model the studio operates like mercenaries brought in for specific purposes to complete the leadership picture. Here the smallest amount of equity goes to the studio – somewhere between 10% and 25% depending on how many needs must be met.

Of course, all of these are guidelines: there is an infinite range of models for studios across the spectrum.

Why do founders choose to partner with venture studios?

The core value proposition of a venture studio is to access skills, expertise and a network beyond the founding team. These resources reduce risk and enhance outcomes by equipping a startup with resources they usually cannot afford early on:

  1. Skilled teams employed by the venture studio or through their partner network amplify the ability of the startup to execute and reduce the time and expense of rework based on mistakes and inexperience.
  2. Methods and tools created and offered by the studio to portfolio companies help obtain results more quickly as they are the result of distilling experience and failures into process.
  3. The willingness of venture studios to “roll up their sleeves” and provide hands-on guidance both reduces risk and provides accelerated mentorship and training to founders.

Essentially venture studios absolve you as founder from having to figure out how to attract or get investors to fund your business or how to convince someone to invest in your product. You get to focus fully on leveraging the skills, expertise and network of the studio to build your startup.

Written by the NEXT Studios Team

John McDonald of NEXT Studios: 5 Things I Need To See Before Making A VC Investment

An Interview With Orlando Zayas

This interview was originally posted on Medium.

Can you generate more than a financial return? All successful things require both selfish and altruistic motivations. If you’re only altruistic, you won’t have the stamina to succeed, but if you’re only selfish, no one will want to work with you. Successful companies must generate financial returns, but they will not be sustainable over the long term unless they also generate returns that impact their community in positive ways.

As part of our series about “5 Things I Need To See Before Making A VC Investment” I had the pleasure of interviewing John McDonald. He has over twenty years of experience as an entrepreneur, most recently as the founder and CEO of ClearObject, a leading Internet of Things company which successfully exited to private equity in 2019, and at IBM, where he led technical sales for their software development tools brand in New York.

He is a founder and board member of the Indiana Technology & Innovation Association, chairman of the Technology & Innovation Committee of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, a board member of TechPoint, of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and of the Indiana India Business Council. He is also a member of the Social Enterprise Alliance, the advisory council for Hamilton Southeastern Schools, the Workforce Alignment council of Ivy Tech Community College, and the Dean’s Council for the Purdue Polytechnic and President’s Club at Purdue University.

He graduated from Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, and studied business management, computer science, and meteorology before receiving degrees in Software Development and Computer Information Technology from Purdue University at West Lafayette, where he was also the Student Body Vice President and Treasurer. He was named Purdue’s Distinguished Technology Alumnus in 2007 and Lawrence North’s Distinguished Alumnus in 2017.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please share with us the “backstory” behind what brought you to this specific career path?

While I was the CEO of my previous company, I never turned down a meeting request from a startup entrepreneur, because it’s a really hard job, and if there was any mistake I made that I could help you avoid I would be all too happy to tell you about it. But there was a distinct pattern to these conversations. Most of the time they had thought up some idea, dreamed up 20 markets they could sell it into instead of focusing on just one, and then leaned on some friends to build some sort of prototype. They then showed it to some potential buyers who told them all the things that needed to change before they’d buy, but they had no money to make those changes, and their wives were telling them to drop it all and get real jobs. What they were looking for was an investor to write them a check so they could keep working on the project and were frustrated that no one was writing them that check. That’s because no investor will ever write them that check, because they really have nothing to invest in except an idea and some degree of determination. I got to thinking about how useful it would be if there was an “agency” to help these startups succeed, and when I started sharing that idea with some friends, we all agreed that we should just go create it.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

“Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. If you’ve read it then you know why, and if not, do a web search on it and you’ll find out why you should. Atlas is the Greek god who mythologically holds up the world — but what if Atlas shrugged off his duties? In the novel, Ayn asserts there is a small group of “prime movers” who drive the world forward, and her stated goal for writing the novel was “to show how desperately the world needs prime movers and how viciously it treats them” and to portray “what happens to the world without them.” I believe that entrepreneurs are prime movers, as our role is to create things where there is nothing, putting people and resources to work and creating prosperity in the process, and I believe that together with fellow entrepreneurs, we have created a venture studio to be a force multiplier for entrepreneurship. I also admire that Ayn is a strong female writing about strong female characters in a time where that was very, very rare.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“When all was said and done, more was said than done.” Ideas are free — everyone has them. What differentiates an idea from a product or company is the intentionality to act on that idea right now. Actions, not words, make companies.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

My definition of leadership is encapsulated in the question, “Is anyone following you?” If not, you’re just a guy out for a walk. People frequently mistake management for leadership, but if you look at the root words “manage” and “lead,” you’ll find that they are practically opposites. “Manage” implies corralling and controlling, while “lead” implies bold new directions and striking out of the safe into the unknown. Some of the best leaders I’ve known are terrible managers — they can barely manage their own calendar let alone other people — but they have a way of inspiring people to work with them in spite of the fact that those people don’t report to them.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I am no judge of that. I have certainly tried.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our discussion. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share a few things that need to be done on a broader societal level to expand VC opportunities for women, minorities, and people of color?

First we have to study where that problem comes from. Venture capital is essentially legal, organized gambling. You are making a bet on a team and their ability to execute on an idea. As such, the industry has developed ever-increasingly sophisticated ways of analysis aimed at reducing the risk of the bet in order to get that small edge. Dreadfully this has resulted in a tendency to place bets on known winners — serial entrepreneurs who have “done it before” and can hopefully “do it again.” As such, the vast majority of venture capital is plowed back into the same ecosystems of people who are predominantly white males, because those ecosystems have been made up of white males from the start, all with the intention (and excuse) of reducing risk and getting better returns for investors. But this inbreeding is starting to have a predictable and now numerically demonstrable result: overfunded teams that lack diversity and perform worse than capital efficient diverse teams. Smart venture capital knows this, but it’s hard to see past Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley when it’s all you’ve ever known. The best thing we can do is elevate the great diverse founders and teams above the noise so they are visible to the investors who understand that they are better bets, and celebrate those who overcome bias and cut the check.

Can you share a story with us about your most successful Angel or VC investment? What was its lesson?

So, there were these two kids who went to school at Indiana State and started a business selling all kinds of French fries out of a food truck they outfitted, mostly at football games and the like. High turnover for labor, and they found themselves consuming too much time doing screening interviews, so they turned to technology to solve the problem. They wired up a cloud-based service where they could post up screening interview questions, and have the cloud call any candidates based on scanning for their phone numbers on submitted resumes and read them the questions. The recorded questions were then transcribed and sent back to them in an email. Brilliant. Also removed all the bias from the job interview process. Did I mention that they are Black, and that Indiana State is in one of the poorest counties in the State? Great ideas and great entrepreneurs come from everywhere, and if you’re only looking at white male founders in big cities on the coasts, you are going to miss some great opportunities.

Can you share a story of an Angel or VC funding failure of yours? What was its lesson?

A friend of mine was sick with cancer and was in the hospital over the new year’s holiday. As we were talking, a woman in brown scrubs came into the room and used a hand-held device to scan a bar code on a machine, and then walked out. I asked him what that was all about, and he said, “I don’t know, but the brown scrubs care about that machine, and someone in yellow scrubs seems to care about that one.” We realized that what they were doing was manual asset tracking — trying to keep tabs on where these machines were. Can you imagine a more expensive way to do that? So one of our founders had a similar experience and laid out a bold vision for how he could use things already in the room, like the television or the lights, as asset trackers so that no one would need to go around with handheld devices anymore. Really great idea, very much needed. But, on the way to solving that problem, he kept seeing other problems and other things he could solve. The result has been many months of no progress, because there was no clear, distinct focus around a single problem that could be solved with a tech startup. Focus is truly the most important thing to have.

Can you share a story with us about a problem that one of your portfolio companies encountered and how you helped to correct the problem? We’d love to hear the details and what its lesson was.

We met a founder who spent his whole career as a technician who monitors systems in the operating room for life support, mainly for procedures like open-heart surgery. He had spent many years and hundreds of thousands of dollars on a very sophisticated system to track all of the data from these systems, partially to have one single control panel for all of them, but mostly to record a “ticker tape” of data for the purposes of proving that all of the systems worked well during the procedure and that he didn’t make any mistakes that caused any damage to occur. We asked him how many of these systems he had sold over the years. Answer? Not one. Incredulous, we inquired as to what the reaction was to his product when he shared it with the people in his industry doing the same work. He enthusiastically relayed their interest in having such a system, but also that they had no intention of buying one, because they expected their hospitals to buy the equipment for them. After a very long pause, I said, “You have spent a fortune in time and money developing features for your user, but not your buyer.” After another long pause, we asked him if there was anyone else in the hospital who might be interested in that data, which elicited another enthusiastic explanation of who and why might want to have the information for insurance, for liability, for patient outcomes, for Medicare — all sorts of reasons. We then explained that it’s a common mistake for startups to build features for users, but if the user isn’t the buyer, it’s almost always a waste of time and money. If it’s a B2B play, the buyer is almost never the user. Only in B2C is the buyer more likely to be the user, but then again, not always.

Is there a company that you turned down, but now regret? Can you share the story? What lesson did you learn from that story?

Honestly, we’ve never turned down a company yet that we’ve regretted, because we’re grown in our discipline regarding the things we need to see. Yes, some have gone on to succeed without our help, but that’s OK: we look at our relationships as partnerships, and that means we have to bring something to the table that the other party doesn’t have. We need to make each other better. Otherwise you end up with what I like to call “Barney” relationships (after the annoying purple dinosaur kid’s show), who’s title song goes, “I love you! You love me! We’re a happy family!” But then nothing ever happens of consequence.

Super. Here is the main question of this interview. What are your “5 things I need to see before making a VC investment” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1) Do you have ears? Entrepreneurs need to build up walls high enough to keep out the naysayers, but not so high that you lock out all criticism, because some of them might be right. If there is a feedback loop from your own mouth to your own ear, you’re destined to only learn from your own mistakes. One guy we turned away because he built a technology that failed to launch because he didn’t research the market to understand what they needed. He then launched the same technology again in a different product form (which also failed, for the same reason). Then he came back to the table with the same technology in yet another product form. He was failing repeatedly as he repeatedly failed to listen to his own potential customers.

2) What is your protectable market? You can ask this question many ways, like “what is your secret sauce” or “what is your moat” or “what do you uniquely do differently,” but it all is really about understanding the things you could do to slow down a potential competitor and give you more time to execute. Our base assumption is that other people have the same idea you have, maybe lots of people, but what helps you stand out from them? We talked with one company who was really having trouble with this until we helped them see that their protectable market was locked inside of their own heads: they had so much insider knowledge in the industry they were in that no competitor could ever touch them in their ability to read the market and execute faster.

3) How are you going to use our money? We all know you’re going to need more. What we want to see is how you are going to use this money to get you to a place where you can successfully compete for more. It’s something like a landing on a staircase: you’re not to the top yet, but you can take a breath and prepare for the next climb. Use of funds is one of the simplest things to get right, and yet it’s usually too simple. For example, we had one company assert they needed $1M for sales and marketing until we pointed out that nothing rolls up to exactly $1M and that they didn’t even have a product developed, so there was nothing to sell or market yet.

4) Who is on your team? And by team, we don’t just mean the leadership and employees. What we really want to see is all the people who have advised you formally or informally, because we’re trying to understand who is implicitly vouching for your ability to execute. It’s unlikely that we know you or of your abilities, but your advisors do, and if we know any of them, you’re essentially borrowing their credibility to bolster your own. We looked at a company that had the typical 2–3 pictures of employees on their team chart in their presentation, and only through dialog did we learn that they were being advised by several military experts who had helped them land a company-making lucrative contract with the Department of Defense. That’s a game changer!

5) Can you generate more than a financial return? All successful things require both selfish and altruistic motivations. If you’re only altruistic, you won’t have the stamina to succeed, but if you’re only selfish, no one will want to work with you. Successful companies must generate financial returns, but they will not be sustainable over the long term unless they also generate returns that impact their community in positive ways.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

All gifts come from God. When you understand that, your only natural reaction is to want to give back in some way. But we are so, so, poor in society at helping people unlock and give of their gifts. Our world is crawling with people to help manage your money or manage your health or manage your time — why is it not crawling with people to help you manage your God-given gifts? What would happen if everyone on the planet knew what their gifts were and had access to the most efficient vehicle for applying them in service of others? The free market economy has come closest to this, but it still has challenges in regard to gifts that aren’t easily monetized or in places in the world where the free market doesn’t exist.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Any of the wealthy business people focused now on giving away their fortunes for good. Impact investing is the best idea ever in philanthropy and for good reason: instead of giving away the money (which is a one-way street), they are venture funds that use philanthropic dollars to invest in companies and founders that are making an impact in their community and in our world. Any returns are reinvested over and over again as an evergreen donation, which means they can be used again and again for good. I want to understand why they wouldn’t immediately allocate their resources using this method, which could be a game changer both in creating new approaches to old problems, but also in seeing that those resources live on beyond them.

This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.

The “gig” is up.

John McDonald | Managing Entrepreneur at NEXT Studios

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Sitting at home one evening feeling hungry, you pop out your phone and flip through the specials on DoorDash, looking for something you like. As you scroll, you remember that you’re out of napkins and paper plates, as there’s been a lot of takeout meals delivered to your house recently. You flip over to the local grocery store app and add them to the list for the scheduled delivery tomorrow. After placing your orders, you switch over to YouTube, looking for something entertaining to watch while you wait. Up pops a show from a favorite chef, and you’re inspired enough by what he’s making to add some of the ingredients to your grocery store order, and then to go to Amazon and order yet another specialty cooking utensil you’ll probably only use once.

Sound familiar? If your house is like my house, scenes like this play out every day, more so now than ever due to COVID. What you may not realize, though, is that each of these events represents an interaction with the gig economy — something that was already happening before the pandemic, but now has accelerated into a way of life for millions.

The gig economy is a system whereby organizations hire independent contractors to work for limited periods of time for a specific function. The name comes from an informal term used by musicians to describe being hired for a single performance or limited engagement, and it now perfectly describes all kinds of jobs beyond just playing a guitar. Essentially you as an individual have skills and have time, and these are in demand by other people who would like to pay for that time and skill, but not as a long-term or permanent employee.

The gig economy has been a part of food service for a long time, and the upending of the taxi industry through Uber and Lyft is well documented, but the growth in technology-based platforms has enabled locating, hiring and paying a gig worker infinitely easier that it was just a few short years ago. This has enabled the spread of the gig economy to now include writing, art and design, media and communications, software development, information technology and project management. Most interestingly, a significant portion of some traditional industries are converting to gig workers, including accounting and finance, legal work and education.

According to Gallup, about 36% of US workers are now involved in the gig economy, and if this growth rate continues, more than half the workforce will participate in it by 2027. This growth rate is three times faster than the growth rate of the workforce as a whole, according to Forbes. More importantly, according to McKinsey, 78% of gig workers say they’re happier than those working traditional jobs, 68% say they’re healthier, and 51% would not go back to traditional work for any amount of money. It’s clear that the gig economy is here to stay and isn’t just a COVID-related temporary disruption in how work gets done.

What is the long-term impact? It’s likely that there are several:

1. Every industry will be transformed by the gig economy. The transformation that has already occurred in short-distance ground transportation via Uber and Lyft is coming in every industry. For some, it is well underway: in 4Q 2020, 54% of the products sold on Amazon actually came from third-party independent gig economy sellers, and almost half of its deliveries are now done through gig workers. For others, such as legal and financial services, long-standing regulations are slowing the transition, but are not stopping it: legal assistance requests through gig economy platforms like Docketly jumped significantly as COVID began and have not slowed down

2. You will become part of the gig economy personally. If you’re not already offering your time and talents and resources through some sort of on-demand platform, you may be missing out on a personal business opportunity. Got a pickup truck? Uber launched Uber Connect, where you can hire out yourself as a driver to deliver small packages and materials to businesses or to a factory. Know how to code? Any number of online platforms would hire you now to develop or to test software written by others. Like to teach? Online academies and local school districts are looking for gig workers to fill in their teaching staff.

3. The gig economy represents a renaissance in entrepreneurship. Once thought reserved for the elite few, going into business for yourself is one of the principal ideas upon which our US economy was built. According to the Kauffman Foundation, all new job roles created in in America come from new startup companies — deciding to start a business and then making your first hire: yourself. This accounts for the high marks that gig economy workers give themselves related to fulfillment and sense of purpose, as well as their desire to stay with it and not return to traditional work.

So, how can you leverage the gig economy for your business? Here’s a few ideas:

1. Recognize that you probably already are. From how you source supplies to how you find new workers, you and your coworkers are probably already leveraging online gig economy platforms to get your work done. Identify what those are and look for ways you can expand their usage to save money and increase flexibility.

2. Look for jobs within your organization that could be gig economy jobs. The list today is much longer than it was even a year ago. Look for roles that can, or should be, done mobile or from home. Look for roles that aren’t time-dependent, meaning the work could be done at odd hours or on the weekends. Also, look for roles that can be done largely digitally, without the need for special equipment that might be found only in a single location. All of these roles have the potential to be made more flexible and dynamic through the gig economy.

3. Think about new ways you could leverage the gig economy to help your company grow. If there’s an app or platform that already offers what you do through the gig economy, consider becoming part of it. If not, consider starting up one in partnership with a technology incubator or studio.

There’s no doubt that the gig economy is a growing and important part of how work gets done today. While it was already happening prior to the pandemic, like so many things, it was greatly accelerated by it. The only question for you is if you will be the victim or the victor of this 2021 and beyond megatrend.

NEXT Studios Adds Two New Studio Companies to Portfolio

Pulse Analytix and Voxi partner with fellow entrepreneurs to begin journey to build and shape their startups

INDIANAPOLIS, Jan. 15, 2021 – NEXT Studios, the Midwest’s newest venture studio, designed by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs, with entrepreneurs, today announced it has added two new Central Indiana-based startups to its portfolio. Joining NEXT Studios are Pulse Analytix, a digital platform focused on civic oversight, and Voxi which provides data driven product placement.

Led by tech and entrepreneurial veterans Joseph Cudby, Tom Kilcoyne, Shelley Klingerman and John McDonald, the NEXT Studios team is applying its innovative process for helping ideas become products and products become companies to two new startups. As the studio for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs, the chances of success are increased through collaboration and providing entrepreneurs the ability to work together with seasoned entrepreneurs to bring their ideas to fruition.

“We are excited to continue to grow our portfolio with these great startups that are empowering consumers and disrupting their industries through the power of data analytics and machine learning,” said Shelley Klingerman, managing partner of NEXT Studios. “We are thrilled to be their partner on their entrepreneurial journey.”

Pulse Analytix was added to the portfolio in November 2020 and is a cloud-based customer service platform that improves transparency, accountability and communication by empowering citizens to notify, track, and review interactions with government agencies, while enabling agencies to monitor, respond and analyze interactions. Lisa Mitchell and Marlin Jackson are a founding team that cares about the community. The seasoned entrepreneurs are driven by their passion to leave the world better than they found it after having cultivated success after coming from humble beginnings.

Voxi, founded by Nathan Miller and added to the portfolio in January 2021, creates custom platforms that serve as a marketplace for consumers to view, learn and purchase products they see on screen. In addition to their work with clients such as Two Chicks and a Hammer, they produce revenue generating opportunities for movies, shows, networks, music artists, podcasts and influencers by connecting content creators to brands with a shared target audience.

“We are excited to be part of the NEXT Studios family. Shelley and their team have already proven to be a great asset with key network connections and expert guidance to help us navigate these unchartered waters,” said Nathan Miller, founder and CEO of Voxi.

NEXT Studios operates from co-working spaces across Indiana. As new innovations can come from anywhere, the Studio enables visionaries from all parts of our State to develop their ideas, and fuel them with talent and capital in their own local communities. To learn more about NEXT Studios and ways they are expanding their partnerships, please visit

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About NEXT Studios

Founded in 2020, NEXT Studios is a venture studio that is a partnership of experienced entrepreneurs who help visionaries share their ideas, craft them through a repeatable process, and move them forward with capital and talent.  The studio works with entrepreneurs across the state to move their ideas into products and their products into companies.  The studio uses a proven process to reduce the risk for investors and encourage more local investors to get involved in our local innovation economy.


Indianapolis, IN: announces the addition of two new Directors to their Board and their inclusion as a portfolio company with NEXT Studios. Jay Love, founder of Bloomerang, and Vicki Bohlsen, CEO of Bohlsen PR, were recently added to the Board. is now a member of NEXT Studios’ portfolio of companies. is focused on purpose-driven benefits for companies and employees. They make it possible for companies and organizations to integrate, administrate, and measure community impact all in one place.

“Personally and professionally, I am passionate about corporate social responsibility and believe that is a tool that companies can easily and inexpensively integrate into their CSR programs to effectively communicate to stakeholders that they care about more than just making a profit,” says Bohlsen, who hosts the Taking Caring In Business podcast.
“Blending philanthropy with technology is a win-win scenario for companies and nonprofits,” adds Jay Love, a longtime champion for the charity sector. “The pandemic has accelerated the need for creative opportunities for corporate giving and is uniquely positioned to capture the philanthropic cultural data of companies and displays its impact.” helps companies share their giving culture with others, appeal to new customers, and recruit and retain their people.

“In a world filled with new choices for philanthropy, it is smart business for a company to show its heart,” says NEXT Studios Managing Entrepreneur John McDonald. “ is what the world needs: companies showing their impact on their community and beyond, and nonprofits identifying their specific needs. Giving without data doesn’t move the needle of change. changes that. We are delighted to have in our portfolio.”

In addition to connecting companies of any size with corporate social responsibility opportunities via volunteering, monetary donations and in-kind contributions, provides a virtual foundation platform which utilizes data to change or improve corporate culture, attract new talent, and gain new customers. is a certified LGBT Business Enterprise and Indiana’s first dual-certified domestic benefit corporation and B Corp. Our mission is to reshape corporate culture through technology that helps companies contribute to making their communities a better place. Think, act purposely. Learn more at

NEXT Studios Partners with Crossroads Education to Innovate Education

Venture studio teams with education disruptor to bring about new innovations in education technology

INDIANAPOLIS – Sept. 21, 2020  – NEXT Studios, an Indiana-based venture studio and corporate innovation partner, and Crossroads Education (CRE), an Indiana-based organization focused on innovating education and providing equitable access to quality education for all, today announced a partnership to infuse innovation and disruption in the education technology (EdTech) marketplace, leveraging NEXT Studios intentional venture studio process and CRE’s charter to disrupt the education (EdTech) market.

“This partnership is a dream for our team. We recognize the significant contributions of those who put Indianapolis on the map as an innovation epicenter for education,” said Kevin Berkopes, founder and CEO of Crossroads Education. We now move forward to build what the stagnated innovation models were missing: agility. Our ‘venture studio for education’ represents a pace of innovation that is required to build companies with the mission to disrupt while retaining the ability to adapt.”

Drawing on resources from NEXT Studios, the joint venture will enable CRE to incubate and accelerate ideas focusing on innovative solutions that help students, teachers and families access educational resources (regardless of their location) and transition from education delivery to meaningful learning. Virtual learning due to the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the existing education inequalities and the urgent need for digital technology solutions to effectively address existing inequalities. The initial focus of the partnership will be to launch and scale a new company called Crossroads Learning Pods, which will enable small groups of students to meet in-person and complete their eLearning with the assistance of a professional Learning Pod Coach (LPC). The partnership has tapped local education leader, Jenn Watts, to manage Crossroads Learning Pods as its founding president. Watts comes to the company with significant innovation and education experience, recently serving as the director of policy for the Indiana Department of Education.

Crossroads Education believes technology, collaborative peer-learning, distributed education through eLearning and high-quality instructional talent, when applied appropriately, can instigate breakthrough progress in advancing education. They also believe the collective work of many diverse partners—governments, for-profit and nonprofit organizations, foundations and others—can accelerate that progress.

Founded by four Indiana entrepreneurs with extensive experience in technology, NEXT Studios operates from co-working spaces across Indiana. The Studio enables visionaries from around the state to develop their ideas and fuel them with talent and capital in their own local communities. 

“NEXT Studios has the expertise in birthing companies, Crossroads Education has the expertise in disrupting the education market,” said Joseph Cudby, managing entrepreneur of NEXT Studios. “We are excited to work closely with CRE to deliver on our collective vision for what’s possible in education.”

“Indianapolis is accelerating its education innovation and this new collaboration between Crossroads Education and NEXT Studios is the cutting edge initiative we need during these unprecedented times,” said Greg Ballard, former mayor of Indianapolis.

To learn more, visit CRE at or NEXT Studios at

About NEXT Studios

Founded in 2020, NEXT Studios is a venture studio that is a partnership of experienced entrepreneurs, including Joseph Cudby, Tom Kilcoyne, Shelley Klingerman and John McDonald, who help visionaries share their ideas, craft them through a repeatable process, and move them forward with capital and talent. The studio works with entrepreneurs across the state to move their ideas into products and their products into companies. The studio uses a proven process to reduce the risk for investors and encourage more local investors to get involved in our local innovation economy.

About Crossroads Education

Crossroads Education (CRE) is led by a team of experts ranging from education to technology. We aim to improve learning outcomes for all students by advancing innovation in education across the United States. We inspire breakthroughs that advance education by harnessing the potential of technology, collaborative peer-learning, distributed education through eLearning, and high-quality instructional talent.

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Media Contacts:

Robert Vane, Veteran Strategies


Jennifer Chan, Porch Light PR


NEXT Studios Establishes Home at 16 Tech

New venture studio to fuel tech talent at HqO, 16 Tech’s Innovation Hub

INDIANAPOLIS – Aug. 12, 2020  – NEXT Studios, Indiana’s newest venture studio and corporate innovation partner, announced a partnership to become the first venture studio located in the 16 Tech Innovation District in downtown Indianapolis.

“As Indiana’s newest and most exciting technology center, it’s natural that Indiana’s newest venture studio would choose to call 16 Tech home,” said John McDonald, managing entrepreneur of NEXT Studios. “We look forward to partnering with 16 Tech and 1776 in creating programs and experiences for our corporate innovation partners and portfolio startup companies alike to meet, make and innovate.”

Founded by four Indiana entrepreneurs with extensive experience in technology, NEXT Studios operates from co-working spaces across Indiana. The Studio will enable visionaries from around the state to develop their ideas and fuel them with talent and capital in their own local communities. NEXT Studios’ home base for statewide Studio operations will be located in the incubator space managed by 1776 and located at HqO, the innovation hub in the heart of the 16 Tech Innovation District.

“We are thrilled that the NEXT Studios team has decided to be part of HqO, 16 Tech’s innovation hub,” said Bob Coy, president and CEO of the 16 Tech Community Corporation. “Their experience and repeatable process will add an incredibly powerful engine to the creation of new startups and corporate innovation in the 16 Tech Innovation District.”

As a Benefits (B) Corporation, the Studio will use a portion of the proceeds from operations to reduce or eliminate Studio costs for startup companies.  NEXT Studios will open its office at the same time as the opening of the HqO, slated for early 2021.

To learn more about NEXT Studios, visit the website at or contact Shelley Klingerman, managing entrepreneur, at

About NEXT Studios

Founded in 2020, NEXT Studios is a venture studio that is a partnership of experienced entrepreneurs, including Joseph Cudby, Tom Kilcoyne, Shelley Klingerman and John McDonald, who help visionaries share their ideas, craft them through a repeatable process, and move them forward with capital and talent. The studio will work with entrepreneurs across the state to move their ideas into products and their products into companies. The studio will use a proven process to reduce the risk for investors and encourage more local investors to get involved in our local innovation economy.

About 16 Tech

The 16 Tech Innovation District is one of the largest talent attraction, retention and development opportunities in Indianapolis’s history. Located in downtown Indianapolis, 16 Tech leverages its proximity to top academic, corporate, and healthcare institutions—and a growing network of spaces, programs, and talent—to foster the cross-industry convergence and collaboration that make world-changing innovation possible. The nonprofit 16 Tech Community Corporation oversees the development of the district and ensures benefits of economic growth, new investment and job creation extend to nearby neighborhoods as well as the city, the region and the state. More information can be found at

About 1776 

1776 is the nation’s largest network of business incubators that cultivates and empowers companies and entrepreneurs to fuel innovation and growth. 1776 transforms markets by curating communities of entrepreneurs and enterprises in flexible work environments. Our members gain access to a dynamic network and focused programming to provide the knowledge and resources necessary to spur innovation and solve complex challenges. With eight campuses across five states, 1776 is the nation’s largest network of incubators. For more information, please visit and follow @1776 on Twitter and @1776vc on Instagram. 

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Media Contacts:

Jennifer Chan, Porch Light PR


Jacqueline Cromleigh Eckhardt, 16 Tech Community Corporation