When Angie’s List was establishing its headquarters in the late 1990s, Angie Hicks, M.B.A. ’00, (the namesake) and Bill Oesterle, the company’s co-founders, wanted to find a place where the new business would not only have room to grow, but also build a strong connection with the local community. As born and raised Hoosiers, they knew Indiana could fit those needs perfectly, so when Angie’s List moved to the Near Eastside neighborhood of Indianapolis, they were thrilled that the bond they had hoped for between community and company was almost immediate.
“We probably had about 20 employees at the time … and [they] couldn’t help but get involved,” said Hicks. “We had employees doing the ‘lunch buddies’ at the elementary school, we had employees helping teachers decorate their classrooms, we had employees doing food drives — anything we could do to give back, because quite honestly, we viewed that community as our home, and taking care of it and being supportive was super important,” she said.
“In many ways the Eastside [of Indianapolis] became part of our culture.”
Since then, the once-small home services startup ballooned to thousands of employees, and with it grew the company’s support for Indianapolis and the Near Eastside.
Bill Oesterle, who co-founded the company with Hicks and is also a Harvard Business School alum, spoke about how important it was for the company to contribute to the community they worked in as it grew.
“[We] had a responsibility to be a good neighbor, and we were fortunate. We were growing, we had resources coming in, and we were going to share that with our neighbors. We were going to employ them, we were going to encourage people to live in that neighborhood, and we were going to be a part of the place,” said Oesterle.
In 2015 the company founded the Angie’s List Community Grant program, offering grants to local nonprofits in the Near Eastside neighborhood. Like the organic service in the company’s beginnings, both the program and its funding model are led by employees.
“[We] wanted [the grant program] to represent the interest of our employees. Our view was: How can we give dollars to match what our employees were doing and what’s important to them, that makes them feel good about where they work and that makes them feel engaged in the company?” said Hicks.
Angie’s List staff sent the most recent round of funding to support housing and food assistance for refugees as well as people in the community who are homeless, at-risk, or displaced. This year the staff will also continue an annual backpack donation program, spending a day at the beginning of the school year distributing backpacks filled with supplies to local students.
Hicks is particularly proud of her work helping young college graduates from Indiana become successful entrepreneurs — a path she herself followed.
To help Indiana and Indianapolis foster an environment for young entrepreneurs to build successful businesses in the region, she, Oesterle, and Scott Brenton, a colleague from HBS, started the Bob Orr Entrepreneurial Fellowship Program for college graduates interested in entrepreneurship.
“Today when I look around Indianapolis there’s a ton of people who have been touched by the fellowship. I look at the different leaders around the city that came up through the program, because now it’s been 20 years and they’ve gone from being the 20-somethings to the 40-somethings and are making incredible contributions to the community,” said Hicks.
“It’s more than just charitable giving, it’s: How are we leaving Indiana to be a better place?” she said.
This story is part of the To Serve Better series, exploring connections between Harvard and neighborhoods across the United States.