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Small Businesses & Entrepreneurship

In Northeast Indiana we understand that the passion and perseverance of one can change a region. Vera Bradley. Sweetwater Sound. Steel Dynamics. These are our entrepreneurs. These are our success stories. As a region we have a long history of celebrating and supporting entrepreneurship, innovation, and invention.

Many inventions have come to life in Fort Wayne:

  • Washing machine
  • Baking powder
  • Calculator
  • Juke box
  • Breathalyzer
  • Refrigerator
  • Stereo sound
  • Garbage disposal
  • Magnetic wire
  • Streetlights
  • Gasoline pump

All were first created and manufactured in Fort Wayne.

From collaboration with regional businesses to educational programming and small business funding initiatives, entrepreneurs in the Fort Wayne area can count on the region to invest in their success.

Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Northeast Indiana offers a place for small businesses and entrepreneurs to belong. This is a place where small businesses can influence progress, and we are here to help with that.

In Northeast Indiana small-business owners and entrepreneurs like you can find the support and resources to reach your goals and climb to unexpected heights. Here’s a list of available resources:

  • Elevate Ventures - Elevate Ventures is a statewide organization that provides startup funding for small, high-growth companies and assists in helping second-stage companies succeed.
  • Northeast Indiana Innovation Center (external link) - The Innovation Center is a nonprofit, community-based resource center that promotes the growth and development of innovative companies in Northeast Indiana. For over a decade, NIIC has helped more than 100 innovative ventures grow at an average rate of 79 percent compounded annually.
  • 1 Million Cups Fort Wayne - 1 Million Cups is a free networking event with programming designed to educate, engage, and connect entrepreneurs in the region. Held in more than 70 cities across the United States, 1 Million Cups’ culture is a supportive, neutral space that welcomes entrepreneurs to be open and honest about their businesses and the challenges they face.
  • Northern Indiana Lakes Country Enterprise Center - The Enterprise Center features a traditional small-business incubator, co-working spaces, more than 8,000 square feet of space dedicated to the technical training needs of the community, and 3,300 square feet of space that can be developed into classroom space.
  • Start Fort Wayne - A nonprofit organization aimed at building and enhancing a thriving entrepreneurship community, the group launched the new co-working spaced called the Atrium, which plays host to entrepreneurs, startups, tech-based businesses, and other professionals.
  • Northeast Indiana Small Business Development Center - The ISBDC offers entrepreneurs expert guidance and a comprehensive network of resources for little to no cost. Services provided include one-on-one consulting, strategic planning, market research, loan assistance, and much more.
  • LaGrange County Business Accelerator Program - Designed to offer a rapid, focused, and extensive curriculum, the program will lead LaGrange County’s new entrepreneurs and business owners through the strategic planning and business-model development processes, as well as prepare them with the fundamentals necessary to pitch to investors if they are seeking funding.
  • Fort Wayne SCORE - Face to face in workshops or online, the counselors of Fort Wayne SCORE are able and willing to aid in the success of small business. SCORE counselors provide in-depth, industry-specific business assistance to help evaluate a business idea or plan, stimulate business growth, and ensure long-term stability.
  • Women’s Economic Opportunity Center for Indiana - The center supports women and immigrant entrepreneurs establishing or improving their businesses through counseling, mentoring, coaching, and business development assistance, including legal, access to capital, marketing, and business planning.
  • Small Business & Entrepreneurship Initiative at the Whitley County Economic Development Corporation - SBEI is a service-based business-incubation program that provides structured services and programs for prestartup, startup, and growing businesses in Whitley County. Sponsored by the Whitley County EDC, this incubation program is focused on equipping small-business owners with the tools and skills needed to develop, grow, and thrive within Whitley County and their marketplaces.
  • Own Your Success - Own Your Success (OYS) is dedicated to the support, growth, and development of women entrepreneurs through coaching, mentoring, seminars, and social events. OYS was founded in 2014 with the purpose of creating community among entrepreneurial women. It's a resource for female business owners to give and receive advice, support, and encouragement.

Funding Entrepreneurial Growth

To strengthen the resources available for entrepreneurs in Northeast Indiana, the Regional Opportunities Council (ROC) helped to establish Elevate Ventures in the region.  Elevate Ventures is a statewide organization that provides startup funding for small, high-growth companies and assists in helping second-stage companies succeed.

As a region we have a long history of celebrating and supporting entrepreneurship, innovation, and invention.

The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership helped raise $760,000 to establish Elevate Ventures in the region. The impact of Elevate Ventures’ presence in Northeast Indiana has not gone unnoticed. For every dollar invested in Elevate Ventures, the region has received a $47 return. According to a third-party economic-impact study commissioned by Elevate Ventures, the non-profit organization has helped the community in a variety of ways:

  • Generated a $43 million economic impact in Northeast Indiana
  • Engaged over 250 companies
  • Attracted over $18 million in new investments 
  • Increased its clients’ annual revenues by over $20 million 

In addition to assisting local entrepreneurs with its own resources, Elevate Ventures created the Northeast Indiana Investor Network in April 2014. The network connects Northeast Indiana investors with early-stage startups, giving the startups the opportunity to vet their projects with potential investors in the region.