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Center aimed at molding and shaping local entrepreneurs opens this summer

July 11th, 2014

News Coverage:

Center aimed at molding and shaping local entrepreneurs opens this summer

Posted: Friday, July 11, 2014 8:30 am

By Doug LeDuc
dleduc@kpcmedia.com

Microsoft. Google. Facebook. The world is full of major brands that trace their legendary origins to the innovative thinking of bright, creative college students.

Administrators at Indiana Institute of Technology believe it can help develop the entrepreneurial talent in Fort Wayne through its Center for Creative Collaboration (C3), which is scheduled to open Aug. 1.

The center will help entrepreneurs throughout the city and the region — including students from other universities — develop, refine and execute their business plans. Some students may choose to enroll at Indiana Tech specifically to use C3 resources and pursue a minor in entrepreneurial studies when the university begins offering three additional entrepreneurship courses in the fall.

As students apply what they learn about getting a start-up off the ground, “they might have the opportunity to graduate not only with a degree, but with a successful business in hand, and that’s powerful,” said Mark Richter, the center’s executive director. “So I think C3 will attract students to this university.”

Several organizations see economic development potential in C3. The center is funded through a $500,000 from a Lilly Endowment grant and $1 million from the City of Fort Wayne for the Academic Center, in which C3 is housed.

The city’s contribution is the first from its Legacy Higher Education Opportunity Fund. An announcement last year on the city’s financial support for the Academic Center described C3 as “a one-stop shop where entrepreneurs can receive assistance in all key areas needed to start a successful business, including market research and prototype design.”

“Preference for clients will be given to individuals with financial need, those developing technology start-ups and those who propose projects with the most potential for growth,” the city said. “Additionally, the program will work closely with the City’s Urban Enterprise Association, which provides incubator space for growing businesses.”

The association operates a 50,000-square-foot business incubator facility, the Fort Wayne Enterprise Center, at 1830 Wayne Trace in Fort Wayne and has done so for more than 25 years.

The Enterprise Center has production spaces ranging from 1,700 square feet to more than 6,000 square feet and office spaces from 80 square feet to 190 square feet. Enterprise Center director, Gina Kostoff, said the center is about 70 percent occupied.

Indiana Tech’s campus on East Washington Boulevard is not far from it. As a result, Kostoff said, the Enterprise Center will use C3 as a resource for technical and business expertise.

“Here in our business incubator, if they’re having an issue with a process, we’ll be able to refer them there (to C3) for assistance,” she said. “Our understanding is they will have a mentoring process and will have some expertise from their students and their faculty … and from current businesses within the community.

“Because they are so close together, we’ll be connecting our resources with their resources,” Kostoff said. “If someone comes through their program who needs a space to operate a business, that’s what we do.”

Richter, who is vice president for special projects at Indiana Tech as well as C3’s executive director, said it will assist entrepreneurs in the community by assembling help teams tailored to their needs, consisting of faculty, students and mentors with relevant experience.

Some of the mentors will be volunteers who contact the university or are contacted by Indiana Tech, and some will come through connections it has formed with other community groups.

In addition to the city and the Enterprise Center, C3 is working with Community Development Corporation of Northeast Indiana, Northeast Indiana Innovation Center, Fort Wayne Black Chamber of Commerce, Northeast Indiana Small Business Development Center, Community Action of Northeast Indiana, SCORE, Elevate Ventures, Fort Wayne Inventors Club, Greater Fort Wayne, Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership and other local economic development groups.

The center’s website is www.thec3.com. On the website, mentors can complete an online information form about themselves and potential clients can complete a questionnaire about their businesses.

“We’re not going to be an incubator; we’re much more like an accelerator. Most accelerators are run by venture capitalists who work with a small number of select clients in exchange for a piece of their business,” Richter said. “We’re going to provide the assistance without taking a piece of the business.”

“We do have a new venture fund we can use to make investments in some of these companies on a select basis, but that is not something we’re going to try to negotiate upfront; those investment will be made case-by-case when it makes sense,” he said. “Most of the assistance we will provide will be with companies we will not be making investments in.”

Through its own resources, the university made $500,000 available to the Indiana Tech New Venture Fund, which is overseen by Indiana Tech’s board of trustees. The fund may lend money to a business, purchase equity in it or negotiate other investment arrangements with it, he said.

“We plan to introduce some of these companies to the angel investor community in Fort Wayne … and if those relationships blossom, that’s terrific,” he said.

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