DeKalb teen gets business boost
By Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette
The Farnsworth Fund was focused on 50.
Organizers hoped to award 50 grants of $1,000 each to local entrepreneurs during the fund's first year. They kicked off the program in May 2018 by making five grants and soliciting applications for more.
The region's entrepreneurs responded ... and responded ... and responded.
“After we got rolling, we thought maybe we could beat the heck out of that (goal), and we did,” said Steve Franks, the fund's program manager.
At 3 p.m. today, Farnsworth Fund officials will present a check to the 100th grant recipient, Blake Webb. The DeKalb High School senior founded Konnect Hosting, which offers third-party hosting services to online gamers. He markets the service as high-quality yet affordable.
Webb, 18, plans to attend Ivy Tech Community College Northeast next year before going on to Trine University or Indiana Tech, majoring in computer information systems.
The young entrepreneur plans to use the $1,000 grant to develop an advertising campaign and cover other expenses as his company expands. He owns three computer servers – at a cost of about $1,000 each – and rents two more.
Webb's experience with the Farnsworth Fund grant application was straight-forward, and he'd recommend the program to others.
“Even if you don't receive a grant, there's a huge community of people looking forward to helping you out,” he said.
A little more than half – 105 total – of 178 grant applications received have been approved, with a couple still pending, said Franks, the fund's program manager.
Recipients range in age from 17 to 73.
The Farnsworth Fund was created with allocations from Elevate Ventures, an Indianapolis-based venture development organization, and the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, which represents 11 northeast Indiana counties.
Local leaders formed elevate northeast indiana to distribute the funds.
Marilyn Moran Townsend, board chairman for elevate northeast indiana, wasn't surprised by the enthusiastic response to the grants.
“I believed all along that these founders in our community would be excited about finding each other,” she said. “Word spread quickly.”
The board's goal was to distribute 200 grants in three years. Unless applications suddenly dry up, the fund will run out of money well before the three-year mark.
The elevate northeast indiana board would have to replenish the fund if it wants to extend the program, but members haven't formally discussed that possibility, Franks said.
Moran Townsend expects the program will continue beyond the 100 grants budgeted for the next 12 months, especially as its mentor network expands and grant recipients' ties to each other strengthen.
But not everyone should apply.
These grants aren't for dreamers with vague ideas, Franks said. Even high school students are expected to have taken some action to engage their target market.
The ideal grantee is a passionate and committed individual who has established a foundation to build a company, he said.
Farnsworth Fund was created to contribute to the local economy and encourages grant applicants to be involved in their community – wherever it is in northeast Indiana.
So far, checks have been awarded to applicants in eight of the 11 counties in the region.
It isn't all about the Benjamins, however.
Franks, who has coached startups for 15 years, said entrepreneurship “can turn out to be a very lonely thing.”
“Farnsworth Fund recognized immediately that what was important was to grow community between entrepreneurs,” he added.
The fund's mantra is: Community. Mentors. Money. “In that order,” Franks said.
When entrepreneurs gather, something special happens, he said. They encourage each other, offering advice for how to tackle various challenges.
The Farnsworth Fund has brought recipients together at gatherings several times in the past year and encourages them to connect with each other online.
Now that the fund has distributed more than 100 grants, the program will focus more on mentorship, Franks said. The first year offered grantees a minor amount of mentoring, including a speed-dating-type event set up to allow brief interactions.
The fund recently hired Sonja Scott Woods as mentorship manager.
Numerous sources refer grant applicants to the Farnsworth Fund, including the Women's Entrepreneurial Opportunity Center at the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center, CookSpring Shared Kitchen, the Summit City Entrepreneur and Enterprise District, or SEED, and Start Fort Wayne.
“We have a strong entrepreneurial community here,” Franks said.
About 20 organizations in the region work with entrepreneurs, offering assorted services. They have started to meet and are working to create a joint vision.
“There's a little bit of overlap here and there,” he said, “and there's nothing wrong with that.”