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Elevate Northeast Indiana celebrates fund launch

May 14th, 2018

By Doug LeDuc | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

Government officials mingled with entrepreneurship support group leaders at the former Fort Wayne home of Philo Farnsworth to honor the television inventor’s achievements as they celebrated the launch of the Farnsworth Fund, named in his honor.

“Northeast Indiana today pays tribute to this most famous inventor with the launching of the Farnsworth Fund to support entrepreneurs with community, mentors, and money,” Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry said in a proclamation at the May 3 event.

Philo Farnsworth was just 14 when he looked at the rows he was plowing at his family’s farm out West and got the idea for electrical video transmission using extraordinarily rapid image scanning, which led to his invention of the television. He later moved to Fort Wayne and set up a television laboratory and production facility in the city.

The new Farnsworth Fund is particularly interested in helping northeast Indiana’s younger entrepreneurs, but acknowledged great inventions and business concepts can dawn on creative minds at any age with the selection of its first four $1,000 microgrant recipients. The event was held to introduce them and explain the program.

The fund has $200,000 for its microgrants and plans to award 50 of them this year. The microgrant award program was suggested by Elevate Northeast Indiana board members Michael Mirro and Mark Michael.

Mirro is senior vice president and chief academic research officer for the Mirro Research Center at Parkview Health, and Michael is president and chief operating officer for Fort Wayne Metals.

The region needs “to catalyze the great inventors and entrepreneurs of the next 10 to 50 years and bring that out so the deals will start,” said Mirro, a medical entrepreneur with 30 years of angel-investing experience.

“This fund is such an important catalyst to the future of not only Fort Wayne but northeast Indiana and the state of Indiana and our country.”

The Farnsworth Fund aims to surround new and aspiring founders with a community of like-minded entrepreneurs, connect them with mentors and assist them financially with a $1,000 microgrant each.

“We chose this amount because in discussion with successful entrepreneurs, they so often told us that someone came along and wrote a check for $1,000 just at the time they needed it the most,” said Marilyn Moran-Townsend, CEO for CVC Communications and chair for Elevate Northeast Indiana.

She compared the program with a huge funnel designed to move the region’s most promising inventions and business concepts through the startup phase and beyond, establishing them as solid emerging companies with the kind of high growth potential that can attract the venture capital often needed to maximize potential.

In addition to the fund, “to take it much further through the funnel when those entrepreneurs are ready, we have another $200,000 to make larger investments, up to $20,000, into these startups,” Moran-Townsend said. “And we have at least $800,000 available for the early stage investment through Elevate Ventures.”

“By beginning with microgrants we’re sending a shock wave through the traditional and conservative culture and replacing it with entrepreneurial dynamism,” she said.

“This is the vision that Chris Lamothe first shared with me when he was CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and I was chair and it just really struck me as what Indiana needed the most and what northeast Indiana needed too.”

Lamothe is now CEO of Elevate Ventures, a statewide nonprofit investment and entrepreneurship development and advocacy group. Elevate Northeast Indiana is a more robust, formal continuation announced last year of Elevate Ventures’ presence and role in northeast Indiana.

Lamothe predicted that in 10 to 50 years, the U.S. communities considered successful and thriving will be the ones that pivoted to innovation and entrepreneurism. He said that is why the fund is crucial.

He introduced Chris Cotterill, Indiana Economic Development Corp. executive vice president and COO, who conveyed congratulations on the fund’s launch from Indiana’s Gov. Eric Holcomb and Commerce Secretary Jim Schellinger, as well as IEDC President Elaine Bedel.