Investor praises city effort
By Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette
Fort Wayne is building a foundation that will allow young entrepreneurs to flourish, a venture capitalist from San Francisco said Tuesday.
Danielle Strachman, general partner in the 1517 Fund, is visiting for Design Week Fort Wayne 18. This is her second trip to the Summit City.
“We like to go to different cities, especially overlooked cities. There is talent here,” she said during a sit-down interview in The Atrium, a downtown co-working space where entrepreneurs, startups and others can work, collaborate and grow.
“Investing doesn't have to be just a big-city phenomenon,” Strachman added.
Strachman, who is meeting with local budding entrepreneurs, said it takes private and public money to build the necessary infrastructure for a city or region to attract and support startups.
The 1517 Fund, which invests in technology startups led by young founders, makes $1,000 grants for early-stage development.
The Farnsworth Fund, which made its first local grants last week, has adopted the same strategy to nurture aspiring entrepreneurs.
Fort Wayne's next steps should include expanding the small, existing network of angel investors – people willing to commit $5,000 or $10,000 each when someone presents a viable idea, Strachman said. A founder would pitch to a group of local investors, who would provide a total of $50,000 to $100,000 to get the idea off the ground.
The 1517 Fund's typical seed investment is $250,000, the next level of funding.
The name 1517 was taken from the year when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, to protest the sale of indulgences, pieces of paper the church said would save members' souls. The fund's founders compare that situation to modern-day universities, which they say market degrees as the sole path to career success.
“The investment focus is on makers, hackers and scientists interested in working outside tracked institutions because we believe that the path geared towards higher education is not for all,” the website states.
The 1517 Fund builds relationships with founders over time, Strachman said. Before deciding to invest, her team evaluates whether the entrepreneur has a novel idea, sets achievable goals and meets them, knows the industry, has a prototype in process and has potential customers lined up.
The fund's support often begins with mentoring. Those founders who address issues quickly improve their chances of receiving future funding, she said.
Investing in a venture is a 10-year commitment. Strachman imagines whether the recipient would be someone she'd like sitting at her Thanksgiving table for the next decade.
“You want to date,” she said, “before you get married.”