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Organizations show financial support for Start Fort Wayne

October 27th, 2017

By Doug LeDuc | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

Start Fort Wayne announced $90,000 in additional support from local organizations the day after it was praised in an evaluation of the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“There’s a handful of passionate, community-driven actors who operate in a positive, entrepreneur-friendly manner. These examples include Start Fort Wayne, Micropulse, Own Your Success, and even the former Founders Group,” said Chris Heivly, entrepreneur-in-residence at Techstars, based in Boulder, Colo. “All of these organizations and people exhibited qualities of what makes for a robust startup community culture circa 2017.”

Heivly interviewed players in Fort Wayne’s startup ecosystem this summer and presented findings from that study as well as related recommendations during a Greater Fort Wayne event Oct. 18 at Sweetwater Sound.

The local nonprofit Start Fort Wayne is best known for bringing to the area its Atrium coworking space and weekly 1 Million Cups entrepreneurial community building events. It also began offering Compass one-on-one business development coaching last November through its LevelUp program, and it brought South Bend Code School to the city in September.

The funding announcements were made Oct. 19 at a Start Fort Wayne event celebrating Atrium’s first anniversary. Greater Fort Wayne Inc. and Elevate Northeast Indiana announced $35,000 each, and Fort Wayne Metals and the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne announced $10,000 each.

Based on Heivly’s explanation of Techstars values at the presentation, it was not surprising Techstars would view the activities of Start Fort Wayne favorably, Dave Sanders, co-founder and Start Fort Wayne board president, said in an interview shortly before the funding announcements.

Community building

Many of Techstars’ recommendations covered “what we’ve been trying to talk about the past couple of years, about the density and building community and really about kind of starting with people versus a bunch of programs,” he said.

“So it lines up pretty well with our priorities. I think our challenge or our opportunity for Start Fort Wayne is to then figure out how we can tick off some of those boxes and do some of those things that he mentioned,” Sanders said.

“For this next year, it’s going to be a lot more about community building and then creating the right kinds of programs to help as many people as we can. I don’t think it’s a whole lot of work to get to the next level. I think we have a lot of really easily attainable things that a lot of other communities have done with a lot less resources than we have here.”

Later in the evening, after asking the entrepreneurs using Atrium to give themselves a hand for all their hard work, Sanders challenged them to make an effort to expand their personal network by another entrepreneur every week during the next 12 months, spending at least half an hour to learn a little about them.

Local organizations praised Start Fort Wayne’s entrepreneurial culture-building work in their funding announcements.

“You cannot believe how exciting it is to travel the country and go to places like Nashville, Denver, Austin, San Francisco to see how excited they are about what we’re doing here in Fort Wayne in our community. And I wish you guys could come with me to these meetings, it’s unbelievable,” said Eric Doden, GFW Inc. CEO.

Entrepreneurs are at the heart of any high-growth economy.

“Your energy is giving us energy to transform Fort Wayne into a nationally-recognized economy, which is important.,” he said. “So, thank you for what you’re doing; you’re inspiring us; you’re giving us energy; you’re giving us passion; you’re giving us drive, and ultimately you’re going to take us to a level where we’re going to beat … those cities, because we have the talent to compete with anyone across the country.”

Building support

The Elevate Northeast Indiana support was announced by board member Mark Michael, who is president and chief operating officer of Fort Wayne Metals.

“When we formed Elevate Northeast Indiana this month, our first order of business became the support of the entire entrepreneurial culture, beginning with this grant,” he said afterward in a statement.

The group wanted to set a tone with its first official act “that says we see our role as aligning with and supporting both the entrepreneur at the center of the economy and those organizations that are supporting the entrepreneur,” Marilyn Moran-Townsend said in an interview. She chairs Elevate Northeast Indiana and is CEO of CVC Communications.

It was not surprising to hear during the Techstars presentation that the Fort Wayne area has many opportunities to improve the way it supports entrepreneurs while honoring its entrepreneurial legacy, she said.

Part of building the area’s entrepreneurial culture will involve breaking down risk aversion and serving entrepreneurs in very different ways than they may have been served in the past, she said.

“This isn’t in any way eliminating or disavowing the way we have been successful, it is saying, lets add to it,” she said. “You’ve got a generosity mentality or enlargement mentality that the assets we have are terrific and we need more, we need more variety.”

Start Fort Wayne plans to recognize an individual each year who is doing extraordinary things to support entrepreneurs in the region, and presented the first of these awards at the Atrium anniversary celebration to its entrepreneur coach, Steve Franks.

Moving forward, the award will be known as the Steve Franks Award for Entrepreneurial Effectiveness.