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Site keeps businesses connected

August 31st, 2012

News Coverage:

Site keeps businesses connected

RICK FARRANT - rfarrant@fwbusiness.com

Friday, Aug. 31, 2012 at 5:50am

Justin Sheehan caught the entrepreneurial bug in his senior year at New Haven High School when he started a school-related sports network called The Status in the kitchen of his home.

A short time later, he launched Crown Jewel Productions, a video production company.

And in July, the 19-year-old was one of two winners in a business startup competition at a Fort Wayne event, M2020 Spark Tank, organized by the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership to engage millennial-generation young people 15 to 25 years old.

That led to becoming a finalist in a national competition that will send winners to October’s Demo Fall 2012 in the Silicon Valley to showcase their budding businesses to venture capitalists, business-development executives and information-technology professionals.

Sheehan’s desire to build his latest business in the Fort Wayne area meshes neatly with one of the goals of the partnership’s Vision 2020 goals: retaining talent.

“If businesses start and grow here, that provides jobs,” he said. “It keeps talent here. It makes this a better place to live. It builds the economy.”

Sheehan’s new enterprise — Business Connect LLC — will create localized business-to-business social websites designed to help small businesses and startups share resources and ideas. Within the next month or so, he expects to launch a site called Connect Fort Wayne, and he has plans to expand the concept to cities throughout the country.

He received $500 through the Spark Tank event to help develop his idea, and he has benefited from guidance offered by Elevate Ventures Inc., an Indiana nonprofit that nurtures and develops emerging and existing high-potential businesses.

“There are two angles (to Connect Fort Wayne),” Sheehan said. “The first angle is the social aspect in the sense that: We have a lot of good small businesses in Fort Wayne, and the more we work together, the more we can network and collaborate, share ideas, grow ideas, refer each other. It’s like an online networking event that’s constant.

“I also think what my business can do as a backdrop to the social aspect is, ‘OK, I’m in Fort Wayne. I need this service. I’ll search on (the website) real quick.’ It’s targeted to businesses and it’s targeted to Fort Wayne. So you’re staying local and it’s easier to find a business.”

He plans to support the websites through advertising and perhaps membership fees.

Sheehan could have taken his talent and business ideas elsewhere. He said he received scholarships to Indiana University in Bloomington and Purdue University in West Lafayette. But he chose a scholarship to Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he is a sophomore studying business marketing.

He stayed for his love of Fort Wayne, its businesses and the potential to improve the area’s quality of life.

“I was one of those kids who wanted to go away to college,” he said. “I really didn’t like Fort Wayne. But once I started learning about where we were and where we were going, I realized I wanted to be part of that movement.”

And although he recognizes the importance of a college education, he considers his pursuit of a degree a fallback to his greatest passion: being an entrepreneur.

It is a passion that apparently is shared by many young people these days. Tori Rowe, coordinator of Millennial 2020 for the partnership, said a recent survey of young people showed a strong preference for starting businesses.

Sheehan surmised that pioneers like Facebook Inc.’s Mark Zuckerberg and Apple Inc.’s Steve Jobs helped trigger the younger generation’s interest in entrepreneurial activities.

“Young people see these people and how successful they’ve been starting a business,” he said. “They’re role models. And a lot of kids say, ‘I want to be the next Mark Zuckerberg,’ or, ‘I want to be the next Steve Jobs.’ They see these big stars who are geeks just like us.

“If you have an idea and it’s good, you’re going to get money. And people know that now. I love being an entrepreneur … and I want to grow this area, and I want to grow it through my businesses.”

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