Venture Café inspires Electric Works innovation center

August 24th, 2018

By Doug LeDuc | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

The Venture Café Global Institute has impressed the developers of Electric Works and will help shape the innovation community expected to form at its campus as the $220 million project takes shape.

Part of the project will repurpose the former General Electric campus as a mixed-use, place-based innovation district with up to 80,000 square feet of space suitable for a range of early-stage businesses.

Some of that space will be designed to accommodate research facilities, but the subject of that research is still under evaluation. Crystal Vann Wallstrom, managing director of innovation at Electric Works, said during a recent presentation the business community there will be inclusive.

She touched on the subject during an Aug. 6 “Getting in the Game: Driving Success for Minority Business Owners” presentation at the Summit in Fort Wayne presented by Travis Sheridan, president of Venture Café.

“Having a Venture Café at Electric Works will put Fort Wayne on a global map as being an entrepreneurial hub,” she said in emailed comments on the event’s purpose after it had taken place. “We have seen first-hand the positive impact it has on the innovation districts where they are located. It will also connect our startups to their global network, and vice versa. The more connected Fort Wayne is to a larger marketplace and ecosystem, the better.”

About 60 individuals attended the presentation at the Summit, which was produced by Electric Works and co-hosted by the Fort Wayne Black Chamber of Commerce, Inc; Women’s Entrepreneurial Opportunity Center at the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center; Own Your Success, and Greater Fort Wayne Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Vann Wallstrom, who relocated to Fort Wayne from San Francisco in June 2015, said the presentation was the most diverse group she had attended since arriving in the Summit City.

During the event, Sheridan “used the term ‘hustler’ to describe a type of entrepreneur, and stress the importance of using terms that are relevant and attractive to a diverse population,” she said. “Electric Works innovation space will be open to someone who identifies as a hustler, founder, entrepreneur, innovator, etc.”

She especially appreciated how Sheridan described innovation as ‘a process to improve the human condition.’

“As much as we talk about innovation from a technology perspective, we need to also consider it from a perspective of social innovation,” she said. “We have an opportunity to design and build a place where contrasting communities converge and become one community, and work collaboratively to improve our economy — and the human condition.”

She often thinks about the phrase used frequently in Fort Wayne: ‘Rising tides lift all boats.’

“If one is elevated, all are,” she said. “But is everyone on a boat? Right now, people are being left on the shore, or on a boat tied to an anchor. We must ensure that the direction changes and we are all on the boat.”

While he was in the city, Sheridan also visited Start Fort Wayne, which co-hosted with Electric Work another presentation by him on Aug. 7, “Startup Tune-Up: Moving Up Startups for a Global World.”

He was accompanied on his visit by Joyce Chen, Venture Café’s global expansion lead. The two of them met with business, economic development, higher education and community leaders to discuss innovation in the region. Vann Wallstrom said they also talked about the programs of Venture Café and other organizations that might be a good fit for NEI.

“We’re committed to inclusion — in all its forms,” she said. “We’re collaborating with our peer organizations, such as the ones (co-hosting) the two public events. We each have our areas of focus. We aren’t looking to duplicate or replace these groups, but rather, as Venture Café puts it, we seek to ‘align, amplify, and accelerate’ our community and its various members. Like the African proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ it’s going to take all of us to raise a region.”

Efforts already are underway to create a platform at Electric Works for an innovation community founded on values of beneficial impact, collaboration, inclusiveness, connectedness, and creativity, Vann Wallstrom said.

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