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How does your Latino heritage inform your approach to business?

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How does your Latino heritage inform your approach to business?

| Input Fort Wayne

July 10, 2019

How does your Latino heritage inform your approach to business? Three Latino entrepreneurs blazing their own trail in different industries answer this question.

Amparo Rojas is an entrepreneur who designs and makes hand-crafted jewelry pieces for men and women.

How does your Latino heritage inform your approach to business? Three Latino entrepreneurs blazing their own trail in different industries answer this question.

José Cruz

José Cruz is the owner of Crimson Knight Tattoo at 1804 ½ W. Main St. But before he was an entrepreneur, he worked his way up the corporate ladder. Most recently he worked for a property management company. He was promoted from leasing coordinator to a regional representative.

“I would travel from state to state overseeing projects,” he says. “It was a really good experience, and I learned a lot from it, but there was something missing.”

For Cruz, a formally trained artist and a graduate of the University of Saint Francis, that something was a creative outlet. It was an existential struggle, as he put it.

“If there’s something that you’re supposed to be doing in life, and you’re not fulfilling that, you feel like you have this empty void,” he says.

Around that time his brother, Obie, graduated from what’s now Purdue Fort Wayne. So Cruz decided to make it a family affair and partner with his brother to open up Crimson Knight, a tattoo shop and art gallery. He wants to elevate the tattoo industry as a whole while providing a space for local artists to showcase their work.

His vision came to life about a year and a half ago, when he completed the restoration of a previously distressed space. Cruz says the response from the artist community has been positive.

“We put on about six to eight art shows last year, and so far this year, we’ve done three shows as well.”

He acknowledges that this would not have been possible without the support of his family and the stability of a full-time job at a local firm. He parents taught him the value of hard work. And although he grew up poor, Cruz says rich cultural experiences left a mark on him.

“As a child, my first experience with art was actually with my parents,” he explains. “I saw all of these pictures and paintings in their Bible. At the time, I didn’t know too much about religion, but I remember thinking to myself, “Wow.”

It was those artists, whom Cruz refers to as “the masters” that later inspired him. Now he’s carrying on the favor.

“At this point, I really want to inspire and teach so that others learn from what I’ve done,” he says. “So that in the pursuit of happiness, I can make this world a better place.”

Amparo Rojas

Under the umbrella of Worn Intentions, the Mexican-born entrepreneur Amparo Rojas designs and makes hand-crafted jewelry pieces for both men and women. Her complementary services include jewelry making workshops and feminine empowerment coaching.

For Rojas, the path to entrepreneurship was accidental in a way. In the summer of 2017, she went to a yoga retreat. A friend was wearing a gemstone necklace that caught her eye. She wanted to buy it, but it was out of her budget. So Rojas did what a lot of entrepreneurs do: She found another way.

She went on YouTube to find tutorials and ended up purchasing gemstones. She was hooked and continued making pieces not only for herself, but also for retail. Fast forward to today, and she’s pursuing the business full time.

Rojas sells her pieces at markets and through an online store. But if you ask her, there’s much more to the business than making money.

“I believe heavily in the mind-body connection,” she says. “The world we create is entirely based on our emotions and our thoughts.”

Her business is rooted in this philosophy.

When customers wear her jewelry, she wants them to feel empowered and in control of their destiny. The gems and crystals are the centerpieces of each item, which is an intentional move on her part, too.

According to Rojas, for centuries people have believed that these natural elements hold special spiritual powers. That’s why she handpicks each of them to ensure their quality.

In this way, the business is an extension of her values, and she intends to maintain that artistic control even if the business scales. Speaking of art, Rojas says she feels most drawn to the works of Frido Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Both artists came from the same area of Mexico as her family. To her, they represent the beauty and diversity of Mexican heritage and art.

Sal Soto

Sal Soto started a translation company called DeSoto Translation & Marketing in 2000. Although he doesn’t speak much Spanish, Soto is Mexican-American, and his family roots run deep in southern Texas.

Currently working as a real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty, he says his pursuits all go back to this first iteration as an entrepreneur.

“It all goes back to when I first started my company DeSoto, trying to find cheap office space,” he says. “And later on, I was trying to find an office or a house in the 46807 zip code because I grew up on the south side.”

He had a knack for finding real estate, and Hispanic entrepreneurs would come to him for help finding offices and negotiating deals. In the process, Soto realized there was an opportunity.

“I was like, you know, I might as well get paid, right?”

So he decided to give it a go a few years ago and pursued a real estate license. His business, DeSoto Holdings, came out of that endeavor. He invested the first several years building up the infrastructure of his business, what he calls “laying the foundation.” Today he helps consumers and business owners find property.

The serial entrepreneur says while real estate is a relatively new endeavor for him, the underlying concept is not. Ultimately, it always goes back to trying to solve people’s problems and then trying to match them up with the best solutions.

The real estate business relies heavily on trust, and trust is built on relationships, something Soto learned from a young age.

“Mexican culture is about creating relationships, and that’s where the trust comes into play,” he says. “In our culture, you establish that rapport, and then you do business. Not the other way around, like we’re used to in traditional American society. To skip that process was almost like disrespect. But I think in the last five or 10 years, we’ve shortened that process because everything is moving faster in our world. So the question is: How do you create an authentic relationship with somebody when you only have a few hours?”

Coffee With Friends marks first anniversary

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Coffee With Friends marks first anniversary

| IN|FW Newspapers

July 2, 2019

Coffee with friends is not just a social activity for conversation and enjoying rich, dark mocha. It’s also the name of a new niche coffee roasting business in New Haven. Coffee With Friends (CWF) marked its first year roasting and selling coffee in May and is hoping to expand its markets online and into more area restaurants.

Coffee With Friends founders Aaron and Michelle Cantrell began roasting and packaging their special blends of coffee a year ago for the Fort Wayne Farmer’s market and the internet. Their Aillio roaster can do a kilo of green beans in about 20 minutes.

Founded by Michigan natives Aaron and Michelle Cantrell, CWF coffee can now be purchased at Fort Wayne’s Farmers Market on Barr Street from May through September and Parkview Field from October through April. It’s also at Integrity Physical Therapy in New Haven and at NOLA 13 on Floor 13 of the Indiana Michigan Power building in Fort Wayne. In addition it can be purchased online at and on Facebook at coffeewithfriendsFW.

It all started when Aaron, who is described by Michelle as a “coffee snob,” bought some green Colombian coffee beans at Old Crown three years ago. He roasted them on a pizza pan in their oven. Some of them got burned, but he kept experimenting until he mastered it. “After a while,” Michelle said, “we had so much coffee we began giving it to friends. They liked it so much they said they would actually buy it. That’s when we decided we had a marketable product.

“We invested in a Behmor roaster,” she said, “which is about the size of a toaster oven. It could only do a half-a-pound at a time and we quickly outgrew it and had to upgrade to an Aillio Bullet roaster that can do a kilo of green beans at a time just to keep up with the demand. We now do our roasting in the commercial kitchen of a local church in order to meet the requirements of the health department. The beans, which come in 20- and 45-pound bags, are stored at the church.

What started as a hobby for Aaron, whose regular job is executive assistant to the pastor of a Fort Wayne church, has become a full-blown business. He does the roasting and she has been upgraded from coffee lover and supporter of his hobby to business partner who does the labeling, weighing, scooping and filling the 1-pound craft bags. She also makes deliveries for online sales in the Fort Wayne area free of charge.

“At our booth at the farmer’s market we offer samples of five different coffees,” Michelle said. “People tell us it’s kind of like wine tasting. Each blend has its own flavor notes ranging from chocolate and fruity to caramel and even smokey. Our labels profile the blends and the flavors customers should be able to experience. They come in both regular and decaffeinated. The unroasted beans have a sort of pleasant, grassy/earthy smell.”

Before getting to the commercial stage, Aaron did extensive research on coffee in general and specifically those from Honduras, India, Java, Indonesia, Rwanda, Guatemala, Tanzania, Peru and Costa Rica. He found a supplier in South Bend that keeps them in beans from all those countries. Honduras beans are used in a medium roast blend he calls Florida Morning and another that is a French roast called Quantum.

One that he and their 15-year-old son, Aiden, (already a coffee snob) invented is called “Goes to 11” which is a play on words from a movie about a heavy metal band. It means a step and beyond in flavor and roast level. It’s an extra-dark blend of Malabar and Guatemalan beans featuring notes of subtle spice, brown sugar and dark chocolate. The label features Aiden playing his guitar. It was just introduced June 15 at their farmers market booth.

Their goal is to get an even bigger roaster and open a storefront shop or possibly partner with a restaurant. “We’re getting close to being maxed out as to how much we can make with the present equipment,” she said.

The Cantrells view their customers as friends and strive to make the experience a relational community outreach. It’s a vehicle to build community around coffee. “One Sunday evening a month,” says Michelle, “we invite our faithful customers to come to our home on State Road 930 in New Haven to see how we roast our coffee and mix our blends. They can choose beans from one of our source countries, scoop it, roast it, bag it and take it home as a gift from Coffee With Friends.”

Announcing Coffee Circuit 11!

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Once a month, Fortitude Fund Program Manager Steve Franks will be making a complete “coffee circuit” throughout all 11 counties of Northeast Indiana region.  He’ll be at a local coffee shop to talk with…

  • Existing Fortitude Fund Community members from that county who want to connect with their peers.
  • Early stage entrepreneurs who want to learn about the Fortitude Fund, its Community, and the potential for a $1,000 business grant.
  • Young entrepreneurs as young as high school age who want to explore starting an entrepreneurial project, a side gig or maybe even a part-time business.
  • Potential entrepreneurs curious about starting their dream business.
  • Business leaders from the county who want to give back to their community’s emerging entrepreneurs.

No appointments or RSVPs necessary – just come and hang out.  You don’t have to love coffee, but you do have to love entrepreneurship!

Here’s March’s schedule.

Tuesday, March 19 12:30 – 2:00 DeKalb Auburn Jeremiah’s
Wednesday, March 20 9:00 – 11:00 Adams Decatur The Java Bean
Thursday, March 21  9:00 – 11:00
LaGrange LaGrange Huckleberries
Thursday, March 21
11:30 – 1:00
Steuben Angola Five Lakes Coffee

Two entrepreneurs launch community-centric businesses in Fort Wayne’s up-and-coming ’05

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Two entrepreneurs launch community-centric businesses in Fort Wayne’s up-and-coming ’05

| Input Fort Wayne

December 12, 2018

When entrepreneurs Kylee Hays and Leitia (Lay-shuh) McHugh started looking for a shared location for their two, growing businesses, they knew what they wanted to find.

Kylee Hays, left, and Leitia (Lay-shuh) McHugh, right, are two entrepreneurs investing in the ’05 neighborhood.

Hays wanted an open space to host events, while McHugh desired a space with natural light that was close to home to accommodate her family.

So when they found a house-like building at 1412 Delaware Ave. nestled in the heart of Fort Wayne’s highly coveted Forest Park Neighborhood, they knew it was the perfect fit. The building, which formerly housed a marketing firm, dates back to the 1920s with hardwood floors, tall ceilings, and historic woodwork throughout. Now, it’s home to two new, creative ventures.

On the main floor, McHugh runs a one-of-a-kind party themed care-package company called the Confetti Post. Upstairs, Hays runs the Bookhouse Studio, which offers yoga, mindfulness/meditation classes, and a creative kids’ event center.

While these modern business concepts are unique in a historic neighborhood, both entrepreneurs say their neighbors have welcomed them with open arms since they opened in October.

“We were blown away by the community support,” McHugh says. “We had about 100 people through our doors for our open house up until the time of closing our doors.”

So what do the Bookhouse Studio and the Confetti Post do?

Input Fort Wayne sat down with the entrepreneurs to hear their stories and learn more about their shared interest in engaging the Fort Wayne community.

Meet the Bookhouse Studio

When Klyee Hays moved to Fort Wayne for her husband’s job, she knew it was time to plant roots.

Having moved two previous times, she was ready to find her community, and she had an idea for a business.

After finding herself in the pit of postpartum depression, she began practicing yoga and realized how incredibly helpful it was to her, so she wanted to share her passion for yoga with others.

She completed training to teach yoga and meditation and combined that with her background in social work to become an instructor at Simply Yoga Studio in Fort Wayne. But after teaching there for awhile, she wanted to find her own space.

She envisioned a place where she could not only teach yoga, but also invite the community in to host events and test ideas of their own.

From this, Bookhouse Studio was born. Hays says Bookhouse is an intentional blank space to be used for all types of gatherings where people can learn and connect.

An introvert herself, she was craving the closeness of community around her, which inspired her to rent her space to community members. On hard days, she says the connections she’s made in Fort Wayne are what keeps her going.

With a maximum capacity of 25, Bookhouse is ideal for intimate gatherings, Hays says. She describes the atmosphere as “cozy, intentional, and welcoming.”

In addition to yoga, events like workshops, craft gatherings, and kid’s classes have taken place in the studio so far.

She says it’s also great for birthday parties, bridal showers, private rentals, pop-up shops, and other creative collaborations.

For more information, connect with her on Instagram at @bookhousestudio.

Meet the Confetti Post

Similar to the beginnings of Bookhouse Studio, the Confetti Post came to be after McHugh had her second child and felt for an entire year that she was ready to get out of her house and do something more adventurous.

She loved being a mom, but she wanted to do something else, too. So in March of 2016, her passion for parties met a little Pinterest inspiration, and her idea for a party-in-a box company was born.

On her website, McHugh describes the concept as “kind of like a care package, but a lot more fun and without all the work hopping from store to store to find the perfect items, buying a boring box, then fighting the lines at the post office.”

She started the business in her basement and quickly expanded it to her daughters’ room. With steady growth, the Confetti Post doubled its sales in 2017 and needed more room.

Today, it’s a full-fledged online business that allows people to send themed care packages for birthdays, cheer-ups, and other (wittier) occasions, like pity parties. Visit the website and choose from dozens of options in package sizes ranging from $22-$104.

When collecting items for each package, McHugh says she makes it a point to give back by sourcing products from other small businesses and focusing ethical production as often as possible. She often buys from vendors she finds on Instagram, Etsy, New York Now, and through other online connections.

She recently hired two more people to join her team, so she has more time to focus on marketing her business in the Fort Wayne community.

Although the Confetti Post lives online, she says she still desires to interact with the local community daily. In fact, her office even has a tiny storefront open to the public for visits. Typical hours are Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

For more information, connect with her on Instagram at @theconfettipost.

New business bubbling up: Kombucha entrepreneur launches sparkling water company in Fort Wayne

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New business bubbling up: Kombucha entrepreneur launches sparkling water company in Fort Wayne

| Input Fort Wayne

January 9th, 2019

A few years ago, Robert Johnson became a beverage entrepreneur by chance. A soda addict at the time, he wanted a way to get the fizz and flavor he loved in a soft drink with less sugar, so he started homebrewing kombucha, or fermented tea, in his kitchen.

Yvonne and Robert Johnson launched Bukál flavored sparkling water.

Before long, his hobby grew into a full-blown business called Crossroads Kombucha, which started producing the fizzy drink using locally sourced fruits and herbs at 810 Donnell Ave.

After building the company for about three years, Johnson sold it and is onto his next venture: flavored sparkling water.

But not just any sparkling water, mind you. It’s called Bukál (boo-call), and it’s a sparkling water brand devoted to sharing the exotic flavors of the world with a powerful mission.

“Crossroads Kombucha just kind of happened; it was never planned,” Robert says. “This time, we’re trying to be more intentional, so we can make this into something that’s not just a product, but a story.”

Along with filling a gap in northeast Indiana’s beverage industry with sparkling water, Bukál has a personal meaning to Johnson and his wife, Yvonne.

The couple met while teaching together in the Philippines in 2004. She grew up there, and he eventually moved there for three years, where they married and moved to Thailand for a while.

Robert says those years solidified his love of Southeast Asia. So when he left Crossroads in May and he and his wife returned to the Philippines for her father’s funeral that same month, they felt the desire to connect her homeland to their new hometown in Fort Wayne.

What both places have in common is water—or rivers, to be more exact. Bukál is the Filipino word for stream, fountain, oasis, source, and bubbles.

Since Fort Wayne has three rivers, the Johnsons decided to start their company based on three rivers in Southeast Asia: the Indus, the Mekong, and the Yangtze.

Each of these river regions defines the flavor profiles for Bukál’s first three types of sparkling water. The Indus is a mango rose, the Mekong is a guava lime mint, and the Yangtze is a passionfruit peach.

“It’s about drawing our customers into a bigger story,” Robert says.

Each of these river regions defines the flavor profiles for Bukál’s first three types of sparkling water. The Indus is a mango rose, the Mekong is a guava lime mint, and the Yangtze is a passionfruit peach.

“It’s about drawing our customers into a bigger story,” Robert says.

Along with giving local consumers a taste of Southeast Asia, Bukál is also connecting them with location-specific causes in the region. Working with an organization called WateROAM in Singapore, the company donates a portion of its proceeds to clean water projects within the same regions its flavors are inspired by.

The Johnsons hope to extend their flavors and support beyond Southeast Asia someday, too.

Robert says the goal of this effort is to expand people’s definitions of poverty and global need by showing them the range of places that are often overlooked and underserved around the world.

“A lot of times when we think of poverty, our mind goes directly to Africa, which has a huge need, but there are other regions that don’t get the recognition or support they need,” he says. “That’s where our passion lies—in those untapped regions.”

Along with being a good vehicle for giving back, flavored sparkling water is also a much easier beverage to produce and scale than kombucha was because it doesn’t have to ferment, Robert says.

“Kombucha was about a two-and-a-half-week process per bottle; this is about a day-and-a-half process per bottle,” he explains.

The Johnsons started making their flavored sparkling water at the Fresh Food Hub in Auburnearlier this year. Since then, they’ve received a Fortitude Fund grant, attracted investors, and purchased the Hoosier building at 1036 Huffman St. to be the new home base of their operations.

They are currently in the process of renovating the space, and they plan to hire workers in production, delivery, event planning, and administrative positions soon. Check their website and social media for details.

While their space has a small storefront that will be open for visitors later this year, Robert says the easiest way to find Bukál’s products is at Fort Wayne area restaurants and grocery stores, like the 3 Rivers Coop where the water will be available by February, he hopes.

Since sparkling water doesn’t need to stay refrigerated like kombucha, he’s had an easier time getting it into restaurants, too.

“Sparkling water has a shelf life of about a year, as opposed to two or three months with kombucha, so it’s easier to work with,” he explains.

As he and Yvonne plan for the future, they are hoping to scale the product to even more restaurants and stores nationwide, making them potential competition for big name brands likeLaCroix.

While they didn’t initially plan on being serial entrepreneurs, Yvonne says the Fort Wayne community has inspired them since they moved here in 2011.

“I think it’s a very big reason why Crossroads and Bukál were born,” she says. “There’s an entrepreneurial atmosphere here in Fort Wayne, and there’s the support of the community, as well.”

Career path: 3r Interactive developing audiobook production

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Career path: 3r Interactive developing audiobook production

| KPC News

December 14th, 2018

How would you describe 3r Interactive, LLC?

3r Interactive is an independent game development studio and user experience/user interface research and design firm in Fort Wayne that helps businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs work toward market dominance.

Jay Johns, Founder, CEO | 3r Interactive LLC

How did your entrepreneurial journey bring you to what you are doing with 3r Interactive?

In 2009, I was a co-founder of a company named Moonlite Games LLC. Our main goal was game creation, but we attempted to earn money by creating business apps. At the time, Chipotle was the only business-oriented mobile application experience.

I founded 3r Interactive LLC in 2012. Through 3r Interactive LLC we have created video games on mobile devices, and MacOS. Along with games, we have created a variety of mobile applications as in-house projects or as contract work. Websites, traditional books, and audiobooks are the remaining types of projects I have been a part of creating.

What can you share about your latest project?

I want to build a sound booth for audiobook and podcast creation. I have been creating or helping people develop audiobooks and podcasts since 2015. Thus far, all of the audio recordings for them have been done in different rooms, based on availability, at the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center.

Because of the inconsistency in room location and office noise, the quality of the audiobooks has suffered. We tend to need multiple recording sessions to fix issues with slamming doors, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or construction noise.

The other alternative is to schedule booth time at studios such as Sweetwater Sound. With the studio rental fee at $100 an hour, we will have significant production costs given the fact that the current book series we are recording has an average listening time of 10.5 hours. To record one book would be at least $1,000.

The goal is to make a sound studio, so we can always have the same microphone location and more importantly ambient sound reduction. With these improvements, our audiobooks will have the better quality, which improves sales.

Additionally, lowering the production costs will allow us to produce more projects at a time. I have been creating audio projects since 2015, but it has been a year since we have seriously focused on getting our own booth.

Tell us about anyone you have been working with in the development of the audiobook production business.

I am partnered with an author of a book series who is interested in converting it into audiobooks. Additionally, I have put together a small team of narrators, which will be available to create audiobooks.

I have not had any specific advisors for the creation of audiobooks, but from a 3r Interactive business perspective, I have been advised by Mike Fritsch, John Richards, and Steve Franks.

How will you use the $1,000 Fortitude Fund grant you received for the project?

We would purchase soundproofing materials and better-quality microphones for the sound booth’s creation.

How do you see yourself fitting into the Fortitude Fund community of entrepreneurs, and how could it benefit you?

I heard about the Fortitude Fund community and grants through the social media notifications of the Atrium and through a presentation at 1 Million Cups by Steve Franks.

I am interested in the community aspect of the Fortitude Fund as a believer in the saying, “A high tide raises all the ships.” I think that when the community as a whole does better, then everyone wins.

I have been an entrepreneur for nine years. With experience comes a lot of advice, mainly advice based on my mistakes. I could be a sounding board/resource for new entrepreneurs, particularly for game design and audiobook creation.

The community could help connect me with other local audiobook creators and authors.

Groups announced startup help plans

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Groups announced startup help plans

| KPC News

December 28th, 2018

Attention to entrepreneurship increased in 2018 as organizations announced new plans to help with that in the Fort Wayne area, and competition with other cities for early-stage investment intensified.

The competition was among the topics addressed in a mid-July investor panel discussion Fortitude Fund held at Parkview Hospital’s Mirro Center. Panelists included Victor Gutwein, managing director of M25; Aaron Gillam, senior vice president of 50 South Capital; Nick Arnett, 1517 Fund community manager, and Robert Clark, Elevate Ventures entrepreneur-in-residence.

M25, a Chicago micro venture capital fund, had ranked in 2017 what it considered the Midwest’s best entrepreneurial ecosystems and shared the results, which showed Fort Wayne coming in 29th out of 52 cities based on 40 criteria measuring startup activity, access to resources, and economics and demographics.

Cities received overall entrepreneurial ecosystem rankings as well as rankings for each of the three major evaluation categories contributing to their overall ranking. M25 uses annual ranking to prioritize where it spends its time looking for tech startup investment opportunities.


When M25 redid the ranking this year well after the Fortitude Fund event, Fort Wayne’s startup activity position had improved by six places, but its resource access position had worsened by three places and its position for economics and demographics had worsened by nine places.


Fort Wayne’s 2018 overall rank slipped by one place from last year, to 30th.


“Dropping by one point overall to me is pretty much staying the same; that’s hardly any change at all,” said Steve Franks, the entrepreneurship coach and Fortitude Fund program manager who moderated the panel discussion touching on the 2017 ranking.


“Not really much changed here, and I would assume other communities grew more rapidly than we did,” he said in a recent phone interview. “What I’d like to point out that I think is really important is our startup community grew and some of our other things changed.”


Of the 52 Midwest cities in M25’s 2018 overall ranking, 26 saw their positions improve and 18 saw their positions worsen.


“It would be nice if we jumped by a number of places, but my analysis is simple. It says just wait, we’re going to do that, we’re having a rebuilding year,” Franks said.


“Just about every one of the major players in the entrepreneurship community is working on plans now that will provide results in two to three years,” he said.


For example, “we approved funding for Electric Works and that’s going to make a major impact, but we won’t see that showing up in these numbers for a year and a half to two years, but we’ve moved the needle forward in that respect,” he said.


The Allen County-Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board unanimously approved $45 million in bonds Nov. 6 for redeveloping the former General Electric campus in downtown Fort Wayne.


An additional $10 million has been allocated from the city’s Legacy Fund, $3.5 million each from both city and county income taxes, and $3 million in loans from the CIB and the county for remediation efforts.


Paul Singh came away from an October tour of the Electric Works site with a great impression of the project and said so during a Startup Week event presented as a fireside chat with Eric Doden on entrepreneurship, investment and economic development.

Doden is CEO of Greater Fort Wayne. Singh was making a Tech Tour stop in the city for Startup Week as part of the traveling he does across the country in his Airstream looking for excellent investment opportunities between the coasts. His LinkedIn page refers to him as chief hustler for the Results Junkies investment group.


Travis Sheridan, president of Venture Café Global Institute, also shared favorable impressions of the Electric Works project during an August visit to Fort Wayne.


Organizations announcing new plans to help business startups in the region included Elevate Northeast Indiana, Elevate Ventures, Ambassador Enterprises, Founders Spark, Northeast Indiana Innovation Center, and Start Fort Wayne.

Making connections with other entrepreneurs can be a force multiplier for entrepreneurial activity and Elevate Northeast Indiana began building a community for that in the region with a $1,000 grant program it announced in May, for which it set aside $200,000 and planned to award 50 grants this year.


The program also provides access to business coaching and mentorship, and the prestige that comes with selection for a grant can help them attract additional investment.


In October, a couple of northeast Indiana entrepreneurs who had received Fortitude Fund grants became the first recipients of a new Elevate Ventures Community Ideation Fund investment, which invests $5,000 to $20,000 in emerging companies.


The statewide Community Ideation Fund has designated up to $200,000 for business startup investment over three years in each of its four partnership regions.

The investment is intended to help an entrepreneur “hit a certain milestone, so they have to tell us what the funds are going to be used for,” Robert Clark, entrepreneur-in-residence for Elevate Ventures said at the time. “The next round would be a seed round of from $100,000 to $500,000.”


For rounds where Elevate Ventures participates beyond the Community Ideation Fund investment, “normally we get other co-investors to come in,” Clark said.


Earlier this year Ambassador Enterprises established Ocean NEI in Fort Wayne as a partner of Cincinnati-based Ocean Inc. to bring the region access to its programs, which were designed to transform the business and spiritual lives of entrepreneurs.


Some of the independent, nonprofit group’s programming was developed by entrepreneurs from Cincinnati’s Crossroads Church. Ocean NEI said it has a mission of encouraging, educating and engaging aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners in the region.


Through monthly community events, focused workshops and a nine-week business training program scheduled for 2019, it hopes to offer area entrepreneurs the chance to build community with like-minded small business owners.


This year saw the expansion of Founders Spark as it morphed from its beginnings last year as an entrepreneurship community building program of Start Fort Wayne.


Aaron Robles created Founders Spark with the nonprofit’s encouragement in response to a Techstars analysis of the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, which said it needed more community-building activities.


A Founders Spark Origins event takes place on the third Wednesday of every month. The events schedule for Start Fort Wayne’s Atrium co-working space says Origins introduces new and aspiring entrepreneurs to the startup community.


Founders Spark has a goal of providing education, mentorship, peers and resources, it says, to cultivate aspirations, increase opportunities to succeed, and help grow entrepreneurship and small business in the community.


The Origins events are free to attend, but the more-structured Build workshops Robles started as an expansion of Founders Spark this year charge admission.


Groups of 15 to 20 entrepreneurs attending the workshops come away with new business skills they can put to use the next day, he said.


Founders Spark recently won a $2,000 grant from the Oakland, Calif.-based Youth Business USA entrepreneurial support nonprofit group, which operates as,


The most recently announced effort to help technology business startups at the Innovation Center related to a $750,000 Economic Development Administration grant for an Indiana Connected Health IoT Lab/Network.


Researchers will be able to use the facility to expand the capabilities of existing companies and to start new businesses leveraging health internet of things technology.


The Innovation Center became the nation’s only technology park last summer with a program boasting the latest version of the flagship 9001 quality management systems standard developed by the International Organization for Standardization.


The NIIC program previously had ISO 9001:2008 registration and the center received confirmation June 26 that the registration had been upgraded to ISO 9001:2015, which the standards group said evolved to something less prescriptive and more performance-focused by combining a process approach with risk-based thinking.


The Innovation Center announced in the spring it had agreed to start providing business coaching and advice in downtown Fort Wayne through a partnership with the Allen County Public Library.


It been offering business coaching for almost 20 years at its 3201 Stellhorn Road location. Its plans to collaborate with the entrepreneurial support activities of the ACPL network – beginning with its main library at 900 Library Plaza – were announced March 19.


The center had four business coaches who were scheduled to offer services from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays and 10 a.m. to noon Thursdays, starting in April in a conference room of the downtown library’s Business, Science and Technology department.


Traditions that celebrate values contribute to a region’s culture, and after six months of planning, fundraising and getting the word out, Start Fort Wayne brought the city the first of what it hopes will be an annual event developed for that purpose.


Startup Week Fort Wayne was a five-day, entrepreneur-led event created by Techstars, a Boulder, Colo.-based global network that helps entrepreneurs succeed.


The organization helps communities plan their own version of the event without charging a fee or collecting related data because it wants to see entrepreneurism accessible and ubiquitous and considers Startup Week a great way to do that, according to its website.


The free October event was designed to showcase and build on an entrepreneurial culture with gatherings, presentations and activities, and the Startup Week playbook Techstars offers said all those efforts should focus on making a community a better place to start something.

Fresh Food Hub upgrading kitchen

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Fresh Food Hub upgrading kitchen

| KPC News

January 9th, 2019

AUBURN — Denise Hoff, founder of Fresh Food Hub at 212 N. Main St., Auburn, described her business in a recent feature of Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly, our KPC sister publication:

Hoff holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management from the Indiana Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in social work and mental health counseling from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. She studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a certified holistic health coach.

How would you describe Fresh Food Hub?

Fresh Food Hub has a mission to provide its community with high-quality, locally and sustainably produced food at a reasonable cost in the form of groceries and farm-to-table dining.
Our location serves as a storefront for area food producers and as a center where the community can come to learn more about whole food nutrition, health, and other important topics.
In addition to eating good foods, being healthy involves paying attention to the impact we have on the planet as well as on our neighbors. At the Fresh Food Hub, we care about our food, our planet and our community.

How have you developed Fresh Food Hub since starting it?

When we opened our market in 2015, we sought to connect community members through food. We supplied fresh food from local farmers or from small, local entrepreneurs who use locally produced ingredients in the food they make.
Through our educational classes and community outreach, we have worked to get people out of the fast-food lane and back into the kitchen.
Part of our mission is to teach people to cook healthy, delicious food. We offer classes and workshops designed for busy people trying to live a healthier lifestyle.
Last spring, we partnered with the Market Wagon online service in Indianapolis to bring its virtual farmers market experience to the community.
Customers can get on the web to browse Market Wagon’s list of what farmers in the area have available, then order from more than one of them in a single, combined online purchase for a packaged grocery pickup at the Fresh Food Hub.
The arrangement has broadened the selection of fresh, locally produced food available to the community.

What can you share about your latest project?

We need a fully functioning kitchen to advance our goal of bringing our community together through food.
To date, we have installed much of what we need to have a teaching kitchen: sinks, counter space and coolers. One item we lack is a stove and the electrical upgrade needed to accommodate this addition.
Individuals working with me on the kitchen project include Tammy Alvord, who does holistic nutrition counseling for us, and Brandy DePriest, who does media and communications work for us.

How will you use the $1,000 Fortitude Fund grant you received for the project?

We will use the grant to buy the stove and related equipment, and for the stove’s installation, which will make our teaching kitchen more like most of the home kitchens in our community.

How do you see yourself fitting into the Fortitude Fund community of entrepreneurs, and how could it benefit you?

I learned about the Fortitude Fund and its entrepreneurial community through Anton King, executive director of the DeKalb County Economic Development Partnership Inc.
The Fortitude Fund is important for small businesses like ours, because it helps local entrepreneurs connect to the community, and I would be open to partnering with a mentor through it to further our long-term business strategy.
I would like to be part of the Fortitude group of local entrepreneurs to expand our network and to be a resource to others.
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Fortitude Fund Social + Emerging Entrepreneur Event

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Community Ideation Fund
Launch Night

+ Fortitude Fund Social

Community Ideation Fund Powered by Elevate Ventures

We recently hosted the announcement of our first three Emerging Entrepreneurs while helping them launch into their next stage of business! The Community Ideation Fund invests in entrepreneurs to the tune of $5,000 to $20,000; this particular announcement includes three Fortitude Founders, who earlier this year, received community, mentors, and money to launch and grow their business.

The Emerging Entrepreneur Launch Night was also shared with another Fortitude Fund Social where many entrepreneurs were able to connect and share their ideas with others.

What is the Community Ideation Fund?

Fueled by Elevate Ventures, the Community Ideation Fund is a statewide fund specifically created to help ideation-stage high-potential companies move closer to a specific, measurable technology or product development milestone through an investment between $5,000 and $20,000. Eligible applicants include Indiana-based companies with headquarters in communities/regions under a partnership with Elevate Ventures and with no more than $50,000 in trailing revenue over the past 12-month period. Elevate has designated up to $200,000 per community over the next three years. The funding is sourced through the Indiana Economic Development Corporation’s 21st Century Technology and Research Fund.

The Fortitude Fund is powered by elevate northeast indiana.

Campaign raises entrepreneurs

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Campaign raises entrepreneurs

| The Journal Gazette

November 4th, 2018

Business executives are trying to encourage Fort Wayne-area youths to explore the entrepreneur culture.

Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana is spearheading the annual 100+ Entrepreneurs Campaign that will send top business executives into high school classrooms this week and the weeks of Nov. 16 and Feb. 18. This is the first time the initiative will expand beyond one week.

Executives visiting schools – in many cases economics classes – will share the importance of innovation and business creation.

Junior Achievement is partnering with several others for the 100+ Entrepreneurs Campaign, including the Fortitude Fund, Start Fort Wayne, Elevate Northeast Indiana, the Northern Indiana Innovation Center and the Purdue University Fort Wayne Doermer School of Business.

People who start and operate businesses are in many ways “the heart and soul of a vibrant community,” Mike Cahill, an executive with Ruoff Home Mortgage and local chairman of Junior Achievement, said in a news release.

The entrepreneurs’ visits to classrooms will give students the ability to “learn firsthand the benefits, the challenges, the impacts and the satisfaction that can come from creating their own business,” Cahill said. “We hope to continue to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs through this engagement.”

Junior Achievement President Lena Yarian said many of the executives who participated last year signed up again and also suggested other business owners, “so the list has grown.”

November is National Entrepreneurship Month. The 100+ initiative comes as interest in supporting potential entrepreneurs is increasing in northeast Indiana.

Junior Achievement held a summer camp in July to provide basic information and experiences for youths interested in business ownership. The inaugural group of 18 middle school students provided feedback that will help shape future camps, including the one already being planned for 2019, Yarian said.

Some youths, she said, have the misconception that starting or owning a business is “adult exclusive.” But with creativity and persistence, an idea that meets a need in the marketplace can be the foundation for a business.

Start Fort Wayne, a nonprofit, held its first Techstars Startup Week in October, offering various sessions on topics including finance, innovation, diversity and legal issues. One session on the schedule was a Purdue Fort Wayne Student Entrepreneur Lunch for students only.

The Fortitude Fund that Elevate Northeast Indiana launched in May is providing $1,000 micro-grants for new and student entrepreneurs. Elevate Northeast Indiana formed in October 2017 as a $2 million partnership between private venture development organization Elevate Ventures and the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.

Marilyn Moran-Townsend, board chair for Elevate Northeast Indiana, said the Fortitude Fund has had 101 applications since starting in May and 43 were younger than 30 years of age. Younger entrepreneurs particularly need access to seed money, which is one reason the fund wants to target that demographic.

Moran-Townsend, who is co-founder and CEO of CVC Communications, is one of the executives who will again visit classrooms this week as part of 100+ Entrepreneurs.

Fort Wayne, she said, is in the midst of reinventing the value of “being our own entrepreneur community.”

During the Techstars Startup Week, Moran-Townsend said, nationally known investor Paul Singh noted that some people equate working for someone as job security. They see being an entrepreneur as risky, “when it’s really quite the opposite.”

Business owners have more control over risks, Moran-Townsend said.

“I think he made a very good point. Entrepreneurship is not something that you have to think of as being a risky business,” she said.

The Fortitude Fund, beyond its financial resources, should be a reminder that creativity can be the foundation for business. The fund is named after Philo T. Fortitude, the local man who helped invent the television.

“He had the idea for what became the television when he was a teenager, … so he’s a wonderful role model of a young entrepreneur,” Moran-Townsend said.