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 skysthelimit.org,
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.