Discussion Covers Current Conditions, Recommendations for Improvement
FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Northeast Indiana has all the ingredients needed to create a vibrant innovation economy. That’s the finding of Chris Heivly, entrepreneur-in-residence at Techstars and a serial entrepreneur who co-founded MapQuest. The Techstars team recently researched and surveyed the community’s startup ecosystem. Today, Heivly shared his findings and made recommendations for creating a world-class environment for northeast Indiana startups. The recommendations customize Techstars’ nationally developed best practices to fit the region’s unique attributes.
“Robust startup communities require a mix of passionate founders, local investors, creative workspaces, and engaged institutions like government, colleges and corporations,” Heivly said. “Fort Wayne has all of these elements at various levels of maturity. A community-wide effort based on founder-first, all-inclusive, and pay-it-forward attitudes and the above-mentioned actors will accelerate the community to reach its goals.”
Fort Wayne has a rich history of innovation. Inventions including the television, magnet wire, and the modern refrigerator trace their origins, at least in part, to the Summit City. Many of the region’s top employers are homegrown startups that have flourished into major companies. However, in recent decades, Fort Wayne and Allen County have experienced a decline in patent activity. Efforts to reverse this innovation curve are already well underway, and Heivly sees the potential for a resurgence in Allen County startups—and the high-wage job growth that startups create.
“Startups are critical to building a world-class economy here in Allen County,” said Eric Doden, CEO of Greater Fort Wayne Inc. “When entrepreneurs are successful, they create jobs and products that improve the entire community. We must do everything we can to create the conditions for entrepreneurs to succeed.”
In the coming years, the Electric Works campus in Fort Wayne will be a key hub for startups in northeast Indiana. The revitalized General Electric facility will include an innovation district featuring business accelerators, as well as office, retail, and living space.
“To build a healthy economic powerhouse for the region, we need density and Electric Works will be the place for collisions of people living, working, creating and collaborating. The mixed-use environment will be the place for 18-hour-a-day activity that enriches the cultural fabric of the entire community and inspires thinkers, creators, tinkerers, and entrepreneurs to build companies and create jobs,” said Josh Parker, chief investment officer at Cross Street Partners, one of the developers of the Electric Works project. “Those collisions are critical to a robust and sustainable startup ecosystem.”
Techstars is a worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. With the help of Techstars, entrepreneurs and their teams are able to connect to other entrepreneurs, experts, mentors, alumni, investors, community leaders, and corporate partners that will help their companies grow.
Heivly, who has been dubbed “The Startup Whisperer,” is an early-stage investor and entrepreneur. In addition to co-founding MapQuest, he managed a $25M corporate venture fund and has led various early-stage companies as CEO/COO. In 2009, Heivly used the formative elements of Techstars’ model to build the Raleigh-Durham startup ecosystem, one of the nation’s best high-growth communities with thousands of startups.
The Techstars project in Allen County is underwritten by Greater Fort Wayne Inc., Elevate Northeast Indiana, and RTM Ventures.
“This project provides a specific model for northeast Indiana, which will help us create a more collaborative entrepreneurial culture with a rock-solid focus on the success of our current and future entrepreneurs,” said Marilyn Moran-Townsend, board chair at Elevate Northeast Indiana.
Robert Clark, entrepreneur-in-residence at Elevate Northeast Indiana, added, “This initiative will help us create a more sustainable economic ecosystem. Startups create the majority of new jobs in any economy, and they are vital when it comes to retaining our Millennial talent here in the region.”
About RTM Ventures
RTM Ventures LLC is a joint venture of Maryland-based Cross Street Partners, and Indiana-based Greenstreet Ltd., and Biggs Development. Cross Street Partners is a leader in adaptive reuse and innovation-focused development across many markets. The Indiana-based Biggs and Greenstreet companies bring critical local knowledge and insight to the Electric Works project, as well as property management, construction, marketing and analytic capabilities. To learn more, visit fortwayneelectricworks.com/team.
About Elevate Northeast Indiana
Elevate Ventures is a private venture development organization that nurtures and develops emerging and existing high-potential businesses into high-performing, Indiana-based companies. Elevate Ventures accomplishes this by providing access to capital, rigorous business analysis and robust advisory services that connect companies with the right mix of resources businesses need to succeed long term. To learn more, visit www.elevateventures.com.
About Greater Fort Wayne Inc.
Greater Fort Wayne (GFW) Inc. serves Fort Wayne and Allen County, Indiana, as its primary point of contact for economic growth. GFW Inc. focuses on prosperity and community vibrancy through economic development, advocacy, programs and resources that support business success, leadership development, graduate retention and community engagement. To learn more, visit www.greaterfortwayneinc.com.