New program helps businesses go from startup to success

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — An innovative new program is designed to give Allen County’s startup scene a boost. Greater Fort Wayne Inc.’s Bridge Program helps established businesses support entrepreneurs, bridging the gap between startup and success. The program officially launched tonight at GFW Inc.’s Annual Meeting.

“When startups succeed, they create jobs, grow the local economy, and make our community a better place,” said Brenda Gerber Vincent, VP of community and corporate impact at Greater Fort Wayne Inc. “That’s why we’re so excited to launch the Bridge Program: it’s a concerted effort to bridge the gap between the corporate and entrepreneurial communities. It’s inspiring to watch the business community come together to support the next generation of startup success stories.”

As part of the program, Bridge Investor companies sponsor a startup business’s GFW Inc. membership dues for a five-year period. The startup receives full investor benefits, including exclusive discounts, access to investor-only events, complimentary use of meeting space at the GFW Inc. offices, and more. Entrepreneurs also will be able to take part in educational and networking programs tailored specifically for startup founders.

Many of Allen County’s major employers came from humble, homegrown beginnings. Chuck Surack started Sweetwater out of a Volkswagen bus. Barbara Bradley Baekgaard and Patricia Miller established Vera Bradley with $500 and a basement workshop. Arnold Gerberding quit his job to start the retail co-op that became Do it Best Corp.

Fifteen companies have already committed to sponsor startups as Bridge Investors:

  1. 1st Source Bank
  2. Ambassador Enterprises
  3. Carson LLP
  4. Deister Machinery
  5. Fort Wayne Mad Ants
  6. Hagerman Construction
  7. JP Morgan Chase
  8. Ortho NorthEast (ONE)
  9. Parkview Health
  10. Ridge NAPA
  11. STAR Financial Bank
  12. Summit City Chevrolet
  13. Sweetwater
  14. Wells Fargo
  15. Elevatus Architecture

“Clearly, these Bridge Investors see the benefits of being part of GFW Inc., and they want to share those benefits with smaller companies,” Gerber Vincent said. “We look forward to helping entrepreneurs succeed, just like we help all of our investors thrive every day.”

The Bridge Program is part of a broad community effort to support entrepreneurship. Additional initiatives include the City of Fort Wayne’s SEED and Summit City Match programs, plus a host of grassroots and nonprofit organizations.

“As an entrepreneur, I’ve learned how willing the community is to help one another,” said Aaron Robles, founder of Founders Spark, an entrepreneurial support organization in Fort Wayne. “Through programs like the Bridge Program, we’re giving businesses of all kinds the opportunity to connect and help one another. Initiatives like this send a powerful message to the community that we want people to start businesses in our city and that we’re willing to do what it takes to help them succeed.”

To apply for a sponsorship, entrepreneurs should complete the online application at

About Greater Fort Wayne Inc.

Greater Fort Wayne (GFW) Inc. serves Fort Wayne and Allen County, Indiana, as its metro chamber alliance and 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.