(photo credit: Noel Knox)
For those who couldn’t make the press conference or who want to see the full remarks as I should have said them, this is the rough text of my speech. There might be grammar or spelling errors in the mix. Imagine it being read, more or less. – Dave
Hello everyone, my name is Dave Sanders, and I’m the President of Start Fort Wayne, a non-profit that is building a thriving community and culture of entrepreneurship in Fort Wayne.
We believe that for Fort Wayne to excel and grow in the new economy, we need to have a healthy and robust entrepreneur culture. Small businesses create the majority of jobs in America and they often innovate faster and easier, and in many cases they engage with their local communities more directly. A region that is ripe with startups and new ideas across a diverse set of markets has more options than one that revolves around only one or two industries. And now, with the power of the Internet, tech startups can literally be anywhere on the planet. There’s nothing stopping the next Google or Twitter from starting right here on this block, or in a dorm room at one of our local universities.
Start Fort Wayne is here to accelerate the pockets of innovation and entrepreneurship already happening all over the city. As the economy returns, and as a younger generation can’t realize the same security in working an entire career for one employer, we’re seeing more people wanting to step up and create their own businesses and their own ideas. Our job is to help people connect and learn with one another and be able to accelerate themselves, so our community can grow faster. We see ourselves as a catalyst, providing services and resources to speed up reactions that are already going on.
Start Fort Wayne operates in three specific areas: Community, Education, and Space
Community means getting the entrepreneurs in our community together, but also making sure the Fort Wayne region at large understands entrepreneurs and small business better.
Our education programs are focused on both business and technology, from grade school kids through adults, so we can build our local talent to meet the needs of employers in the region and also to encourage home grown startups that can rocket us forward.
And finally, in the Space part of our mission, we’re working on ways to give entrepreneurs and technologists a comfortable and welcoming place to meet, collaborate, and learn while also thinking about how Fort Wayne can prove and market itself as a City of Startups and Technology in the Midwest.
Start Fort Wayne fulfills these missions via a series of projects with several already underway. We host a monthly meetup called “Vertical Leap” that is a free presentation for what I call “starters” – people who dive in and start new things, even if it isn’t necessarily a business. Our next Vertical Leap meeting will be tomorrow night, January 27th at 6:30pm upstairs. We will be speaking about Start Fort Wayne at more length and all are invited for this free event.
We also worked with the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership to bring and facilitate a weekly program called 1 Million Cups to our region. 1 Million Cups is a nationwide weekly entrepreneur learning session, developed by the Kauffman foundation, that happens every Wednesday at 9am at Sweetwater. At each meeting, a local business owner talks about their business and the meeting’s attendees then offer advice and suggestions on how to deal with challenges that business is facing. We also use the time to talk about how our businesses interact with Northeast Indiana, and learn valuable tips from one another.
Finally, Start Fort Wayne has been working with others in our city to help bring the 1150 code academy here from Indianapolis. 1150 has an excellent set of programming courses that we can use to help train our existing workforce, as well as add valuable new talent to our technical labor pool. We’ve had one pilot test course so far, and are looking forward to bringing more and longer classes to our city over the coming year.
And today, Start Fort Wayne is announcing its next project, this time focusing on the “Space” part of its mission. Atrium.
Atrium, a brand new coworking space in the heart of Downtown Fort Wayne and is the result of a very speedy fundraising round we’ve been working on for just a few months. Funding is being received from three major partners: Indiana Tech, the Community Foundation with a grant from Knight Foundation, and Greater Fort Wayne. We are extremely pleased to announce that we are several months ahead of our fundraising and we can begin implementing Atrium immediately.
Atrium will be a modern coworking space on the floor above us, and we’ll give a brief tour of the space directly after we’re done speaking here. It will be a membership-based space, and we will offer three different tiers of usage for different budgets and needs, and all of our memberships will be month to month, with no long-term leases or commitments.
Besides space to work, Atrium will also have casual areas for meeting, hanging out and hashing out ideas, and conference rooms to hold meetings. We will also feature a large 20 to 25 person training room in the front of the building that will be used for classes or events.
Atrium will be staffed and open from 8am to 8pm Monday thru Saturday, so even those with day jobs will be able to come to and use the space to work on their projects and to collaborate with others.
It is important to note that Atrium is not just “office space for rent.” We are building a community center for a modern workforce. Members will be working in a space with energy and a lot of other smart, driven people just like them around. It is my direct experience from working in coworking spaces for years that when you hang around and participate in a vibrant community, it energizes you. You also meet people you would have never met, find business leads you never would have otherwise seen, and the space makes you a lot more interested and happy in your work.
Start Fort Wayne will help build vibrancy in the space by holding as many events, training classes, and networking opportunities as we can – many of them for free or low charge. And over the next year, we and our partners will be looking for ways to help provide knowledge and resources for businesses in our space so that they can grow and thrive and become bigger and stronger. Again, we’re not just providing space for people to work, we’re creating a culture that helps them excel in that work and make the local economy accelerate faster through them.
The name Atrium was chosen deliberately. First, it references the architectural element of this building, with the big glass windows that lead someone into our space on the second floor. But more importantly, Atrium is an anatomical term for a part of the heart. We see Atrium as being the “heart” for entrepreneurship in the “heart” of downtown Fort Wayne. We are proud to be building this project downtown, and are excited for all of the changes that will be happening around this location in the coming years.
Our goal is to have Atrium up and running in Mid to Late spring, depending on construction schedules. In the meantime, Start Fort Wayne will be providing updates on Facebook and Twitter, and our site and blog at Start Fort Wayne.com.
I’d like to thank the countless people I’ve spoken with and received advice from over the past year about Start Fort Wayne, and thank all of the partners we’ve made in this process. Thanks to Indiana Tech, the Community Foundation and Knight Foundation, and Greater Fort Wayne for investing in this project. And thanks to Hoch Associates, Frontier Communications, and Brightpoint for helping us with services even before we raised the first dollar.
Finally, I’d like to thank the Start Fort Wayne board of directors. It’s been a crazy couple of weeks as we’ve pulled this announcement together and they have been literally running all over town, building websites, or reading and reviewing documents and hundreds of emails as we prepared for today. All of us are volunteers doing this in our spare time, and I’m incredibly blessed to have such a great team to work with. Thank you guys for helping me make this come true.