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.