Monthly Archives

January 2019

Two entrepreneurs launch community-centric businesses in Fort Wayne’s up-and-coming ’05

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Two entrepreneurs launch community-centric businesses in Fort Wayne’s up-and-coming ’05

| Input Fort Wayne

December 12, 2018

When entrepreneurs Kylee Hays and Leitia (Lay-shuh) McHugh started looking for a shared location for their two, growing businesses, they knew what they wanted to find.

Kylee Hays, left, and Leitia (Lay-shuh) McHugh, right, are two entrepreneurs investing in the ’05 neighborhood.

Hays wanted an open space to host events, while McHugh desired a space with natural light that was close to home to accommodate her family.

So when they found a house-like building at 1412 Delaware Ave. nestled in the heart of Fort Wayne’s highly coveted Forest Park Neighborhood, they knew it was the perfect fit. The building, which formerly housed a marketing firm, dates back to the 1920s with hardwood floors, tall ceilings, and historic woodwork throughout. Now, it’s home to two new, creative ventures.

On the main floor, McHugh runs a one-of-a-kind party themed care-package company called the Confetti Post. Upstairs, Hays runs the Bookhouse Studio, which offers yoga, mindfulness/meditation classes, and a creative kids’ event center.

While these modern business concepts are unique in a historic neighborhood, both entrepreneurs say their neighbors have welcomed them with open arms since they opened in October.

“We were blown away by the community support,” McHugh says. “We had about 100 people through our doors for our open house up until the time of closing our doors.”

So what do the Bookhouse Studio and the Confetti Post do?

Input Fort Wayne sat down with the entrepreneurs to hear their stories and learn more about their shared interest in engaging the Fort Wayne community.

Meet the Bookhouse Studio

When Klyee Hays moved to Fort Wayne for her husband’s job, she knew it was time to plant roots.

Having moved two previous times, she was ready to find her community, and she had an idea for a business.

After finding herself in the pit of postpartum depression, she began practicing yoga and realized how incredibly helpful it was to her, so she wanted to share her passion for yoga with others.

She completed training to teach yoga and meditation and combined that with her background in social work to become an instructor at Simply Yoga Studio in Fort Wayne. But after teaching there for awhile, she wanted to find her own space.

She envisioned a place where she could not only teach yoga, but also invite the community in to host events and test ideas of their own.

From this, Bookhouse Studio was born. Hays says Bookhouse is an intentional blank space to be used for all types of gatherings where people can learn and connect.

An introvert herself, she was craving the closeness of community around her, which inspired her to rent her space to community members. On hard days, she says the connections she’s made in Fort Wayne are what keeps her going.

With a maximum capacity of 25, Bookhouse is ideal for intimate gatherings, Hays says. She describes the atmosphere as “cozy, intentional, and welcoming.”

In addition to yoga, events like workshops, craft gatherings, and kid’s classes have taken place in the studio so far.

She says it’s also great for birthday parties, bridal showers, private rentals, pop-up shops, and other creative collaborations.

For more information, connect with her on Instagram at @bookhousestudio.

Meet the Confetti Post

Similar to the beginnings of Bookhouse Studio, the Confetti Post came to be after McHugh had her second child and felt for an entire year that she was ready to get out of her house and do something more adventurous.

She loved being a mom, but she wanted to do something else, too. So in March of 2016, her passion for parties met a little Pinterest inspiration, and her idea for a party-in-a box company was born.

On her website, McHugh describes the concept as “kind of like a care package, but a lot more fun and without all the work hopping from store to store to find the perfect items, buying a boring box, then fighting the lines at the post office.”

She started the business in her basement and quickly expanded it to her daughters’ room. With steady growth, the Confetti Post doubled its sales in 2017 and needed more room.

Today, it’s a full-fledged online business that allows people to send themed care packages for birthdays, cheer-ups, and other (wittier) occasions, like pity parties. Visit the website and choose from dozens of options in package sizes ranging from $22-$104.

When collecting items for each package, McHugh says she makes it a point to give back by sourcing products from other small businesses and focusing ethical production as often as possible. She often buys from vendors she finds on Instagram, Etsy, New York Now, and through other online connections.

She recently hired two more people to join her team, so she has more time to focus on marketing her business in the Fort Wayne community.

Although the Confetti Post lives online, she says she still desires to interact with the local community daily. In fact, her office even has a tiny storefront open to the public for visits. Typical hours are Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

For more information, connect with her on Instagram at @theconfettipost.

New business bubbling up: Kombucha entrepreneur launches sparkling water company in Fort Wayne

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New business bubbling up: Kombucha entrepreneur launches sparkling water company in Fort Wayne

| Input Fort Wayne

January 9th, 2019

A few years ago, Robert Johnson became a beverage entrepreneur by chance. A soda addict at the time, he wanted a way to get the fizz and flavor he loved in a soft drink with less sugar, so he started homebrewing kombucha, or fermented tea, in his kitchen.

Yvonne and Robert Johnson launched Bukál flavored sparkling water.

Before long, his hobby grew into a full-blown business called Crossroads Kombucha, which started producing the fizzy drink using locally sourced fruits and herbs at 810 Donnell Ave.

After building the company for about three years, Johnson sold it and is onto his next venture: flavored sparkling water.

But not just any sparkling water, mind you. It’s called Bukál (boo-call), and it’s a sparkling water brand devoted to sharing the exotic flavors of the world with a powerful mission.

“Crossroads Kombucha just kind of happened; it was never planned,” Robert says. “This time, we’re trying to be more intentional, so we can make this into something that’s not just a product, but a story.”

Along with filling a gap in northeast Indiana’s beverage industry with sparkling water, Bukál has a personal meaning to Johnson and his wife, Yvonne.

The couple met while teaching together in the Philippines in 2004. She grew up there, and he eventually moved there for three years, where they married and moved to Thailand for a while.

Robert says those years solidified his love of Southeast Asia. So when he left Crossroads in May and he and his wife returned to the Philippines for her father’s funeral that same month, they felt the desire to connect her homeland to their new hometown in Fort Wayne.

What both places have in common is water—or rivers, to be more exact. Bukál is the Filipino word for stream, fountain, oasis, source, and bubbles.

Since Fort Wayne has three rivers, the Johnsons decided to start their company based on three rivers in Southeast Asia: the Indus, the Mekong, and the Yangtze.

Each of these river regions defines the flavor profiles for Bukál’s first three types of sparkling water. The Indus is a mango rose, the Mekong is a guava lime mint, and the Yangtze is a passionfruit peach.

“It’s about drawing our customers into a bigger story,” Robert says.

Each of these river regions defines the flavor profiles for Bukál’s first three types of sparkling water. The Indus is a mango rose, the Mekong is a guava lime mint, and the Yangtze is a passionfruit peach.

“It’s about drawing our customers into a bigger story,” Robert says.

Along with giving local consumers a taste of Southeast Asia, Bukál is also connecting them with location-specific causes in the region. Working with an organization called WateROAM in Singapore, the company donates a portion of its proceeds to clean water projects within the same regions its flavors are inspired by.

The Johnsons hope to extend their flavors and support beyond Southeast Asia someday, too.

Robert says the goal of this effort is to expand people’s definitions of poverty and global need by showing them the range of places that are often overlooked and underserved around the world.

“A lot of times when we think of poverty, our mind goes directly to Africa, which has a huge need, but there are other regions that don’t get the recognition or support they need,” he says. “That’s where our passion lies—in those untapped regions.”

Along with being a good vehicle for giving back, flavored sparkling water is also a much easier beverage to produce and scale than kombucha was because it doesn’t have to ferment, Robert says.

“Kombucha was about a two-and-a-half-week process per bottle; this is about a day-and-a-half process per bottle,” he explains.

The Johnsons started making their flavored sparkling water at the Fresh Food Hub in Auburnearlier this year. Since then, they’ve received a Farnsworth Fund grant, attracted investors, and purchased the Hoosier building at 1036 Huffman St. to be the new home base of their operations.

They are currently in the process of renovating the space, and they plan to hire workers in production, delivery, event planning, and administrative positions soon. Check their website and social media for details.

While their space has a small storefront that will be open for visitors later this year, Robert says the easiest way to find Bukál’s products is at Fort Wayne area restaurants and grocery stores, like the 3 Rivers Coop where the water will be available by February, he hopes.

Since sparkling water doesn’t need to stay refrigerated like kombucha, he’s had an easier time getting it into restaurants, too.

“Sparkling water has a shelf life of about a year, as opposed to two or three months with kombucha, so it’s easier to work with,” he explains.

As he and Yvonne plan for the future, they are hoping to scale the product to even more restaurants and stores nationwide, making them potential competition for big name brands likeLaCroix.

While they didn’t initially plan on being serial entrepreneurs, Yvonne says the Fort Wayne community has inspired them since they moved here in 2011.

“I think it’s a very big reason why Crossroads and Bukál were born,” she says. “There’s an entrepreneurial atmosphere here in Fort Wayne, and there’s the support of the community, as well.”

Career path: 3r Interactive developing audiobook production

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Career path: 3r Interactive developing audiobook production

| KPC News

December 14th, 2018

How would you describe 3r Interactive, LLC?

3r Interactive is an independent game development studio and user experience/user interface research and design firm in Fort Wayne that helps businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs work toward market dominance.

Jay Johns, Founder, CEO | 3r Interactive LLC

How did your entrepreneurial journey bring you to what you are doing with 3r Interactive?

In 2009, I was a co-founder of a company named Moonlite Games LLC. Our main goal was game creation, but we attempted to earn money by creating business apps. At the time, Chipotle was the only business-oriented mobile application experience.

I founded 3r Interactive LLC in 2012. Through 3r Interactive LLC we have created video games on mobile devices, and MacOS. Along with games, we have created a variety of mobile applications as in-house projects or as contract work. Websites, traditional books, and audiobooks are the remaining types of projects I have been a part of creating.

What can you share about your latest project?

I want to build a sound booth for audiobook and podcast creation. I have been creating or helping people develop audiobooks and podcasts since 2015. Thus far, all of the audio recordings for them have been done in different rooms, based on availability, at the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center.

Because of the inconsistency in room location and office noise, the quality of the audiobooks has suffered. We tend to need multiple recording sessions to fix issues with slamming doors, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or construction noise.

The other alternative is to schedule booth time at studios such as Sweetwater Sound. With the studio rental fee at $100 an hour, we will have significant production costs given the fact that the current book series we are recording has an average listening time of 10.5 hours. To record one book would be at least $1,000.

The goal is to make a sound studio, so we can always have the same microphone location and more importantly ambient sound reduction. With these improvements, our audiobooks will have the better quality, which improves sales.

Additionally, lowering the production costs will allow us to produce more projects at a time. I have been creating audio projects since 2015, but it has been a year since we have seriously focused on getting our own booth.

Tell us about anyone you have been working with in the development of the audiobook production business.

I am partnered with an author of a book series who is interested in converting it into audiobooks. Additionally, I have put together a small team of narrators, which will be available to create audiobooks.

I have not had any specific advisors for the creation of audiobooks, but from a 3r Interactive business perspective, I have been advised by Mike Fritsch, John Richards, and Steve Franks.

How will you use the $1,000 Farnsworth Fund grant you received for the project?

We would purchase soundproofing materials and better-quality microphones for the sound booth’s creation.

How do you see yourself fitting into the Farnsworth Fund community of entrepreneurs, and how could it benefit you?

I heard about the Farnsworth Fund community and grants through the social media notifications of the Atrium and through a presentation at 1 Million Cups by Steve Franks.

I am interested in the community aspect of the Farnsworth Fund as a believer in the saying, “A high tide raises all the ships.” I think that when the community as a whole does better, then everyone wins.

I have been an entrepreneur for nine years. With experience comes a lot of advice, mainly advice based on my mistakes. I could be a sounding board/resource for new entrepreneurs, particularly for game design and audiobook creation.

The community could help connect me with other local audiobook creators and authors.

Groups announced startup help plans

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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 Farnsworth 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 Farnsworth 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 Farnsworth 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 Farnsworth 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,


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.

Fresh Food Hub upgrading kitchen

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Fresh Food Hub upgrading kitchen

| KPC News

January 9th, 2019

AUBURN — Denise Hoff, founder of Fresh Food Hub at 212 N. Main St., Auburn, described her business in a recent feature of Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly, our KPC sister publication:

Hoff holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management from the Indiana Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in social work and mental health counseling from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. She studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a certified holistic health coach.

How would you describe Fresh Food Hub?

Fresh Food Hub has a mission to provide its community with high-quality, locally and sustainably produced food at a reasonable cost in the form of groceries and farm-to-table dining.
Our location serves as a storefront for area food producers and as a center where the community can come to learn more about whole food nutrition, health, and other important topics.
In addition to eating good foods, being healthy involves paying attention to the impact we have on the planet as well as on our neighbors. At the Fresh Food Hub, we care about our food, our planet and our community.

How have you developed Fresh Food Hub since starting it?

When we opened our market in 2015, we sought to connect community members through food. We supplied fresh food from local farmers or from small, local entrepreneurs who use locally produced ingredients in the food they make.
Through our educational classes and community outreach, we have worked to get people out of the fast-food lane and back into the kitchen.
Part of our mission is to teach people to cook healthy, delicious food. We offer classes and workshops designed for busy people trying to live a healthier lifestyle.
Last spring, we partnered with the Market Wagon online service in Indianapolis to bring its virtual farmers market experience to the community.
Customers can get on the web to browse Market Wagon’s list of what farmers in the area have available, then order from more than one of them in a single, combined online purchase for a packaged grocery pickup at the Fresh Food Hub.
The arrangement has broadened the selection of fresh, locally produced food available to the community.

What can you share about your latest project?

We need a fully functioning kitchen to advance our goal of bringing our community together through food.
To date, we have installed much of what we need to have a teaching kitchen: sinks, counter space and coolers. One item we lack is a stove and the electrical upgrade needed to accommodate this addition.
Individuals working with me on the kitchen project include Tammy Alvord, who does holistic nutrition counseling for us, and Brandy DePriest, who does media and communications work for us.

How will you use the $1,000 Farnsworth Fund grant you received for the project?

We will use the grant to buy the stove and related equipment, and for the stove’s installation, which will make our teaching kitchen more like most of the home kitchens in our community.

How do you see yourself fitting into the Farnsworth Fund community of entrepreneurs, and how could it benefit you?

I learned about the Farnsworth Fund and its entrepreneurial community through Anton King, executive director of the DeKalb County Economic Development Partnership Inc.
The Farnsworth Fund is important for small businesses like ours, because it helps local entrepreneurs connect to the community, and I would be open to partnering with a mentor through it to further our long-term business strategy.
I would like to be part of the Farnsworth group of local entrepreneurs to expand our network and to be a resource to others.
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Losses are lessons every time.

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During my junior year at Indiana Tech, I received an internship from a small sports agency down in Dallas, TX called Mack Sports Group, which is now Proverbs Management. I learned a lot while I was there recruiting athletes, managing pro camps, speaking with professional coaches, etc. I was with the company for about two years, and I heard this voice in my head say, “It’s time to bring it home and make a difference.”

For every yes, there’s 30-40 no’s from an athlete. In order to win, I had to get comfortable with losing.

I had questions and doubts, even cried, because I felt unworthy for this calling or purpose God had called me to do. As I cried my senior year at Indiana Tech, I heard the voice again saying, “No need to cry or worry or doubt yourself. I chose you for this because I know you’re more than qualified and strong enough to handle what will be thrown at you.” Since then I’ve started my own agency Capture Sports Agency here in Fort Wayne. I’ve definitely had my ups and downs for sure, but what successful business person doesn’t?

I’ve attended Agent School, Pro Scout School, Sports Business School, and more to gain more knowledge and understanding of the business and the industry. I’m certified in the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball League), FIBA (Federal International Basketball Association), and the WKBL (Women’s Korean Basketball League). I’m studying for my NBA license now. The hardest part about my job as a sports agent is recruiting an athlete for months or even a year and being told he/she is going with another agent. I lose more than I win, but those losses are lessons every time.

For every yes, there’s 30-40 no’s from an athlete. In order to win, I had to get comfortable with losing. I will lose over and over before I come up with the big win, but that’s just God shaping and molding me for this business. I thank God and appreciate every single loss because it makes me appreciate the few wins along the way.

My winning season is coming around the corner, and I’m ready for it. Everyone thinks this job is so easy and that things should happen in a snap of a finger, and it’s not even close. This business is not for just anyone, otherwise, everyone would be doing it. In this business, in order to be successful, you have to get comfortable with LOSING! That definitely doesn’t stop my grind, passion, motivation, hunger, grit, perseverance, or push to keep going until I’ve fulfilled what God has called me to do.

Article written by Chauntiel Smith, Farnsworth Founder and founder of Capture Sports Agency

Announcing Coffee Circuit 11!

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Once a month, Farnsworth Fund Program Manager Steve Franks will be making a complete “coffee circuit” throughout all 11 counties of Northeast Indiana region.  In the afternoon from 2:00 to 5:00, he’ll be at a local coffee shop to talk with…

  • Existing Farnsworth Fund Community members from that county who want to connect with their peers.
  • Early stage entrepreneurs who want to learn about the Farnsworth Fund, its Community, and the potential for a $1,000 business grant.
  • Young entrepreneurs as young as high school age who want to explore starting an entrepreneurial project, a side gig or maybe even a part-time business.
  • Potential entrepreneurs curious about starting their dream business.
  • Business leaders from the county who want to give back to their community’s emerging entrepreneurs.

No appointments or RSVPs necessary – just come and hang out.  You don’t have to love coffee, but you do have to love entrepreneurship!

Here’s January’s schedule. Remember, each coffee circuit is from 2:00 to 5:00 PM (unless stated otherwise)!

Monday, Jan 7 DeKalb Auburn Jeremiah’s
Wednesday, Jan 9 Noble Kendallville Five Lakes Coffee
Friday, Jan 11 Steuben Angola Five Lakes Coffee
Monday, Jan 14 LaGrange LaGrange Huckleberries
Wednesday, Jan 16 Wells Ossian Crimson House
Thursday, Jan 17 Adams Decatur The Java Bean
Tuesday, Jan 22 Wabash Wabash Modoc’s
Wednesday, Jan 23 10:00 – 1:00 Kosciusko Warsaw Wire and Steam
Wednesday, Jan 23 2:00 – 5:00 Huntington Huntington The Party Shop
Tuesday, Jan 29 Whitley Columbia City Brew Ha
Thursday, Jan 31 Allen Fort Wayne Fortezza

Why conform when you can transform?

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This past January 2018, I spent three months in Denver and Birmingham working for my previous company. I lived the traveling life, filled with long days and short nights, hotel food paired with late night calls and texts with friends and loved ones where too often I dozed off after exhaustion during the call. This had been my work life for the past fifteen years, coupled with a lifetime as a touring musician traveling the world.

I spent nine hours driving home all night from Alabama on Easter Sunday in April of this year, and the following Monday, turned in my notice to leave my corporate job permanently. The next day I penned this hashtag with one extremely vivid theme: #makingadifferencein2018. Like catching lightning in a jar, I had now caught the entrepreneur fever and was ready to drink the shine! Goodbye paycheck, so long conference calls, adieu to hotel rewards “perks”, ciao to canceled and delayed flights. Hello to home, so nice to meet you finally!

“If you’re not making a difference in people’s lives, you shouldn’t be in business, it’s that simple…” ~Richard Branson

This past year, my partner and I have been refining our business plan that started as a dream several years ago. We’ve morphed from what was to what will be by combining both of our lifelong passions. We’ve sought guidance, feedback, funding and a home all while pitching our idea to many in the entrepreneur/startup community, as well as potential investors. What was a dream is slowly becoming reality, and I emphasize the verb with careful superlative caution.

I was asked to pen an article that would inspire other entrepreneurs, possibly sharing the innovation our brand brings to the events industry. Rather than self-promote our business plan, pitch deck, presentation or whatever we choose to call it this week, I am choosing to become gut-level and go against the grain by sharing how I’ve gone all in to make this dream a reality.

Although the excitement of our venture keeps me up at night, takes command of conversations in coffee shops, restaurants and networking functions, I’d rather share the pain, hurt, and road hazards, coupled with hope brought on by my own personal faith that you aren’t just beginning to make a difference in people’s lives by starting your own business. You’ve been doing it all along. Now it’s time to wake up and make a difference in your own life.

So Long Travel, Hello Entrepreneurship

In just one year, I’ve sold my house and moved into a small studio in the town we look to launch our first location. I sold almost all of my furnishings, pawned my touring drum set, liquidated what little I had in savings and retirement, and now I’m selling my car to get something more affordable. I’ve driven for Uber, taken on a handful of consulting opportunities (one that cost me dearly and still amazes me!), helped a local deli owner cater events (who has become a cool friend), and lastly, been the driving force of a new restaurant desperately looking to establish a forward-thinking culture (both on the floor and on social media). I’m constantly setting up meetings in coffee shops, where we all know refills are free and I’m not afraid to ask for the handout of the muffin or sandwich that is being tossed at the end of the day. I am that guy that has given up everything to see this dream take flight.

I’ve been blessed to travel all my life. So often, these “blessings” come with a personal price. I’ve been to every state, Mexico, Canada, Europe. Anyone that knows me past one cup of coffee or glass of wine knows I have a story or an experience from all these travels. But the experiences I received came with a personal debt. Two divorces, countless holidays on the road, and far too many relationship could-have-beens.

To go all in, I’ve chosen to give up most all personal travel this past year. Travel has become walking two or three blocks in my town to have a conversation about growth plans for the community or a business pitch. Although I’ve performed as a musician on stages all over the country and Europe, I’ve chosen to turn down every gig opportunity given to me this year. I’ve scaled back culinary and live music outings to something I can count on one hand. In short, I’ve completely scaled back the same passions I look to add to our combined venture. In an odd way of sorts, I’ve felt like I’m cheating on a loved one.

Perplexing Passion…

This journey from comfort and conformity has quickly turned into a daily sort of perplexing passion, yet what we look to gain far outweighs what has been given up. The hope of waking up every morning and living out this dream is stronger than ever after nearly a year. Like a candle, this wick runs deep. This past year, I was recognized for a grant from the Farnsworth Fund, interviewed for TV, radio, social media and multiple news articles. We held multiple focus groups testing and refining our eventual brand with packed houses each night! I had a handful of speaking engagements, including two city council meetings. I was the kite flying effortlessly all year with so much attention paid to this dream. Thankfully, I had a trusted loved one holding on down below! What has been a struggle more than anything financial (although that weighs heavy daily…) are the confusing and misrepresented relationships (both personal and professional). The many emails that are never returned, the promised follow up from local groups, the friends and family that showed support when my paycheck had a few extra zeroes attached that are now near silent, and finally, the handfuls of close relationships that awkwardly have chosen to remove themselves.

Compare and contrast this vision: Little Johnny grows up playing on Grandma’s ole upright piano banging out an array of fist-pumping chromatic chords of chopsticks that instantly make dogs howl from two houses down. These mashed up melodies were never brought to light with honesty as Johnny’s elder refused to stifle the sensation of his nightly performances. After the final bow, and the clapping from the “crowd”, a distant sigh of relief from anyone around, be it two legs or four! It would be many years later when Johnny would meet a true professional with balls, and next thing you know, Johnny is now learning paradiddles, rhythm, and meter and kissed the keys goodbye. Yes, I was Little Johnny and this story makes sense for a five-year-old. Yet as hungry entrepreneurs, we’ve run into a handful of elders in the entrepreneur community that finds their transparency stops once the show is over.

Finding true, honest, gut-level, and transparent supporters is the key and should be kept to a minimum! Like any long-term relationship or marriage, there must be true honesty at all costs. Hand claps, fist bumps, toasts, and hugs are temporary feel-goods and completely lose their sincerity and value when you’re faced with challenging decisions that could lead you down the wrong path. When a potential consumer, investor, or networking partner says they like your idea, drill them with the open-ended questions. Refuse to let them get away without giving you their true honesty. I’ve made this comparison in my professional life for years: compare the marriages around you now that are satisfied versus loyal. I’ll take loyalty hands down all the time. Build your dream on loyalty!

Seek This Pain Out

Have a solid partner that you trust to be faithfully honest with you even when you’re feeling the glory of perceived support. Even if you’re on your own, I highly recommend someone who balances you out, even an equity partner. Be wary of tunnel vision and self-promotion of the masses. Ask what, why, and how from your true supporters. Challenge yourself to get more than just market research, or the allure of the latest group of potential consumers who can’t wait to buy your product or service. Like a new app on our smartphones, these relationships will replace themselves with somebody else if they are not true supporters. Don’t be afraid to challenge the entrepreneur community to expose their own pain and hurt past a weekly/monthly support group. There are many out there that do and are willing to share, but I’ve found you need to seek this pain out.

In my personal experience, those who have gone all in have scars that can help a startup guide their way through the a”maze”ing minefield. There will most definitely be personal attrition along the way, but a true sense of support will extend no matter what the circumstances may be, and the removal of some will be better going forward. Many of the close family and friends I had when I held a big corporate paycheck have completely gone silent. I was prepared for this, and my belief is anyone who has truly been successful in following their own dream will share this same story. Just be prepared for the ones you never thought would walk away. It will hurt!

Keep a daily journal of every meeting and conversation you have with those you are choosing to share your dream with at such an early stage. (I’m personally terrible with this as I’m concentrating on pitching the dream. My partner is dead-on with this and truly shines during our recap sessions.) These notable notes may be your lifeblood, and like a transfusion, could be the jumpstart on the next leg of your plan.

Have a solid partner that you trust to be faithfully honest with you even when you’re feeling the glory of perceived support

Lastly, keep your “why” firmly out front, rock solid and bulletproof! As you grow in your venture, your support groups are strategically bragging your “why” for you. Like a songwriter hearing a crowd of thousands sing his song back to him, it’s the most amazing part of the dream! Look at every aspect of your business plan, pitch deck, presentation or coffee conversation, and ask yourself, “Does this venture continue to answer the ‘why?’” This shouldn’t stop once the doors open, either. You must be financially sound, profitable, and prove that you can scale, yet my belief and experience has shown if you put people before profit, all of the above comes naturally. Your venture’s culture is the modern-day sustainability when it comes to people!

Less Certainly is More

Finally, I have surrounded myself with a “less is more” group of transparent supporters. My many years of corporate leadership gave me a sense of false confidence as if there was a hammer waiting somewhere if a vendor or client relationship went south. I now look to my business partner and a select group as a tool to keep me balanced and on track. My “why” goes back to Richard Branson’s quote, and I get up daily with the commitment that our venture will make a difference in people’s lives. That is the most transparent reason why I went all in and chose to go down this road. It was not for money, fame, or fortune. It is because my passion and drive in life has and always will be about seeing that child smile, that awkward teenage couple out on their first date that could use a lift, that weekly book club that just lost a woman to breast cancer, that only child with dreams far past the surrounding cornfields, and so many more.

This venture will make a difference not only in one person’s life but will help propel a community in a forward-thinking direction. The life of a founder is not easy. Yet we stay focused and are not afraid to keep communication open and honest with the few that honestly support our dream! They will be your first marketing team!

It only makes sense that this journey to making a difference in people’s lives started with making a difference in me first.

Why conform when you can transform?

Article written by TK Kelly, Farnsworth Founder and Co-Founder Lucky Dog Books and Bistro

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