Fort Wayne Innovative Network Group

Have you heard yet about the Fort Wayne Innovative Network? Check out their Facebook Page.  Here’s a pic from the first meeting.  About 100 people came to the inaugural event – of a group that is only a month or so old!  Awesome!

The invention of Anton Babich (look him up on Facebook), this brand new group is breathing life into the creative, entrepreneurial culture here in Fort Wayne.  As their FB page description says …

“Ever wanted to gather with others that are driven, motivated, inspired, and have a positive energy? All ages, all business types, and anyone and everyone is welcome!

I met young entrepreneurs doing incredible things here.  I asked for the name of any videographers to refer to a friend who needs a commercial created – and THREE people showed up immediately!  I met entrepreneurs helping breath life into downtown Fort Wayne (Living Loud).  I met young entrepreneurs who had turned to non-profit social mission to make Fort Wayne a better place (A Better Fort).  I talked to entrepreneurs, artists, designers, and developers of all ages who ranged from sheer beginners to seasoned professionals.

The atmosphere at the first meeting was electric.  It took a major league effort to corral the group and quiet it down (with the help of the “biggest voice in Fort Wayne”, seen here pointing).

After it quieted down, everyone got a chance to describe who they were and what they do.

Because the whole idea is to Connect Talents.

And that worked.  Great job, Anton.

p.s. the next meeting is December 16 at YOLO.  Visit the Facebook event page and plan to attend.  The event was posted 2 days ago and already 43 people are signed up to attend!  See you there.

Young Innovators – Part 6

This is the last post in this series.  But, it just happens to be an a very fitting ending to this initial story of young entrepreneurs and young innovators here in Fort Wayne, IN.

Yesterday, at the Fort Wayne Business Weekly’s annual Innovation  Awards Luncheon, a team of student entrepreneurs mentioned in the first post of the series, the Dugans from Honor Education, won Innovator of the Year!


Honor Education - 2010 Innovator of the Year

I am impressed not only with the work that they have done (and will continue to do), but also that the community has chosen to acknowledge this group that ranges in age from 18 to 24.  Perhaps, like me, the judges liked the fact that Honor Education is already teaching Python, CGI, and game programming to the middle schoolers who will be the next generation of young innovators.

Sean Dugan, Jared Dugan, Alyssa Dugan, and Tristan Dugan.  You do great work, and are helping to make our Fort Wayne tech community grow.  We are proud that you are members of NIIC’s Student Venture Lab.

Congratulations to you and to all the young innovators here in Northeast Indiana!

Young Innovators – Part 5

Yesterday, I helped plan a new type of business plan competition with Jim Tolbert of Ivy Tech Northeast.

For Ivy Tech students only, this collaboration between Ivy Tech Northeast and the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center will feature a semester of classroom experience at Ivy Tech followed by a semester of hands-on internship (to develop the student’s own business, that is) together with NIIC.

The twist is that a series of competitions during the internship will feature team exercises and a “voted off of the island” component, paring the field down to the top three.

Check back here to see what these young entrepreneurs achieve – and to see what other twists we have in store for the competition!

Young Innovators – Part 4

Last Thursday 95 high school students from 6 different Northeast Indiana schools converged on the University of Saint Francis for the 8th annual Youth Entrepreneurship Symposium, co-sponsored by USF and the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center.

In less than a day, small groups of students brainstorm customer needs, invent a new product, build a business concept around it, and pitch their ventures.  The day is fast paced, hands on, loud, and fun.  It doesn’t hurt that we pay the top three places (and the most innovative) with Best Buy gift cards (the Best Buy Community Fund, by the way, has issued NIIC a grant to help defray expenses and schools’ transportation expenses – thanks!).

Students start by brainstorming customer needs.  Each year, the product we invent is something oriented toward customers their own age.  This year we simply said, “Invent an app – Facebook, iOS, Android, any or all platforms – but make your venture around an app.”  In past years students have invented a music player, “not your father’s cell phone”, and a video game player.

The product / venture concepts are always creative and innovative.  This year’s winner designed a Skype-like video chat app embedded into Facebook.  Students have to get the judges attention with a 30-second elevator pitch to make the finals, and then are given three minutes to pitch their concepts in more detail.

Over the past eight years, a few thousand students have proven to themselves an undeniable fact – each and every one of them can invent a product and build a venture concept!

Young Innovators – Part 3

Yesterday I was invited to listen to final presentations by student groups from Wayne High School’s New Tech (project based learning) program.  Students only had 3 1/2 weeks to conceive, research, and design an entity that would 1) support Fort Wayne’s Hispanic community, 2) support Fort Wayne itself, and 3) be centered around tourism and recreation.

Many presentations were very good, but three struck me as particularly innovative or entrepreneurial.

Food, family, fun.  One group suggested holding a monthly event at a downtown location where Hispanic families would gather to learn from a chef how to cook traditional cultural dishes.  I liked that the idea promotes family values and helps maintain awareness of historical cultural identity, and also liked that it also engaged the non-Hispanic community (the event would be open to the public to come and eat wonderful food from a different Hispanic country each month).  The idea is bootstrappable, and would bring people downtown – something we in Fort Wayne are promoting today.

Animals, leverage, tourism.  Another group designed a brand new Hispanic attraction to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, leveraging and growing that already-major tourist and recreational attraction.  The group selected open property at the zoo, designed their attraction to fit it, researched costs with the Zoo’s director (who recently had added a new African attraction), and even built a 3-D prototype model of the attraction!  I liked how the group thought BIG (the project would cost $7-8 million) and, like a successful entrepreneur, made a REALISTIC design – a detailed property design, a detailed set of the content (buildings, environments, animals) on the property, and a realistic view of the costs.

Theater, stage, tourism.  Another group created the concept for a theater which would be devoted to Hispanic theater.  They located their theater in a predominantly residential Hispanic neighborhood, but when questioned, indicated they would be willing to locate at another site closer to other recreational attractions (restaurants, bars, shopping)  if the focus was to bring in tourists.  I liked the fact that they were willing to consider changing their design to fit a broader target market.  I also liked the fact that their building and renovation costs were very realistic.  I didn’t tell them, but I had just met last week with an entrepreneur who is planning a similar renovation to create a theater and had established very similar costs.

Great job to these groups – and all of the rest!  Now for the punchline.  I said these were high school students, but I didn’t tell you that they were freshmen!  These ideas – that I consider VERY doable – came from students that were mostly 14 years old!  Let’s hear it for young entrepreneurs.