Three “Co”s

Since I last wrote here back in October (wow, has it been that long?), a lot has changed here in the Fort.  Let me tell you about three “Co”s that I’m excited to see happening in Fort Wayne.

  1. Co.Starters at Artlink’s Fort Wayne Arts Incubator
  2. Co Work Fort Wayne
  3. Coder Dojo

Co.Starters at the Fort Wayne Arts Incubator

I have the pleasure of facilitating the first cohort of Co.Starters in Fort Wayne.  Artlink licensed the program from the Chattanooga company to use in the newly formed Arts Incubator.

CoStarters Fort Wayne

Arts Incubator Co.Starters cohort digging in one day one.

Over 1,000 entrepreneurs across the nation have built business models and graduated from this program, producing ventures with over 2,000 jobs.  Now there are 11 more entrepreneurs a few weeks from graduation – right here in Fort Wayne.

They are a diverse group of creatives.  Their ventures include a craft beer operation, fine art, digital media marketing, retail gallery or store art, musical performing art, product photography, and food venture.  They are intensely engaged in the process of thinking through a business model – and, at the same time, staying true to their art.

It is enormously gratifying to see Artlink step up and provide a venue for creatives here to make a living with their art.  Kudos to Rebecca Stockert and Deb Washler.  I thank them for giving me the opportunity to facilitate this group.  If you’ve visited my page, you’ve noticed that I am interested in growing both the entrepreneur and arts communities here.  This program touches on both goals!

 Co Work Fort Wayne

Some good people, led by Dave Sanders and Chad Clabaugh, have banded together to create a coworking space with a great location and an even better view.  Located in the Murphy Building right across the street from Pint and Slice and the Dash In, Co Work Fort Wayne sits on the 5th floor overlooking Calhoun Street.  It is a shared-cost space.  Right now $125 will buy you a monthly table space with some amenities, and the cost will go down as more member join.

Co Work Fort WayneOne of Co Work Fort Wayne’s conference rooms overlooking downtown.

Coder Dojo

Last year, Noel Knox got the idea to start an after-school coding program for kids.  Well, actually his son may have had the idea – or at least was the first intended beneficiary.

Coder Dojo

February Coder Dojo Meeting

That idea turned into the Fort Wayne Coder Dojo.  It started small, with just a few kids showing up to code together for a couple of hours on a Saturday at the Indiana Tech computer science lab (thanks to Brian Lewandowski).  The group grew, affiliated formally with the Coder Dojo global network, and now includes a diverse group meeting twice a month with kids working on everything from Minecraft, robotics, Arduino, MaKey MaKey, web apps, and more.

Three new initiatives that add a lot to Fort Wayne entrepreneurial and arts cultures.  Go check them out!

Fort Wayne’s Comic Con

appleseed comic con

The Appleseed Comic Con draws comic artists from all around the region to Fort Wayne each year.  But what makes me smile each year is the amazing number of highly talented comic artists from right here in Fort Wayne.  It’s always good to see so many local artists (or in some cases those who studied here and have roots here) creating so many great products.  See you next year!

You can browse through all of the Comic Con artists at   Before you do, enjoy a few pics of some (not all. sorry) of the Fort Wayne artists.

Creativity and Work Ethic in the Arts and Entrepreneurship

Today at Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings site, Maria has posted about the book Inside the Painter’s Studio, which looks at the creative sources, inspirations, and working environments and regimens of several artists.

She highlights, and I particularly like, the working philosophy of artist Chuck Close.

“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

Isn’t that a great quote?  While you take a moment to think about how it widely applies to a lot more than just the arts, I’m going to zero in just one other area – entrepreneurship.

Work Ethic Wins in Startups

It rings particularly true today in the world of startups and entrepreneurship.  Showing up and getting to work (versus waiting around for that killer app idea to materialize or that 100-page business plan to be funded) is exactly the difference between entrepreneurs who succeed and those who either fail or never take off.

When I say “work ethic wins” in the startup community, I am not simply referring to hard work (although startup entrepreneurs certainly work hard).  What I am referring to is the startup community’s bias toward stepping in and getting started … i.e. building something.  A business plan without a product or at least a prototype is discounted as a useless old school exercise.

Today’s startups are strongly influenced by the customer development / business model development / lean startup techniques of people like Steve Blank, Alexander Osterwalder, Eric Ries, and many others – all of which depend upon building something and then using that to test product / market fit and business model validity.  The bias toward building something gets kicked up a notch in startup incubators like Y-Combinator and TechStars, where from day one the clock is ticking toward a Demo Day deadline.

Work Ethic Enhances Creativity

Chuck Close continued by saying …

“And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will — through work — bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art idea.’”

An initial hunch or bit of creativity may get you started, but it is not sufficient for a robust, deeply valuable product (or work of art).  First of all, you (the entrepreneur) simply do not know everything there is to know about the market.  You have to listen to others who use products in different ways than you, have different needs or wants than you, have different experience levels than you, and so forth.  When you hear a entrepreneur who does know it all, be very afraid. The more people in the market with whom you engage, the more you learn – and the more opportunity you’ll find to understand needs both widely and deeply or crash multiple good ideas together.

When I worked with Ron Sears doing innovation consulting, we would spend anywhere from weeks to months of up front research engaging and listening to a cross section of stakeholders to a product or business before starting ideation or design work.  My experience taught me that intense customer / stakeholder engagement always produces the sorts of insights that drive huge value into the product.

Sometimes Less is More

Building will not only uncover possibilities and open doors, but will also help you shut doors.  The best way to see if an idea will fail is to try it.  This is as true for art as it is for entrepreneurship.

For an entrepreneur, continuing to beat the dead horse of a idea that has no market validation is a cardinal sin.  Customer development / lean startup techniques emphasize quickly moving away from concepts that have no validation, and finding what to throw away can be just as creative as finding what to keep.

Overall, Building Wins

Overall, for both artist and entrepreneur, what wins is action.  Building something.  Without building something you cannot either engage the market or see (hear, touch, taste, smell) the art.  You cannot learn how to bridge from one iteration to the next even-better possibility.  You cannot learn what the market doesn’t like – or what artistic elements just don’t work.

So, the lesson of the day comes from Chuck Close, via Maria Popova – just show up and get to work!

Renaissance – Post 2, Some Selfless People Who Care About Fort Wayne

My first Renaissance post foreshadowed a number of posts to come, about different groups of people doing remarkable things in Fort Wayne.  Here goes.

The common thread among all of these people who are moving our city forward is  that they all care deeply about our city, its people, and making Fort Wayne a better place.  What better place to start writing this series than with a group that purely embodies caring.  At the risk of embarrassing them (and no doubt alienating many others who are doing great things) I have selected a short list of people.  They are all role models who are out there helping our city just for the sake of helping our city.  They act selflessly.

  1. Andrea and Micah Rapp
  2. Craig Crook
  3. Andrew Hoffman
  4. Downtown Larry
  5. Christy Landrigan

Andrea and Micah Rapp

What did you do with your summer?  This year, Andrea and Micah Rapp rode bicycles across the country in support of affordable housing.

On June 3 they left Charlottesville, VA for Portland, OR where they arrived August 6 (see the top photo).  They rode as part of a program called Bike and Build.  With the help of riders like Andrea and Micah, Bike and Build has raised over $3 million to help housing programs throughout the country.

As part of their personal commitment, Andrea and Micah each raised $4,500 (and a bit more) for the charitable cause that contributes funds to housing projects in communities that need help, and during their local fundraiser benefit concert and auction, they raised money earmarked for the Fort Wayne Habitat for Humanity.  While they were riding cross country, they stopped and “rested” by helping build houses in communities.

What a great way to invest a summer!

Craig Crook

As Craig says, “Fort Wayne chose me.”  After growing up in Ann Arbor, MI and Upland, IN,  Craig migrated to Fort Wayne to raise a family.  Somewhere along the way, he grew to love Fort Wayne, the “best combination of small town and big town”.

Craig is the founder and curator of TEDxFortWayne, our own local version of the TED conference with the tagline, “ideas worth spreading”.  He has produced two TEDxFortWayne conferences so far.

How that got started tells you a lot about Craig.  I was part of a group he convened to discuss ideas from Seth Godin’s Lynchpin book.  At one of those meetings, after the group had been searching without success over a couple of months for a project to do, Craig brought up the idea of possibly doing a TEDx in Fort Wayne.  I remember how the vibe in the room immediately changed – that was instantly seen as the answer.  Craig secured the rights and then started convening volunteers to help.  Over 30 volunteers came to the early meetings, and from that start TEDx came to Fort Wayne!  The talks were amazing, and a lot of great new ideas were introduced to the community.

The second year, more TEDxFortWayne volunteers joined in with the experienced group from year one, and the production quality was plussed up.  The speakers were great again, as to be expected.  Today the TEDxFortWayne conversation continues in meetings that are not about planning the next event, but about just exchanging ideas.

If you read between the lines, you’ll find two themes to what Craig does – spreading ideas and convening groups of people.  Craig thrives on bringing people together to push themselves and our city forward with innovation.  He came to NIIC’s BizWiz student entrepreneur meeting and spread that spirit among our young entrepreneurs.  He operates the TQM Network to spread innovation and ideas through the business community.

When I asked him to think about the impact TEDxFortWayne has had, he mentioned that it has brought together people “who would not otherwise have met”, to “form new relationships and spawn new endeavors”.

Very cool, Craig, very cool!

Andrew Hoffman

One of the speakers at the 2011 TEDxFortWayne was Andrew Hoffman.  Andrew talked about positively changing neighborhoods, something that he is devoted to as an individual and as the Executive Director of non-profit NeighborLink.

Andrew describes him self as being “wired for service” and compassionate toward those who are suffering.  His involvement with NeighborLink grew from his grass roots volunteer work with a NeighborLink group at Fellowship Missionary Church.  It is refreshing to hear his viewpoint of NeighborLink.  “People sometimes perceive NeighborLink’s constituents as a bunch of poor people who just don’t care.  But that’s just because they don’t know them.  Once you know them, you see a bunch of really cool individuals suffering some life circumstance – who have been marginalized by their neighborhood.”

He talks about Jean, a 70 year old lady who was spending all of her money on her son with a liver transplant – and couldn’t afford to stave off a number of code enforcement issues at her home.  Over a course of a Fall, NeighborLink volunteers got the home back to code, and even after her son passed away her neighbors took notice of the activity at her home and started to engage with her.  That, Andrew says, is a classic example of how NeighborLink can “create and spark change in the neighborhood.”

NeighborLink has grown in the last few years from 262 projects in 2009, 494 in 2010, 724 in 2011 – to 500 already on 2012.  The original group of 250 or so volunteers has grown to  1,400!

NeighborLink’s latest innovation is combined with their recent move to a new shared office space inside the new Blue Jacket offices on South Calhoun.  The office, by the way, is only 3 blocks from Andrew’s home – yes, he believes in living in the neighborhood he serves and moved there with that purpose in mind.


Although this post doesn’t feature Blue Jacket Executive Director
Tony Hudson
(pictured above in green – and who was sorta embarrassed to be photographed in his sweaty lawn mowing clothes that I think just demonstrate that he is a regular stand-up guy), we should all take a moment to appreciate what he and Blue Jacket do to help ex-offenders in our community!

NeighborLink and Blue Jacket are using some of their space as a collaborative coworking space (yep, like Founders where I work).  The photos below show a countertop (being built) where people will sit and work and their first business, Justin Sheehan, a young entrepreneur friend of mine who operates Crown Jewel Productions and is starting Business Connect and Connect Fort Wayne.  Congrats on the new office, Justin!


A lot of what I personally focus on in the community is economic development.  Andrew pursues what he calls a holistic view of community development, where economic development only can thrive when the grass roots needs in the community are being done.

Thanks, Andrew!

Downtown Larry

Not too long ago someone mentioned something about a Larry Thomas from the Downtown Improvement District.  I couldn’t place who that might be.  Then it dawned on me – oh yeah, Downtown Larry!  Well before I heard the name Larry Thomas I knew him as Downtown Larry.  First by reputation – and then once I moved downtown to work I got to know him personally.

When the big storm passed through, Larry was out picking up branches and debris even before it cleared the downtown.  Only two weeks after we moved into Founders he stopped in and proposed a project to clean up the decay in front of the parking lot next to us (pictured below).  Once the years’ worth of debris is cleaned up, he knows from experience, people will take care of it, passersby will be less likely to throw junk there, and it will return to being an asset for downtown.  I know from others I talk to that these two actions of his are just the tip of the iceberg.

He didn’t have to do either of those two things.  I repeat, he didn’t have to be proactive and do either of those two things.  But he did – because he cares about downtown and wants to make it (keep it) a great place.

As Larry says, the 91 blocks of downtown are where he lives, where he works, and where he plays.  He grew up downtown, and he views it and treats it like “my own backyard”.  Being able to help somebody – usually by doing a personal project – is Larry’s way of giving back.

As simple as jumpstarting a car with a dead battery, or as complex as organizing a group of “green and clean” volunteers to revitalize a debris-filled greenspace, Larry is always there.  You’ll see him in that green shirt riding around town in that green Gator.  If you wave, he’ll probably stop and say, “Hi”.

Bill Brown, you may be the [interim] President of DID, but Downtown Larry is unquestionably DID’s heart and soul!

Christy Landrigan

Who showed up at Founders shortly after we got the keys and brought champagne?  Who goes by the name Startup Groupie?  Who organized a cash mob for the Downtown Deli?  Who is the most enthusiastic supporter for every young entrepreneur in the city?

Yep, it’s Christy Landrigan.

Christy doesn’t grab the limelight.  She doesn’t seek headlines.  She just celebrates and encourages young entrepreneurs.  She just supports and encourages downtown Fort Wayne businesses.  Always, without fail.

I first met Christy at IPFW where she was engaged in the business school’s student group.  Later I found her working for the Downtown Improvement District, and learned that she really, really loves downtown Fort Wayne and its businesses.  Regardless of where she works or studies, she always tends to show up where there are groups of entrepreneurs, especially young entrepreneurs, to encourage – like at last Spring’s Demo Day at NIIC (she’s got her back to us in the photo below).

Most recently, Christy studied and became certified as a facilitator for the Kauffman Foundation’s Ice House program.  The program uses an ice house as the backdrop for teaching real world entrepreneurial lessons useful to grass roots entrepreneurs.  Christy didn’t do this to make piles of money doing training – she did it to bring inspiration and skills to Fort Wayne entrepreneurs and help them bootstrap and grow their business.

Keep it up, Startup Groupie!

Now For Your Challenge

So, that’s my short list of people I admire for their caring efforts on behalf of a better Fort Wayne.  I know there are lots more people who do great, caring, selfless things in town – I plan to write about some in other categories during this series of posts.  I invite you to keep me honest by citing your own short list in the comments.  Let’s hear it.

In the meantime, how about some applause for these folks?

Renaissance – Post 1 of ?

I’ve used the word “Renaissance” to describe what I see happening in the Fort Wayne entrepreneur community right now.  We are moving out of a slump, the equivalent of the entrepreneurial Dark Ages.

In much earlier days the city was an entrepreneurial center.  TV was invented here, for goodness sake.  More recently we evolved into a manufacturing economy.  A very successful one.  Household income was high – above the national average.  We became a suburban city.  Families moved to the suburbs, followed by businesses.  Many families had a home, a lake cottage, multiple cars, maybe a boat, etc.  Fat and happy.  Complacent.

And then manufacturing changed.  Jobs left.  Wages dropped – to significantly less than the national average.  New entrepreneurial non-manufacturing business didn’t necessarily step in to fill the gap or create new businesses centers like in California, Boston, Austin, and Seattle (although there were certainly some highly successful entrepreneurs here creating companies during that time).  The downtown area that had lost residents and businesses during the suburban flight now looked emptier (or maybe we just noticed it more because we weren’t all at the lake).

We started to hear more and more talk about our youth leaving for opportunities elsewhere.  It was a slump, just as much a slump as the batter who  can’t get a hit to save his life.

The slump is over.

It is starting with our young entrepreneurs.  Watch Brandon Smits’ documentary “Startup City”.  And keep in mind Nyzzy’s words –

“Just a group of kids trying to get it on, 
but we’re gonna be the ones to put the city on” – Nyzzy Nyce

In coming posts, I’ll go into more detail about all of this:

  • the nonprofits – like WunderKammer, A Better Fort, Twelve Cities, and Believe in a Dream.
  • the videographers – like Kelly Lynch and Brandon Smits.
  • the techies – like Dave Corcoran, Ryan Imel, Graham Bredemeyer, Scott BonAmi, Ray Angel, Justin Sharpe, and the Mobile Developers Club.
  • the fashion entrepreneurs – like Olivia Fabian and Jamal Robinson.
  • the people who do amazing selfless things – like Andrea and Micah Rapp and Andrew Hoffman.
  • the artists – like the Huntington University Digital Media Arts people, Paradigm Magazine, the Comic-Con people, and everyone who exhibits at Conspiracy, Firefly, and 816 Pint and Slice.
  • the catalysts – like the Innovation Center, its Student Venture Lab, Founders,
    Vertical Leap,and the Millennial 2020 program.
  • the business clusters – like Wayne and Calhoun, Wells Street, SoCal, Broadway, and Wells Street.

And many more people, places, and things.  Stay tuned!