Inside INdiana Business

Filling Fort Wayne’s entrepreneurial pipeline

Janice Hodges created Hodges Transportation Services in Fort Wayne as part of the entrepreneur program Build Institute Fort Wayne.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — An entrepreneurship program serving northeast Indiana is celebrating two milestones as it graduates its 100th woman-owned business and 100th minority-owned business.

The students took part in Build Institute Fort Wayne, an education platform that is administered through the city’s Summit City Entrepreneur and Enterprise District.

SEED helps to attract and grow business in an area of Fort Wayne that has seen an under-investment by businesses. The institute’s role is to build an entrepreneur pipeline for the community and the region.

“We have been working toward helping existing businesses grow. And adding to that is starting with entrepreneurs or would-be entrepreneurs to show them how to open a business,” said SEED Director Trois Hart. “We teach them the basic tenets of entrepreneurship and an environment in which they can grow with the information support that they need.”

The Build Institute Fort Wayne program is a nine-week basic business education program for early-stage startups.

Students develop business skills and gain networking connections with individuals and organizations.

“There are significant resources available to startup businesses that either go unused or to those with established connections. Through the Build program, SEED provides foundational knowledge and connections to these resources. We provide the path, but of course, the hard work to start the company remains with the founder,” said Hart.

Since its inception in April 2019, the institute has a 93% graduation rate with more than 150 students who have graduated from the nine-week program.

Janice Hodges created Hodges Transportation Services, which provides shuttle service in underserved populations including the elderly. Hodges was recognized as the 100th woman-owned business graduate.

Isaac Fincher created Clean Lots Solutions, maintenance and cleaning program for commercial parking lots. He is the 100th minority-owned business entrepreneur to graduate.

About 70% of Build Institute Fort Wayne classes are made up of women and minority populations.

“The meaningfulness of what they’re doing and why they’re doing it is so very, very personal,” said Hart. “They want to set an example for siblings, friends, children, grandchildren, that entrepreneurism is an option for me or my family. As a woman, I can do this.”

Hart says Hodges and Fincher will each receive a grant valued at more than $15,000 from SEED Fort Wayne. The grant pays for marketing and technical support in their early stage of development.

The curriculum is licensed through the Build Institute of Detroit, which created the program. Hart says SEED Fort Wayne is the first community outside of Michigan to use the program designed to attract under-connected populations.

“The importance of casting the net to reach all populations was an early part of the discussions. While high tech and high growth companies remain very desirable, an entrepreneur ecosystem thrives with a wide variety of businesses that energize each other,” said SEED Board of Directors President Pat Turner.

Because of the state funding it receives from the Indiana Economic Develop Corp., Hart says Build Fort Wayne is supporting other counties in northeast Indiana that may want to adopt the program.

To learn more about Build Institute Fort Wayne, click here.