The Atrium Aims To Build, Connect Entrepreneurial Community
Historically, Fort Wayne’s economy has been built around farming and manufacturing. But in the near future, the Summit City may be known more for the energy and vitality of its entrepreneurial community. WBOI’s Mark Perry profiled an area non-profit that is working toward that goal.
When you walk up the stairs to the second floor of a building at the corner of Calhoun and Berry Street in downtown Fort Wayne, you are struck by the serenity of the space. There are not the typical sounds of the office, phones, fax machines, a frantic pace. But there is energy.
“You know some people maybe think of this as a kind of like a silent library like you come in, put on your headphones and you get to work and you kind of shut up for a rest of the day. It's totally not like that. If I ever have questions I immediately go out there into the main area I'll go bug a few people, they’ll turn around and gladly answer my questions and always provide a solution for me,” Belcher says.
Twenty-two year old Dylan Belcher, CEO and co-founder of Cartt, a moving and hauling company that takes advantage of the sharing economy, is typical of the type of people taking advantage of The Atrium – Start Ft Wayne’s co-working space.
Rhonda Ladig, is the executive director of Start Fort Wayne.
“Our organization, Start Fort Wayne, was started two and a half years ago by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs with the goal of helping more individuals be able to launch and scale their venture in northeast Indiana. So our programs and projects are under three pillars: community education and space and one of our first major projects was to open a co-working space,” Ladig says.
This space, The Atrium, is where people like Dylan Belcher launched their start ups.
“The Atrium has meant everything in my business. I truly give this place so much credit because if it wasn’t for this building and the people within it, my venture, my business partners, we wouldn't be where are today,” Belcher says. “You know Steve Franks, like I mentioned entrepreneurship coach, he's been our number one mentor from day one; coaching us up from every aspect of business from sales to marketing, branding to networking . . . it’s the full nine yards here. So just the networking is incredible here; I wouldn't trade it for anything.”
According to Ladig, the connections made at The Atrium are its strength.
“A big part of what we do is just connect people. It's not in a brochure, it's not something I can slap a name on to get sponsorship for but we're a connector and we try to help people find whatever it is they need to do to be able to realize their dream,” Ladig says.
Al Linsenmayer, co-founder and digital marketing director of reactivsocial, a digitial marketing firm, appreciates the support systems that the Atrium provides.
“Because I think as an entrepreneur it's a balance of being around people that can relate back to you. So, if you went to a sales meeting that didn’t go so hot, it might be more likely that an entrepreneur could have advice; having that support system,” Linsenmayer says.
Ladig says this focus on entrepreneurs is a bit different from most economic development.
“People want to know the impact of what we're doing in terms of jobs created, average incomes, and those aren’t the things that we measure success in. It doesn't include hiring fifty and seventy-five, and ninety people; it doesn't include that,” Ladig says.
But Belcher says he can see the future of Ft Wayne.
“By deciding on Fort Wayne is right on the brink of blowing up, kind of as a gold mine I tell people because there's a huge economic boom coming to the Midwest,” Belcher says. “I think Fort Wayne's doing a really good job right now of really targeting you know the local entrepreneurs and celebrating that network. And really give them a total support system to really spring off of . . . really spring off of and blow up their businesses.”
“The big thing for us is that trying to get that message and that mind shift change out there that the way that the economy has run and the way that people in this region are going to be successful and happy and have longevity and support their families and be able to do all the things that make northeast Indiana great… we're not going to be able to do that the way that it was done before and so we have to have thought leaders and to get out there and change the way that people are thinking about economic development and we hope to be a part of that conversation,” Ladig says.
Ladig is hopeful that in 2018 there will be new opportunities to offer their programs in south eastern Fort Wayne.