“We Made It Stronger for Fort Wayne”: The Build Institute for Minority Entrepreneurs

“We Made It Stronger for Fort Wayne”: The Build Institute for Minority Entrepreneurs

By almost all of their measurables (knock on wood), the Build Institute Fort Wayne program is in the mission accomplished so far phase of its story. When a group of 25 select Fort Wayne representatives toured Detroit last year, to glean how the city revitalized itself, one of the bring-back ideas was the Build Institute, the Motor City’s initiative that targets minority entrepreneurs, bolstering their early ambitions with necessary tools.

“We were looking for a program that was modeled under an equitable entrepreneurship model,” SEED (Summit City Entrepreneur and Enterprise District) Executive Director Trois Hart said. “Women and people of color aren’t traditionally at the [forefront] when it comes to entrepreneurism.” Clearly, white males are not excluded from the program but, according to Hart, “equitable entrepreneurship provides the connectivity, the resources, the exposure for all people.”

After the curriculum was licensed, with needed tweaks, the Summit City approved Build late last year. Ten facilitators, with networks to attract women and minority entrepreneurs, were hired and trained before the program’s launch in April; six were women…five people of color. “When you see people that look like you, it feels more inviting,” Hart said.

Since then, Build Fort Wayne has graduated three cohorts with two currently in progress, and a number of them at the planning stage. “We promised to do six in a year in Fort Wayne,” Hart said, “but we’ll have more than that at the end of the year.”

Where the classes are set, a note taken (and ran with) from the Detroit group, has been vital when attracting that target audience. “I think it was important that we started the program at the Penta Building,” said the executive director about the building at 2513 South Calhoun St., home of the Minority Entrepreneurship Center and nestled in the minority-heavy Southeast side. After four months, the Penta Building draws the program’s biggest classes and a third cohort will drop there this year.

Build has also hosted classes at the Urban League of Fort Wayne, and Indiana Tech (happening now). A Saturday class will be set at Junior Achievement and a Turnstone Center location is being scheduled…concluding how drive-accessible the program is. Like location, another have-to staple taken from the Detroit Build is feeding participants if classes are held over meal times. Child care is also provided by the program. “The goal is to remove any obstacles that have kept [minorities] from traditionally starting a business,” Hart said.

The eight-week course sees participants following the Detroit curriculum, with courses that provide all of the elements needed to launch a business, including guest speaking days from small to medium enterprise lawyers, business advisors, accountants, marketing professionals, and lenders/investors. According to Hart, the first week is all about connecting as a group.

In the classroom is where the Build Fort Wayne has come into their own. Build Fort Wayne uses two facilitators per cohort, paired up by diversity of experiences, versus the one utilized by Detroit, giving participants double the opportunity for engagement. And Detroit’s doesn’t have a strength finder coach. Every graduating participant gets a one-hour strength finding coach session that will yield an entrepreneur’s Top 5 strengths. “That way, you’ll know which professionals you need to line up to shore up some of your weakness,” Hart said.

A business consultant, paired with a facilitator, will have a custom-curated business evaluation session. And a follow-up meeting, three to five months after graduation, will serve as another evaluation.

The $175 paid up front for the cohort gets returned to the participant, who’ll be armed with a business plan, after graduation, where a bigger world awaits. The Build Institute provides early-stage direction. “The program gets them on the road; it’s not the end of the road,” Hart said. So the institute directs its graduates to those other organizations locally that do more in-depth development, like the Small Business Development Center.

The peer network each cohort manifests also expands that entrepreneur community, but on a more personal level. By the end of the year, Build Fort Wayne’s goal is 100 Northeast Indiana graduates, who’ll have more than one thing in common.

For info on the Build Institute Fort Wayne, hit up their website at SeedFW.org (the link for Build is on the right).

I run Scrambled Egg(s) Design and Productions, based out of Northeast Indiana. In addition to producing in-house company projects, I also create advertising materials for companies and organizations, with an emphasis on interactivity.