Pilot Program to Boost Entrepreneurship in Fort Wayne

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(photo courtesy of the city of Fort Wayne) (photo courtesy of the city of Fort Wayne)

A new pilot program aims to promote entrepreneurship in Fort Wayne. The Summit City Match program is being funded by the city and a grant from JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) with support from several partners throughout the city. The effort aims to match emerging entrepreneurs with building spaces, startup technical assistance and gap grant opportunities with the goal of launching more small businesses and leasing vacant retail and commercial space along the city's South Calhoun commercial corridor.

The program is being administered by the city's Summit City Entrepreneurship & Enterprise District and Director Trois Hart says the program helps entrepreneurs connect to the resources they need. to become a small business or grow their existing small business.

"Women and people of color are often underconnected to business opportunities, so we have a special emphasis and outreach to individuals from those communities," said Hart. "We are working with entrepreneur organizations here in town. We are lining up technical experts that can give advice and counsel to these individuals and then the city itself is organizing the processes in a very complementary way that allows people to easily navigate a new business startup."

The city says the pilot program will initially focus on connecting businesses with vacant building space on a two-mile stretch of South Calhoun Street, just south of downtown Fort Wayne. Businesses that receive a match will have the opportunity to apply for gap funding to support their project investment.

Hart says they are piloting the effort with hopes of growing into other areas of the city.

"We are focusing in on that area because it's highly-integrated in different cultures and ethnicities and (has) a very international kind of feel to that stretch of South Calhoun," said Hart. "It's also starting to redevelop on its own from some of the investments made downtown, so it's on a tipping point and we believe that if we bring this program here at this time, it has a good opportunity to be successful as a pilot program."

The program hopes to fill six to eight vacant spaces and make grants for a minimum total of $200,000. The city says its plan is to leverage more than $500,000 in private investment from business and building owners.

The first set of building and business owner matches will be announced in August. Businesses selected for a match will be required to open on South Calhoun Street within one year of receiving a financial award and remain at the location for at least two years.

Hart says the program helps entrepreneurs connect to the resources they need to become a small business or grow their existing small business.
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