The Journal Gazette
Friday, May 04, 2018 1:00 am

1st 4 get Farnsworth Funds

Goal is to give grants to 50 entrepreneurs in its inaugural year

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

Four down. Forty-six to go.

The Farnsworth Fund awarded its first four grants to budding entrepreneurs on Thursday. Organizers' goal is to award 50 grants this year, the fund's first in existence.

About 50 people attended an afternoon ceremony at the Philo T. Farnsworth house, one-time home of the local man who invented the television. The symbolic setting sits just south of East State Boulevard on St. Joseph Boulevard in Fort Wayne.

Marilyn Moran-Townsend, elevate northeast indiana's board chair, said organizers hope to send a shock wave through the traditional funding system by awarding micro-grants. The recipients were on had to receive oversized, $1,000 checks.

Chauntiel Smith, a 25-year-old South Side High School and Indiana Tech graduate, founded Capture Sports Agency. Her ambition rivals that of the elite athletes she hopes to represent.

“My goal for my company is to be the next Eugene Parker – but better,” she said of the late sports agent who was a Fort Wayne native and one of the first blacks to succeed in the industry. Parker represented Hall of Fame football players Deion Sanders, Rod Woodson and Curtis Martin.

Sean Rassavong, a 17-year-old filmmaker and founder of Vizion, said he wants to attract other young, creative types to the community to work for his fledgling production company.

Moran-Townsend revealed Rassavong's secret ambition after his brief comments. He hopes, she said, to follow the footsteps of Martin Scorsese.

“We believe in each of these entrepreneurs,” she said. “You rock, and entrepreneurial culture shock is real in northeast Indiana.”

Moran-Townsend acknowledged after the presentation that the $1,000 grants aren't enough to meet serious funding challenges. But, she added, the grants are an affirmation for exciting ideas and come with mentoring support and access to other resources. Because local residents tend to be cautious, the organization would be slower to approve larger grants, Moran-Townsend said. But the smaller amount allows supporters to bet on unconventional ideas that aren't guaranteed winners, she added. 

The first recipients were chosen from entrepreneurs who have worked with Steve Franks, a local business coach. The finalists were chosen by elevate northeast indiana's grant investment committee.

An advisory board is scouting talent for future grants. Moran-Townsend hopes future recipients will include people who are toiling in obscurity and aren't now on the organization's radar. Elevate northeast indiana was launched in October 2017 as a $2 million partnership between private venture development organization Elevate Ventures and the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.

At a glance

The inaugural grant recipients of elevate northeast indiana's Farnsworth Fund are:

• Kyle Craig, Apollo Dynamics

• Ashli Pershing and Pamela Sprowl, two local inventors working together 

• Sean Rassavong, Vizion

• Chauntiel Smith, Capture Sports Agency 

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