The Journal Gazette
Sunday, September 08, 2019 1:00 am

Crossing Bridge to success

Greater Fort Wayne pairs startups, established firms

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Rowan Greene wants to match growers with buyers, and the emphasis is on local.

Greene is the CEO of Plowshares Food Hub Co., a project that started about five years ago and is now an agricultural cooperative.

Billions of dollars spent on food annually in Indiana “ends up in the pockets of growers in other states or countries,” Greene said.

“It's really a passion to increase access to nutrient-dense food while keeping the money spent on food in Indiana circulating here in our heartland,” he said.

His business is one of 15 that last week were announced as the first participants selected for Greater Fort Wayne Inc.'s Bridge Program.

The program connects established companies with startups, hoping to “bridge the gap” between startup and success.

“It's inspiring to watch these businesses form relationships,” said Renata Robinson, director of small business development at Greater Fort Wayne, the local chamber alliance.

“For Bridge Investors, this is a way to give back to the business community and help smaller companies succeed,” Robinson said in a statement. “For Bridge Entrepreneurs, it's a step toward realizing their dreams.”

Bridge Investor companies sponsor a startup's GFW Inc. membership dues for a five-year period. The startup receives full investor benefits, including exclusive discounts, access to investor-only events, and complimentary use of meeting space at Greater Fort Wayne offices, a news release said.

Entrepreneurs can also take part in educational and networking programs tailored specifically for startup founders.

The program officially launches Oct. 1 with a luncheon for the entrepreneurs and investors.

Wells Fargo has been appointed the Bridge Investor for Plowshares Food Hub, which is one of six businesses from the retail category. Other sectors entrepreneurs were selected from are human services and business services.

About 50 entrepreneurs applied for the program. Ten of the 15 selected are woman- and/or minority-owned.

Bridge Investors include STAR Financial Bank, Sweetwater Sound, Parkview Health, Summit City Chevrolet, and Deister Machine Co.

The law firm Carson LLP is also participating as a Bridge Investor for Elevare LLC, a woman-owned federal business development consulting company that works with small businesses.

Tim Pape, a partner with Carson, is a board member of Greater Fort Wayne. He said the Bridge Program is one initiative that broadened the focus of the organization.

The focus on helping smaller businesses and giving them a voice is “really an exciting initiative,” Pape said.

Board members were encouraged to have their employers participate. Established businesses had a list of startups and could select three they might be most interested in helping.

“The firm wants to be supportive of all efforts to expand opportunity for everyone,” Pape said, noting that Elevare is female-owned. “I hope to involve, with myself, one of our female lawyers as well to provide any type of support we can for them.”

Elevare, formed two years ago in November, is owned by Lisa Harris and Ashley Spurr.

Harris said they learned about the Bridge Program in June and “had been trying to find a way to plug into the Fort Wayne community, the business community.”

There are so many organizations, Harris said, it was difficult to find the best avenue to give support to other businesses and also get the support a startup needs. With Bridge, she like the idea of being paired with a larger business, and having membership dues to Greater Fort Wayne paid by the investor was another plus.

Greene, with Plowshares Food Hub, said three generations of his family have been involved with ag-related businesses, including Three Rivers Co-Op Natural Foods & Deli.

Greene, 25, said Plowshares had five worker/member owners and one member/owner producer. Several others are working on paying for membership.

“While we do provide access to families ... our target audience is more of that institutional buyer,” Greene said.

One outreach, though, involves offering market days where quality food is sold at low prices to residents of a specific housing or apartment complex such as Brooklyn Manor, which has been a Fort Wayne Housing Authority site.

Greene said he looks forward to the exposure and networking with other business executives through the Bridge Program.

“In order to retain the money spent on food in Indiana,” he said, “it's really got to be our business leaders that make the decision to source foods locally.”

Program Participants

The 15 pairs of Bridge Entrepreneurs and Bridge Investors are:

Business services

• 3r Interactive LLC, a company that creates video games, mobile apps, websites, audiobooks, and virtual reality applications, and also provides technology advising services for startups. Bridge Investor: The Hagerman Group.

• Elevare LLC, a female-owned federal business development consulting company that works specifically with small businesses. Bridge Investor: Carson LLP.

• Founders Spark, an organization that focuses on helping underserved groups and creating a diverse and inclusive community of entrepreneurs nationwide. Bridge Investor: Parkview Health.

• SociallySeasoned LLC, a marketing services company serving local small businesses. Bridge Investor: STAR Financial Bank.

• SoundWalk, a company that uses mobile apps to create spatial audio experiences for film/TV/music/podcast distributors to tie into their marketing campaigns, while also developing a library of audio experiences for users in their everyday lives. Bridge Investor: Sweetwater Sound.

• STRE.ME, which helps shift small business owners, entrepreneurs, and organizational leaders toward fulfilling their potential by simplifying the business growth process. Bridge Investor: Elevatus Architecture.

Human services

• A Chance Re-Employment and Training Agency LLC (ACRE), which helps individuals with occupational barriers obtain workplace skills in preparation for securing suitable and sustainable employment. Bridge Investor: Ambassador Enterprises.

• Bounce Back of Indiana Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps keep families out of poverty when an unexpected financial crisis hits. Bridge Investor: 1st Source Bank.

• Out of a Jam, an organization that trains and certifies women and working aged teens, giving them high-level skills that help them feed themselves and their families and find sustainable employment. Bridge Investor: Fort Wayne Mad Ants.


• Bukál Beverage Co., a company that creates bold sparkling water flavors inspired by river regions around the globe. In turn, a portion of each bottle sale goes back to the source: to region-specific clean water projects. Bridge Investor: Ortho NorthEast (ONE).

• House to Home, a trendy yet affordable home-furnishing retail store that also offers staging and design services. Bridge Investor: Summit City Chevrolet.

• Mercadito Taqueria, a food truck that serves tacos, burgers, and other West Coast flavors, with the goal of growing into a casual/upscale, full-service restaurant. Bridge Investor: JPMorgan Chase.

• Plowshares Food Hub Co., which offers local food distribution infrastructure, providing market access for local food producers. Bridge Investor: Wells Fargo.

• Simple Glow Candle Co., a family owned company creating quality soy candles, hand-poured in Indiana. Bridge Investor: Deister Machine Co.

• Yeoman Service Center, while not fitting the traditional definition of startup, is newly captained by third-generation ownership aiming to learn the proper techniques to grow their small business. Bridge Investor: Ridge NAPA

Source: Greater Fort Wayne Inc.

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