The Journal Gazette
Saturday, October 23, 2021 1:00 am

Business starters hear good, bad, ugly

Start Fort Wayne reveals survey of entrepreneurs

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

When Julie Wall opened The Hedge 81/2 years ago, she jumped in feet first.

The local artist leased space and filled it with her creations, which include “old-school printing on letterpresses,” murals, earrings, pins and necklaces.

“To have a little market research back then would have been very helpful,” she said Friday afternoon at an event scheduled to release just that kind of data.

The 26-page document, titled 2022-2031 Greater Fort Wayne Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Strategy, included “the good, the bad and the ugly” feedback gathered over an eight-month period, said Dan Swartz, Start Fort Wayne's executive director.

Start Fort Wayne was created to help entrepreneurs turn ideas into growing businesses. One ugly piece of feedback is that 86% of the area's entrepreneurs either are unaware of existing entrepreneurial support organizations or don't find value in them.

Another downer was the proportion of entrepreneurs who said they are unaware of financing sources or lack sufficient access to capital to sustain and grow their ventures – 51%.

“That is not a good thing,” Swartz said. He quipped, however, that almost every entrepreneur would answer “yes” if asked whether they could use more money.

Swartz walked through the findings with a small crowd at Wunderkammer Co. before encouraging people to network and visit a half-dozen booths set up by local artists and small-business owners.

The Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Strategy was created over eight months and included surveys, interviews and focus groups that gathered input from more than 1,000 people, Swartz said. The work was supported, in part, by grants from the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne and the Don Wood Foundation.

The effort also uncovered some good news.

The majority of local entrepreneurs who participated in the survey – 57% – have personal income of $75,000 a year or more. Also, 76% have a bachelor's degree or more.

Both percentages exceed economic development officials' goals for income and education attainment.

The survey also found that 71% of local entrepreneurs are originally from outside northeast Indiana. The percentage demonstrates the region is meeting its goal of attracting skilled, creative people to move here, Swartz said.

The strategy report includes targets for the next three, seven and 10 years in six areas: policy, finance, culture, supports, human capital and markets.

Specific goals include organizing local assets into a coherent entrepreneurial ecosystem; developing financial literacy throughout that ecosystem; building a lead organization to organize the region's entrepreneurial ecosystem; and promoting the idea that entrepreneurs can “fail forward” when one idea doesn't work out.

Each of the goals is accompanied by tactics that can be used to achieve it and metrics that can be used to measure success.

“We want everybody to know what those goals are. We want everyone to know how we're judging them,” Swartz said, adding that he hopes local efforts will “blow (the timeline) out of the water” by achieving the seven- and 10-year goals early.

If that happens, he said, Start Fort Wayne and other supporting organizations will have to update their strategy to support the region's entrepreneurs.

Wall, who owns The Hedge, hadn't received a sneak peek at the data before the report was distributed. She was looking forward to diving into some of the information about entrepreneurs' income and education levels.

“I thought some of the questions were really interesting,” she said of the survey.

At a glance

Following are findings of a Start Fort Wayne survey of 622 entrepreneurs representing 705 northeast Indiana businesses. Numbers might not equal 100% because of rounding.

Finance (some marked more than one)

• 33% received financing from traditional sources, including banks

• 41% received financial support from friends and family

• 67% used some of their own money


• 32% reported sales of less than $100,000

• 16% reported sales of $100,000 or more

• 16% reported sales of $250,000 or more

• 37% reported sales of $1 million or more

Years of operation

• 11% have been open less than 1 year

• 22% have been open 2 to 5 years

• 22% have been open 6 to 10 years

• 25% have been open 11 to 20 years

• 21% have been open 21 or more years

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