Fort Wayne’s Future Founders

Fort Wayne’s Future Founders

by Nick Arnett

This article was originally written on September 6th, 2012.

About a month ago, three Fort Wayne entrepreneurs talked about the possibility of opening a coworking
space downtown to offer a home for anyone building something. Six days later, they had the keys to 614
S. Harrison Street and “Founders” was born.

The three cofounders – Steve Franks, Ryan Imel, and Ray Angel – each have a diverse range of
experiences themselves. Franks has a long history in venture development, most recently serving as
Director of Programs at the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center where he headed up their Student
Venture Labs program. Imel is a WordPress expert who runs the blog, one of the leading
sources for WordPress-related news in the world. Angel grew up in Northeast Indiana and has been
involved in several startups over the past decade (MOSH Mobile, LaunchNow, among others), as well
as a short term serving as CEO of Startup Weekend, an organization that hosts weekend-long startup
events in thousands of locations around the globe.

Together, the three hoped to offer a space in the heart of the city where entrepreneurial types could
work, connect, build social capital, and collaborate. While “coworking” spaces are becoming increasingly
popular around the world, Founders puts a different spin on things – there’s no cost to work out of their
space. As long as you are “building something” and adding value to Fort Wayne’s entrepreneurial
community, you’re free to walk in, take a seat, and use their facility.

Probably the most exciting aspect of Founders is the community that’s come together to support it.
That community didn’t evolve overnight, either. About seven months ago, Franks, Angel, and two other
young entrepreneurs started hosting a monthly “meet-up” of entrepreneurs in the Fort Wayne area called
Vertical Leap. The event took place once a month and involved a few presentations, though most of the
time was allotted for connection and conversation; the three emphasized the importance of connectivity
among Fort Wayne’s entrepreneurs in relation to developing an effective entrepreneurial ecosystem in
our region.

As Vertical Leap grew (some events reaching over 80 attendees), they realized that the community had
grown large and close-knit enough to support a physical space – essentially taking Fort Wayne’s startup
community to the next level. As people at the monthly events began to realize how much value they were
soaking out of the connectivity they were amassing, the demand for a more tangible and visible element
to our city’s startup community was clear. Though they weren’t sure of what was going to happen or how
things were going to play out, the three co-founders of Founders decided to take the entrepreneurial leap
and fill that void.

The impacts from just one month of being open have been huge. In total, the Founders community has
logged a combined 107 days worth of productive time in the space, with over 70 people have worked
out of the space at various times in the past month. Several projects have come to fruition, a number
of startups have been formed, and several entrepreneurial people have met cofounders for future
projects (myself included). The Founders community is already actively volunteering in the downtown
area, too. On September 15th, Founders will be partnering with the Downtown Improvement District for
the September Clean & Green volunteer day to clean up the street-scape along Harrison Street. On
September 21st, they’ll be participating in Fort Wayne’s first PARK(ing) Day event with several other
groups in the downtown area.

Over the past year, I’ve been traveling the country to study the entrepreneurial communities of other
cities. While Fort Wayne itself has never been considered a “startup hub,” the community forming around
things like Founders and Vertical Leap leads me to believe that Fort Wayne has a very bright future in
store. Innovation is alive and well in Northeast Indiana, perhaps now more than ever. In each city I’ve
visited, the most critical element to their entrepreneurial ecosystem was the highly-connected fabric of
entrepreneurs in that region – something we’re watching grow here in Fort Wayne by leaps and bounds
lately. If your an entrepreneurial type who has a drive to build something, come down to Founders
and join the growing network of “starters” here. Together, entrepreneurs in Fort Wayne are building an
exciting future for our downtown, city, and region.

Nick Arnett is the Chairman of Twelve Cities, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering innovation
through social connectivity, entrepreneurship, and immersive education. You can learn more
about him by visiting






Categories: Ideas for Improvement

3 Comments on “Fort Wayne’s Future Founders”

  1. September 26, 2012 at 10:08 AM #

    Thanks for publishing our (Founders) story – and thanks to Nick for writing it!

  2. September 26, 2012 at 9:07 AM #

    Thanks for the feature!

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