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New program aims to boost start-up companies

A new program is designed to boost start-up businesses in Allen County. Greater Fort Wayne Inc.’s Bridge Program helps established businesses support entrepreneurs, bridging the gap between startup and success.

“When startups succeed, they create jobs, grow the local economy, and make our community a better place,” Brenda Gerber Vincent, vice president of community and corporate impact at GFW said in a statement. “That’s why we’re so excited to launch the Bridge Program: it’s a concerted effort to bridge the gap between the corporate and entrepreneurial communities. It’s inspiring to watch the business community come together to support the next generation of startup success stories.”

As part of the program, bridge investor companies sponsor a startup business’s GFW Inc. membership dues for a five-year period. The startup receives full investor benefits, including exclusive discounts, access to investor-only events, complimentary use of meeting space at the GFW Inc. offices, and more. Entrepreneurs also will be able to take part in educational and networking programs tailored specifically for startup founders.

Many of Allen County’s major employers came from humble, homegrown beginnings. Chuck Surack started Sweetwater out of a Volkswagen bus. Barbara Bradley Baekgaard and Patricia Miller established Vera Bradley with $500 and a basement workshop. Arnold Gerberding quit his job to start the retail co-op that became Do it Best Corp.

Fifteen companies have already committed to sponsor startups as Bridge Investors. They are:

1. 1st Source Bank

2. Ambassador Enterprises

3. Carson LLP

4. Deister Machinery

5. Fort Wayne Mad Ants

6. Hagerman Construction

7. JP Morgan Chase

8. Ortho NorthEast (ONE)

9. Parkview Health

10. Ridge NAPA

11. STAR Financial Bank

12. Summit City Chevrolet

13. Sweetwater

14. Wells Fargo

15. Elevatus Architecture

The Bridge Program is part of a broad community effort to support entrepreneurship. Additional initiatives include the city of Fort Wayne’s SEED and Summit City Match programs, plus a host of grassroots and nonprofit organizations.

“As an entrepreneur, I’ve learned how willing the community is to help one another,” stated Aaron Robles, founder of Founders Spark, an entrepreneurial support organization in Fort Wayne. “Through programs like the Bridge Program, we’re giving businesses of all kinds the opportunity to connect and help one another. Initiatives like this send a powerful message to the community that we want people to start businesses in our city and that we’re willing to do what it takes to help them succeed.”

To apply for a sponsorship, entrepreneurs should complete the online application at bridge.gfwinc.com.

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