Fort Wayne area community good neighbor Steve Franks
“Fort Wayne, a league of its own.”
For over a decade, Steve Franks has been helping small businesses take their first step. He works with Start Fort Wayne coaching entrepreneurs through their LevelUP program and serves on the board for the nonprofit Believe in a Dream, working with their Believe in Your Business program that focuses on high school age entrepreneurs.
He sees youth-centered entrepreneurship as vibrant and world changers. When encouraged, they will find the way. I asked how one would encourage these young entrepreneurs. “Not every venture needs to be a home run, but a lot of singles will get a lot of runs,“ Steve replied. He went on to explain that not every first venture will be your best.
I find myself continually amazed and inspired by people living in the Fort Wayne area, Steve Franks being one of them.
We had an opportunity to ask Steve about who he is and what he does.
How long have you been helping small businesses?
I left the world of innovation consulting 13 years ago and started coaching entrepreneurs at the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center. NIIC was fairly new at the time. I sought it out since it had the word “innovation” in its name – it turned out to be more about entrepreneurship than what I had come to know as innovation. Fortunately, discovering I loved working with startup entrepreneur, I started helping them think through their new ventures.
Most everything I’ve done for the past three decades or so has been with smaller entrepreneurial companies. I’ve co-founded two ventures and have been working around and developing new things.
What was the first job or one of the first jobs you had?
The job that made the biggest difference in the trajectory of my life was when I resigned from the cushy office job at North American Van Lines (where I worked since high school) to go sell microcomputers on commission.
Not the most fiscally prudent move, perhaps, but it worked out and gave me a foothold into something I love–which was why I took the plunge. It started me down the path of working with things I was passionate about, rather than just some financially comfortable salary job. It allowed me to hone skills that help me be a good entrepreneur coach today.
You are helping with things all over. How do you keep your energy up and prioritize to prevent burn out?
What is this “prioritize” thing you speak of? One way to not burn out is to be busy. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but you only really burn out when you are doing too much of something you don’t enjoy.
For me, it is fun to be involved in many things.
Fort Wayne, what does that mean to you?
Well, Fort Wayne is my home, and I’ve defined my personal mission as helping make it a better place by growing its entrepreneurial community.
I also like participating in the arts community. I love to collect art by local artists (I have a fairly large collection, which I am able to do by focusing on highly affordable pieces). In a way, the two communities are a lot alike. Both are strong and vibrant, populated by an amazing group of mainly young people, but you have to know where to look to find them. I think that over the past few years, both groups are losing their reluctance of the spotlight and are becoming better known.
How long have you lived here?
My father moved here from Michigan City for a job when I was six. He worked with Magnavox for 30 years. I moved to Cleveland for two years when I was doing innovation consulting; our largest clients were there. I missed the people here – my friends – so I came back to visit nearly every weekend.
What are you proud of about Fort Wayne?
Fort Wayne remains a small big city or a big small city (take your pick), a community where it is easier for people to meet and get to know one another. What was a largely hidden arts scene is becoming more open. We have murals, other public art, exhibits and are bringing visibility to previously unsung artists.
Do you have a favorite neighborhood/area?
I grew up in the ’05, playing at Lion’s and Klug Parks. I hung out at the hobby shop and other stores at the North Anthony Shopping Center, and visited Atz’s whenever I could. Riding my bike to Johnny Appleseed Park to hang out in the shade by the river, and I played Wildcat baseball there, too. I played hockey on the pond at Lakeside Park and can still taste the hot chocolate they served in the warming pavilion. Yep, I like the ’05.
Fill in blank: “You haven’t experienced Fort Wayne until you’ve ________.”
… until you’ve had a Snoop Dog from Bravas with patatas.
What’s your current motivational saying or favorite quote?
Not much for motivational sayings, but there is the favorite fortune saying I ever received. “If you are getting kicked in the rear, it means you are in front.”
Ending note from contributor – Alex Modarressi
Small businesses are sprouting up around Fort Wayne causing vibrancy and betterment for local communities. I agree that something about Fort Wayne’s vibrancy is unique. Sure we could live anywhere else, but why?
Check out Steve Franks@
Some past organizations that Steve has worked with:
- Co-hosted the BizWiz student entrepreneur meet-up at NIIC
- Started the Student Venture Lab (venture accelerator) at NIIC
- Hosted the Inventors Club at NIIC
- Helped Nick Arnett’s Twelve Cities nonprofit. We visited entrepreneurs in various cities to learn how they made innovation and entrepreneurism happen. -I was fortunate enough to do the Boulder and Milwaukee visits.
- Co-founded the Vertical Leap Entrepreneurs meet-up.
- Co-founded Founders, one of the first co-working spaces in Fort Wayne. Although not a financial success, it was huge for Fort Wayne’s grass roots entrepreneurial community. The buzz was great – the people who passed through were inspiring for the people who later founded and now lead or participate in Start Fort Wayne.
- Coached entrepreneurs via the Co.Starters program at Artlink and in Decatur.
- Started regional venture accelerators in Whitley County and LaGrange County – ran 5 cohorts in Whitley and 2 in LaGrange.
- Helped the LaGrange County EDC start the Launch LaGrange student business plan competition, which led a year later the Launch DeKalb.
- Was a founding organizer for 1 Million Cups Fort Wayne