Elkhart, Ind. (Nov. 17, 2022) – Founder Factory 2022 brought entrepreneurs, enthusiasts, and investors together for a day of networking, education, and inspiration on Nov. 16 at the Lerner Theatre in Elkhart. The event, now in its second year, has sold out twice.
“The fact that this event has sold out twice in the two years we’ve held it is a testament to the strength of our regional entrepreneur ecosystem,” said Bethany Hartley, President and CEO of the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership. “Entrepreneurship can seem like a lonely path, so to bring these founders and supporters together for a day of networking – it’s a powerful thing.”
This year’s keynote address featured two entrepreneurial powerhouses from Atlanta, Jewel Burks Solomon and Justin Dawkins. Burks Solomon is the Head of Google for Startups in the U.S. and serves as Managing Partner for Collab Capital, a $50 million venture capital fund she launched to close the funding gap for Black entrepreneurs. She founded Partpic, which was acquired by Amazon in 2016, leading her to become a product leader at Amazon’s Visual Search and AR team.
“’No’ is a gift,” Burks Solomon shared with the audience. “’No’ – at the time it doesn’t feel good; it doesn’t feel great – to hear it, but once you can get comfortable understanding that no all the time doesn’t mean no. Most of the time, it means ‘not right now.’”
Dawkins has worked on founding teams, including the startup SilverPop, which was acquired by IBM in 2014. He also serves as a Managing Partner for Collab Capital, while also being the co-founder and co-chair of Goodie Nation, a social impact organization based in Atlanta.
“Find your spot,” said Dawkins. “Where do you fit into that stack? Where do you fit into those layers? And if you aren’t sure of where you fit, pick the advocate. Pick the storyteller. Find somebody in the room and say, ‘you know what? I like you. I believe in you. If no one else is going to tell you, I’m going to do it.’ And wear that hat, if no other hat. Be the investor, right? You don’t have to write a check to invest in someone.”
Founder Factory featured special guest Cecilia Wessinger, the Director for Global Community with the Global Entrepreneurship Network, an organization operating a platform of projects and programs in 180 countries around the world to celebrate, understand, support, and connect entrepreneurs and those who champion them.
“Some of you are entrepreneurs of need, people like me, who said, ‘Well, I’m 50 years old, who’s going to hire me with this set of skills, but I’ve got an idea and I think I can make this idea work.’” said Wessinger. “So, it sparks that creativity. Some of you have an itch to scratch and see an opportunity. ‘I have an idea and I’m going to solve this problem, because this problem needs to be solved. And if I don’t solve it, it’s never going to be solved.’ So, you’re an entrepreneur of opportunity. The rest of you in this room, you’re still part of this journey, because all of the entrepreneurs always need customers.”
Founder Factory wrapped up with the IEDC Global Entrepreneurship Week Launch Party celebrating the kick-off a new statewide initiative, Entrepreneurship Indiana. The program includes a new digital doorway at www.entrepreneurshipindiana.com, as well as the 2022 Entrepreneurship Indiana Yearbook, which spotlights 100 founders from around the state.
During a live “Shark Tank” style pitch competition, regional entrepreneurs – Otho Farrow from Metropolis Greens, Annie Johnson from Take Care, South Bend and Matt Koerner from HelloFrom – vied for $5,000 in funding. Judges Amish Shah, President and CEO of Kem Krest, Titi Obasanya, Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Elevate Ventures, and Regina Emberton, CEO of ChoiceLight, Inc., awarded $2,000 to HelloFrom, and $1,500 each to Metropolis Greens and Take Care, South Bend.
The day included tailored programming for entrepreneurs, investors, or enthusiasts with sessions featuring Julie Heath, Vice President of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems at the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC), serial entrepreneur Devin Biek; Susan Ford, COO of Graham Allen Partners; Matt Burkett, Deputy Director for Small Business, Crane Naval Base; and Andy Alexander, a certified government Contracting Assistance Specialist and Certified Procurement Professional. In addition, entrepreneurs had the opportunity to meet with specialized service providers offering advice during Professional Services Speed Dating.
Founder Factory takes place during Global Entrepreneurship Week, celebrated Nov. 14-20, 2022. Hartley announced the date for Founder Factory 23 – Nov. 15, 2023.
About Startup South Bend – Elkhart
The mission of Startup South Bend – Elkhart, a non-profit initiative of the South Bend Elkhart Regional Partnership is to promote and foster the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the South Bend – Elkhart region. Startup South Bend – Elkhart works to stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit and culture in the regional community, identify and nurture new business startups, and support the growth of existing high potential businesses. For more information about Startup South Bend – Elkhart, visit startupsouthbendelkhart.com.
About South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership
The South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership is a collaboration of the economic development partners from 47 smart connected communities in northern Indiana and southwest Michigan. The South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership focuses on a long-term systemic approach to advance the region’s economy by aligning the efforts of various stakeholders around five key areas: educating a world-class workforce, recruiting, and retaining great talent, attracting and growing new economy companies in complement to our remarkably strong manufacturing industries, promoting inclusion and sparking opportunities for minorities and helping entrepreneurs thrive. The South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership seeks to unify and collaborate so that together, the communities across the region to work together to achieve what cannot be done individually. For more information about the Regional Partnership, visit SouthBendElkhart.org.