Connecting people, ideas, and funding for impactful change

In recent years, Fort Wayne has emerged as a city full of opportunities—for artists, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, food enthusiasts. It’s an exciting time, and a lot of energy and resources are being poured into big projects. But what about smaller, neighborhood-level projects?

Finding support and funding for an idea can be a challenge, and because of that, a lot of good ideas never come to fruition.

Enter Fort Wayne SOUP—an event where dreamers give their ideas wings.

Fort Wayne SOUP allows creative thinkers to share their ideas and compete for funding.

Modeled after a series of events that popped up in Detroit and have now spread across the country, Fort Wayne SOUP is a micro-grant dinner that fosters community and raises funds for creative projects that enhance the quality of life in Fort Wayne.

Community members are encouraged to submit proposals that outline their idea, and then a group of volunteers reviews the proposals and selects four presenters to “pitch” their projects for four minutes each at a SOUP event.

After the presentations, attendees vote for their favorite pitch, and that idea is funded by the admission money collected at the door.

Fort Wayne SOUP co-founders, Andrew Gritzmaker and Mark Green, met at IPFW as members of the cross-country team. They used to get together frequently to have conversations about how to make an impact on their community.

“The main premise of Fort Wayne SOUP is to break down barriers—not having to rely on grants, sponsors, or angel investors to get an idea off the ground,” Green says. “We can get together and make changes. We don’t have to wait for help. We can make an impact now.”

After seeing an article in an old issue of Fast Times about Detroit SOUP, Gritzmaker emailed Green to see what he thought about starting one in Fort Wayne.

Admittedly, Green let the email sit in his inbox for a while, but when he finally opened it, he thought it was a great idea and wrote Gritzmaker back saying, “Lets do it!”

“We didn’t start the fire,” Gritzmaker says. “There are lots of things happening in our city—big things pushing us forward in a myriad of ways. We saw SOUP as an opportunity to stoke those flames, and find a niche that wasn’t being met.”

Each Fort Wayne SOUP event features artwork like these paintings by Phresh Laundry.

Within 90 days, they had formed a team and had their first event scheduled on March 30, and two more in 2017.

On average, event presenters won $1,000 for winning proposals.

This year, Fort Wayne SOUP will host four events at The Summit at 1025 W. Rudisill Blvd., and one of those events will be specifically dedicated to young presenters, 18 and under.

So what can attendees expect at a Fort Wayne SOUP event this year?

Tickets are $5, and proceeds go to the winning presenter. Attendees are welcomed at the door and receive one ballot. Before the event begins, there is time for mingling and networking—a safe space to make connections and share ideas.

Attendees are encouraged to use their ballot to vote for their favorite pitch. The votes are tallied, and the presenter with the most votes is presented with the money raised to help get their project started.

“If our goal as a community is to retain creative talent, we need to help them connect to their city and their neighborhood,” Green says. “Providing them a platform to get involved and make a change is a great way to establish those connections.”

Heading into the second year, the organizers are guaranteeing at least $1,750 at each of the four scheduled events thanks to a generous sponsor.

“We hope to get closer to $3,000 at each event,” Green says. “Our goal is to have 150 to 200 people at each event.”

Fort Wayne SOUP also includes an art element. In the past, they’ve had musical entertainment and live painting at events.

This year, they have more collaborations up their sleeves to help bring awareness and exposure to northeast Indiana’s bustling arts community.

“Allowing the arts community a space at our event helps us share the vibrancy of our community,” Gritzmaker says. “The arts are a huge part of our quality of life. We look to the arts for inspiration, and it is important to highlight people who are contributing to our culture.”

During dinner, attendees discuss and vote on their favorite ideas.

To submit a project proposal to Fort Wayne SOUP, visit www.fwsoup.org, and fill out the online form.

Once all proposals are received for each submission period, the Fort Wayne SOUP board reviews them and selects winning proposals. All selected participants are matched with a mentor from Fort Wayne Confluence, a group of professionals with a variety of backgrounds, who will help them refine their pitch so that all participants are prepared, which levels the playing ground the day of the event.

Looking to the future, Gritzmaker, Green, and the Fort Wayne SOUP board of directors, which includes Aaron and Janelle Lane, April Ervin, Jared Applegate, Amber Bouthot, Jason Rice, Justin Sheehan, and Kenny Wapole, want to reach more people.

“We want more people to submit ideas and more people to sit around the table,” Gritzmaker explains. “Our hope is to grow to monthly citywide SOUP events and eventually expand to neighborhood based events. We want to turn the keys over to neighborhood leaders and let them get into the driver’s seat.”

Beyond that, the volunteer-led organization plans to pursue a non-profit status for the organization, with the goal of eventually hiring staff to help manage the growth.

Since the beginning, Fort Wayne SOUP has been supported by generous community members and businesses.

The dinner at each event is donated by a local business. The artistic acts featured donate their time and talent, and financial sponsors have also stepped up to the plate like Parkview and Strahm Group.

Thanks to a partnership with the Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana’s Foundation and its board of directors, Fort Wayne SOUP is also able to pursue grant opportunities.

“It really takes a lot of people working towards a common goal to make it happen,” Gritzmaker says.

Want to get involved?

Come to an event and see what it is about. All events are held at The Summit, located at 1025 W. Rudisill Blvd.

Mark your calendar for this year’s events:

Thursday, March 1

Thursday, June 14

Thursday, July 12

Thursday, October 11

Read more articles by Amber Bouthot.

Friends and colleagues describe Amber as an effervescent, passionate, community-minded connector. A transplant from Illinois, she is a staunch advocate for our city and gives back by volunteering for a variety of organizations and causes. Currently, she is the Managing Director for the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir and owns her own freelance marketing and writing business, Red Bird Writing. She earned a Master of Business Administration from Indiana Institute of Technology and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Northern Illinois University. She is also a freelance writer for whatzup Magazine, Visit Fort Wayne, Northeast Indiana Public Radio, and Input Fort Wayne. Her most important role, however, is mother to her daughter Annabelle and her two dogs: Max and Frankie.
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