Not sure how to get your product to market? These Fort Wayne programs for entrepreneurs can help

Monica Miller of Decatur created the Glasses Gripper out of frustration and necessity.

From her years as a retail optician, she adjusted and repaired glasses with sharp tools, and she found the process to be cumbersome.

“The chances of accidentally stabbing myself or damaging a patients' frame or lenses became a more frequent and painful occurrence,” Miller says.

She needed “something grippy” on the tool for stabilization.

Understanding that a safety solution was also a new business opportunity, Miller set out to invent a tool that would meet her needs, help opticians avoid injuries, and save time and money for businesses in the process.

She began searching various upholstery shops for the right material and discovered the synthetic rubber neoprene called sharkskin commonly used as a liner in diving suits.

“I knew it was exactly what I needed,” Miller says.

The Glasses Gripper helps opticians avoid injuries and saves time and money for businesses in the process.

After affixing the rubber to a piece of metal, she dubbed her creation: The Glasses Gripper. Then came the challenge of starting a business to get the product to market. Thankfully, a few programs for startups in Fort Wayne were able to help.

SEED Fort Wayne supports a network of entrepreneur and startup services in the city, including the Build Institute, the Summit City Match, and the gBeta Startup Accelerator.

Miller initially connected with SEED by going through its Build Institute program, a nine-week business planning education program that launched in Fort Wayne in 2019, modeled after the Build Institute in Detroit.

“I believed taking a business planning class would be my best chance at learning how to run a business,” Miller says.

The Build Institute offers a cohort-based program that meets entrepreneurs where they are, helping them formulate business plans and build connections that can take their projects to the next level. What's more, the courses are taught by entrepreneurs themselves. This aspect of the program impressed Miller.

“That was a new experience for me,” she explains.

Her Build Institute Instructor, Andie Hines-Lagemann, helped her get more plugged into Fort Wayne’s entrepreneurial resources, too. Through the Build Institute, Miller discovered The Workbench, a local company that assists startups with industrial design and manufacturing.

Jon Rehwaldt, Owner of The Workbench, is also a Build instructor and is located at SEED’s Business Enterprise Center. Miller says Rehwaldt’s program was critical to keep her business concept alive and viable.

“My biggest need is to show how Glasses Gripper can save optical (companies) and labs thousands of dollars,” she says. “If it wasn't for Jon and The Workbench, my inability to obtain a manufacturer would have stopped me in my tracks.”

After working with the Build Institute and The Workbench, Miller had everything she needed to pitch to start gBETA’s business accelerator program. The gBETA cohort is a seven-week intensive business preparation course that helps entrepreneurs refine business models and strategic directions, meet area business leaders and mentors, learn customer traction approaches, and take on an aggressive schedule of investor pitch presentations.

In early June, Miller and nine other entrepreneurs concluded the program, culminating with a COVID-19 friendly, digital “pitch night” to potential investors. SEED Fort Wayne sponsored participation for the program’s five area businesses, including Miller’s.

Throughout gBETA, Miller participated in coaching sessions and networked with more than 25 mentors.

“I've learned more in these last seven weeks than I could've learned through years of trial and error,” Miller says.

Now, she feels ready to take her product to market.

This article was donated by SEED Fort Wayne.
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