If you read my last blog on ways that young innovators can make their dreams a reality in Fort Wayne, and you want proof that there are local teens living their dreams here, look no further.
From designing apps to starting up their own businesses to hosting charitable events, teens in Fort Wayne are making things happen, and a few local programs are helping them do it.
For instance, the Fortitude Fund provides prospective entrepreneurs ages 15 and up with likeminded support to create a network of innovative peers. It also gives students access to experienced mentors who once walked in their shoes, and it distributes grant money to help them launch projects.
Steve Franks, Program Manager for the Fortitude Fund, has been one of the major supporters of young entrepreneurs in northeast Indiana for decades.
“I built my career around believing in people,” Franks says, and this faith has allowed several young visionaries to develop successful businesses that many ambitious students only dream of.
The following three case studies show how three local entrepreneurs have taken their dreams and made them a reality in northeast Indiana with the generous support of the Fortitude Fund, as well as their own talent, ambition, and drive.
Bizzy Beez by Landon Topliff and Alix Winder
Bizzy Beez raises their own beehives and sells the honey for profit.
Two high schoolers from Wabash County, Landon Topliff and Alix Winder, started their own company called “Bizzy Beez” with the goal of—you guessed it—raising their own beehives and selling the honey for profit.
“They weren’t out there to save the world or do anything dramatic, but they wanted to be independent and wanted to do something that made sense,” Franks says. Landon Topliff and Alix Winder
The two friends won a competition in a business pitch competition and were soon connected with an experienced mentor who taught them about the art of beekeeping. Of course, there is more to beekeeping than you might think, as the business owners learned. For instance, to protect the hives during the winter, they have to be transported to California or another state with more habitable weather. Once there, the hives are rented out, and the bees go on to pollinate plants such as almond trees.
But despite the obstacles, the teens figured it out.
“They were good learners,” Franks says. “Any entrepreneur, young or old, has to be a good learner, to understand your customers and how everything works.”
3B Apps by Mitchell and Connor Skees
3B apps helps level the playing field between the local food establishments and large chains.
After making an app for their father's business, brothers Mitchell and Connor Skees noticed an unfortunate disparity in the food industry. There was a significant divide between the online ordering capabilities of small, family-owned restaurants and the more prominent chains, which had access to more advanced technology.
The Skees brothers composed a software program called “3B Apps” to solve this problem. 3B apps helps level the playing field between local food establishments and large chains. Mitchell Skees
“We decided to build something for all of the smaller places, including food trucks, coffee shops, and more,” Mitchell Skees says. “It was a way we could not only create a business here in town, but help other local businesses as well.”
3B Apps allows clients to get their own app for iOS or Android. It provides a website for customers to order food for delivery or carryout and a custom rewards program to ensure customer retention.
“I liked what he was doing,” Franks says. “They noticed something that needed to be fixed and solved it.”
The brothers received a Fortitude Fund grant and an additional grant from the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center. Due in part to this assistance, the Skees brothers were able to continue to grow their business.
“Starting a business, regardless of your resources, is hard,” Mitchell says. “Trying to do that on my own would’ve been nearly impossible for me. Other business owners and mentors not only bring so much advice, but also are there for supporting you and keeping you on track when things get rough.”
Konnect Hosting by Blake Webb
Konnect Hosting is a server “by gamers, for gamers.”
Blake Webb, an eighteen-year-old from Dekalb High School, had the honor of being the Fortitude Fund’s 100th grantee, following the proposal of his business, “Konnect Hosting.”
Webb, an avid internet gamer, noticed that fellow gamers wanted to start game servers, or platforms that would allow them to play games in groups, but they needed people to host them. The options were slim. Most servers were overpriced or low quality, so Webb decided to create a server of his own—a server “by gamers, for gamers.” Blake Webb
One of the most difficult aspects of owning a business at a young age is balancing work with school and spending time with family, Webb says.
“If you can do all this well and have the willpower to push forward nothing can stop you at making your business something big,” Webb says.
Through such willpower, Konnect Hosting is expanding and will soon feature servers in locations, such as Nuremberg, London, Seattle, Dallas, and even St. Petersburg. Webb has no intention of stopping now.
“Konnect Hosting is already, in ways, my career, as I have dedicated a lot of time to it and will continue to do so in the future,” Webb says.