Investing in people: Building inclusive networks to support young creatives in Fort Wayne

When it comes to economic development, it’s easy to throw out pat solutions, like “invest in people,” as talent strategies. But members of Fort Wayne’s community are putting these words into practice—mentoring, serving, and supporting the next generation of local changemakers, entrepreneurs, and community leaders. This story is part of a series exploring what “investing in people” looks like. (Read the first story here.)

As a student growing up in Southeast Fort Wayne, Alle Wims struggled with her grades, so her parents signed her up for tutoring.

“I was that child who needed that extra attention—that extra push,” she says.

Alle Wims of Brain Geeks Learn educational services at the PENTA Center, 2513 S. Calhoun St.

Today, at age 34, after having graduated from college and worked as a substitute teacher in Fort Wayne for the past 10 years, Wims is running her own tutoring and workshop service for students called Brain Geeks Learn. It's designed to support local families and teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, revitalizing how students learn with creative, hands-on tactics.

“As a substitute teacher, I get to see firsthand the stress that many teachers and staff are going through right now, trying to keep up with this ever-changing world,” Wims says. “The teachers here in Fort Wayne are really trying, and education is so important to our youth, so I wanted to do something that could help.”

Alle Wims of Brain Geeks Learn educational services works with her student Charles during a private tutoring session at PENTA Center, 2513 S. Calhoun St.

Brain Geeks Learn offers group and one-on-one tutoring services and workshops both virtually and in-person. It’s primarily designed to serve students in elementary school, but also open to those in middle and high school, depending on the need, Wims says.

Overall, she believes her firsthand experience having received tutoring locally and having worked as a local substitute teacher makes her the ideal candidate to run a tutoring business.

“I know what it’s like to be that child who needs help,” Wims says. "I also understand what it means to have someone in your life who can encourage you to go beyond—not just in academics, but also in your life, as you grow up. Brain Geeks is here to provide that support and to make learning fun for children—not just to meet their needs, but to give them encouragement and confidence."

Alle Wims of Brain Geeks Learn educational services leads her students in a competitive counting game during a private tutoring session at PENTA Center, 2513 S. Calhoun St.

While Wims has long had a passion for working with children, she didn’t always plan on starting a tutoring business. Instead, after earning her bachelor's degree in Media & Public Relations and a minor in Theatre at Purdue Fort Wayne (formerly IPFW), she initially launched a Facebook-based talk show called the “Miss Alle Show” in Atlanta, Georgia.

When she moved back to Fort Wayne in 2018, she planned to expand her talk show, so she began meeting with local entrepreneur coaches and mentors, including Steve Franks and Mike Moses of the Fort Wayne Comedy Club. They connected her with SEED Fort Wayne’s Build Institute program, a nine-week basic business building program for entrepreneurs. It was through this course that Wims met other local entrepreneurs and support organizations across the city who have helped her business launch and grow. 

“Through SEED, I was able to network with different groups in Fort Wayne—groups that I never knew about before, even though I grew up here,” she says. 

Alle Wims of Brain Geeks Learn educational services works with students during a private tutoring session at PENTA Center, 2513 S. Calhoun St.

As a result of these connections, as well as the timing of the COVID-19 pandemic, she ultimately shifted her business plans to meet her community's needs. 

“The pandemic is when everything I learned in the Build program really clicked for me,” Wims says. “Entrepreneurship is not just about doing something creative and something you think is cool. I realized it’s actually about meeting the needs of somebody or a mass group of individuals.”

As a result of meeting needs in the community, Brain Geek Learn's business is growing, and Wims is looking to expand her team, which currently consists of her and her board of trustees. In her spare time, she continues supporting students and entrepreneurs in Fort Wayne, too.

Alle Wims of Brain Geeks Learn educational services leads her students in a competitive counting game during a private tutoring session at PENTA Center, 2513 S. Calhoun St.

On top of running Brain Geeks Learn, she's still substitute teaching and working as a part-time employee at the Weisser Park Community Center in children’s crafts. Looking back on her journey, it’s these opportunities that have allowed her to expand her professional network. That’s a lesson she’s hoping to pass along to the next generation of would-be entrepreneurs and leaders behind her—particularly People of Color in Fort Wayne who might be lacking business connections in a majority-white city.

“When you think about ‘networking,’ it’s not just about attending events,” she says. “It’s about strategically placing yourself within environments that will help with your overall purpose.”

A student works on a drawing during a private tutoring session led by Alle Wims of Brain Geeks Learn educational services at the PENTA Center, 2513 S. Calhoun St.

Since launching Brain Geeks Learn, Wims has continued to plug into Fort Wayne's network through groups and organizations that align with her mission. She became Marketing Chair of the Juneteenth Collaborative, which introduced her to John Dortch, Owner of the PENTA Center for Entrepreneurship, where she now has an office for Brain Geeks Learn and has received additional business mentorship. 

She’s also joined the 11-person leadership team of Fort Wayne’s Young Professionals of the Urban League—a recently formed group of about 50 people ages 21-39 that is affiliated with the local Urban League chapter. Now, Wims is the group’s Networking Chair, a role that allows her to host monthly events featuring speakers from different walks of life in Fort Wayne’s business community and fostering a more inclusive environment for young leaders to rise up.

“We want our events to grow and to really create a network within the entire Fort Wayne community—not just among the Black and Brown professionals we serve,” Wims says. “The goal is to uplift and connect Black and Brown professionals to more of our community overall.”

Members of the Young Professionals at the 3rd annual Southside Love event at Link's Wonderland.

George Guy, Board President of the Fort Wayne Urban League, says helping young Black and Brown professionals get connected to the city’s broader business community is the reason the League’s former president, Quinton Dixie, suggested creating a Young Professionals group in the first place. George Guy

“It’s not just about networking, but making sure we are building a broader and stronger network for others,” Guy says. “When you’re young and you’re getting started in your career or launching a business, that’s what you need—a hand up, not a handout. We’re trying to make sure folks have the equity they need to be successful.”

Along with creating greater opportunities for Black and Brown youth, having a more equitable and inclusive community in Fort Wayne helps business, too. Research shows that companies with diverse workforces are 35 percent more likely to experience greater financial returns than their respective non-diverse counterparts. More inclusive communities also help cities attract and retain top talent in competitive job markets.

One young adult choosing to build his future in Fort Wayne is the Young Professionals of the Urban League’s own leader, Timothy Carswell, who works as a bank branch manager. 

President of Young Professionals Tim Carswell chats with other members of Young Professionals at the 3rd annual Southside Love event at Link's Wonderland.

Growing up in Fort Wayne as a Harding High School student, Carswell says he lived a rather “sheltered” life, racially speaking. The majority of his friends and classmates were People of Color. It wasn’t until he went to college at Ball State University and later entered Fort Wayne’s business community that he realized what it’s like to be in the minority.

“When you get into the professional world in Fort Wayne, you start to count how many other Black and Brown people are at meetings with you, and there aren’t many,” Carswell says. “There are a lot of white allies in Fort Wayne’s business community, which is great, but it’s not the same as having that sense of a strong Black or Brown community around you.”

So far, Carswell says one unexpected benefit of the Young Professionals group is that they’re able to create that space in Fort Wayne where young professionals of color can find community and “just be themselves.”

“A lot of our members have said: ‘It feels so good to come here after work,’” Carswell says. “At our meetings, you get to talk about stuff you’re experiencing throughout the week, and people can relate to your feelings.”

Members of the Young Professionals at the 3rd annual Southside Love event at Link's Wonderland.

He notes that about half of the members of the Young Professionals group are interested in launching businesses or part-time ventures. Others, like himself, just want to be more involved in Fort Wayne’s business community, in general. 

Regardless of their goals, having a group to invest in young, creative Black and Brown talent provides residents with more opportunities to contribute to Fort Wayne’s future—just as Wims has.

“Her story is a great example,” Carswell says. “I’ve traveled a lot, and you don’t realize the value of what we have here in Fort Wayne until you’ve been to other places. Our cost of living here is low, and so many of the plans I heard about 10 years ago, like plans for Downtown revival and Riverfront development, are now coming to life. It’s exciting to be part of that and to contribute to that growth. That’s what’s keeping me here.”

This story is part of a series highlighting the faces and stories of economic development in Northeast Indiana, made possible by underwriting from NiSource Charitable Foundation and Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana.

Learn more about SEED Fort Wayne and the Build Institute at seedfw.org.

 

Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.