'4 in the Fort': What's next for Fort Wayne's entrepreneurial ecosystem

Steve FranksWhen creators from various backgrounds and disciplines collide in a creative space with no agenda other than connection, the potential is limitless. 

If you ask Steve Franks, these types of chance encounters are what makes for a robust, rich community of doers, makers, and supporters in a city.

So as a longtime supporter of entrepreneurs and the co-founder of the now-defunct Founders co-working space, Franks has big plans for an event that will bring together a diversity of people, passions, and thought in Fort Wayne.

The first "4 in the Fort" event series is slated to launch at 6 p.m. on August 30 at Wunderkammer Company. The event will feature four people who are actively pursuing four different forms of art or community entrepreneurship. Attendees will enjoy an evening that is part-party (cash bar), part-concert, part-art-exhibit, and part-good-food.

Founders was a place for what Franks refers to as "collisions."
DJ, artist, and producer, Jamaris Tubbs will fill the house with sound, while artist Rebecca Stockert of Cat People Press will show work and hold conversations in the front gallery. Community Entrepreneur/Activist Dan Wire will hold conversations about the riverfront in the middle room conversation pit. And last, Chef Johnny Perez of Mercadito Taqueria fame will serve up his own take on Mexican fare. 

Franks and Wunderkammer’s owner, Dan Swartz, are spearheading the experiment. In simple terms, Franks says he hopes to capture the zeitgeist of the 2012-2013 community at Founders and bring it into 2019 in a different venue.

“There was a very eclectic, young, creative mix of people," he says. "Although not strictly young, it mostly skewed that way. What I miss is that crashing together of people—people who love what they're doing and love getting together with other people who love what they're doing in their respective fields.”

Dan Swartz of Wunderkammer Company.

He says that while there are co-working spaces and other resources for entrepreneurs in Fort Wayne that have popped up, no one has successfully been able to recreate the Founders’ vibe he remembers—and that’s to the detriment of the local entrepreneurial community. In some ways, the conversation has become one about monetization, and it’s no longer about the sheer fun of pursuing a venture, he believes.

On the other hand, he says great things can happen when you ignite passion and invite people to interact and collaborate. Franks recalls a specific example that captures the essence of Founders’ atmosphere.

"I remember once somebody said, 'Can I just bring a watercolor set in and paint?'" he reflects.

The answer was a resounding "yes," because according to Franks, Founders was a place for all types of passions and pursuits. 

Swartz had a similar attitude at Wunderkammer Company, a nonprofit creative community space on the south side of Fort Wayne, so Franks knew joining forces with him on this project would bode well. 

"Dan's philosophy was much like ours," he says. "It's like, 'We're open; come on, and do whatever the heck you want.’ And so, he's kind of a kindred spirit in our stuff, if you will.”

Wunderkammer hosts several art exhibits a year.

Similarly, with "4 in the Fort" Franks says he hopes these “collisions” will happen organically. People will take in art, music, and lectures while enjoying local food, all under one roof. 

So, what might success look like? 

“I think it's more rooted in qualitative and not quantitative results,” Franks says. “It’s going to be determined by whether or not people have the same kind of feel and vibe and talking amongst one another that I remember from the past at Founders. It’s that buzz and people being excited and passionate about things coming together in a space and not just have their heads down, working.”

This all-ages event is free, although Franks suggests a $5 donation to offset costs.

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
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