The coronavirus did not slow the entrepreneurial community-building efforts of Founders Spark while the state was locked down by Indiana’s stay-at-home order.
In fact, the Fort Wayne-based organization created a website during the lockdown to help with that, and gained some audio production experience it will put to use live-streaming future community-building events and for a podcast it just launched.
The name of the podcast is “Heart of the Hustle.” The organization’s founder, Aaron Robles, said May 5 it has launched a trailer and soon will begin releasing the podcast’s content with a plan to reach an audience both local and well beyond Fort Wayne. And Founders Spark has more projects in the works.
“We have two to three different online programs that are in development and will launch in the next few weeks that we can’t yet discuss,” he said.
“These will largely focus on the educational aspect of Founders Spark with some focusing on our youth and are in collaboration with some awesome partners we have in Fort Wayne,” he said.
“The next few months will be transformational for Founders Spark and in our ability to support our community as well as help us expand beyond Fort Wayne. We’ll be moving into the beta testing over the next month and are looking for any new or aspiring business owners to sign up.”
To join as a Founders Spark beta tester, go to https://bit.ly/fs-beta.
The organization is on a mission to introduce new and aspiring entrepreneurs, hustlers, and go-getters into the startup community and provide them the tools they need to succeed.
It does this through events that help with business skills development and its Origins events, where people share their personal journeys of entrepreneurship along with the latest developments at the business or nonprofit they’ve started.
Robles is on Start Fort Wayne’s board and created Founders Spark with the nonprofit’s encouragement in response to a Techstars analysis of the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, which said it needed more community-building activities.
It began as a program of Start Fort Wayne, but then morphed into its own thing and has grown substantially.
A foray into virtual events came about after Indiana’s stay-at-home order required it to postpone a March 18 “Discovering Your Greatness” presentation where Dawn R. Rosemond, Esq. planned to share how she overcame the challenges of growing up with limited income and a single mom.
A lot of in-person events were beginning to cancel at the time, so Founders Spark decided to postpone Greatness to July 15 and replace it with a digital community discussion featuring guest speakers who would offer suggestions on ways entrepreneurs could pivot and overcome challenges presented by the pandemic.
“We had less than a week to pull together an event we had never done before,” Robles said. “Our entire team worked diligently given our short timeline to not just put together an event for the sake of putting an event together, but to show up for the community we claim to support.
“During panic and uncertainty in the business community, especially industries like the restaurant industry, we felt compelled to show them support and give them clarity,” he said.
“As an entrepreneurial support organization, we wanted to make sure we were supporting entrepreneurs when they needed it most. And on top of that come together to bring a welcomed distraction and community togetherness while we were beginning isolation.”
That night’s lineup featured Brenda Gerber Vincent, vice president of community and corporate impact at Greater Fort Wayne, Inc., who joined a discussion on the business impact of COVID-19 and shared thoughts on how entrepreneurs could support one another.
“Our Pivot & Overcome livestream was magical. In the midst of a lot of change and uncertainty, we went online and gave people in our community an hour and a half worth of COVID-19 content. We totaled over 1,000 streams by the time we were finished with the live stream and got an additional 400 streams in the days after,” Robles said.
With hundreds of comments and engagement throughout the live stream, it was able to connect the group with its audience in a way it never had before, he said.
“It was our first live-stream event, so there was definitely a fear factor in whether we could pull it off,” Robles said. “There will be more live-stream events in our future. We don’t have any planned releases yet but have a ton of ideas we’re fleshing out so that we can begin production.
“We miss the faces of our community and are working to stay connected to them and continue to give them support,” he said. “During the live stream we also launched our Facebook group for entrepreneurs: https://www.facebook.com/groups/ingitenetwork/.”
The podcast is something everyone at Founders Spark knew they wanted to do from the beginning, Robles said.
“As Origins took off and we heard such impactful stories month after month we knew that we wanted them to reach as many people as possible. We wanted to take the energy in the room and allow it to flow beyond those walls,” he said.
“As an initial start, our podcast is going to be putting out our Origins content spanning back to 2018. We want to share some of the magic that we experienced during those events for the people that weren’t able to make it or want to relive it,” he said.
“It’s valuable content that we think people can really use right now given the chaos in the world. As we get that content out for the first few weeks, Taylor and I will be working on brand new content exclusive to the podcast to go out regularly.”
The podcast will feature interviews with local, regional and national entrepreneurs as well as representatives of groups supporting them. Robles and Taylor Hollister, Founders Spark program director, also will share information including educational material on business topics of special interest to founders.
“We’ve been looking to our audience to find out what it is they want to hear from us and have been getting awesome feedback. Something we are getting a lot of is that people continue to want to hear impactful stories on how people have made it past hardship,” he said.
“We’re not quite sure what that looks like yet, but we know we’re going to lean heavily on our passion for sharing stories and spreading love and support to our community.”
When Robles thinks about the potential of the podcast, he thinks about its accessibility and range, he said, because without venue constraints, it will be available for more people to listen to as many times as they want.
“Over the last year, Origins sold out most of its monthly events, leading to a lot of packed rooms. That won’t be an issue with this podcast. We’ll be able to give people valuable content with no need to leave the house and at absolutely no cost to them,” he said.
The podcast’s range will bring the freedom to quickly shift the type of content Founders Spark creates for it, based on audience feedback, Robles said.
While the organization’s Origins and its Power Circle programs of special interest to under-represented entrepreneurs have specific focuses, “our podcast will host that content and more, allowing us to provide our audience with information and resources that are relevant,” he said.
As it features guests from the Summit City and across the country, Robles said the podcast will “give those in our communities a megaphone to not only Fort Wayne, but the rest of the world, as we move to play at a national level.”
The new “Heart of the Hustle” podcast can be found at: