WANE: Four locals become finalists in national competition aimed at city growth

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Steve Franks has a deep passion for entrepreneurship.

“I love student entrepreneurship. I love just drawing entrepreneurs. If you think about it, that’s what’s going to improve our city over time,” he said.

Along with the nonprofit Believe in a Dream, he’s hoping to get grant money from a competition called Knight Cities Challenge.

“It’s a challenge for citizens across our Knight cities to come up with the best ideas to make their cities successful,” Lilly Weinberg with the Knight Foundation said.

Five million dollars will be spread across different projects. 4,500 people applied for the grant this year. Only 144 were picked as finalists and four of them are right here in Fort Wayne.

“I think this community is really trying to work together to make it a better place,” Weinberg said.

The pitch from Steve Franks and Believe in a Dream has landed a spot in the finals. They want to open Student Storefront, a retail space dedicated to students.

“I can bring students in to help manage space. I can bring students in that are creating products to sell in a retail space and I can kind of create this kind of cool realistic dynamic sales environment that helps students become entrepreneurs,” Franks said.

They plan to do this store regardless but of course the grant money will help. Franks thinks they have a good shot at winning, as he believes entrepreneurs are what move cities forward.

“To refresh our economy we need a constant supply of new things. To do that we need to start training our people in high school or training in the universities, give them a way to practice making a company,” he said.

Winners will be announced in late spring or early summer. The other three finalists couldn’t talk on camera. Their pitches are listed below.

Dan Baisden: With the global place-making movement increasing, many of the success stories we here are from large cities (New York, Miami, San Francisco, Paris, London, Dublin, Chicago, etc.) It’s rare that you get place-making success stories from small and mid-size cities like Fort Wayne, New Haven, Woodburn and Huntington. MyTownSquare  would be a resource for leaders in communities and neighborhoods to learn from successful place-makers, get top-notch resources and test/trial ideas before putting them into action so they can work on what makes a project successful. Hope to include both interactive and physical learning environments.

Réna Bradley: The Porch Project was conceived as a collaborative design studio where BGCMC staff and volunteers will partner with design students and professionals to engage community residents in the process creating installations, including porches, that will shape and activate “informal” gathering spaces throughout the neighborhood. In addition to porches, potential installations include: murals, benches, gardens, shade devices, etc.  Creating more public spaces for residents to come together through a new community design studio that activates informal gathering spaces, including front porches.

(Per Knight Foundation) Jim Walker: Ft. Wayne Alumni Association by Big Car Collaborative – Keeping and attracting talented workers to Ft. Wayne through a digital platform that connects local graduates, with the goal of encouraging those who leave the city to return.