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Entrepreneur Profile: Brenda Lane

Honey/Brown Boutique

We all know that person… The one who always looks poised and polished, with exquisite personal style. That’s Brenda Lane, and her passion for high-end fashion on a budget inspired her to open her own shop, Honey/Brown Boutique.

“I always had the idea of owning my own boutique because people will ask me ‘where did you get this? How much you pay for it?’” Brenda said. “It was like ‘you got something going on here.’”

Brenda’s shop features high-quality fashions. She estimates 98 percent of her inventory is new or gently used. She describes her search for clothing and accessories as a “scavenger hunt.” Brenda finds pieces that meet her standards for quality, and then resells for up to 50 to 60 percent off the retail value.

“We specialize in high-quality fashion as in Coach, Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren,” she said. “Anything you can think of. The other day I found a Fossil backpack that was basically new. I found Marc Jacobs for $5. We specialize in high-quality fashion on a budget.”

Brenda is a Cohort 5 graduate of HustleSBE, a Startup South Bend – Elkhart business bootcamp program for Minority and Women business owners who are focused on exploring new solutions for their customers, generating new ideas, and shoring up current business practices to create a solid foundation upon which to grow.

“I participated in the Hustle program so I could learn what to do and how to do it… And what not to do,” she said, laughing.

While Brenda’s background is in the healthcare field, she’s always had the dream of owning her own boutique. She received her degree in Human Services from Ivy Tech Community College and continued her studies in Behavioral Social Science at Bethel University. During her time at Bethel, the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

“It was just a life turning event and everything,” she said. “So, I just got to start pushing my business and connecting with people to get me where I’m at today.”

A native of the South Bend – Elkhart region, Brenda finds the community to be supportive, with programs and resources available to entrepreneurs. She participated in the RISE (Regional Innovation and Startup Education) Applied Entrepreneurship Program, where she learned of the HustleSBE program.

“The RISE program gave me the confidence and the information that I can do this,” Brenda said. “I know I can do it, but once you have people pushing you and rooting with you, it just gives you more of a vision to bring your business to life.”

HustleSBE helped her overcome one of her biggest struggles in starting her business – Marketing. The courses helped her get out of her comfort zone, work on developing her website and learn how to use social media to promote her business. She appreciated the topics covered, everything from bookkeeping and taxes to resources available like the Chamber of Commerce, and she enjoyed the variety of guest speakers facilitator Jess Koscher brought in to present.

“It’s never a dull moment,” she said. “Jess and everybody, they all make you feel comfortable. It’s something that you would be glad to get up and go to. You know it’s something you think about two to three days ahead – what am I going to wear, what am I going to think about, what I’m going to say. I give Jess an A, A+ times two. I can be in a room with her and talk with her for hours and learn. I mean, she’s focused on everybody learning and achieving. That’s the best thing.”

In the near future, Brenda’s goals for Honey/Brown Boutique include navigating the market, promoting the business, and getting the website up and running. But her long term goal will take the boutique on the road: renovating a truck to create a mobile boutique on wheels.

“I can travel to different locations,” she said. “Local events and even other states and things like that when they have summer events or any events that want to have a boutique on wheels. I’m just living in the moment and I’m grateful for it. I’m excited to see what the future holds!”

The post Entrepreneur Profile: Brenda Lane appeared first on South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership.

Entrepreneur Profile: Anthony Esplin

Sleep Easy Technology

Anthony Esplin originates from the Western United States. This Idaho native completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Utah and received his Bachelor of Engineering degree in Biomedical/Medical Engineering. After completing his studies, Anthony was one of a few undergraduate students chosen by GE Healthcare to take part in the Edison Engineering Development Program (EEDP), a rotational program which allowed him to gain valuable experience in Research and Development of Medical products. The sector that Anthony participated in was acquired, at which point he was offered a full-time Research and Development job at GE Life Sciences. During his time at GE, Anthony developed a car seat pad that cooled kids in hot climates. His idea gained enough traction that he was able to go to China to get quotes on what it would cost to get initial prototypes made. However, the cost was too much for him and his business partner at the time, ultimately leading to the idea being shelved.

Developing Sleep Easy

During Anthony’s time at GE, his neighbor approached him about another problem. The neighbor’s son needed to use a nasal cannula to deliver supplemental oxygen while he slept, but refused because it made him so uncomfortable. This inspired Anthony to create the initial version of his Sleep Easy Pillow. Sleep Easy is a supplemental oxygen pillow which gives individuals who need to use nasal cannulas a comfortable alternative. Although this is not a replacement for those with obstructive sleep apnea, where the throat closes, it is a useful alternative to the 1.5 million other people with non-obstructive sleep apnea. Of these 1.5 million people, there is a 50 percent non-compliance rate in terms of not using their nasal cannulas. Additionally, it is estimated that there are millions of other individuals all across the United States that should be using nasal cannulas, but don’t because of the negative connotation associated with the devices.

Journey to Entrepreneurship in South Bend

Anthony’s development of this idea coincided closely with the ESTEEM graduate program at the University of Notre Dame recruiting him to participate in their 11-month long program. When asked if he would be an entrepreneur if he didn’t participate in ESTEEM, Anthony said, “I always had the itch when it came to entrepreneurship” but “the ESTEEM graduate program was great because it teaches science people business and gave me that extra push.”

Because of his experience in ESTEEM, Anthony was able to develop a great network, not only within the University of Notre Dame, but the wider South Bend community as well. Through his participation in ESTEEM, Anthony was able to develop a relationship with Elevate Ventures, Startup South Bend – Elkhart, and the IDEA Center, all of which inspired him to stay in South Bend after his completion of the ESTEEM program in 2021. Anthony reflected on a conversation he had with his wife about where they were going to live, saying, “We have people here that are familiar with Sleep Easy and want to support us, if we go back, I would have to start from ground zero.”

Perfecting Sleep Easy

After coming to his decision to stay in South Bend, Anthony started to work full-time on Sleep Easy. One of the first steps in the development process was getting in contact with end users. In order to do this, Anthony had to reach out to local medical services providers and ran into an unforeseen roadblock. He still had a number with a west coast area code and had service providers screening his calls because they thought it was spam. He quickly resolved that by getting a number with a South Bend area code and was able to navigate through the red tape with all of the different privacy aspects of medical care, allowing him to get his foot in the door. He was then able to develop relationships with companies that deal with sleep and oxygen therapy and developed a product with which he was able to conduct studies.

From his studies, Anthony came into contact with a veteran, who explained that the nasal canula impacted his self-identity, and added “I actually get less sleep with it, than I do without it.” After trying the product, this individual gave absolutely glowing reviews and has been anxiously anticipating the commercial availability of this product. Moreover, out of the studies, Anthony was able to identify and fix some flaws in his product, leading to a 95 percent confidence that there is no difference in maintaining oxygen levels with his product in comparison with nasal cannulas. From there, Anthony was able to raise over $300 thousand for the development of his product, spending just over $250 thousand – extremely low compared to other medical device startups – to get where he is today.

Anthony anticipates his product being commercially available by the end of March, which coincidentally lines up with a medical devices conference that will be occurring in Dallas. Here, Anthony anticipates securing multiple new investments in his company and optimistically hopes for some acquisition offers.

Hardships and Advice

Although things are very promising for Anthony and Sleep Easy, it was not without some hardship and learning curves. First, Anthony is very family-oriented, as evidenced by him and his brother, Aaron, being the only two employees within Sleep Easy. Additionally, Anthony is the father of a 6-year-old son and a 5-month-old daughter. Reflecting on this, Anthony noted how time consuming being an entrepreneur is, and stressed the importance of finding a good work and personal life balance.

“My family is always going to be my number one priority, which can be difficult sometimes, given that my startup is how I provide for my family,” he said.

He then went on to stress the importance of having someone in your corner that can act as a sort of “business therapist” and further stressed the importance of developing relationships, like the ones he has developed with James Ruprit, Nick Kuhn, and the IDEA Center. A piece of advice he would like to impart on others thinking about taking the entrepreneurial leap of faith is to not undervalue yourself when it comes time to think about compensation, and not to be naïve in your relationship developments. Anthony explained that assistance from local non-profits are plentiful and trustworthy but stressed that “if someone is really going to help you, get that in writing” because it is better to be safe than sorry in your other business dealings.

To learn more about Sleep Easy and how the product works, visit his website.

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Entrepreneur Profile: Ambrose Kamya

Entrepreneur Profile: Ambrose Kamya


From walking over 10 miles to and from his undergraduate studies at Makerere University in Uganda to having a startup fail during Notre Dame’s Race to Revenue summer startup accelerator last July, Ambrose Kamya continues to be resilient. His newest endeavor, Kinga, a widget aimed at preventing sexual violence, raised $76,000 in only six months.

Journey to South Bend

Ambrose majored in animal science, got his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, and worked within his community in Uganda to connect local farmers to the global organic food market and to combat sexual violence. In 2019, Ambrose was awarded the Mandela Washington Fellowship, funded by the U.S. Department of State, to continue his entrepreneurial journey at the University of Notre Dame. During his time at Notre Dame, Ambrose was trained in entrepreneurship at the Mendoza School of Business and worked with individuals both from there and the IDEA Center on his startup, SafeBangle, a wearable device designed to combat sexual violence. Ambrose fell in love with the University during this 6-week fellowship and had a burning desire to return once back in Uganda.

Navigating the Pandemic

While back home, Ambrose applied to the ESTEEM graduate program for at Notre Dame, which he thought would be a good fit due to its scientific and entrepreneurial focuses. When Ambrose was accepted, he was fortunate that the borders had not closed due to COVID, meaning he could return to South Bend safely. Unfortunately, Ambrose didn’t have any money, his wife was pregnant, and there was a pandemic going on. He started reaching out and asking people for loans. Edward Jurkovic, with the Pulte Institute for Global Development at Notre Dame, explained that a loan would only serve to worsen the situation, and kindly set up a GoFundMe for the journey back to South Bend. Although everything seemed to be falling into place, Ambrose was hesitant to leave. Leaving would mean that his pregnant wife would have to be alone for an unknown amount of time, and that he would miss the birth of his first child. In the face of this, his wife still encouraged him to go.

Ambrose said, “Without her, I don’t know where I would be or what I would be doing. She keeps me going and I can’t thank her enough for all of the sacrifices she has made.”

ESTEEM and Beyond

After this whirlwind, finally, Ambrose was able to start his journey in the ESTEEM program. During his time in ESTEEM, Ambrose helped Dr. Michael Morris run his South Bend Entrepreneurship and Adversity Program and kept working on SafeBangle. He was able to win $10,000 at the McCloskey pitch competition in April of 2022 and was the ESTEEM program representative. He was excited about where SafeBangle was going, and accepted a fellowship at enFocus, as they were willing to support his entrepreneurial journey and gave him the opportunity to give back to the community. At enFocus, Ambrose has been engaging the mayor’s office and was influential in the recent announcement about the new immigration fund for South Bend employers. His plan was to work two days for enFocus and three days on SafeBangle, at least until the Race to Revenue last July.

Ambrose was selected for the Race to Revenue, where he realized his startup needed a completely different solution than what he had been devoting his time to. Ambrose was trying to solve a problem he’s passionate about and became emotionally attached. He felt extremely demoralized and like he let his mother down, his inspiration, having seen her go through a traumatized life as a sexual assault victim.

“The room became cold and big when my idea died,” he said. “My mother is my inspiration to solve this problem, and I failed.”

However, he quickly viewed the situation through the lens of being handed a blank check. He realized that his mistake with SafeBangle was in validating his idea.

“Speaking with your intended customers before you run with an idea is the best thing you can do, and I didn’t do that with SafeBangle when trying to introduce it to higher education institutions,” he said.


After coming to this realization, Ambrose literally took out a drawing pad and started engaging hundreds of students and Title IX coordinators to better understand the sexual assault problems facing academic institutions. From his conversations, he was able to quickly mockup an interactive widget which loosely mimicked his idea, and Kinga was born. Kinga is a widget that allows people in uncomfortable or unsafe situations to send notifications to their friends and initiate fake text or phone conversations, a proven method in preventing sexual violence. Kinga is a word in Swahili, which is best interpreted as “the community coming together to protect something or someone that is valuable.” Ambrose believes the environment that exists in college campuses and throughout the world, where women constantly have to worry about sexual violence is unacceptable, and as extremely valuable individuals in our society, it is necessary for everyone to come together as a community and protect them.

Since July, Ambrose has been able to raise $76,000 for his new idea. The first dollar he received was through the Proof of Concept Fund from Startup South Bend – Elkhart.

“I was actually denied at first,” Ambrose said, “but the committee that denied me gave me some great feedback and I was able to come back and get it the next time.”

Additionally, Ambrose has received $20,000 from the Community Ideation Fund through Elevate Ventures, $24,000 from the IDEA Center, $20,000 from the Elevate Nexus Pitch Competition, and $10,000 from a friend.

“Being in a developed entrepreneurial ecosystem makes a huge difference,” he said. “I have been able to get hands-on assistance from the ESTEEM program, Startup South Bend – Elkhart, Elevate Ventures, enFocus, and many more partners and friends. Without them, Kinga would not exist.”

Ambrose is getting ready to pilot his widget at Ivy Tech and is in conversations with 15 other higher education institutions. Additionally, due to the rapid success Kinga has had in just over six months, the Kinga team has been expanding. Ambrose has hired a CTO, Cassandra Ortega, and most recently hired a CEO, Molly Brown Schugel, former Senior Vice President for Bank of America.

“When you’re creating a team, leave space for someone on your team that knows the way,” Ambrose said. “Because of my recent hires, in a couple of months, I’ve been able to achieve something I’ve been trying to do since 2017.”

For more information on Kinga, visit

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Entrepreneur Profile: Kelly Hofferth

  Entrepreneur Profile: Kelly Hofferth

Kelly’s Green Living Botanical Art

Kelly Hofferth misses the mountains. Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, she longs for the year-round greenery and outdoor lifestyle that region brings. So, after building a life and raising a family in the Midwest, she started a business to bring the outdoors in – Kelly’s Green Living Botanical Art.

“When I started looking into this, I knew that plants change your brain, so initially I was thinking I want to do something with plants – promote plants Indoors,” Kelly said. “I had read that we are in indoors 90 percent of our lives. We don’t even go outside anymore.”

Her first project was for The Lauber restaurant in South Bend. Shortly after opening, the owner found the industrial space – with a concrete floor, brick, and glass – was not good for acoustics.

“Sound was just reverberating,” Kelly said.

The space was not particularly conducive to live plants. Kelly determined moss could fit the space. Technically, it is not living since it doesn’t reproduce. It requires no light or dirt since it is preserved. But it brings the same physical response as plants – filling the human need for greenery. For maintenance, all moss needs are an appropriate humidity level, or an occasional misting.

For the Lauber, Kelly created four pieces: a large eight by four-foot piece, as well as three four-foot squares for the space. This inspired her to build a business around moss art.

“It does so many things,” she said. “Moss not only just changes your brain, it makes you feel better about life when you’re near it, just because your brain sees the green and it also functions to lower your blood pressure and all the things. It also is cleaning the air and it’s also acoustically absorbent and beautiful to look at.”

Kelly primarily uses reindeer moss – a lichen that grows mostly in the Antarctic – named for the animals that eat it in the wild. While lichen do grow in the region, but native lichen tends to be too crunchy and fragile to use in an art piece.

Kelly went on to create six pieces for former University of Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly’s home. She also made a three-foot round Shamrock for the Notre Dame football Department, as well as an art piece for Coach Marcus Freeman’s stadium suite that incorporated neon lighting.

She found the process of making moss art a beneficial and mindful experience. Kellydecided to begin sharing that opportunity by hosting moss art classes.

“Basically, people come in, they get a frame, they get all the moss they want to create whatever they want,” Kelly said. “Then, they can take it to their home environment or their office. It’s environmentally friendly; it’s not a plastic plant. That’s really been a passion.”

“Just let the moss speak to you. It will! There’s no question every single time I see something new, something different that you do somebody came up with some idea and you can always just feel the change in the room. It’s a really interesting dynamic. Everybody comes in with all their high-stress energy and they leave so happy with their new moss art that they’ve created. It really makes me happy.”

Kelly had several career changes over the years, which ultimately lead her to become an entrepreneur. After attending school to become a chiropractor, she moved to the South Bend – Elkhart region with her husband. Here she taught middle school science. After leaving education, she began working at Press Ganey, a firm specializing in health care patient satisfaction. She then became the assistant to the general manager at the Morris Inn on the University of Notre Dame’s campus. This was around the time she found herself being drawn to follow her passion.

“Having something that’s a unique niche and being passionate as an entrepreneur, I would say it’s probably one of the best things that helped me,” Kelly said. “Not only does it help you convey what it is that you are passionate about, it also helps you get up and do the things that you don’t want to do, or you never knew how to do, or you have to learn how to do. But because you’re so passionate about what it is that you do, you’re willing to do it and put yourself out there.”

A graduate of HustleSBE Cohort Five, Kelly’s participated in multiple entrepreneur programs in the area. She was drawn to HustleSBE, a Startup South Bend – Elkhart business bootcamp program for Black, Indigenous, People of Color and Women business owners, after meeting program facilitator Jess Koscher.

“I met Jess at the at the Women’s Conference at St. Mary’s. She presented there and I was like ‘oh my God, this woman is a badass,’” Kelly said. “I need to find what she’s up to! She let me know that the Hustle class was starting. I was a little hesitant to do it because I’ve done so many, but I did it because of her. It proved to be really a good thing because I’ve already made so many more connections and learned things in a new way.”

Kelly hopes to see her business continue to broaden. She’s looking into other products and continues to do custom work.

“I would like to do a large custom piece in a public space – that’s a goal of mine to have a large piece that everybody can see,” said Kelly. “And I find so much joy and I see the transformation of people in my moss art classes that I really hope that I can continue that part of my business as well.”

For more information on Kelly’s Green Living, visit

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$6.4 Million Awarded in South Bend – Elkhart Region READI Programming Funds

ELKHART, Ind. (Dec. 16, 2022) — The South Bend – Elkhart Regional Development Authority (RDA) awarded $6.4 million in Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI) grant funds to 11 programmatic projects during its meeting at the ETHOS Innovation Center in Elkhart. The $6.4 million was in addition to $40 million in READI funds awarded in September to Quality of Place projects. With the awarding of the programming funds, the South Bend – Elkhart region has allocated all of its READI dollars.

“It was an honor to select the recipients of the READI grant funds,” said Dallas Bergl, RDA Vice Chair and President and CEO of INOVA Federal Credit Union. “The quality of READI grant projects and programs stemming from our region was phenomenal. These programs will leave an indelible mark on the lives and livelihoods of participants throughout the region. We look forward to watching the impact of these funds unfold.”

The program awards fell into four major areas: Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Talent Attraction, and Talent Development. The programs selected for funding fall in line with the Smart Connected Communities 2030 Plan, which serves as an outline for the strategies of the South Bend – Elkhart region. The plan was designed to increase talent attraction and retention, improve overall quality of place and quality of life, and amplify the impact of the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and innovation economy.

The projects receiving READI funding in each category are:

Talent Development – $3,176,370
enFocus Fellowship Expansion
Engineering Your Future
Experiential Learning Coordinator, Saint Joseph – District 7 Career Hub
Next Path Training
Regional Higher Education Talent Pipeline and Partnership Consortium
South Bend – Elkhart Regional Internship Program (Intern SBE)
Innovation – $1,380,000
South Bend – Elkhart READI Manufacturing Readiness Accelerator
Entrepreneurship – $1,161,065
Digital Storefront Project
enFocus Entrepreneurship Expansion Support
Talent for Tomorrow
Talent Attraction – $700,000
WE+YOU Talent Attraction and Retention Campaign

“The fact that the largest pool of READI programming funds was awarded to talent development programs does not go unnoticed,” said Taryn MacFarlane, Vice President, Regional Initiatives at the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership. “Our region is using these funds to support and build homegrown talent. We know the work ethic and grit of those living and working in our region. These funds will help expand skills and prepare residents for future opportunities.”

The RDA worked with the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership on the project submission and award process. For the program award process, the Regional Partnership – working through its established committee structure – used a letter of inquiry process and collaborative meetings to support development of proposals by organizations.

During its September meeting, the RDA set aside $7 million for program funding, with the expectation that after program awards, a portion of those funds could potentially be used for Quality of Place projects. The RDA chose to allocate the remaining $582,565 to Momentum SBE Entrepreneurship Hub in St. Joseph County, which was previously awarded $550,000. This brings the total for Momentum to $1,132,565.

Launched by Gov. Holcomb and led by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC), READI encourages regional collaboration and data-driven, long-term planning that will attract and retain talent in Indiana. The $500 million READI fund was passed by legislation during the 2021 session. Through READI, 17 regions across the state, that represent all 92 counties, are moving forward with projects and programs designed to enhance Indiana’s regions for current and future generations of Hoosiers. Collectively, the state’s $500 million investment is expected to yield an additional $9.86 billion public, private and nonprofit dollars invested (19.72:1 investment leverage ratio) in enhancing Indiana’s quality of life, quality of place and quality of opportunity. The IEDC awarded the maximum grant amount of $50 million each to five of the regions, including the South Bend – Elkhart region. Awards for the other regions ranged from $5 to $30 million.

For more information about the South Bend – Elkhart region’s READI grant, click here.

To learn more about the READI grant program, click here.


About South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership
The South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership is a collaboration of the economic development partners from 47 smart connected communities in northern Indiana and southwest Michigan. The South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership focuses on a long-term systemic approach to advance the region’s economy by aligning the efforts of various stakeholders around five key areas: educating a world-class workforce, recruiting and retaining great talent, attracting and growing new economy companies in complement to our remarkably strong manufacturing industries, promoting inclusion and sparking opportunities for minorities and helping entrepreneurs thrive. The South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership seeks to unify and collaborate so that together, the communities across the region to work together to achieve what cannot be done individually. For more information about the Regional Partnership, visit

About the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Development Authority (RDA)
The South Bend – Elkhart Regional Development Authority (RDA) was formed in 2015 to focus on the long-term prosperity of the region and raising per capita income of residents in Elkhart, Marshall, and St. Joseph counties. The RDA was instrumental in administering a $42 million Regional Cities Initiative grant to spur investment in quality-of-life projects across the region and played a catalytic role in developing the Regional Economic Development Strategy (REDS Plan) aligning the region’s economic development efforts.

Media Contact
Sarah Niespodziany
South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership

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South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership Celebrates Hustle SBE Cohort Five Graduates

GRANGER, Ind. (November 29, 2022) – Earlier this month, the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership concluded its fifth HustleSBE cohort, a business bootcamp aimed toward providing support and assistance to minority and women entrepreneurs across the five-county region.

This eight-session program is dedicated to bringing resources on topics including capital, certifications, financial management, and human resources to minority and women-owned businesses.

Participants gathered for interactive learning led by HustleSBE facilitator Jess Koscher of Write Connections | strategy + design, LLC, a HustleSBE Cohort Three graduate. The Cohort Five members were joined by guest speakers from across the region that provided their expert knowledge and willingness to foster connections, including Levon Johnson from the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, Jacqueline Barton of Specialized Staffing and Jenny Frech from Soapy Gnome.

“I’ve loved Hustle,” said Erin Kinzel, founder of Kinzel Consulting. “The training has been great. I’ve loved having Jess as the facilitator for it. She really brings a depth of information, but also, she’s an entrepreneur. She understands what we’re going through, so I really valued her leadership. The speakers have been on fire. They have been amazing.”

HustleSBE sessions were held at the Beacon Central Office in Granger. This cohort was comprised of 55 percent African American or Black business owners, and 45 percent Multiracial, Hispanic or Latino, or Caucasian or White business owners, with 82 percent female and 18 percent male. Seventy-three percent have established businesses in St. Joseph County, with 27 percent based in Elkhart County. Cohort Five included businesses from arts and design, retail, professional and personal training and coaching, entertainment, hospitality, event services and transportation.

“It is always a joy to welcome a new cohort to the HustleSBE family,” said Bethany Hartley, President and CEO of the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership. “Previous graduates have come to graduation in support of Cohort Five, which is a testament to the community this program has created. We look forward to seeing what these dedicated entrepreneurs will do in the future, and the impact they’ll have on our region!”

Cohort Five Graduates include:
• Raina Adams, Live Beyond Inspired
• Adell Badgett, Dellstar VR
• Ruby Brower, A B Life and Enterprises, LLC
• Pamela Derr, Chips & Doodles
• Derald Gray, DG Visionaries
• Kelly Hofferth, Living Green
• Latonya Jennings, Ms Hunnies Cleaning
• Erin Kinzel, Kinzel Consulting
• Brenda Lane, Honey/Brown Boutique
• Rachel Mospan, Rachel Mospan Design
• Maricela Navarro, Oxfox Carriers

About South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership
The South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership is a collaboration of the economic development partners from 47 smart connected communities in northern Indiana and southwest Michigan. The South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership focuses on a long-term systemic approach to advance the region’s economy by aligning the efforts of various stakeholders around five key areas: educating a world-class workforce, recruiting, and retaining great talent, attracting and growing new economy companies in complement to our remarkably strong manufacturing industries, promoting inclusion and sparking opportunities for minorities and helping entrepreneurs thrive. The South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership seeks to unify and collaborate so that together, the communities across the region to work together to achieve what cannot be done individually. For more information about the Regional Partnership, visit


Media Contact
Sarah Niespodziany
South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership

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Entrepreneur Profile: Derald Gray

Entrepreneur Profile: Derald Gray

DG Visionaries

Derald Gray’s love of video production began as a kid in Elkhart, making YouTube shorts with his brothers and sisters. In school, he was known as the “Video Guy,” having gone viral lip syncing to Michael Jackson. His love of capturing life in the moment led him to found DG Visionaries.

“I was born a videographer,” Derald said. “It was something that chose me. Pictures are great, but to be able to hear how your day was – to see it moment by moment – I just love being able to capture memories through film.”

DG Visionaries provides high-value video production and mobile DJ services for corporate events as well as weddings. While based out of Elkhart, Derald also has an office in Indianapolis. The company has become a sought-after vendor in the wedding industry, growing from 16 weddings in 2020 to over 80 in 2022. In addition to weddings, they’ve also produced commercials and documentaries, even a corporate livestream and football hype video.

“I’m in the business of turning visions into reality though sight and sound,” said Derald. “The D.G. is because the work that we do is my passion and aligns with my values and strengths. I put my stamp on everything we do. It’s all about the visionaries, and that includes not only my team, but the clients that we serve.”

The Elkhart Central grad went on to study telecommunications at Ball State University, with a concentration in video production. During this time, he also DJed at events held by his fraternity, Sigma Nu. While this started with simply playing music on his phone, it reignited his love of music. He eventually got internship with a wedding DJ company based in Southern Michigan.

After college, Derald worked as a photojournalist at NBC-affiliate WNDU. There, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for the series “Never Again: Preventing Bus Stop Tragedies.” The story was an in-depth piece following an accident that killed young students on their way to catch the school bus. The piece led to the passing of legislation to increase bus stop safety. Despite his success in the newsroom, Derald longed for more flexibility to do what he loved on his own terms.

“I was DJing on the side, there were so many hours I was putting into it, working both jobs,” Derald said. “If I focus those hours on building a website, building a brand, showcasing my own talents – then I could possibly get clientele on my own, instead of the whole corporate thing. I enjoyed it, but I saw the freedom entrepreneurship brought.”

He’s found the biggest challenge as an entrepreneur has been dealing with growing pains and determining the fine balance of growing the company – how to be able to take on more work, while weighing the cost of additional employees.

“It gets to the point where I can’t do it all myself,” he said. “That’s been the biggest challenge – being skilled enough to have people who want you to do their wedding or shoot their video, but also realize you’re only one person. You have the same 24 hours in a day as everyone else – so I need to be strategic enough to really budget and set aside how much I need to hire someone to help out and grow the business.”

Derald now has a team of three DJs and expects to hire another editor to work on videos in the coming year. Just as he stives to develop his talents and fulfill his vision, he looks for employees who find a deep satisfaction in the work as well.

Derald is a Cohort 5 graduate of HustleSBE, a Startup South Bend – Elkhart business bootcamp program for Black, Indigenous, People of Color and Women business owners who are focused on exploring new solutions for their customers, generating new ideas, and shoring up current business practices to create a solid foundation upon which to grow.

“I am very thankful for this year’s class,” he said. “It was definitely worthwhile. One of the most beneficial things I learned from Hustle was ‘niche-ing’ down and realizing you don’t have to feel like you need to do every single thing inside your business. Narrow down the focuses of your business that you are good at – that you know are the best use of your time. If you focus on those things, you can grow in more ways than you can expect.”

He also strives to use his success to better his community. Derald was the only entrepreneur in the 2022 class of the Elkhart Leadership Academy. He was recognized as the Havilah Beardsley Young Entrepreneur in 2022 by Junior Achievement serving Elkhart County. In addition, he has joined the board of directors for Lacasa, the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, and the Tolson Center.

“It’s been great having a voice with community impact,” he said. “The Tolson Center is one of the places I grew up in. It’s been great to give back to one of the organizations that I spent some time in as a youth, especially for south side Elkhart, because that is the community I was born and raised in. My grandmother lived right across the street from Tolson. I remember staying over with them, walking over, and playing basketball. To see such a big investment hit my part of the city, where my family has its roots and origins – it’s been great to be on the other side of that and have a voice in it.”

For more information on DG Visionaries, click here.

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Founder Factory Celebrates Regional Entrepreneurs

Elkhart, Ind. (Nov. 17, 2022) – Founder Factory 2022 brought entrepreneurs, enthusiasts, and investors together for a day of networking, education, and inspiration on Nov. 16 at the Lerner Theatre in Elkhart. The event, now in its second year, has sold out twice.

“The fact that this event has sold out twice in the two years we’ve held it is a testament to the strength of our regional entrepreneur ecosystem,” said Bethany Hartley, President and CEO of the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership. “Entrepreneurship can seem like a lonely path, so to bring these founders and supporters together for a day of networking – it’s a powerful thing.”

This year’s keynote address featured two entrepreneurial powerhouses from Atlanta, Jewel Burks Solomon and Justin Dawkins. Burks Solomon is the Head of Google for Startups in the U.S. and serves as Managing Partner for Collab Capital, a $50 million venture capital fund she launched to close the funding gap for Black entrepreneurs. She founded Partpic, which was acquired by Amazon in 2016, leading her to become a product leader at Amazon’s Visual Search and AR team.

“’No’ is a gift,” Burks Solomon shared with the audience. “’No’ – at the time it doesn’t feel good; it doesn’t feel great – to hear it, but once you can get comfortable understanding that no all the time doesn’t mean no. Most of the time, it means ‘not right now.’”

Dawkins has worked on founding teams, including the startup SilverPop, which was acquired by IBM in 2014. He also serves as a Managing Partner for Collab Capital, while also being the co-founder and co-chair of Goodie Nation, a social impact organization based in Atlanta.

“Find your spot,” said Dawkins. “Where do you fit into that stack? Where do you fit into those layers? And if you aren’t sure of where you fit, pick the advocate. Pick the storyteller. Find somebody in the room and say, ‘you know what? I like you. I believe in you. If no one else is going to tell you, I’m going to do it.’ And wear that hat, if no other hat. Be the investor, right? You don’t have to write a check to invest in someone.”

Founder Factory featured special guest Cecilia Wessinger, the Director for Global Community with the Global Entrepreneurship Network, an organization operating a platform of projects and programs in 180 countries around the world to celebrate, understand, support, and connect entrepreneurs and those who champion them.

“Some of you are entrepreneurs of need, people like me, who said, ‘Well, I’m 50 years old, who’s going to hire me with this set of skills, but I’ve got an idea and I think I can make this idea work.’” said Wessinger. “So, it sparks that creativity. Some of you have an itch to scratch and see an opportunity. ‘I have an idea and I’m going to solve this problem, because this problem needs to be solved. And if I don’t solve it, it’s never going to be solved.’ So, you’re an entrepreneur of opportunity. The rest of you in this room, you’re still part of this journey, because all of the entrepreneurs always need customers.”

Founder Factory wrapped up with the IEDC Global Entrepreneurship Week Launch Party celebrating the kick-off a new statewide initiative, Entrepreneurship Indiana. The program includes a new digital doorway at, as well as the 2022 Entrepreneurship Indiana Yearbook, which spotlights 100 founders from around the state.

During a live “Shark Tank” style pitch competition, regional entrepreneurs – Otho Farrow from Metropolis Greens, Annie Johnson from Take Care, South Bend and Matt Koerner from HelloFrom – vied for $5,000 in funding. Judges Amish Shah, President and CEO of Kem Krest, Titi Obasanya, Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Elevate Ventures, and Regina Emberton, CEO of ChoiceLight, Inc., awarded $2,000 to HelloFrom, and $1,500 each to Metropolis Greens and Take Care, South Bend.

The day included tailored programming for entrepreneurs, investors, or enthusiasts with sessions featuring Julie Heath, Vice President of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems at the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC), serial entrepreneur Devin Biek; Susan Ford, COO of Graham Allen Partners; Matt Burkett, Deputy Director for Small Business, Crane Naval Base; and Andy Alexander, a certified government Contracting Assistance Specialist and Certified Procurement Professional. In addition, entrepreneurs had the opportunity to meet with specialized service providers offering advice during Professional Services Speed Dating.

Founder Factory takes place during Global Entrepreneurship Week, celebrated Nov. 14-20, 2022. Hartley announced the date for Founder Factory 23 – Nov. 15, 2023.


About Startup South Bend – Elkhart

The mission of Startup South Bend – Elkhart, a non-profit initiative of the South Bend Elkhart Regional Partnership is to promote and foster the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the South Bend – Elkhart region. Startup South Bend – Elkhart works to stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit and culture in the regional community, identify and nurture new business startups, and support the growth of existing high potential businesses. For more information about Startup South Bend – Elkhart, visit

About South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership

The South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership is a collaboration of the economic development partners from 47 smart connected communities in northern Indiana and southwest Michigan. The South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership focuses on a long-term systemic approach to advance the region’s economy by aligning the efforts of various stakeholders around five key areas: educating a world-class workforce, recruiting, and retaining great talent, attracting and growing new economy companies in complement to our remarkably strong manufacturing industries, promoting inclusion and sparking opportunities for minorities and helping entrepreneurs thrive. The South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership seeks to unify and collaborate so that together, the communities across the region to work together to achieve what cannot be done individually. For more information about the Regional Partnership, visit

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Entrepreneur Profile: Myriam Nicodemus

Entrepreneur Profile: Myriam Nicodemus

EM EN & Myriam Nicodemus Photography/Film

As a child, Myriam Nicodemus moved to South Bend from Guatemala with her family, seeking political asylum. Living in a new country where she hardly understood the language and knew no one, visual storytelling became her comfort. She was obsessed with the slick photos in magazines and narratives of movies and documentaries. This love for visual storytelling carried her through transitions in her life – particularly moves across the U.S. and to Germany as a military spouse and young mom. Ultimately, she found a way to make this passion her career. She is now the founder and CEO of EM EN and Commercial Photographer for her photography and videography business, Myriam Nicodemus Photography/Film, based in South Bend.

Her love of documentary film is what led her to a career in photography. Myriam’s son had just begun school, and she looked at her career options. She was told that photojournalism was the best first step when starting a career in documentary film, so she walked down to the local newspaper, the Waynesville Daily Guide, and offered to take photos for them – for free and with no experience – eager to learn anything and everything.

“I walked in – I don’t know how the hell I got the guts – but I went in and asked ‘Can I shoot for you? You don’t have to even pay me; I just want to learn as much as I can,’” Myriam said. “I don’t know if she saw how excited and driven I was to do it, or if she saw something in the photos, but she called me back and said, ‘I can’t let you do it for free – I have to pay you.’ To me, I had just scored my dream job. I was paid $15 per photo and was tasked with weekly features. Now I get to get paid, work for a newspaper, and have my photos printed, which is such a big deal to me still.”

Two years later she was promoted to staff photographer only to have the military assign her then-husband back to Germany. This meant, as with every move, Myriam once again needed to start over. She volunteered her time as the Historian for the Grafenwoehr Military Spouses Club, and got to photograph for the Bavarian Times and the 7th Army JMTC Public Affairs Office in Grafenwoehr, Germany, before starting a home-based photography and videography business while stationed there.

She built her business by documenting once-in-a-lifetime moments for other military families stationed overseas that they weren’t able to share with their families back in the States. She volunteered for the Grafenwoehr Housing Office, making videos for military families introducing the area to help make moves easier. Her love of documentaries was reflected in the footage she caught in these brief glimpses of personal family moments, far away from home, as was her ability to relate to the often-solitary lifestyle of military families. Then came the call that would change the trajectory of her career. She thought it was a prank at first. A production company out of California contacted her looking to use her footage of military members and their families in a series of Veterans Day ads for Walmart to be aired nationally.

“With that money, I bought gear I needed that I still use to this day,” she said. “I have no idea how they found me, this random company in California.”

In 2014, she moved back to South Bend, and once again had to start over. She had a new market to learn since the bulk of her entrepreneurial experience had been overseas. During this time, she participated in local programs for entrepreneurs, learning about business practices in general, but found the best teacher for her creative industry was hands-on experience and trial and error. Myriam’s mantras have always been the two key mindsets that developed over her life.

“I have the immigrant mentality of ‘anything is possible through hard work,’ and then add to that the military mentality of ‘you don’t have time to waste, life is fragile’” she said.

She found her primary local competition in commercial photography and filmmaking was established marketing agencies. For an up-and-coming artist to break into the market was difficult, and even more so for a woman in a male-dominated field. Myriam saw an opportunity to help level the playing field between the agencies and the artists needing work, which led to the founding of EM EN. Myriam wanted to create a physical space for the independent artists to work out of – not only as a studio space that could be used for shoots but as a conference room available for meetings, event space, and a space to host workshops related to the industry. She wanted to give artists an opportunity to present themselves as professionally as the agencies to help freelancers be taken seriously. She also wanted to refocus the relationship between regional artists from competitors to a connected circle of talent in the photography and film industry that shares knowledge, support, and equipment with peers.

“I needed to create a space where anybody who does have questions can come and ask and not have it be a secret,” she said. “I will have professionals in our industry come and hold workshops on very specific topics and as a result, we all level up as a creative community because we all now have the tools to create for a living. Now we know something we wouldn’t have as easily learned because of not working in larger markets such as New York or L.A. that have amazing resources.”

As EM EN – named after a combination of Myriam and her son Ethan’s initials, also a creative – becomes more established, Myriam is currently working on programming centered around building professional artists in all fields, not just photography and film. EM EN’s goal has always been to be a resource for creatives so that they can work in their industries full-time.

“EM EN began as a resource for photographers and filmmakers and is now building programming for many more disciplines and creating job opportunities for other creatives such as audio engineers, actors, models, and content creators,” she said. “The best part is that local businesses will be able to afford content and thrive along with us because of what we can now offer to them with all the different skill levels in our community, not to mention being able to partner with marketing companies and allowing them to offer more services as well – all while creating jobs for creatives in our region. EM EN is also looking to provide all of these opportunities and hands-on experience to students in the area, with the hopes of inspiring and showing them that it is possible for them to pursue their passion for being professional artists.”

Back when she was looking to get a foot in the door at the Missouri newspaper, she had to search to find representation among women in the industry. Thanks to her editor DawnDee Bostwick at the Waynesville Daily Guide, she was provided an opportunity to work and learn in her dream job industry. A Google search of female National Geographic photographers helped Myriam find her inspiration, and now she would like to inspire young women in turn.

“You have to put yourself out there and you have to go and meet young girls, so they can see other versions and possibilities for themselves,” she said. “I don’t want to create programs that are only for girls, I just need to find more of them to join all of us. They have to be out there. There has to be others excited about his career field.”

To learn more about EM EN, visit

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Meet the Team: Aidan Battista

Startup South Bend – Elkhart is excited to introduce our new Coordinator, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Ecosystem, Aidan Battista!

A recent graduate of Indiana University Bloomington, Aidan is a South Bend native. He found during his college years, traveling north up U.S. 31 back home always brought surprises as he spotted new additions to the area.

“Whenever I would come back from college, every single time I would see something new – this place is really transforming,” Aidan said. “The drive in, from my freshman year to my senior year, was drastically different. South Bend is really popping off right now!”

Growing up in the South Bend – Elkhart region, the St. Joseph High School graduate remembers a time when the talk of the area was focused more on urban decay and closing businesses than growth and development.

“I remember when South Bend was named a ‘dying city,’ which was weird to me, since this is my home, and I have had so many great experiences here,” he said. “I know so many people who come here just to raise their families or come here because it is a good place to be. I love South Bend. We’ve come a long way from those ‘dying’ days.”

The mission of Startup South Bend – Elkhart is to promote and foster the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the South Bend – Elkhart region. The organization works to stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit and culture in the regional community, identify and nurture new business startups, and support the growth of existing high potential businesses. It provides an ample network of resources for entrepreneurs at all levels of launch, and hosts programs such as HustleSBE for minority and woman entrepreneurs, as well as the upcoming Founder Factory: A Startup Summit for South Bend – Elkhart.

“There’s a lot of great things about the region’s entrepreneurship ecosystem. Everybody seems genuinely invested in trying to help other people out – trying to contribute to the atmosphere of growing. It’s really unique. There are organizations that could easily work on their own, but they don’t. There’s a spirit of collaboration that is so beneficial.”

In his position of Coordinator, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Ecosystem, Aidan implements the entrepreneurship initiatives for Startup South Bend – Elkhart and the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership. He works closely with dozens of cross-sector partners on projects and events while engaging diverse communities and stakeholders.

“Startup South Bend – Elkhart provides resources for entrepreneurs, from contacts to exposure to capital, to creating an atmosphere where they can find what they need. We bring connectivity. I see my role here as working to create opportunities for our region’s entrepreneurs. If I have an opportunity to contribute to that, there’s nothing more I can ask for.”

You can contact Aidan at

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