Posts By Startup Team:

Startup South Bend – Elkhart receives Career Pathways grant award for $300,000 from the Community Foundation of Elkhart County

ELKHART, Ind. (May 14, 2024) — The Community Foundation of Elkhart County has awarded Startup South Bend – Elkhart a Career Pathways grant of $300,000 for its three-year award cycle.

The funds will help Startup South Bend – Elkhart in promoting and fostering the region’s entrepreneurial network through ecosystem building. An initiative of the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership, Startup South Bend – Elkhart works to stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit and culture in the region, identifies and nurtures new business startups, and supports the growth of existing high potential businesses.

“We believe that Startup South Bend – Elkhart is another excellent example of our mission to improve the quality of life in Elkhart County by inspiring generosity,” said Pete McCown, president of the Community Foundation. “We are pleased with what they’ve presented to us, and we expect them to be successful in their efforts. Startup South Bend – Elkhart is another vital link in the chain of non-profit entities that are improving our quality of life in Elkhart County.”

Startup South Bend – Elkhart’s primary goals are to increase the number of potential entrepreneurs through strategic targeted marketing and outreach, as well as connecting entrepreneurs to resources such as funds, mentors, and talent.

“We are ecstatic with the Career Pathways grant from the Community Foundation of Elkhart County,” said Startup South Bend – Elkhart’s Director of Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Marty Mechtenberg. “These funds will be critical to support our region’s growing entrepreneurship ecosystem.”​​​​​​

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About Community Foundation of Elkhart County
Community Foundation of Elkhart County partners with donors to leverage their philanthropy in ways that transform lives. Since 1989, the Community Foundation has opened doors by helping generous donors to meet community needs, providing scholarship opportunities to local students and making grants to nonprofit organizations working to improve Elkhart County. The Community Foundation strives to be a local entity known for inspiring good and impacting success. For more information, visit InspiringGood.org.

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 StartupSouthBendElkhart.com.

About South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership
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 SouthBendElkhart.org.

Media Contact
Liz Folkerts
South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership
lfolkerts@southbendelkhart.org

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Startup South Bend – Elkhart Launches Season Two of Rooted & Reaching Podcast

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (April. 25, 2024) — Season Two of the Rooted & Reaching Podcast launches today. The entrepreneurship podcast features founders from across the South Bend – Elkhart region.

“The first season, we focused on the ‘why,’ – what leads entrepreneurs to build their businesses,” said Marty Mechtenberg, podcast co-host and Director of Entrepreneur Ecosystems at the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership. “This season, in addition to the ‘why’, we’re also addressing how regional entrepreneurs found success, and what they have planned next.”

The first episode features Amanda Havens, curator of the South Bend – Elkhart region’s only female-led brewery and cidery: Brew-Hers. Havens shares her journey of working in established breweries to fostering an innovative concept focused on community engagement and the empowerment of women. With a collaborative cooperative model, the venture aims to provide a platform for local homebrewers, highlighting diverse brewing talents while offering a broad spectrum of artisanal beverages.

The second episode will be recorded live today at IDEA Week. The session titled “Recent Raises: Hear From Founders Who Just Completed Their Rounds,” features entrepreneurs Ray Fraser, CEO of Vital View Technologies, Riley Ellingsen, cofounder of heARsight, Joshua Rodgers, Chief Growth Officer of Mili Llama, Lynn Greenberg, Founder and CEO of Pivt, and will be moderated by Cat Edmonds, Program Director at the University of Notre Dame. It is happening at 1 p.m. in the Century Center’s Bendix Arena.

New episodes launch every two weeks. Upcoming guests include Josh Rodgers of Mili Llama, Len Morris of Viewrail, Mike Brown from Soulstir and Richard Worsham of Janus Motorcycles.

Season one featured 17 episodes with guests including Phil Smoker of Smoker Craft, Kevin Craig of Tessellated, Derald Gray of DG Visionaries, Kathy Burnette of Brain Lair Books, and Alex Sejdinaj of Code Works, among others.

Episodes will be available to download here, and the video on YouTube here.

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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 StartupSouthBendElkhart.com.

About South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership
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 SouthBendElkhart.org.

Media Contact
Liz Folkerts
South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership
lfolkerts@southbendelkhart.org

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Bethany Hartley’s IDEA Week Agenda

IDEA Week is only weeks away! Check out President and CEO Bethany Hartley’s agenda below and check out the full schedule of events at ideaweek.com!

If you missed Marty’s itinerary, check it out here!

April 20, 2024

Kicking off IDEA Week with The All-American Rejects concert on Saturday at Four Winds Field! The nostalgia will hit hard with this one! Plus, there’s an after party happening at South Bend Brew Werks! 🎶🎤

April 23, 2024

The official IDEA Week Launch party will bring the beats by Chuck Fry and fire up attendees for the next couple of days of deep-diving content. Meet fellow attendees, pick up your IDEA Week registration info, and nosh on delicious local bites. 🎉🎊

April 24, 2024

11:00AM – Curious about jobs that don’t exist yet? I am. Which is why I’m going to the Preparing for Jobs that Don’t Exist Yet with the former Chief Innovation Officer of Strada Education Network’s Institute for the Future of Work Michelle Weise. 🔮⚒

3:00 – 5:00PM – Back-to-back keynote sessions with Maya French, founder of Koia (a plant-based beverage business) and Jaclynn Brennan, CEO  of Creative Duality! Two great sessions to learn about consumer package goods (CPGs) and branding yourself to build your business! 🍍🧃

April 25, 2024

1:00PM – I’ll be at Lesley Robinson’s session on EntreLeadership, Founder-focused Entrepreneurship Leadership. Learning from Lesley will be pretty incredible, as she is a 2024 Austin Woman Magazine inaugural Change Maker, Austin Business Journal Women in Business Finalist, and Austin Under 40 Finalist.

3:00PM – Can’t wait to attend the Betting on Indiana: Investors Who Think Indiana Companies Have What it Takes panel session! Featuring incredible speakers, this panel will be sure to provide insights for attendees on what is bubbling to the top of investors’ interests and what is on the horizon of entrepreneurship in Indiana! 💵

4:00PM – I’m jumping over to RISE Fest at the Studebaker Campus to interact with regional RISE students and learn more about their startups, what is being created right here, right now, and how we can lean in to burgeoning startups. 🏗

7:00PM  – The day wraps up at the Hasan Minhaj comedy show at the Morris, looking forward to laughing at this two-time Peabody Award-winning comedian! 😂

April 26, 2024

1:30PM – Check out the finalists competing for over $600,000 in cash and prizes at the McCloskey New Venture Competition – happening at Corbett Hall! 💵

The post Bethany Hartley’s IDEA Week Agenda appeared first on South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership.

Marty Mechtenberg’s IDEA Week Agenda

IDEA Week is only weeks away! Check out Entrepreneurship Director Marty Mechtenberg’s agenda below and check out the full schedule of events at ideaweek.com!

April 24, 2024
First up at 9:00am, I’ll dive into the deep end with Travis Rosbach and Hydroflask – from scuba diving instructor to the king of cool (and hot) beverages. In fact, we’re so excited that we ordered a gorgeous set of Hydroflasks with Startup South Bend – Elkhart branding! Swag level: Expert. 🌊➡💼

Next I’m eager to learn more about Zoey McKenzie’s $100 million impact fund for health equity and climate preparedness in underserved communities. My own neighborhood is still dealing with the impact of redlining and the disappearance of heavy industry, and her focus on financial returns with positive social and environmental outcomes is a model for the future of our hurt communities. 💸🌍💚

At 11:00am the Elevate Ventures Hardtech Roadshow kicks off. The entire Elevate Ventures team will be in town – an awesome chance to connect with Indiana’s premier VC fund that is empowering founders and startups around the State. Presenting with them will be six new companies, funded by Elevate, that are bringing innovation and new manufacturing growth to our region. With some many amazing people in the room it will be hard to decide who to connect with first!🧙‍♂️🚀

At 1:00pm Logan Herzog, Chief Innovation Officer at RISE, will be presenting on the unavoidable topic of AI. AI is rapidly becoming a part of our lives, and I’m grateful for the chance to learn from someone who’s had the time and expertise to dig in and provide guidance. How can these new tools make our businesses more efficient and effective? Logan’s going to break down how AI can turbocharge our work without stealing our lunch money. Robots as coworkers? Yes, please – as long as they don’t hog the coffee. ☕🤖

I’ll end the day with some physical fun at the Strike Up Innovation event at Generations Adventureplex. After a long day of learning and inspiration it will feel great to unwind with like-minded innovators by putting a new spin on an old-school fan favorite! 🎳🎉

April 25, 2024
On Thursday, after the Starting Small Summit, I’ll be in the room for the 1:00pm panel on Recent Raises. This is such a critical topic for startups, and hearing from three founders who have cracked the code to accessing capital will be invaluable. I’m ready for my eyes to be opened and my mind blown. 🤯💲

And at 3:00pm, we’ll get the flipside – a panel with investors who are Betting on Indiana and investing in regional companies. They will let us know what they’re looking for from new startups, and why they think new Indiana businesses are poised for growth and global impact. The “Humble Hoosier” is a thing of the past as we bring our home-grown innovation and drive to confront global competition. 🏎💪

Finally, before Hasan Minhaj’s hilarious performance at 7pm, I’ll stop by the Studebaker building campus for RISE Fest. I’ve had the chance to see the spirit of entrepreneurship come alive in these students, and I can’t wait to celebrate with them at their signature year-end event! 🎓😇

About IDEA Week
IDEA Week is an innovation festival hosting business, technology, and entertainment events to provide entrepreneurs, students, and attendees with the practical knowledge, creative inspiration, and social foundation they need to innovate within their own careers, studies, and communities.

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 StartupSouthBendElkhart.com

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Entrepreneur Profile: Latonya Jennings

Ms. Hunnie’s Cleaning Service

Latonya Jennings has a passion for cleaning. The Elkhart native started Ms. Hunnie’s Cleaning Service in 2012 but continued her day job at MORyde. A religious woman, Latonya decided to quit her job and focus full time on Ms. Hunnie’s in 2020.

“God’s going to step in long as I step out in faith, but he needed me to do some work,” Latonya said. “He needs me to do something, too. I kept hearing these words over and over and over – three different people was telling me this. So, I finally decided just to step out and trust God.”

Latonya’s leap of faith paid off. Today, she is running her own business, setting her own hours, and making more money than she did while working full-time for someone else.
The idea of entrepreneurship came naturally to Latonya. Spending her time working to build up another’s company – supporting someone else’s legacy – never felt right to her. She didn’t want to work on someone else’s schedule. It was her faith – and her faith in herself – that allowed her to make the transition from side hustle to running a company.

“If you don’t believe in yourself, who will you have to have faith? Believe in yourself and keep yourself motivated through this, because this is not an easy thing,” Latonya said. “You’re going to run into some obstacles. It’s going to be some ups and downs. Everything is not going to be great. So, you got to be able to be able to go through the trial, go through the fire and know that it’s gonna be OK. I’m gonna make it through.”

Latonya credits her family for being a support system, and for making the entrepreneurial journey not so lonely. Her cousin, Wanda Shorter, saw Latonya’s vision, and helped her register her business. Latonya’s husband is her strongest employee.

“I have an amazing family that backs me up,” she said. “My husband – he backs me up greatly. He works for me. He works for me, and he doesn’t get paid. He doesn’t ask for nothing.”

In addition to her circle of support, Latonya finds a key skill for all entrepreneurs is a self-motivation.

“I had to be my own motivation and that’s what people don’t understand when you’re trying to be entrepreneurs or run the business,” she said. “You don’t have time for people to lift you up. You have to be able to lift your own self up and push your own self because this is your vision. This is your dream.”

Latonya participated in the HustleSBE business bootcamp for Minority and Female business owners. It was her first participation in an entrepreneur program. She found the expert presenters each week inspired her in her business, and made her think of areas she needed help, like contract preparation.

“I didn’t know too much about business,” said Latonya. “Everything I was doing, I was learning on research, but Hustle just opened up my eyes to greater things that I need to know concerning this business. For example, I need an attorney. It’s just so much that I wish the class could go longer, but it was so much that Jess gave us. I kept every note. I’m going to go back to every note, every paper she passed out to us.”

Latonya sees a future as bright as a newly cleaned countertop for Ms. Hunnie’s. She’s looking at expansion, both in her team and her service radius.

“I see a vision of us with more than multiple cars or vans,” she said. “I see 20 or 30 more or more people, employees. I see great things for the future. Great things and actually I know it will be great things for our future. Our future is very bright. I see that’s outside of Michiana. We’re going further. We will be here, but we’re going further out. God’s going to expand us.”

For more information on Ms. Hunnie’s, click here.

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Founder Factory ’23 Celebrates Region’s Entrepreneurs

South Bend, INDIANA (November 21, 2023) – The South Bend – Elkhart region celebrated Global Entrepreneurship Week in style on November 15, as Founder Factory returned for the third year. Hosted by Startup South Bend – Elkhart, this startup summit for the South Bend – Elkhart region brings together entrepreneurs, enthusiasts, investors, and students for a day of inspiration, knowledge-sharing and networking. 

 Indiana Secretary of Commerce David Rosenberg kicked off the event, welcoming attendees and citing Indiana’s entrepreneurial strengths. Named the best state to start a business in 2023 by Forbes Advisor, the Indiana Economic Development Corp. (IEDC) recently launched ConnectIND, an online portal connecting entrepreneurs to resources throughout the state. Indianapolis was recently announced as the host of the 2025 Global Entrepreneurship Congress. 

 “The South Bend – Elkhart region and Indiana as a whole is a bustling hotbed for entrepreneurship,” said Bethany Hartley, President and CEO of the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership. “We are now in our third year of Founder Factory, and it has sold out every time. Seeing the enthusiasm for small business and entrepreneurs on a regional scale, I look forward to welcoming the world to Indiana to celebrate at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress.”  

Lisa Sun, a best-selling author and founder of fashion brand GRAVITAS, gave the keynote presentation, discussing her entrepreneurial journey – including starting a company out of her apartment, the effects of an Oprah endorsement, and identifying and developing key skills and confidence.   

“What ends up happening is self-awareness easily becomes self-doubt,” said Sun. “We start to create comfort zones because what is courage? After all, courage is self-belief that leads us to take action. Then we evaluate the results of those actions from a place of strength. To learn and do it all over again. If you replace self-belief with self-doubt, there is no action.”  

In partnership with the South Bend Awesome Fund, ten area businesses competed for three $3,500 prizes in a pitch competition. Pitching companies had three minutes to present their idea, with an additional two minutes of Q&A from the panel of judges. Competitors included a range of businesses, from pet food to beekeepers to technology companies. Winners included Mixxture, a plant-based line of hair, skin, and body products; Mexican/Korean caterer A Bite with Mee; and BrewHers, an all-female developed and ran brewery. 

Founder Factory concluded with the Global Entrepreneurship Week Launch Party, hosted by the IEDC. The event unveiled the organization’s annual Entrepreneurship Yearbook, featuring entrepreneurs from around the state.  

“It is exciting to see so many regional entrepreneurs featured in the 2023 yearbook,” said Marty Mechtenberg, Director of Entrepreneur Ecosystems at the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership. “The South Bend – Elkhart region has an eclectic and diverse array of startups, each with a significant story to share.”  

Founder Factory traditionally occurs during Global Entrepreneurship Week, happening the week of November 11-17, 2024. Global Entrepreneurship Week involves more than 40,000 events held in 200 countries.   

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 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 StartupSouthBendElkhart.com.  

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 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 SouthBendElkhart.org. 

 Media Contact 

Liz Folkerts 

South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership 

lfolkerts@southbendelkhart.org  

The post Founder Factory ’23 Celebrates Region’s Entrepreneurs appeared first on South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership.

Lisa Sun, Awesome Pitch Competition, Global Entrepreneurship Week Launch Party Headlining Founder Factory on Nov. 15

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (Oct. 5, 2023) — Founder Factory 2023 is happening Nov. 15, 2023, at the Studebaker Building in South Bend. Bringing together entrepreneurs, investors and enthusiasts, the annual event celebrates startups throughout the region. The Founder Factory summit, now in its third year, has sold out twice.

“Founder Factory is an event near to my heart,” said Bethany Hartley, President and CEO of the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership. “It brings together all elements of the entrepreneurship ecosystem in one room to inspire and share, motivate and commiserate, cheer and celebrate the entrepreneurial journey. I fully expect attendees will leave feeling excited and connected, with new ideas on the horizon!”

This year’s keynote speaker is Lisa Sun, Founder and CEO of fashion brand GRAVITAS. Sun started GRAVITAS in 2012, after 11 years at McKinsey & Company advising luxury, fashion and beauty brands and retailers in the U.S., Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Inspired by her first professional review, in which she was told she ‘lacked gravitas,’ Sun developed her clothing line with a focus on size-inclusivity and confidence-building through fashion. She is the national best-selling author of “GRAVITAS: The 8 Strengths That Redefine Confidence” (USA Today bestseller, #1 Amazon bestseller). The first 75 people who register for Founder Factory will receive a signed copy.

“My experience finding my own gravitas is a story I am excited to share with my fellow entrepreneurs at Founder Factory,” said Sun. “Entrepreneurship is oftentimes a tough and lonely journey, and I have always found inspiration and support through my peers, so I hope by sharing my experience I can inspire others at different stages in their personal entrepreneurial journeys.”

The day continues with a pitch competition. The Awesome Fund is joining Startup South Bend – Elkhart to award three $3,500 prizes to startups in the South Bend – Elkhart region. To be eligible, entrepreneurs can apply here by Nov. 8th at 5 p.m. A minimum of eight startups will be selected to participate in a live pitch and Q&A at Founder Factory, with winners being announced that evening.

Founder Factory will wrap up with a Global Entrepreneurship Week Celebration Party, hosted by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC). The networking reception includes the regional debut of the 2023 Entrepreneurship Indiana Yearbook, which spotlights founders from around the state. Attendees will have an opportunity to meet honorees, learn more about the new ConnectIND entrepreneurship portal and enjoy the company of the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“Entrepreneurship is a key to growing the state’s economy,” said Morgan Allen, Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Director at the IEDC. “Forbes Advisor named Indiana the best state to start a business in 2023, due in large part to our business-friendly climate and available resources and support. We look forward to celebrating Indiana entrepreneurs at the Global Entrepreneurship Week Celebration Party and welcoming other members of the ecosystem.”

Founder Factory takes place during Global Entrepreneurship Week, celebrated Nov. 13-19, 2023.

An Early-Bird discount is available for the first 25 registrants using code EARLYBIRD25. The discount expires Oct. 18.

For more information, as well as registration, visit startupsouthbendelkhart.com/founderfactory

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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 SouthBendElkhart.org.

Media Contact
Liz Folkerts
South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership
lfolkerts@southbendelkhart.org

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Entrepreneur Profile: Pamela Derr

Chips & Doodles

Pamela Derr started small-batch bakery Chips & Doodles after years building a reputation – the cookies she made for her husband’s customers always won rave reviews. As her children grew, it evolved into bringing a piece of home to college students, many whom were away from home for the first time. Today, her company was recently named the new cake service provider for the University of Notre Dame.

“My goal was to kind of start small while my kids were still in school and then grow once we became empty nesters,” said Pam. “And that’s kind of where we’re at now.”

The name stems from the first two items Pam made – Chocolate Chip and Snickerdoodle cookies. Since moving from a home base to a commercial kitchen, she’s since expanded her offers to include a variety of sweet treats, including brownies, cakes and even ice cream sandwiches, in partnership with South Bend Challah Company. Her baked goods can be ordered online and found in a variety of local shops.

As her son started school at the University of Notre Dame, Pam found a new market for her cookies.

“People were looking for baked goods on the parent page,” she said. “I put out there that I had a local business. I was a class of 2026 mom and I’ve been baking a lot for birthdays, for students that are away from home for the first time. Their parents want to do something special.”

Pam adds a balloon with a card from the family and delivers the gift to the student. She will ask the recipient if she can take a photo to send back home. So far, she has never had a student say no.

“I feel so blessed that my son is 20 minutes away,” she said. “I have done cookies for families that live in Puerto Rico, as well as California and Hawaii. It’s just such a blessing that I’m able to pass that on to the families. It’s so much more than just using real butter and real vanilla. I’m trying to give that fresh-made from scratch, baked just for you personal touch that you know that the parents are not able to give right now.”

Chips & Doodle’s new partnership with the University of Notre Dame will allow her to continue to serve students and families, but on a larger scale. The cake service is run out of the Student Activities Office, and will support student activities on campus, while employing undergraduates.

One of Pam’s featured items is printed cookies. Using edible ink, the printer places the image directly on the cookie.

“I make a sugar cookie and put royal icing on it and then it prints directly on the cookie,” she said. “There’s a few other bakers in this area that do it, but it’s a little bit different than what other people offer. I’ve printed a photo my son took of the Golden Dome, and it is as clear as if you printed it on paper.”

A life-long resident of South Bend, Pam’s first kitchen experience was watching her mother baking at home. The first year Pam made cookies for her husband’s customers, she hand-decorated cutout cookies, all while staying at home with her toddler.

“I did snowmen with the brooms and the hats and all that,” Pam said. “And I was like, ‘I’m never doing that again!’”

This led to her perfecting her chocolate chip and snickerdoodle recipes, allowing her to focus on the cookie and not the decoration. By the time she opened the bakery, Pam was making one hundred dozen cookies for her husband each year.

Pam has participated in both the Saint Mary’s College SPARK Business Accelerator and the HustleSBE program.

“I learned a lot, kind of fine tuning it in person,” she said. “Having that face-to-face time to bounce questions off of each other and hear other people in the room talking about things, learning from all of that and feeling that common ground.”

She has found one of her biggest struggles as an entrepreneur is persistence and having confidence in herself and her business.

“One time, I was told ‘You’re a professional baker,’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t think that,’” she said. “But I have made hundreds of thousands of cookies. I guess that does play into it, but I’ve always had a struggle with that and believing that people really like my product, but here we’re going on six years, and I’ve gained somewhat of a following.

For more information on Chips & Doodles, visit www.chipsanddoodles.com.

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Entrepreneur Profile: Alex Sejdinaj

South Bend Code School, South Bend Code Works & Give Grove

From a young age, Alex Sejdinaj wanted to help make the world a better place. For a long time, she thought that meant becoming a doctor. It wasn’t until she was in college at the University of Notre Dame that – with a nudge from a counselor – she realized her true passion. She can make the world a better place through coding. This developed into three organizations South Bend Code School, South Bend Code Works, and Give Grove.

“What unites all three companies is that they’re all mission driven organizations,” Alex said. “We started all of them out of noticing a need or a problem that we felt passionate about and knew that we could use technology to help solve – or at least help improve.”

In summer of 2015, Alex started South Bend Code School with her two co-founders – her husband, also named Alex Sejdinaj, and Chris Frederick. The school started with the intention to teach children how to code, but once the pandemic hit, the organization pivoted to include adult learners. It offers a free educator program where the Code School will come to a school and teach a team of educators coding skills, so they can in turn teach it in their classrooms.

“It’s pretty exciting getting to launch it and just being able to help lower the barrier to entry for learning how to code, and then, in particular, being able to help educators as well because you’re able to reach more students that way,” said Alex. “Teachers already have enough on their plates. The fact that Indiana has a state mandate for students to be learning how to code in school – K through 12 – that puts a lot of pressure on teachers. With the training, they get curriculum and support throughout the school year. Being able to provide that feels incredibly needed at this time.”

South Bend Code Works came to fruition about a year after the Code School. The digital product studio partners with companies to help fulfill their technology needs. One of the biggest components has been their technology assistance grants, which help small businesses up their technology. The Digital Storefront grants develop websites for small businesses.

“It started with the pandemic, when a lot of businesses had to close their doors,” Alex said. “Unfortunately, many didn’t have an online presence and so their ability to continue operations didn’t exist. We started this grant program originally with the City of South Bend to be able to create websites for these businesses and set them up with different tools and systems to help their business processes run more easily.”

The program has since grown with a new partnership with Boone County, Indiana, when the area created a similar grant.

The third endeavor from Alex and her team is Give Grove. A fundraising platform, Give Grove aims to be simple and fun for not just the organization, but donors as well.

“Our logo was a lemon and so we like to say that we make fundraising easy peasy lemon squeezy. You know, just to make it fun,” she said.  “I think fun is a big part of the platform. We want it to feel enjoyable for the organizations as well as for the donors.”

It includes a gamification component and fun graphics and colors. But the key feature is in its flexibility and affordability for organizations of all sizes.

Alex finds a great deal of support and collaboration as part of a team of co-founders. She sees being married to one of her co-founders a benefit, especially since she’s navigating being a first-time mom and managing three growing businesses. Their son, Isaiah, was born in July.

‘You always have your partner – your collaborator – there with you,” she said. “I’d really say that collaboration piece in having co-founders is incredibly helpful. Being able to talk through ideas as well as not being the only person responsible for solving them. You know it helps take some of the pressure off of your back and knowing that you have other people to share this with.”

For Alex, the future of her organizations falls under one main goal – growing accessibility to technology.

“Code School is continuing to be able to reach more people and being able to empower them with the knowledge of how to use technology,” she said. “We also are working with adults; we have a course called Intro to Careers in Code. It’s a free virtual course, so adults from anywhere can be able to join a weekly zoom call with our coding instructor and learn real world coding skills and build projects. Code Works continues to make technology resources accessible to help more people and businesses. With Give Grove, we continue to help mission-driven organizations with our technology. Accessibility to technology is our goal across the board.”

For more information visit:
South Bend Code School
South Bend Code Works
Give Grove

The post Entrepreneur Profile: Alex Sejdinaj appeared first on South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership.

Entrepreneur Profile: Chris Merrill

Entrepreneur Profile: Chris Merrill

Adapta Education

Chris Merrill wasn’t necessarily setting out to become an entrepreneur. What started with his background as a high school educator, an idea while on vacation and a serendipitous graduate school connection grew into Adapta Education.

Adapta Education is a platform that gives teachers data and tools needed to personalize education based on their students’ ability. With the platform, teachers use the adaptive test generator to determine their students’ strengths and weaknesses.

“What’s nice about it is for the teachers, the setup is super easy,” Chris said. “They just select what standards and competencies they want students to be tested on and how many questions. Then it gives each student an adaptive test. What’s nice about it is the upper-level students, it keeps giving them harder and harder questions because they keep getting the easier ones right, whereas the lower-level students stay at their level.”

Chris first considered this idea while on vacation years ago. While driving with his wife, he began thinking about a product that could give schools individualized data on students’ capabilities, but, at that time, Chris was a teacher and working in sales, so he put the idea on the back burner.

“Fast forward a couple of years – I come to Notre Dame for grad school, for my MBA, and I hear about the IDEA Center, which essentially is that on campus incubator and accelerator,” said Chris. “I submit the idea, because I remember saying if I were to run a startup, this would be it. So, let’s just see where it goes. And they come back to me, saying there are two professors that created something just like what you’re talking about. I get connected with them and I find out, yes, they did create it and they did a much better job than what I would have ever thought of.”

The professors were looking for help to turn the technology into a business, so Chris seemed like the perfect fit to come on board to commercialize the project into a startup.

“I’m not doing this because I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” he said. “It’s just more of ‘hey, this is something I believe in and something I think can make a difference.’ You know, I came to the MBA program thinking I want to be a product manager or something along those lines. I came to school to find something I wanted to do, and since then I believe in something that’s worth working for.”

A Salt Lake City native, Chris first moved to the South Bend – Elkhart region to attend graduate school. The choice to apply for the MBA program came easy; in addition to the program’s high ranking, he has family living in the area. Since moving to the region, Chris and his wife started a family of their own – they are parents of twin toddlers.

Chris sees benefits in starting a business in the South Bend – Elkhart region. He cites the availability of resources and funding, and the comparatively low cost to start a business as key features, as well as connectivity within the region.

“You’re two hours away from Chicago, two and a half hours away from Indy and then three hours from Detroit,” he said. “You got a really good region to kind of set up from and, and you’re plenty of businesses in those cities that you can work with and network.”

The Adapta platform is currently being used in schools, including Elkhart High School and Heritage Christian in Indianapolis. The tests are available for most high school math courses, including algebra I, geometry, algebra II, precalculus, AP calculus, intro to statistics and AP statistics, which allows school districts to use the platform across the entire high school math curriculum. An SAT addition is launching shortly. The adaptive structure of the tests allows students at all levels to stay engaged, without checking out over too many easy questions or overwhelmed by too many hard questions.

“Every student feels challenged, but not overwhelmed, and it only took two minutes to set it up so teachers can have time to focus on other spots in their classroom or other areas of their curriculum,” Chris said. “And then the data we provide them after is very specific competency based, so it shows them exactly where their students are struggling, where they’re excelling.”

This allows teachers to adjust the lesson plans to address students’ needs. Personalized education was a trend in education for years but has grown from a goal to an expectation in the years following COVID-related school closures.

“COVID set behind our students,” Chris said. “The average math student fell four months behind, so teachers, a population of people that we had already stretched to their limits before the pandemic, now we’re asking them to stretch a little further. They have to use their time as efficiently as they can in the classroom to ensure all their students’ needs are being met, that they’re catching students back up, and that they’re not wasting any time. That’s an incredibly hard thing to do.”

For more information on Adapta Education, visit www. adaptaeducation.com.

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