Recently, I was explaining NWI BizHub to an entrepreneurial colleague. He said; “This seems very different from the mission of Unity Foundation. How does it fit in?” It was a good question. So why would the three community foundations serving Lake and La Porte Counties come together to strengthen our region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem?
The Unity Foundation has always been supportive of entrepreneurs. We engage with them as they sit on our boards and engage in community betterment activities with us. Unity has nominated many people for the SBDC E-Day awards, Society of Innovators and other business awards. I and my entire family is entrepreneurial. Community foundations serve entrepreneurs by helping them with their philanthropic goals, offering tax favored tools of a community foundation, saving them time and money. Legacy Foundation and the Crown Point Community Foundation can tell similar stories.
Congressman Pete Visclosky a few years ago, summarized our area by saying, “NW Indiana is getting older, poorer and fewer.” Around that time, the NWI Forum under Heather Ennis’s leadership, approached the community foundations in Lake, La Porte and Porter counties to help fund a planning process that produced “Ignite the Region: A Regional Strategy for Economic Transformation.” The four community foundations, Crown Point, Legacy, Porter and Unity gave $30,000 toward the effort.
Ignite the Region process showed that our entrepreneurial ecosystem was fragmented. The lead task was to create a database or tool that would help entrepreneurs of any kind, find resources more quickly. We heard it from almost every entrepreneur, “I didn’t know where to look for help. I stumbled around until I got lucky. It took a lot of time.”
Around the same time, the community foundations were engaging with their communities to identify aspirations, challenges and potential actions. Legacy and Crown Point conducted “On The Table” to get community input. We partnered with our Convention & Visitors Bureau to engage 1,000 people in a process we call “Vibrant Communities.” A common thread was that too many people did not have incomes to support them and their families. As Visclosky said, “poorer.”
We knew that people need opportunities to increase their incomes. One way is through entrepreneurial pursuits. Some of our biggest gifts came from entrepreneurs who started and built their businesses here. By strengthening our entrepreneurial ecosystem, we can create more opportunities, jobs and build more community wealth. A thriving ecosystem could draw or keep younger people in our region. This could reverse Visclosky’s statement so we have more, younger and self-sufficient people in NW Indiana.
To start NWI BizHub, five groups forged a partnership: Legacy Foundation, Crown Point Community Foundation, Unity Foundation of La Porte County, Center of Workforce Innovations and the NWI Small Business Development Center. Unity has always supported entrepreneurship and innovation, but now we get to do it with our partners and connect the whole region in new ways.
President, Unity Foundation of La Porte County
219-879-0327 | [email protected]