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elevate northeast indiana launches Farnsworth Fund with inaugural grantees

May 3, 2018

FORT WAYNE, IND. — A 25-year-old sports agent.  A 17-year-old movie director.  Two registered nurses.  A 25-year-old inventor.  What they have in common is that they are the inaugural grantees of the elevate northeast indiana Farnsworth Fund.  Today, they are being surrounded by a Community of like-minded entrepreneurs, Mentors with everything from marketing advice to intellectual property experience, and Money just when they need it.   This innovative approach begins with $200,000 in the form of $1,000 grants to help founders of companies from the very beginning.  The Farnsworth Fund expects to award at least 50 of these grants in 2018.  These small financial “bets” are part of a larger entrepreneurial culture shock rising in the region.  When ready, elevate northeast indiana has committed another $200,000 of seed stage investment of up to $20,000 each into start-ups.  And Elevate Ventures has at least another $800,000 available for early stage investment.

“The Farnsworth Fund is named after one of the 20th century’s most notable inventors.  Today we know Fort Wayne’s-own Philo T. Farnsworth as the ‘father of television’. What few people remember was that he was helping out on his family’s farm at age 15 when he got his original idea for the electronic process that would ultimately lead to the first TV camera.   Similarly, we are looking to support early entrepreneurs,” says Fred Nash, Vice Chair of elevate northeast indiana who led the Fund’s development.

The idea for the Fund was suggested by elevate northeast indiana board members Michael Mirro, M.D., SVP and Chief Academic Research Officer of the Mirro Research Center, Parkview Health, and Mark Michael, President and COO at Fort Wayne Metals.  The Fund is modeled on the successful micro-grant program of the Peter Thiel-backed 1517 Fund.

“The small-grant approach enables investment without the traditional risk aversion that Indiana and Northeast Indiana have in making a larger bet on an entrepreneur. It also allows elevate northeast indiana to begin a relationship with a young founder, whose initial idea might not turn out to be the ultimate winning entrepreneurial effort in that person’s lifetime, and that’s OK. We are laying the groundwork for that person to be successful,” says elevate northeast indiana board chair Marilyn Moran-Townsend.

In honor of the launch of the Farnsworth Fund, Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry proclaimed May 3, 2018 as Philo T. Farnsworth Day.  The mayor and other dignitaries, including Elevate Ventures CEO Chris LaMothe and Indiana Economic Development Corporation Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Chris Cotterill, were on hand to meet the inaugural Farnsworth Fund grantees:

  • Chauntiel Smith is a 25-year-old graduate of South Side High school and Indiana Tech. Her business is Capture Sports Agency and she is planning to be the next big sports agent.
  • Sean Rassavong is a 17-year-old senior at New Tech Academy and his production company is called Vision. He has been working in filmmaking and video since he was 10 and is planning to be the next Martin Scorsese.
  • Ashli Pershing and Pamela Sprowl are registered nurses at Parkview Wabash and Parkview Huntington hospitals. They independently recognized a problem faced by mothers who have just given birth.  The  Mirro Research Center brought them together to develop a new product to solve it.
  • Kyle Craig is a 25-year-old Mechanical Engineering graduate of Trine University and founder of Apollo Dynamics. Kyle is the inventor of a wearable biokinetics device paired with software to track and analyze body motion in real time; and he has arranged pilot customers including NCAA football champions, the University of Alabama.

Grantees will have access to the Farnsworth Fund’s newly hired program manager, Steve Franks, who has helped Northeast Indiana startup entrepreneurs for over a decade. Franks will foster community building among peer grantees, and help connect grantees to a network of experienced mentors, advisors and community business resources.

Potentially fundable ideas will include the full spectrum of entrepreneurial activity, from potential small businesses through high growth, venture-scalable concepts. Decision criteria will include the character/potential of the founder and the potential for success/impact. Additional weight will be given to opportunities that align with the region’s focus areas. Grant decisions will be made by elevate northeast indiana’s investment committee.

The Farnsworth Fund will also be supported by an Advisory Board with representation from throughout the 11-county region. Chaired by 25-year-old Fort Wayne native Nick Arnett who is a venture capitalist with the 1517 Fund, the Advisory Board’s purpose is to “talent scout” potential grantees and serve as a connector of mentors, money and other resources for the entrepreneurs.

More information on the Farnsworth Fund can be found at



Click to learn more about the Farnsworth Fund and inaugural grantees.



elevate northeast indiana was developed to create “entrepreneurial culture shock” in Northeast Indiana. It began October 2, 2017, as a result of the $2 million partnership between Elevate Ventures and the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. To learn more about elevate northeast indiana, visit



Elevate Ventures is a private venture development organization that nurtures and develops emerging and existing high-potential businesses into high-performing, Indiana-based companies. Elevate Ventures accomplishes this by providing access to capital, rigorous business analysis and robust advisory services that connect companies with the right mix of resources businesses need to succeed long term. To learn more about Elevate Ventures, visit