Ball State Entrepreneurship Fort Wayne Learning Journey

Griff Hulecki, Ball State Entrepreneurship Center
Photo by Griff Hulecki, Ball State Entrepreneurship Center
On a cloudy Monday, Ball State’s 2019 senior Entrepreneurial Management class found the light in 4 of Ft. Wayne’s most successful businesses. Not only were we greeted by a handful of savvy speakers and enterprise owners, but their knowledge and experience of applying an entrepreneurial approach to run a successful business was on full display.
Our 2nd Learning Journey of the semester kicked off at Ruoff Home Mortgage. Not only are they a nationally recognized home mortgage company, but they have found themselves enjoying the fruits of extraordinary marketing efforts through their many partnerships. Our hosts were CEO Mark Music, and Director of Communications & Client Relations, Kim Murphy. While Kim shared the upgrades and direction Ruoff was currently headed in, Mark was kind enough to share his own entrepreneurial experiences with acquiring this business from his father in law, founder of Ruoff, David Ruoff.
While there were many takeaways from both individuals, nothing stuck with us students more than when Mark admitted to willingly taking a pay cut out of his yearly income for 8 years in order to invest a large majority of his wealth back into the company. This example serves as a great learning point for young entrepreneurs that although today is important, tomorrow is even more imperative for a successful business.
Someone’s stomach growled in the audience, and that meant it was lunch time. We quickly scurried back onto our “Chirp Bus,” where we found ourselves en route to our next destination: the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center (NIIC). Greeted by the long-time president of the NIIC and friend of the Ball State Entrepreneurship Center, Karl LaPan, tour guide Mike Fritsch, and a plethora of marketing/social media enthusiasts, we arrived at the innovation center. Although many of us were stuffing ourselves with the wonderful sandwiches provided, Karl had an even better presentation for our minds to chow on.
From jaw-dropping entrepreneurial statistics to the many reasons why opening a business right out of college could be beneficial, we found ourselves trying to take in as much information and food as we could. I wonder if we can get the recipe for those amazing cookies? Once Karl’s presentation concluded, Mike was kind enough to take us on a quick tour of their building. Filled with entrepreneurs, we quickly found ourselves at home and tried peaking in every room we could in order to find a secret recipe for a successful business plan. Darn, no secret formula, but there was an overabundance of hardworking entrepreneurs in almost every room. We quickly found ourselves at the end of the tour, and off we went to our 3rd hot spot.
When we first pulled into Sweetwater Sound’s parking lot, many similar comments arose throughout the senior class. “Do they make their products here too?” … “This place is huge, I thought they only sold stuff here?” … “Did anybody get that recipe to the cookies yet?” Although there was no cookie recipe, there was almost everything else in the world inside of Sweetwater Sound. From an iconic and second-to-none instrument and sound store to a doctor’s office, café, gaming lounge, and hair salon, they had it all. We were greeted by our next tour guide, Julie Ratliff, who quickly gave us each our own pair of headphones to put on so we could all hear her speak over the mumble of conversations and musical instruments being played in the background. We quickly found ourselves in the middle of a musical oasis that was offering anything and everything one could ask for.
Founder Chuck Surack knew exactly what a great business needed and capitalized on an astonishing ecosystem of music enthusiasts; all while offering his services to a greater audience. There was an overwhelming feeling of passion and excitement resonating all throughout Sweetwater Sound, which gave us young entrepreneurs a sense of gratitude and education to help motivate our own business ventures.
Finally, our last destination was at the local community powerhouse, Vera Bradley. Many of us were spoiled and enlightened in the first semester by getting to meet the founder, Barbara Baekgaard, here on our own campgrounds. She shared her excitement for new business and admitted that this was the most exhilarating and stimulating part of opening a business for any young or mature entrepreneur. Nevertheless, we arrived at Vera Bradley’s massive distribution center with wide eyes and even bigger aspirations of hopefully owning something of this magnitude in our lifetimes. We were greeted by Larry Harness, a 19-year veteran for the company, who was gracious enough to enlighten our senior class on much of the behind the scenes work that goes on a day-to-day basis.
It was hard to imagine that this facility could accommodate for 30,000 orders in one day, however, Vera Bradley’s professional and systematic organization was second to none. This was truly something to strive for in the entrepreneurial world of business, and we all left with our own dreams of owning something similar to this one day.
Once the Chirp Bus was full of young and hungry 2019 Ball State Entrepreneurs, we headed back to campus. It was hard to believe we were greeted by such influential and powerful entrepreneurs, but even harder to believe we were in-line with our schedule’s time. Ft. Wayne was a great entrepreneurial hub of eccentric and cultivating businesses that showed commitment and inspiration of community acknowledgment and growth.
As we pulled into the Whitinger parking lot, our day had concluded, but these 4 businesses days were just beginning. Our 2nd Learning Journey was complete, and many ideas and dreams were commenced. This is what being an entrepreneur is all about. New ideas, new implementations, and new dreams coming to life.
Yours truly,
2019 Ball State Entrepreneurial Management Senior Class

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