IronWorkz, a recently founded non-profit run by three young Hoosiers who grew up in and around Gary, is helping the city’s economy by providing a networking space for Gary residents embarking on their entrepreneurial journeys. aims to activate the
CEO Faith Spencer, COO Emani Ellis, and CFO Alex Termini at a public event at Flourish Church on May 26. He explained the organization’s vision to about 30 participants.
“Gary has a capital problem with access to resources,” Ellis says. “There aren’t many opportunities for management.
The organization’s name is a tribute to the region’s steel industry. All three founders descended from steelworkers, with Spencer and Ellis both from Gary and Termini raised near Hobart. Spencer will graduate from Purdue University Northwest in May and start a consulting job at Chicago-based firm West Monroe Partners in September. Ellis and Termini are still Purdue students.
Spencer, Ellis and Termini said they wanted to provide Gary residents with a venue that would serve not only as a social gathering place for the city’s youth, but also as a professional hub. This means setting up a “business incubator” where local young people with an entrepreneurial spirit can meet each other, attend events, discuss projects and support each other’s ventures.
Ellis hopes the space will help Gary’s youth find sources of passion in their professional lives.
“If you don’t know what you want to do, hang out with lots of people doing different things together,” she said. “You see someone do something and you think, ‘Oh, I like that.’
A roller rink will also open at the same location to address the social side of their ambitions.
“I know a lot of people are asking, ‘Where did Roller Rink come from? He explained that it all started when he heard about the trip to the wheel from his father. It was Gary’s beloved institution and is still fondly remembered by many of the city’s residents. In a city with few public recreational options, roller skating is a way of restructuring a damaged social fabric, she said.
“If we can bring that concept back, then we can bring back what we desperately need in terms of having a connected community and having friendly neighborhoods and friendly people,” she said. “Also, if someone isn’t interested in the entrepreneurial spirit that we’re doing in this space, they can come to the roller skating rink and see everything that’s going on there and be like, ‘Hey, that’s kinda cool. It’s cool.’
IronWorkz is currently soliciting donations and corporate sponsors and applying for grants to fund the project. The founders say they hope to find a suitable location by the end of the year. Spencer, Ellis and Termini have so far been joined by a staff of four volunteers, and the three will eventually hire more staff to the Post-Tribune once funding is available. said.
City of Gary spokesman Michael Gonzalez said the administration of Mayor Jerome Prince is exploring the possibility of allowing Ironworks to use a city-owned building as a venue, but has not offered details of such an arrangement. It is too early to discuss, he added.
“Mayor Prince is excited and happy to support IronWorkz and what they are doing to help young people,” he said. “They are doing great things and we are excited about it, so we will definitely work with them.”
In her presentation, Spencer quoted former U.S. Congressman Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress.
“If you don’t let me sit at the table, get me a folding chair,” she said. “IronWorkz will be the folding chair of the City of Gary.”
Throughout the summer, IronWorkz will host a series of public events hosted by a variety of local venues, focusing on entrepreneurship and equity.