WATERLOO — A DeKalb High School senior who took first place in a Launch DeKalb business plan competition has received the region’s 100th $1,000 Farnsworth Fund grant to support his winning startup plan.
The 18-year-old entrepreneur is Blake Webb and his winning business, Konnect Hosting, provides access to highly affordable online gaming servers with high-quality services and constant support.
Webb always had an interest in developing a career in the tech world, but said he didn’t have that in mind when he came up with the idea for Konnect Hosting in 2016. He was just solving a problem he had encountered with some of his computer gaming friends.
They were dissatisfied with the low quality they typically encountered with free gaming servers and felt they would have to pay too much for access to the better third-party servers available for playing video games online.
“With the third option, which is what I did, you make your own,” Webb said. “I spent a year researching and developing it and put a lot of money into it.”
Konnect Hosting now has more than 100 customers using its gaming servers at a data center in St. Louis. Webb said he also plans to establish operations in Indianapolis, Dallas and Seattle.
“I’m going to use the grant in order to move forward with advertising on social media platforms as well as Google Ads in order to promote the business further and wider,” he said.
He plans to apply the Launch DeKalb prize to a college education to help advance the tech career he has started. He won the competition in April. It is in its third year.
The purpose of the program is to encourage entrepreneurship, “and even if the kids don’t place, just to go though the program is, we find, very important and very crucial for that next level of development,” said Anton King, executive director of DeKalb County Economic Development Partnership.
Seeing grants awarded to young DeKalb County entrepreneurs by the Farnsworth Fund has helped attract students to the Launch DeKalb business competition, he said.
Webb became the ninth Farnsworth Fund grant recipient from DeKalb County on Thursday, said Steve Franks, the fund’s program manager. Recipients have started businesses related to technology, food, housing investment, apps and art.
“What’s interesting about that is some of the later recipients were referred by some of the earlier recipients, and I see that as a community being made,” he said. “I like the fact that there are entrepreneurs from here talking to each other, and I like the fact that there are entrepreneurs from all around the region talking to each other.”
“DeKalb County is a prime example of entrepreneurial culture shock,” Marilyn Townsend, an inaugural board member and chair for Elevate Northeast Indiana, said in a statement. “The entrepreneurs here have shown enthusiasm for entrepreneurship above and beyond our expectations.”
As the county grows, the fund will continue to be involved in the startup scene there and throughout the region by providing mentors, a supportive entrepreneurial community and money with the aim of strengthening the regional economy through entrepreneurial success, the statement said.
The fund started in May 2018 with a goal to award 50 grants to “big, bold builders and doers,” it said. The group of recipients that included Webb brought the total to 105 entrepreneurs throughout the 11 counties of northeast Indiana.
The fund plans to celebrate its first year with the launch of another mentorship program on June 25.