Midwestern Values Meet Entrepreneurship: 4 Startup Lessons from Fuse50 Cincinnati
From competing for Amazon’s second headquarters to reinvigorating their economies, many cities around the U.S. have shown they want to build a thriving tech community. But what’s the blueprint?
A good place to start: Cincinnati. The Midwestern city is a major reason “why Ohio is fast becoming the best state in America to launch a startup,” according to Forbes contributor Peter Lane Taylor. To local entrepreneurs, investors, and other business leaders, this isn’t news. It’s part of the plan.
Here are four things Cincinnati does that cities across the country can apply to build or strengthen their tech communities. See them in action up close by coming to Fuse50 Cincinnati.
The Cincinnati tech community proudly unites under StartupCincy. What started as a hashtag grew into a thoughtful brand name, rallying cry, and online portal connecting entrepreneurs and investors.
“Cincinnati has a really great ecosystem for startups, and that’s something that really does draw talent to the ecosystem,” says Lauren Tiffan, director of Ocean Accelerator, about StartupCincy. She recalls first seeing the hashtag in college, following it to connect with the tech community, and watching how it “evolved eventually into this family of sorts.”
StartupCincy has its origins in Cintrifuse, a startup catalyst that’s part coworking space, accelerator, investment fund, and business community. The groundswell generated by StartupCincy gave Cintrifuse the momentum it needed to spearhead much of the startup activity in the city.
Nine Fortune500 companies, including Kroger and Procter & Gamble, call Cincinnati home. That scenario could threaten startups with fewer resources to compete for talent, funding, and press. Cincinnati, however, saw this as an opportunity to accelerate its vibrant tech ecosystem.
Cincinnati business leaders sought to foster cooperation between large companies and startups. They also encouraged collaboration between startups, investors, and local universities. This set the stage for a high-growth tech economy because it allowed (and continues to allow) the city’s companies to work play to their strengths.
“This network is an elegant collection of needs of large companies for innovation, meets startups that are building innovation, meets VCs that are investing in innovation—and universities that are supplying the talent to make it so,” says Wendy Lea, CEO of Cintrifuse.
“People here have a really good ethos about helping each other and passing each other around,” says Mike Venerable, CEO of CincyTech. “In the Valley, that’s one of the secrets: They pass each other around pretty well. ‘If I can’t help you, I’ll try to find someone who can.’ We have that instinct here in Cincinnati.”
A thriving tech community supports people in each stage of the entrepreneurial journey. Cincy’s entrepreneurs and investors realized quickly that by looking out for each other’s success and providing startup mentorship, they’d be more likely to generate surges in growth.
“Here in StartupCincy, there are some great mentors. It’s almost too many to name,” says Ry Walker, CEO of Astronomer, mentioning mentors such as Charlie Key, CEO of Losant, who sold his first company Modulus to Progress Software Corp in 2014; and Tim Shigel, founder of ShareThis, who’s now an active investor in the Cincinnati tech community through his fund at Refinery Ventures.
Those who find success in Cincy’s tech community don’t forget that they needed help once, too. “Cincinnati’s greatest strength as a tech community absolutely has to be our ability to be ‘Cincinnati nice,’” says Summer Crenshaw, COO and co-founder of tilr. “Most of us are willing to take a meeting regardless of who you are or where you’re at in your journey.”
That’s not just gratitude, idealism, or Midwestern values. It’s good for business, too. As Crenshaw sees it, a young entrepreneur may have a solution to specific problem, and someone like her may know that Macy’s or another company is facing that same problem.
She sums it up nicely. “Cincinnati does it probably better than most other cities I’ve seen, where everyone really truly wants to help you accelerate personally because they know it goes to the greater good and we can all rise together.”
Those who want to unlock their city’s economic potential would do well to apply these guiding principles. No two blueprints will ever be the same with such unique conditions between cities, but these principles are flexible enough to fuel growth in almost any local tech ecosystem.
The all-day event happens May 17 at Union Hall.