The next big idea can come from anywhere, and with regional tech hubs connecting and forming a national community, a transformational idea may spring from the Ohio River Valley as likely as it will from Silicon Valley.
Our first Fuse50 conference reinforced that belief. The event, produced with Cintrifuse, did more than celebrate the #StartupCincy tech community. It showcased Cincinnati as a tech hub ready to influence the national tech ecosystem.
Few things demonstrated that better than the lessons we took away from the tech experts at Fuse50. The cross-section of local leaders and national influencers showed that Cincinnati has plenty of expertise to contribute, especially when it comes to getting startups and big companies working together.
1. Build critical mass for your startup community
“There are more than 150 large companies in the Cincinnati ecosystem, so I knew we could be a large tech-centric economy,” said Wendy Lea, CEO of Cintrifuse. “We need to be prouder that we’re in the middle of the Midwest.”
As Lea and other tech experts pointed out on our “How Startups & BigCos Can (and Should) Collaborate” panel, the Midwest has resources, values, and a work ethic coveted by companies and investors on the coasts.
Every tech hub must realize and own what’s unique about its city and region. Doing so gives each tech hub a strong foundation for presenting itself to talent, investors, and customers. Participating in a tech census is a great place to start.
2. Be intentional about culture
“42% of college grads want to work for startups, while only 14% percent want to work for big businesses,” said Dr. Philecia Avery, founder and principal of PhileciaDayle LLC, in her afternoon rapid-fire, “The Rx for a Healthy Startup.”
Two things stand out from hearing Dr. Avery. First, many talented workers crave the opportunity to do something meaningful, and they see startups as their place to do it. We have to build better avenues to help companies and talent can find each other.
Second, startups must prioritize culture. As Dr. Avery said, culture is what holds companies together through the inevitable ebb and flow that comes with creating growth. It also plays a critical part in how teams realize their power. For startups to reap these benefits, they need to ask how everything from hiring to creating partnerships affects the culture they want to build.
3. Prioritize brand from the start
“Who you’re serving now isn’t necessarily who you’re going to be serving 12 to 18 months from now,” said Chris Belli, vice president of Studio Science. “Think about that from the start when creating a brand.”
There was full agreement on the “Building Brand Awareness from the Heartland” panel about this. Integrating a brand strategy from the beginning benefits startups in many ways, starting with humanizing them to investors and customers.
Thoughtful branding, after all, is more than colors and logo. It’s often the starting point for building relationships with the people startups need to be successful.
4. Fundraise with self-awareness
“If you’re not always in fundraising mode, you’re not going to succeed. That’s your job as CEO,” said Rahul Bawa, chair of The Hamilton Mill incubator and Pipeline H20 accelerator.
The voices on our “Insights from Investors on How to Raise Capital” panel had no shortage of things to say about how founders need to raise capital, especially in a time when founders are getting better access to investors outside of their immediate networks. They also had plenty to say about how entrepreneurs present themselves to investors.
“The CEO has to be in the meeting with venture capitalists, but they don’t have to fit the stereotype. You just have to be able to to get investors, get customers, and get employees,” said Victor Gutwein, managing director of M25.
Gutwein played off an observation by Heather Hartnett, CEO of Human Ventures, that self-awareness is critical for startup founders. When founders discover and own their “superpower,” as Hartnett put it, they know who they need alongside them to succeed.