The Cincinnati startup community may not be mentioned in the breath as Boulder or Austin – yet – but it’s a well rounded and underrated ecosystem. I recently traveled there to lead a “Group Therapy” event at Union Hall. My friends at Cintrifuse brought 15 founders together with myself and Brad Zapp, Managing Partner at local fund Connetic Ventures. The founders were super engaged and asked great questions about raising capital in the Midwest, bringing on co-founders, and scaling.
After the group therapy session and catching up with awesome Cintrifuse CEO Wendy Lea, I attended a startup happy hour at Connetic’s office where I reconnected with local founders from companies including CompleteSet and FamilyTech. Afterwards Brad and his business partner Kyle took me out for a great dinner at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse which turned turned into a long night of eating, drinking and talking – not just with them but also a steady procession of their friends who stopped by to chat.
It was my third visit and like my previous trips I was impressed with the quality of startups I met, the buzz of energy inside Union Hall, and everyone’s hospitality. They’ve been deliberate in building out their ecosystem with some very enviable resources:
Union Hall – It’s been called the “center of gravity for entrepreneurs” and it’s easy to see why. It’s home to Cintrifuse, nationally ranked accelerator The Brandery, one of the Midwest’s most active funds CincyTech, as well as co-working and events.
Cintrifuse – A vital resource for both startups and big corporations, Cintrifuse is many things: education, coworking, connector, fund of funds. Wendy Lea was the driving force in bringing the Techstars FounderCon conference to Cincinnati last year, marking the first time it was held in a city without a Techstars program.
Investors – CincyTech, Connetic, Vine Street Ventures, Queen City Angels, and others I’m sure I’m forgetting. For a community their size they have an enviable array of experienced investors.
Accelerators & Incubators – The Brandery, UpTech, Ocean, and others including Aviatra (formerly Bad Girl Ventures) and HCDC.
Universities – Innovative and engaged universities are essential for any startup ecosystem. Theirs include the University of Cincinnati, Xavier, Miami U., and NKU.
Corporate Engagement – Other communities can learn from how they’ve successfully engaged large companies such as P&G, Kroger, American Financial Group, Cincinnati Bell, and many others.
Identity – Cincinnati is known for CPG, marketing, and branding companies. The startup community itself has built their own brand, StartupCincy, complete with its own website, Twitter and Facebook accounts, and swag. The #StartupCincy hashtag is prevalent on Twitter.
Midwest Benefits – Like other Midwest communities, Cincinnati has that wonderful combination of low cost of living, friendly, welcoming people, and excellent support organizations. The interactions are genuine and not transactional – I feel like the relationships I’ve built there are real and lasting.
Cincinnati has become a special startup community for Firebrand and me. Brad Feld‘s book Startup Communities describes the “leaders” and “feeders” that participate in successful ecosystems – Cincinnati has many already in place. Even better, the people making it all happen are doing it for the right reasons and use the “Give First” approach. I’m very excited to continue supporting them as their ecosystem flourishes in the Midwest.