Archive for the ‘Accelerators/Incubators’ Category

North Dakota Focuses on Accelerating Growth of Emerging Companies

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

The last week of April, I visited the Fargo, North Dakota region as the guest of the North Dakota Department of Commerce’s Economic Development & Finance Division, which is charged with coordinating the state’s economic development resources to attract, retain and expand wealth. My host was Paul Lucy, former director of the Economic Development & Finance Division, and we visited several companies and met with heads of organizations working to accelerate the growth of emerging companies and retain successful existing companies.

For many people, the only impression they have of Fargo is based on the movie and subsequent TV series of the same name. I never saw the movie and haven’t watched the TV series, but have a cousin in Fargo who is always bragging about what is happening, especially what celerity is coming to perform. I learned that the Red River is the boundary between North Dakota and Minnesota, and about 230,000 people live in the greater Fargo/Moorhead region. It has one private and two public four-year universities, along with several community, technical, and business schools. With nearly 30,000 college students, it is a college town that rivals any in the nation.

As we began our first day of appointments, Paul said, “There are development projects in motion that have  a vision of making downtown Fargo a more vibrant place to live and work, which could lessen urban sprawl and result in more efficient investment in city infrastructure and services. An added bonus would be the preservation of more of North Dakota’s fertile farmland for agriculture production.”

Our first appointment was a breakfast meeting at Emerging Prairie, a co-working space in downtown Fargo. We met with Greg Tehven, Executive Director of Emerging Prairie. He said he grew up on a farm and is a 5th generation North Dakotan. When he was attending the University of Minnesota, he remembers that one of his professors recommended that North Dakota be turned back to the prairie because from 1930 – 2000 there was a “brain drain,” when the best and brightest left the state.

Greg said, “I never intended to go back to North Dakota when I graduated, but while I was an undergrad at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota in 2003, I co-founded Students Today, Leaders Forever. After graduating, I joined the Kilbourne Group and worked on a variety of projects to stimulate growth and entrepreneurship in downtown Fargo.

He explained, “I burned out and worked my way around the world in 2010. I had a Rotary Ambassador scholarship and got accepted to the University of Manchester to study social change in 2011. I had a year before I started school, so I worked for Doug Burgum for a year and discovered “urbanism.” When I gave a TEDx Talk in Minneapolis, I made a conscious choice that instead of studying social change, I wanted to practice social change.”

He said, “Three of my friends and I founded Emerging Prairie in 2013 to turn Fargo into a vibrant startup community. Our mission is to connect and celebrate the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Fargo-Moorhead. We do so by operating a wide variety of events and initiatives, such as the Drone Focus Monthly, the Prairie Den co-working and event space Hackathon, Meetup groups, and the Intern Experience. We have TEDx Fargo, an independently organized TED event, and 1 Million Cups Fargo, the largest and most active 1 Million Cups program in the country.

We support tech-based entrepreneurs. We are not very involved with manufacturing – most of our entrepreneurs are in software. We provide entrepreneurs: (1) a founders-only retreat (2) a platform to share their work and investment opportunities, and (3) access to consultants. I believe in transfer of information, but not a formal mentor relationship. We have to make it a “cool” climate for college students. We host midnight brunches and do a lot of weird and strange things. We have 144 members of our co-working space, modeled like a student union. We have no desire to maximize profits, but to maximize impact. Millennials are wired to maximize impact rather than maximize profits.”

He expanded, “We host the Ted Ex Fargo and will have about 2,000 people at the event this summer where the CEO of the Kauffman Foundation will speak. We host an Ecommerce conference in Moorhead. We support the drone industry and run a drone conference that started two years ago with 240 attendees the first year and 330 the second year. We expect about 600 people this year on May 31st. We host different other events and also operate an online publication that highlights the regions entrepreneurs and innovators that are turning Fargo into a flourishing tech hub. In 2016, we became a 501(c) 3 non-profit.”

Our next visit put what Greg has said into perspective. We visited the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation (GFMEDC) where we met with James Gartin, President, Mark Vaux, Executive V.P, Business Development, and Lisa Gulland Nelson, V. P., Marketing and Public Relations. Mr. Gartin said, “Our goal is to be a key catalyst for business growth and prosperity for the region. As far back as five years ago, we felt that we had a difficult situation because of our workforce and ability to attract new companies with our extremely low unemployment rate that is currently3.4%. Every time we get a RFQ, the first thing we get asked is:  Do you have enough employees? We made a commitment early on that we weren’t going to take away employees from our existing employers. While we still work to attract companies to our region, we realized that if we need to work with our two universities to change the philosophy from ‘research for papers’ to ‘research for commercialization’ to facilitate start-up companies.”

He explained, “We have funded Emerging Prairie since its inception and are helping them to support entrepreneurism. We attend and support 1 Million Cups, where the entrepreneurial community meets with K-12 superintendants, organizes manufacturing tours for high schoolers, and recruits companies to our community.

He added, “Governor Doug Burgum’s son, Joe Burgum, is committed to making Fargo the best place on earth to live. He founded Folkways that is a community-building collective dedicated to supporting the region’s culture creators. He created the Red River Market,  successfully lobbied to bring the ride-sharing service Uber to North Dakota, and puts on a course to help entrepreneurs launch local businesses.”

He said, “At North Dakota State University’s Research and Technology Park, there is great collaboration to make it a leader in developing Intellectual Property. Entrepreneur magazine ranked Fargo in the top 10 for entrepreneurism. We have a number of ‘0-60’ speed companies in operation, and a lot more that are on the cusp. The most important thing is that our senior leaders are seeing a difference in the growth of business. We modeled our approach after Brad Feld’s book, Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, based on Boulder, Colorado. The start-up phase is ten years, and we are only 4-5 years into the program. Cities can’t push entrepreneurism. You can’t make people start companies, but you can help to build the ecosystem.”

The supplemental material I was provided revealed that the costs of doing business in North Dakota are around 15 percent less than the national average because of the following:

* Research and development tax credits

* Corporate income tax exemption

* Property tax exemptions for new or improved buildings

* No personal property or gross receipts taxes

* No sales tax on eligible services, manufacturing or computer/ telecommunications equipment

* Seed and angel capital investment tax credits

* Early-stage financing resources

* State-sponsored workforce training grants

The GFMEDC website states, “Some of our largest employers include divisional, regional, national and global headquarters & facilities for Microsoft Business Solutions, Bobcat Co., John Deere Electronic Solutions, Border States Electric Supply, RDO Equipment Co., Tech Mahindra, Titan Machinery, Nokia HERE and American Crystal Sugar.” The Microsoft campus came about when Great Plains Software, Inc. was acquired in 2001. There doesn’t seem to be a dominant manufacturing industry in Fargo, as the list of top manufacturers includes farm and construction equipment, power equipment, windows/doors, metal fabrication, steel, and composites.

We also discussed the challenges of solving the skills gap and attracting the next generation of manufacturing workers. Mr. Gartin said, “Tip Strategies out of Austin, TX did an economic development strategy study for us on how to grow economy and our workforce. We have funded the plan and are implementing it. We have some of the most unique workforce strategies in the country. Industry and education mesh. We have a very robust manufacturing Day that we handle. We have funded a Maker Space in Moorhead and helped NDSU create a Maker Space, job shadowing and internships. We have a Tri-College University consortium. Students can take classes and get credit at any of the colleges and pay the same rate. Last year, the two-year technical schools collaborated so that students can take classes at any one for the same rate.”

Tri-College University is a unique consortium that allows students enrolled at any one of its five member institutions to take courses at the others at no extra charge, and to apply the credits toward graduation requirements at the home campus. The five member colleges are:

  • Concordia College – Moorhead
  • Minnesota State University Moorhead
  • North Dakota State University – Fargo
  • Minnesota State Community & Technical College – Moorhead
  • North Dakota State College of Science – Wahpeton & Fargo

When I mentioned The Playbook for Teens program I have written about that mentors middle school girls to get them interested in STEM careers, he said, “We think it needs to start in elementary school in the second or third grade when students are starting to learn math. At NDSU, there is an Engineers in the Classroom program where engineering students work in classrooms to teach math. They matched first and second graders with an engineering student to work with them on project based learning. It was tested in an 8-week program, and every student jumped up two levels. This year, there is an engineering student in every classroom, and the students are about to be tested. This could be the opportunity to show that this works, so that we can apply for a Pew grant to fund the program.”

Mark Vaux said, “Our business development program is based on attraction, business retention, and expansion. We visit at least 150 companies on an annual basis looking for opportunities and challenges, so we can help them through the challenges and barriers to growth and recommend actions to take. If companies are buying new equipment or adding workers, there are state programs that will help them.”

Lisa Gulland Nelson described some of the Workforce programs they have:

  • Operation Intern – primary sector business are eligible for matching funds of up to $30,000 per legislative biennium or $3,000 per intern for hiring North Dakota college students or high school juniors or seniors.
  • New Jobs Training Program – matching grants to assist qualified North Dakota employers in training or upgrading their employees’ skills.

Overall, I was impressed with North Dakota’s policies to provide a favorable business climate for its businesses and wish that California would adopt some of these same policies. The Fargo region is smart to focus on emerging businesses to retain their college graduates and keep them from going to other states for jobs. My next article will cover the incubator at the NDSU Research & Technology Park.

CONNECT’S MIP Awards range from Pure Fun to Life-Saving

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

On December 1st, the winners of the 2016 CONNECT Most Innovative New Product Awards were announced at the 29th annual dinner event held at the Hyatt Regency Aventine in La Jolla.

CONNECT is a premier innovation company accelerator in San Diego that helps start up entrepreneurial teams become great companies in the technology and life sciences sectors by providing access to the people, capital, and technology resources they need to succeed. CONNECT has assisted in the formation and development of more than 3,000 companies since 1985. Lead sponsors for the event were Cubic Corporation, and JP Morgan Chase & Company.  Tom West, San Diego Executive Director & Regional Manager of JP Morgan Chase, presented CEO Greg McKee with a check for $200,000 to support CONNECT.

CONNECT CEO Greg McKee said in part, “This event gives us an occasion to celebrate what we do best in San Diego ? innovate. From genomics to robotics, Bluetech to biotech, and data analytics to medical devices the breadth of our innovation economy is staggering. In fact, it’s a quarter of our GDP. You, as innovators, matter. And, I would bet, that many of the products we see here tonight will have an equally profound impact. For over thirty years CONNECT has been, and continues to be, an organization driven by discovery, innovation, economic empowerment, and the opportunity to change the world. But, changing the world isn’t always about a single sweeping gesture or one grand moment, it’s hard work, it’s a blend of small insights and little steps forward, it’s about sharing discoveries and thriving on others’ inspiration.”

There were a record 111 entrants this year across the ten categories listed below. To be eligible, the product must have been first introduced after January 1, 2014, never been selected as a MIP finalist, and generated revenue from sales (except for free mobile apps and companies submitting for the Life Science Products – Clinical Stage category). Each semi-finalist demonstrated their products in front of an expert judging panel in early October, from which 30 were selected as finalists. The winners and other finalists were:

Bluetech:  Water Pigeon – a fast, simple, secure way to deliver automated metering infrastructure (AMI) capability without replacing existing water meters or building wireless networks. Water Pigeon is a graduate of CONNECT’s Springboard program and a resident of EvoNexus.

After winning the award, CEO/CoFounder Clay Melugin said, “The MIP award from Connect is an outstanding honor to win. With so many great startup companies in San Diego in all categories, being recognized for Innovation delivers a boost to our team as we continue to push forward on goals that improve the world. Innovation is clearly not dead in the US and we want the world to see how innovation emboldens a supportive city like San Diego.

The outreach from others after the award has been amazing. It is very inspiring when people take time to understand our mission and offer to help us continue the journey both as investors and people who simple want to help. This only happens in a vibrant technology community like San Diego where startups encourage and help each other move forward towards success.”

Other Finalists:

Diver6a life-saving diver tracking system used to wireless supervise divers position and monitor their vital information provides services and technology for government and industry with extensive experience and capabilities supporting complex scientific and maritime operations.

Planck Aerosystemsits flagship drone brings high performance, autonomous unmanned aerial systems to moving vessels previously only possible from manned helicopters.

Cleantech, Sustainability, and Energy:  Camston Wrather LLC – recovers gold, precious metals, and polymers from electronic waste using proprietary patents and green chemistry.

Other Finalists:

  • Measurabl – an all-in-one commercial real estate energy and sustainability management software.
  • SDG&E – a regulated public utility that invented the Renewable Meter Adapter (RMA) as an alternative for private solar rooftop customers to avoid costly panel upgrades.

Defense, Transportation, and Cybersecurity:  Cubic Corporationdesigns, integrates and operates systems, products and services that increase situational awareness for customers in the transportation and defense industries.

Mike Twyman, President of Cubic Mission Solutions, said, “Cubic is honored to receive the Most Innovative Product (MIP) award from CONNECT in the Defense, Transportation and Cybersecurity category for our inflatable satellite communication system. Cubic GATR’s industry-leading inflatable satellite antenna is changing the satellite communications industry and receiving innovation awards, such as the MIP from CONNECT, validates the push for innovation at Cubic. We look forward to continuing our support of CONNECT and fostering innovation in San Diego region.

Other Finalists:

  • B&B Technologies LP – developer of the DAMPS advanced magnetic suspension/propulsion shock mitigation technology R&D for the military, medical and professional/commercial markets.
  • Space Microthe Micro-STAR-200M is a space qualified sensor observing start and delivering precision pointing information to its host spacecraft.

Information Communications Technologies: Aira develops remote assistive technology and services that bring greater mobility and independence to blind and low-vision people in daily living by connecting them to a network of certified remote agents via the blind user’s wearable smart device.

The impact of winning the CONNECT Most Innovative Product (MIP) Award certainly marks an important milestone at Aira, including our place as a recognized technological innovator in the San Diego region” said CEO Suman Kanuganti. “We believe that San Diego, because of its supportive and engaging technological environment, is truly the best community for startups like Aira, and we thank CONNECT for the work they do to grow the region, and of our peers who continue to inspire and challenge us to be more competitive, smarter, and committed to thrive and succeed here in San Diego. Equally important, Aira’s winning of the MIP Award allows further light to be shed on the often-forgotten challenges that people with vision loss face on a daily basis in functioning in a sighted world, and how the power of technology and innovation can play a major role in alleviating these challenges.”

Other Finalists:

  • Creative Electron – the TruView Cube is an innovative x-ray machine used to count the number of semiconductors without the need to open protective cases.
  • Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. – The SnapdragonTM 820 processor represents a rare feet in the engineering and design of semiconductors, in which every major IP block in the system is a new and custom design.

Life Science Diagnostics and Research Tools:  Echo Laboratories Inc. – developed the Revolve, a new hybrid microscope that easily transforms between upright and inverted configurations, merging the capabilities of two instruments into one. Echo Laboratories graduated from CONNECT’s Springboard program two years ago.

CEO/Founder Eugene Cho said, “Winning the event was a big achievement for us. Just two years ago we were at the same event, sitting in the audience as Springboard graduates. It was incredible validation to our team of how far we’ve come since then.”

Other Finalists:

  • DermTech – a non-invasive gene expression platform that works with samples collected using DermTech’s Adhesive Skin Biopsy Kit to facilitate the diagnosis and treatment of psoriasis and other inflammatory skin conditions.
  • NanoCellect Biomedical– the WOLF Cell Sorter is the new benchmark for access and performance to make flow cytometry and cell sorting technology more affordable and accessible for life science researchers to perform cellular analysis, develop molecular diagnostics, and improve personalized medicine.

Medical Devices:  Onciomed, Inc.the Gastric Vest System™ (GVS) is a revolutionary, minimally invasive implantable device to treat obesity and diabetes.

Other Finalists:

  • Innovative Trauma Care – created the ITClamp Hemorrhage Control System which is designed to address massive hemorrhage – a leading cause of death in traumatic injury – by controlling critical bleeding in seconds.
  • 11Health – a connected medical device company, where all patented devices use Bluetooth® wireless technology to send secure real-time data to mobile devices, including smart phones, tablets and watches.

Pharmaceutical Drugs and Biologic Therapies:  ACADIA Pharmaceuticals, Inc. – NUPLAZID is the first FDA-approved treatment for hallucinations and delusions associated with Parkinson’s disease psychosis.

Bob Mischler, Senior Vice President, Strategy and Business Development said, “We’re honored that NUPLAZID was chosen as the winner of the Pharmaceutical Drugs and Biologic Therapies category. Even more importantly, we are gratified that this innovative treatment offers renewed hope to patients with Parkinson’s disease psychosis, a debilitating condition that affects around 40 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease, and the loved ones who care for them.”

Other Finalists:

  • Ardea Biosciences– Zurampic is the first new oral medication for treatment of gout approved by the FDA in 60 years.
  • GlyConMedics LLC – Pre-biotic (OZ101) tables advance the treatment for type 2 diabetes by providing an affordable and effective long-term ADD-ON treatment to existing SU therapies to improve glucose control, educe hypoglycemia and weight gain.

Robotics and Unmanned Vehicles:  Clever Pet – a connected game console that intelligently trains and engages dogs using their normal daily food automatically, whether their humans are home or not. CleverPet is a resident of EvoNexus.

We were honored to receive CONNECT’s Most Innovative Product award in our category,” commented Co-founder Leo Trottier. “We could not have built CleverPet without the support of the San Diego community and organizations like Connect. We see this award as validating a business and idea that when we started felt at best a pipe dream.”

Other Finalists:

  • NXT Robotics – provides service robots to support increased security monitoring and alerting requirements.
  • Robolink – aims to make STEM education accessible, engaging and fun for children and hobbyists by producing robotics educations kits and providing educational lessons that teach core principles of engineering and programming.

Software, Digital Media, and Mobile Apps:  Guru – an app that features beacon-enabled technology that interacts with smartphones to create digital experiences for museums, aquariums and zoos. Guru is also a CONNECT Springboard graduate and a resident of EvoNexus.

Hilary Srole, Project Manager said, Entrepreneurship is hard, so receiving recognition like this from CONNECT is awesome. Winning gave us a great sense of validation. Not only for us, but for the San Diego Museum of Art for taking a chance with us. It really feels good to show that their faith in us wasn’t misplaced. This whole process has been rewarding. Springboard’s mentorship has helped us avoid some of the pitfalls commonly associated with start-ups and has helped us to move in the right direction faster.”

Other Finalists:

  • Nanome, Inc. – developed the world’s first immersive and scientifically accurate molecular modeling tool in Virtual Reality.
  • South Doctors, Inc. – the leading platform that connects patients from around the world with the best doctors and facilities in Mexico.

Sport and Active Lifestyle Technologies:  Bixpy LLCthe world’s first portable and modular personal water propulsion device that runs on lithium batteries for snorkelers and scuba divers, with attachments available to motorize kayaks and standup paddle boards.

Founder/CEO Houman Nikmanesh, said, “We were absolutely humbled by our selection as a finalist for the MIP Awards by Connect. We were among some brilliant people, amazing products, and innovative ideas. So when we won, we were absolutely beyond ourselves. It has taken us more than two years to develop the Bixpy Jets and we have worked tirelessly on a project that at times seemed like a pipe dream. Winning such a prestigious award validates our vision and paves the way forward for us. We’re proud and attribute much of our success in our product development to being in San Diego. Aside from being the perfect hub for an outdoor lifestyle company, the San Diego startup and innovation community has been instrumental to our drive and success.

Other Finalists:

  • ElliptiGO Inc.the world’s first elliptical bicycle, combining the best of running, cycling, and the Elliptical trainer for a fun and effective way to exercise outdoors.
  • FlyDivethe X-BOARD connects to a personal watercraft for hydro jet propulsion, empowering riders to hover and fly above the water. It is the most advanced hydro flight system designed and engineered to support both beginners and professional riders.

It was a very exciting night for me because I had been one of Bixpy’s mentors in the CONNECT Springboard program this year. Bixpy graduated in July, and in only four short months, they conducted a successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, were selected as a finalist, and won this prestigious award.

CONNECT has a built an unbeatable roster of over 500 highly-qualified individuals to serve as Springboard Entrepreneurs-In-Residence and Mentors who volunteer their time as mentors to help entrepreneurs develop successful companies. I look forward to mentoring more companies in the future.

 

Cincinnati’s Cintrifuse Connects Entrepreneurs, Big Companies and Tech Funds

Monday, December 12th, 2016

During my visit to Cincinnati earlier this month, I had to pleasure of meeting key people from Cintrifuse and a few of the regional accelerators. The website says Cintrifuse is “Where Dreamers, Disruptors and Doers Connect” because “the world needs innovation. Entrepreneurs, BigCos and Tech Funds need each other. An active network ensures they can connect. And at the heart of that network is Cintrifuse.”

At Cintrifuse, I met with Wendy Lea, who has been CEO since 2014, and Eric Weissmann, Director of Marketing. Ms. Lea is “an accomplished Silicon Valley executive with deep experience in marketing, sales, and customer experience.” Ms. Lea serves on several boards, including Corporate Visions (San Francisco) and Xyleme (Boulder) as well as still being the executive chair of Get Satisfaction (San Francisco.)

Ms. Lea said, “Cintrifuse was born to answer this question: What will it take to create a thriving startup ecosystem in Cincinnati? Cintrifuse is a not-for-profit public/private partnership that exists to build a sustainable tech-based economy for the Greater Cincinnati region. Our purpose is to advocate for entrepreneurs leading high-growth tech startups– attracting, inspiring, and supporting them on their journey. The goal of Cintrifuse is to lower starting costs of business, especially businesses with the potential for high growth and that are disruptive technology. The Cincinnati Business Committee wanted to see how they could be relevant and formed Cintrifuse in partnership with the City of Cincinnati and EY. They wanted their kids to be able to come back to Cincinnati. The Cintrifuse Syndicate Fund is at $57 million and invests in VC firms outside of the region with the understanding they (VCs) create a regional engagement plan. There’s no stipulation that they invest in Cincinnati startups, but just be involved in the ecosystem. This includes reviewing deals, participating in events, and meeting our Limited Partners (LPs) most of whom they would love to meet with anyway – Procter & Gamble, Kroger, the University of Cincinnati, etc.”

She said, “We own and manage a 38,000 sq. ft. building in the economic area known as “Over the Rhine.” We got the building mortgage free, but put $17 million into improving the building. We opened in 2012. We provide services to 285 members companies – advisory services (such as mentoring and office hours), connections to talent, funding, and customers, as well as operating co-working space in downtown Cincinnati. We are part accelerator, part incubator, and part co-working space to move a company to the next ‘Lily pad’.

Ms. Lea added, ” The ‘headroom’ at Cintrifuse is wide. There is a strong appetite for new technology, new ideas, and disruption. Cintrifuse is a census taker – 300 startups are on our database across industries. We have brought is $160 million into the region for their startups, and we give them lots of exposure to VCs. One of our success stories is Everything But the House, which started in Cincinnati. They just raised $41 million, and Cintrifuse made the introduction to their investors.”

She explained, “Cincinnati has more Fortune 500 companies than anywhere else outside of San Francisco Bay area, so we created a Customer Connections program to share information between large companies and small companies. Our Customer connections program is taking 15 startups to Israel to present “innovation briefs.”

She would like to see Cintrifuse expand all over the world similar to TechStars in Boulder, CO with which she was involved when she lived in Boulder. She said, “Tech Star is the largest global network in the world with 28 centers, and their graduates have created 800 companies. Cintrifuse hosted their   reunion of graduates called FounderCon in the fall of 2016.”

The next day, I met Jordan Vogel, now V. P. of Talent Initiatives with the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, who worked for Cintrifuse for three years as director of the entrepreneurial ecosystem., He gave me more background information on Cintrifuse, saying, “It was created by Cincinnati Business Committee, composed of the top 30 CEOs in region and  the Cincinnati Regional Business Committee, composed of about 100 CEOs of somewhat smaller companies. When Chiquita left, the leaders became concerned and asked “What does the future look like? What should it be? They decided they needed to promote the next P&Gs of the world. Entrepreneurship was the key. They commissioned McKinsey & Company to conduct a comprehensive study on what would make the Greater Cincinnati region more attractive to startup entrepreneurs and outside investment. The study revealed the region’s strengths and gaps. Cintrifuse was formed to leverage the strengths and fill in the gaps. There are four universities in the region, but there was no path to commercializing technologies being developed”.

He added, “Funding was needed, so they created a fund of funds. They raised $78 of which $57 million went into a syndicate fund. To be part of the syndicate, Venture Capitalists had to commit to take a look at startups and be committed to engage with two to four trips per year to the region to meet with entrepreneurs. The purpose was to create a food chain.”

According to its StartupCincy Resources page, “Cincinnati lays claim to one of the most vibrant startup ecosystems between the coasts.” Home to The Brandery, one of the nation’s Top 10 accelerators; HCDC, the #1 incubator in the State of Ohio; CincyTech, one of the Midwest’s leading seed-stage investors; Queen City Angels, a private, seed-stage venture capital investor ranked #2 in the nation; four universities committed to innovation; and now the country’s only faith-based accelerator – there is a ton of innovation activity in this town!”

The Cintrifuse webpage lists the following accelerators as collaborative partners:

  • ArtWorks CO.STARTERS (formerly SpringBoard) “is a nine-week business development program that helps aspiring and seasoned entrepreneurs examine assumptions and turn business ideas into action.”
  • Bad Girl Ventures “is an educational and micro-finance organization dedicated to inspiring and supporting women entrepreneurs in all the key elements of their business.”
  • The Brandery “is a seed stage startup accelerator ranked as one of the top programs in the United States. It runs a 4-month program in Cincinnati, Ohio, focused on turning your great idea into a successful brand driven startup.”
  • First Batch ”It is a five-month accelerator that is the first business accelerator in the nation to focus on scaling physical product companies using local manufacturing. Cincinnati’s long history as a center for consumer products, branding, and manufacturing make it THE place for growing a business creating and selling tangible goods.”
  • MORTAR was started by three minority community members in the downtown area called “Over the Rhine.” “It is called ‘Mortar’ because people are the mortar between the bricks of the buildings and the founders believe that the neighborhood’s residents have the potential to create booming enterprises – just footsteps from their homes.”
  • Minority Business Accelerator – “its mission is to help accelerate the development of sizable minority business enterprises and to strengthen and expand the regional minority entrepreneurial community. It works with companies under $1 million in revenue to connect them with large companies who want to diversify their supply chain.”
  • Ocean is a faith-based “accelerator for startup growth by focusing on the purpose that drives founders…and their companies.”
  • UpTech “is designed to attract and accelerate entrepreneurs who have the next big idea to make the world a better place. Its mission is to create an informatics industry in Northern Kentucky. It is especially well suited to support entrepreneurs who benefit from our partnership with the NKU College of Informatics.”

It lists the following incubators in the Cincinnati region, which also collaborate with Cintrifuse:

  • bioLOGIC is a life sciences incubator.
  • Hamilton Mill “is a Southwestern Ohio small business incubator for green, clean, water, digital and advanced manufacturing technologies. Conveniently located between Cincinnati and Dayton in the original pioneer town of Hamilton, OH.”
  • Hamilton County Development Center (HCDC) “is a nationally recognized startup incubator in Southwest Ohio that helps entrepreneurs launch successful innovative businesses. It just spun off an accelerator called Pipeline for water product development.”
  • The Northern Kentucky ezone (NKY ezone) – “It works collaboratively with several organizations that provide funding assistance to fast-growth, high-tech companies. Its team will work with you in assembling the necessary information, plans, and presentations to apply for these opportunities.”

Over dinner at Cintrifuse, I met with the heads of three of the accelerators, Matt Anthony and John Spencer with First Batch and JB Woodruff with Uptech. Two entrepreneurs also joined us for dinner, Konrad Billetz, CEO of Frameri, and Paul Powers, CEO of Zoozler LLC and Physna LLC. Frameri makes the world’s first interchangeable prescription frame and lens system. Mr. Billetz was previously part of the Brandery four month accelerator program in 2013. He said, “We got $20,000 as part of the program, and then we did an Indiegogo crowdfunding and got about $100K to get into full production. We were on Shark Tank in 2015, but we turned down the deal we were offered. We found a lens manufacturer in Dallas, TX, but still do some production in-house.

Mr. Powers said, “Physna is a member of Cintrifuse. I started Physna in December 2015, and we are developing software that will lead the revolution in 3D printing. I am also the CEO of Zoozler LLC that is about two years old. Zoozler is a tech development company (including websites, apps, digital marketing and media) and has an initiative for local startups requiring help in tech development.”

I connected with Matt Anthony by phone after I returned from my trip to find out more about First Batch. Mr. Anthony said, “I founded the accelerator in 2013 to overcome the gap between a well made early prototype and being able to make the first batch of product at manufacturing scale. Over the next four years we grew the program to educate and connect entrepreneurs to overcome the additional hurdles to scale, including legal, marketing, distribution, and more. We’re unique nationally in that we’ve focused on utilizing the strength of our local manufacturers, which tied with the heritage in physical consumer products and branding make for a perfect set of resources to grow new physical product companies. We operate out of a 10,000 sq. ft. maker space on the 4th floor of a former brewery, located in the “Over the Rhine” area. The program itself is five months of rigorous learning from regional experts, product testing, development, one-on-one mentorship, and $10,000 in funding to get into actual production. Companies must all come in with a working prototype and an understanding of their business to really get the most of the five short months. Some of our companies have been making their product for years and are looking to expand their production beyond themselves. The goal of the program is to get the companies into the first stage of production and actually selling products in order to set them up for future growth and funding.”

For example, one of their companies, Textile House, used the funding to make a couple hundred garments for their fall fashion line. They already raised an additional round of funding through a Kiva micro loan to bring their spring line to market in early 2017.

 

He added, “We started out with two companies in 2013, four in 2014, five in 2015, and six this year. We started this year in June and our 2016 class just culminated in a Demo Day on November 9th. We try to check in with graduates to continue to ensure growth, and about half of the companies each year choose to stay on as members of the maker space.”

When I asked him to describe how their program works, he said, “After an open application, our companies are selected through a series of interviews that end in a final juried selection. Once the program starts our cohort meets as a group twice a week, and one-on-one at least once, often with speakers, manufacturer visits, branding support, and other individual consultation sprinkled in between. We start the week on Monday mornings reviewing business concepts and readings, ranging from learning more about the types of entrepreneurial personalities via E-Myth, and later how to start prototyping and quickly testing product ideas via Lean Startup and marketing channels via Traction. We are primarily funded through grants and donations of time and materials, and don’t currently take an equity position in our companies. We look to help grow companies by connecting to resources down the line from ECDI, Queen City Angels, Cintrifuse, even other accelerators.”

With so many accelerators and incubator programs to nurture startup companies, Cincinnati is off to a good start to achieve its goal of re-industrializing the Cincinnati region. Other cities in the United States that were formerly major industrial centers would do well to follow the example of Cincinnati in setting a goal of re-industrializing their city to create more higher paying jobs and restore prosperity.