When The Brandery
launched in 2010, it put Cincinnati on the start-up map in a new way. Now a new initiative aims to put The Brandery, CincyTech
and other start-up minded folks under the same roof with the goal of making that dot on the map bigger and more sustainable.
Innovators around the globe already see Cincinnati as a place to bring early-stage ideas and get expert help and access to their very first rounds of funding on their way to bigger, profitable futures.
In an effort to solidfy Cincinnati’s start-up ecosystem, the Cincinnati Business Committee announced a new approach: Cintrifuse, an initiative that will start with $55 million in corporate contributions targeted to support start-ups after their initial funds have been raised and as they refine and test their ideas and businesses. P&G’s global innovation officer, Jeff Weedman, takes his career on a new path as the leader of Cintrifuse.
"I would argue that it’s not a new initiative," says Weedman, a 35-year Procter veteran. He points to reports that Cincinnati is actually overdeveloped with seed-stage funding, thanks in part to years' worth of development and support work for tech start-ups. "This is an opportunity to take a lot of terrific work to the next level."
Many entrepreneurs start businesses here and love it—low cost-of-living expenses, access to top creative and professional experts and access to those very first grants and investments. Not to mention the arts, sports, education and amazing parks. But we digress.
But then reality sinks in. They welcome and need financial support through programs like CincyTech, which matches local private dollars with Ohio Third Frontier
funding to make seed-stage investments in start-ups. But finding local sources for additional rounds of funding is a bigger challenge.
“It could become a valley of death for a start-up,” says Carolyn Pione Micheli, communications director for CincyTech, who has watched companies like ShareThis move away and companies like AssureRX
, which remains in Cincinnati, find the money they need in Silicon Valley.
It’s only as start-ups enter their second and third money-raising rounds that they typically have products to show and market. If they can’t find support in Cincinnati to get them to that level, then they most often travel to the west coast and Silicon Valley, where consecutive rounds of funding are the norm, not the exception.
"The post-seed, pre-scale money is challenging," Weedman says.
Cintrifuse, which will initially be located on the first floor of the Sycamore Building at Sixth and Sycamore, has myriad spokes extending from its laser-focused hub.
“It’s just kind of sharing energy,” says Pione Micheli, who explains that the eventual home for Cintrifuse, the former Warehouse nightclub building on Vine Street,will eventually house CincyTech, The Brandery and offices for small start-ups as well as classroom space.
By eventually locating in Over the Rhine, near the under-construction Mercer Commons development, the hope is to bring more office workers into the expanding Gateway District of Vine Street. But for now, Weedman already has start-ups that have expressed an interest in sharing space with him on Sycamore.
He says the potential for Cincinnati to shine globally is clear with is existing population of consumer brand experts, creative professionals, wealth of medical research at Children's Hospital and underdeveloped patents at UC. "Why would any startup with a consumer focus anywhere in the world not want to come to Cincinnati?" he asks.
Big names in the CBC—names like Kroger, P&G, UC and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Medical Center—have pledged to support the effort financially, but Pione Micheli hopes they step up with partnerships as well as checks.
She sees Cintrifuse as a step toward a true start-up culture shift, one in which mistakes and failures are known as valuable tools for learning and growth, not death knells for start-up founders.
“It is a risk,” Pione Micheli says. “They are not all going to make it. As a region, we don’t have a good tolerance of failure.”
She notes that in Silicon Valley, investors see supporting a founder who has failed as a badge of honor. What entrepreneurs learned from prior bold ideas, the reasoning goes, they will apply in their next.
Maybe what Cincinnati needs is a little more room to fail, which provides, in turn, a lot more room to grow.
By Elissa Yancey
Follow Elissa on Twitter.