On November 5, 2019, we held the Cintrifuse Annual Meeting at Union Hall in Cincinnati. It was a record-setting event. Nearly 500 people registered to attend. We had an over-capacity crowd that flowed out onto Vine Street in Cincinnati’s historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood — a vibrant community built on a trifecta of food, tech and design that we affectionately call “The Digital Rhine.” Here’s a link to the report summary.
Mayor John Cranley joined us and described Cintrifuse as a “cornerstone of the renaissance that’s happening in Cincinnati.” More than 60 venture capitalists from across the country were in the room, along with senior leaders from Cincinnati’s largest companies, a strong contingent of startups and entrepreneurs, and a diverse mix of community leaders.
We had an invigorating discussion about how to continue accelerating Greater Cincinnati’s growth and, in particular, how to help ensure the success of Cincinnati startups, with a particular emphasis on women- and minority- led ventures.
Four key themes emerged from our conversations.
• Cincinnati’s diverse, experienced, tech- and marketing-savvy talent pool is an enormous advantage, particular for startups whose ability to hire and keep top talent is absolutely essential
• The growth of Cincinnati’s air hub, driven in particular by Amazon’s $1.5 billion decision to build its largest distribution center at CVG, is a game-changer.
• Regions that focus on areas where they have concentrations of capital, talent and technology generate more excitement, attract more capital, and achieve more growth than regions without a compelling strategic narrative and deeply integrated focus.
• There are tremendous opportunities to innovate not only within our region’s strategic pillars, but also across them and with startups and corporations alike.
In addition, we heard from the VCs who joined us that Cincinnati is becoming an increasingly attractive place to invest in startups, to discover entrepreneurs, and to locate growing businesses in their portfolios.
Nearly 30 corporations, businesses, foundations, and individuals have committed to this new $56 million fund, which builds on the previous strategy for Fund I – leveraging a wide network of venture capital funds to deliver innovation to corporate investors and increase venture activity to generate resources for startups
The breadth, depth and quality of Cincinnati’s talent pool is an enormous — if sometimes misunderstood — advantage. Companies such as Amify, which moved much of its operations from Washington, DC to Cincinnati, have described our region’s talent pool as a game-changer for their business.
And local corporations, as P&G’s Steve Bishop pointed out, have access to tech talent in Cincinnati that was hard to find even five years ago. All of our panelists agreed that our talent pool is an enormous competitive advantage versus other regions and, in particular, versus large markets on the coasts.
All of our panelists agreed that Amazon Prime’s decision to locate its largest fulfillment hub in Greater Cincinnati is transformative. Its $1.5 billion investment is estimated to draw an additional $1.5 billion investment from businesses eager to leverage Amazon’s presence.
Its fulfillment capability and capacity create enormous advantages for businesses of all sizes, but especially for startups that need access to scalable fulfillment in order to compete with later-stage businesses. And the talent that Amazon will hire, bring and attract makes Cincinnati’s talent pool even stronger than it already is.
The venture capitalists who joined us agreed that regions with clear strategic focus and a compelling narrative are those that generate excitement and attract both talent and investment. Cincinnati has identified four fast-growing spaces in which it already has the concentration of capital, technology and talent to win.
- The Future of Branding and Retail: Cincinnati is the consumer and marketing capital of the world with industry leaders such as P&G and Kroger headquartered here. As Valarie Sheppard said, “many of the people who are disrupting and shaping the future of branding and retail are right here.”
- Connected Health: Technologies that enable consumers to receive care in person, virtually and on-demand are transforming the delivery of care. With world-class healthcare companies known worldwide — and a growing roster of health startups — Cincinnati is poised to be a leader in this fast-growing space.
- FinTech/InsureTech: Banking, insurance and financial services are experiencing a tech-driven revolution — and major players based in or near the Greater Cincinnati region, including Fifth-Third, Fidelity, Western Southern, Great American, Worldpay and Paycor are embracing startups and disruptive innovation.
- Supply Chain & Logistics: Cincinnati has a strong foundation in supply chain, logistics and advanced manufacturing and is now the nation’s largest e-commerce fulfillment hub.
Our panelists talked not only about the power of our individual strategic pillars, but also about the potential that can be unlocked by innovating across them. David Cannady talked about how health care systems could innovate both with startups and with major corporations such as P&G or Kroger. P&G’s Steve Bishop talked about how his company is already innovating outside its industry by creating new consumer experiences — more-engaging oral care regimens for kids, integrating Oral-B toothbrushes and animated characters through augmented reality — in partnership with Disney.
“When people realize that CVG is one of the top ten cargo hubs in the nation, and home to Amazon’s largest distribution hub in the U.S., they think differently about Cincinnati.” – Candace McGraw, CEO, CVG
Melissa Stevens at Fifth-Third sees potential in creating innovative banking technologies and experiences by “colliding” with technologies and innovation partners well outside the financial services industry. At Cintrifuse, we see abundant opportunity to make these creative collisions happen through hacks, venture builds, and other experiences at Union Hall.
Along with Clara Sieg, Joe Medved from Lerer Hippeau, Jason Stoffer from Maveron, and Blair Garrou from Mercury Fund brought the perspective of venture capitalists into our conversations. They reinforced that Greater Cincinnati’s appeal to investors is strong and growing.
“Growing our economy requires focus and integration. And the strategic pillars that Cintrifuse has identified are the keys to our region’s focus.” – Valarie Sheppard, Cintrifuse Board Chair, P&G Treasurer & Comptroller
They also shared advice to our region’s corporate leaders about how best to help startups succeed — by making decisions far faster than is the norm in corporate cultures and by recognizing the burn-rate pressures all startups face as they move at hyper-speed from start to scale or fail. And they recognized the unique role that Cintrifuse plays in helping both VC’s and the startups and entrepreneurs in their portfolios connect with customers, innovate with corporate champions, and leverage Cincinnati’s thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem. hope you find these highlights a compelling reason to take a look at Cincinnati, which Inc. described as “the absolute best model for startup success.”