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A Startup City 200 Years in the Making

There’s an event happening next month that everyone in Greater Cincinnati should be proud of.  We’ve geared up and are in a major countdown for what many refer to as the All-Star Game of Entrepreneurship.  Our region is going to play host to over 1,000 entrepreneurs, investors and business builders from the Techstars network who will be here for their annual FounderCon reunion event – a celebration that normally occurs in towns like Boulder, Austin and Chicago.

Some of the best business builders in the country will gather in OUR city for a week of learning, exploring and bonding with each other – and us, too!

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Techstars is a global ecosystem that empowers entrepreneurs to bring new technologies to market.  Their network of accelerators extends across 15 cities and five countries throughout the world and is based on the premise that startups can be successful OUTSIDE of the usual hotspots such as Silicon Valley, Boston or New York City.

Techstars has made valuable contributions to our local startup ecosystem.  David Cohen, a co-founder of Techstars, was instrumental seven years ago in guiding Dave Knox, JB Kropp and Rob McDonald during the founding of The Brandery – the marketing-driven accelerator in Over-The-Rhine – believing that every city should have an accelerator based on the strengths of that region.

There’s no doubt that Cincinnati is an appropriate host for FounderCon. Entrepreneurs built Cincinnati.  Most of our prominent BigCos trace their origins back to one or two founders.  Families with names like Farmer, Graeter, Lindner, and Castellini have seeded the soil on the banks of the Ohio to make it a fertile greenhouse for enterprising business builders. Almost 180 years have gone by since two brothers-in-law discovered that keeping the mixer running overnight resulted in a “soap that floats” and this October, Cincinnati is welcoming a new crop of entrepreneurs who could become the next William Procter and James Gamble.

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We refer to our startup ecosystem as StartupCincy – a rallying cry of sorts that includes the innovation efforts on BOTH sides of the river – incubators and accelerators, developers, creatives, funders, mentors and supporters who want their town to remain relevant as we plow through an ever-evolving business landscape.

The benefits of a startup community go beyond the borders of Over-The-Rhine and affect more people than just those disruptive entrepreneurs.  Startups are a source of net new jobs for the region – high-growth companies can be the rocket ships that take with them banks, breweries, design agencies, lawyers, accountants, bike stores, coffee shops, etc.   That, in turn, makes this an attractive place for people to come work, live and stick around for generations.

We can all be proud of three distinct attributes of Greater Cincinnati that make our region the premier destination for startups and innovation in the Midwest.

1.     We’re serious business builders.  This town gets commerce; we understand marketplaces. Ten Fortune 500 BigCos have their headquarters in Cincinnati and that’s not by accident. These corporations have a very long view on success – they’re not flash-in-the-pan one-hit-wonders.  Companies like Western & Southern have been around for 128 years for a reason – they’re built for the long haul.  And the people who help to build and sustain these enterprises stick around, too.  That’s a deep pool of resources to draw from when you’re launching a new small business or startup venture.

2.     Help is easy to find, usually just around the corner.  In Greater Cincinnati, access to smart people is easy. Pretty much everyone is willing to help.  Imagine trying to get a meeting with the head of digital strategy for a Fortune 20 company (like Kroger) if you were in a town like Chicago. That just wouldn’t happen there.  But in StartupCincy, a chance encounter at a coffee shop on any given Tuesday morning could lead to a productive meeting.  The “give back” philanthropic DNA of this community never ceases to amaze me.

3.     We hustle. It’s about resilience, grit, and perseverance here.  Midwestern entrepreneurs expect to work for everything they earn and this region takes pride in its diligence.  It’s as much about out-working the competition as out-smarting them. We’re going to get up earlier and stay at work later because we believe in the long view. Our work has meaning and it’s a reflection on who we are.

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So be proud, be an ambassador, mark your calendar (FounderCon runs October 17 – 20) and be excited for this latest chapter in Greater Cincinnati’s history of business building.  I hope the entire business community will join in making sure these technology founders from around the globe return home singing our praises and telling everyone they know we’re not flyover country anymore.

StartupCincy is getting the recognition we deserve thanks to the hard work of those before us.  But the fun part is only beginning; we’re just getting started…

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