Martins Bratuskins wasted very little time embracing StartupCincy.
The 26-year-old entrepreneur from Latvia lights up like a firecracker the second you ask him about his time in Greater Cincinnati. It’s a spectacle of fun memories, good friends and a community he genuinely calls “home.” But it wasn’t always this way. Martins never held any ill-will against the Midwest, but – the fact was – he didn’t know anything about it.
“When we were applying for accelerators in the U.S. we gained acceptance in four cities – San Francisco, New York City, Boulder and… Covington,” said Martins. “I think you can guess which ones we knew the most about.”
Fast-forward half a year later and Martins has become a walking, talking billboard for his StartupCincy experience – and he’s taking that story on the road. Just this week, Martin and the rest of his founding team at their startup, The Monetizr, was accepted into the prestigious Techstars Worldwide Network of classes through the Atlanta-based accelerator. There, the founding team of Martins, Andris Merkulovs and Reinis Skorovs will undergo a rigorous 13-week program that leads up to an October 10 Demo Day.
Even with classes kicking off just this week, Martins was back in StartupCincy again and spared a few minutes to talk with me about his journey and what his relationship with StartupCincy will be like after jumping into the Atlanta network.
Leaving Latvia, Coming to Cincinnati, Out to Atlanta
From the second I sat down with Martins for an early morning coffee in Union Hall, he was smiling.
“You know, this may seem funny, but I felt like I was driving towards home this week,” said Martins.
Martins and the rest of The Monetizr team are already running at full speed in the Techstars Atlanta accelerator, but Martins “made an excuse” this week to come back to Cincinnati in the middle of July. His Monetizr team was honored at Cincy Magazine’s July 19 Cool Tech Awards as an area company that excelled in the field of technology. Couple in the award show with a few meetings with investors and mentors and Martins had a full calendar back in Cincinnati.
In just the short 60 minutes I shared with Martins, I counted at least 10 “hellos” with former colleagues and the same set of comments always followed.
“This is why I love it here,” Martins would say.
Martins checked off a lot of the “expected” boxes for why he loved Cincinnati. He loves the “Midwestern hospitality.” He praises the low cost of living. He’s a big fan of being a medium-sized fish in a medium-sized pond (instead of a little fish in a big pond elsewhere). But he shared some new things, too.
“One of the very first things that drew us to UpTech was the way J.B. treated us,” said Martins. “He made us immediately realize that this was where we wanted to be. It was an immediate connection.”
The ‘UpTech’ Martins referred to is the UpTech accelerator, located in Covington’s Innovation Alley and headed up by the program manager he referenced, J.B. Woodruff. UpTech has been a boon to the ecosystem over the past half-decade, now reviewing applications for its sixth class for the upcoming fall cohort. And just this spring, UpTech was ranked as one of the top accelerators in the country.
The connection between J.B. and The Monetizr team was a unique one because J.B. made a genuine effort to understand The Monetizr’s product.
“We got off the phone with him and were like, ‘this guys gets it!’” Martins said of J.B.
From there, The Monetizr was transfixed to the Cincinnati startup scene. The team joined UpTech’s fifth cohort in 2016 and graduated in February of 2017. During their time in Cincinnati, Martins and the rest of his team did everything they could to immerse themselves into the community – and it wasn’t hard.
“We started working with Cintrifuse, we used Union Hall, we went to the meetups, and we always felt like a part of the community,” said Martins. “That’s the thing I’m the most happy about. I feel like we belong in this community.”
When the news (finally) went public that The Monetizr was accepted to the next Techstars cohort, Martins said his team was overwhelmed with the amount of support from the ecosystem. “It felt like the everyone was still cheering for us,” he said. Another reason to tack onto Martins’ list of why Cincinnati feels like his home.
As much as we liked hearing about Martins’ praise for the community he (and The Monetizr team) now embraces as home, we wanted to make sure we caught what he thought we could do better. Martins, who spent time literally crossing the Ohio River every day in the region, said it was time for people to forget about the divide between Kentucky and Ohio.
“I’m not talking just about individuals,” said Martins. “I’m talking about everyone – investors, businesses, programs. I don’t want to hear that a company can’t invest or work with you if you’re from Kentucky. This ecosystem is so much more cohesive when we see Ohio and Kentucky working together.”
At the end of my time with Martins, he was eager to bump into a few more familiar faces around Union Hall. He said there were at least several that he had to track down before he was ready to run to his next meeting. After all, this is the town Martins calls home.