Cincinnati – An Entrepreneurial Community Built Around Brands

This week is Ohio week on Startup Communities. Yesterday we talked about Cleveland, today we are talking about Cincinnati. David Knox, the co-founder of The Brandery and Chief Marketing Officer of Rockfish Interactive weighs in with his thoughts on Cincinnati’s use of one of its natural resources – the “brand” – in the development of its startup community. In addition to talking about a key natural resource of the community, he also describes how the Cincinnati startup community is leveraging feeders such as the business community and the local university.

Dave starts off with a quote from Dave McClure, which while I don’t agree with, is nicely provocative: “And to be honest, design and marketing aren’t just EQUALLY important as engineering… designers, product managers & [technical, analytical] marketers are usually WAY MORE IMPORTANT than coders.” – Dave McClure of 500 Startups

In the business world, Cincinnati is best known as a “Brand Town”.  As the global headquarters for Procter & Gamble, Brand Management was literally invented in Cincinnati, a town that is also home to fellow Fortune 100 companies Kroger and Macy’s.   In fact, 9 Fortune 500 companies call Cincinnati home, resulting in the second highest per capita number of Fortune 500 headquarters in the U.S.

This concentration of major companies has created a business ecosystem that revolves design and marketing.  Cincinnati is filled with graphic designers, market researchers, advertising agencies and analytical marketers who have helped the region emerge as a global hub for branding and design.

Over the last few years, start-ups in Cincinnati have begun to recognize that this expertise in consumer marketing is one of the region’s most valuable natural resources.  Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial community is rallying around this natural resource, applying the region’s strength in design and marketing to bring their startup brands to life.

At the center of this movement is The Brandery (applications for the 2012 program are open), which is showing the power of startup accelerators to catalyze a community around a natural resource. Before The Brandery was launched in 2010, Cincinnati’s startup community was struggling to find common ground.    The region had seen success in life sciences with startups such as AssureRX, as well some traction in information technology and advanced materials.  But these industries did not create a critical mass of entrepreneurial density in the startup community.

Enter The Brandery, which in fewer than 2 years has started to gain national attention for Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial community by focusing on Consumer Marketing, the natural resource of the region.  The result of this focus is that The Brandery has been ranked as one of the Top 10 Startup Accelerators in the US, invited to be a charter member of the Global Accelerator Network, and attracted over a dozen new startups to the region.

The Brandery has achieved this success by placing entrepreneurs as the leaders, yet leveraging feeders to support the growth.  The most important of these feeders have been the business community and local universities, both of which have played a significant role in supporting The Brandery:

Business Community as a Feeder:  The thematic focus of The Brandery on Consumer Marketing is largely due to the region’s concentration of talent in this area.  Cincinnati is not a town that is bursting with engineers, but it does have one of the most remarkable pools of designers and marketers in the country (if not the world).  Startups at The Brandery are able to tap into this talent pool for world-class mentorship, as well as potential hires.  Additionally, the startups are able to leverage mentors from companies such as Google, Get Satisfaction, and Facebook that regularly visit Cincinnati to call on marketers at P&G and Kroger.  Additionally, startups at The Brandery also benefit from unique service providers such as marketing and design agencies like LPK, Landor, Rockfish, Possible Worldwide and Empower that donate their services to startups in the program.  And finally, startups are able to leverage the business community of Cincinnati as early customers, gaining access to significant marketing dollars from brands in CPG, Food and Beverage, and Retail.

Local Universities as a Feeder:  According to Entrepreneur Magazine, the Cincinnati region is home to three of the top 25 schools for undergraduate education in entrepreneurship (Miami University, Xavier University and University of Dayton).  Additionally, the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP) is consistently ranked in the top tier of international design schools.    As a result, Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial community has a tremendous feeder for startup talent from the local universities.

Through programs such as The Brandery, Cincinnati is creating an entrepreneurial community that is built around brands and the region’s natural resource of design and marketing.

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2 Comments on “Cincinnati – An Entrepreneurial Community Built Around Brands”

  1. I find the entrepreneurial spirit of Cincinnati rather revitalizing and inspiring. I think our succss with branding has helped us withstand the ups and downs of the economy quite well.

  2. As a UC DAAP grad (and start-up founder), I am glad that the Midwest is finally embracing the talents and resources we have available to us instead of trying to conform to the west coast image of how we should look or operate.

    A brand can do a lot for a company, especially in the early traction stages. That said, there comes a point when engineering the product experience (be it digital or physical) becomes vitally important, otherwise the disconnect between what is promised and what is delivered scares customers away.

    Last week, a discussion on Heather Whaling’s blog (http://prtini.com/embrace-risk-stop-being-so-humble/) about the our mentality and the stigma of being a Midwest start-up brought up a number of different opinions.

    I would love to hear how our neighbors down south feel about the current movement…


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