Cleveland’s Entrepreneurial Renaissance

I love that many of the emails I am getting include the phrase “entrepreneurial renaissance” in the title. Renaissance is such a powerful phrase – a brief trip to wikipedia helps us realize why it rings so true in this context.

The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned the period roughly from the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. Though the invention of printing sped the dissemination of ideas from the later 15th century, the changes of the Renaissance were not uniformly experienced across Europe. As a cultural movement, it encompassed innovative flowering of Latin and vernacular literatures, beginning with the 14th-century resurgence of learning based on classical sources, which contemporaries credited to Petrarch, the development of linear perspective and other techniques of rendering a more natural reality in painting, and gradual but widespread educational reform. In politics the Renaissance contributed the development of the conventions of diplomacy, and in science an increased reliance on observation that would flower later in the Scientific Revolution beginning in the 17th century. Traditionally, this intellectual transformation has resulted in the Renaissance being viewed as a bridge between the Middle Ages and the Modern era. Although the Renaissance saw revolutions in many intellectual pursuits, as well as social and political upheaval, it is perhaps best known for its artistic developments and the contributions of such polymaths as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, who inspired the term “Renaissance man“.

Deb Mills-Scofield took up the challenge and wrote me a thoughtful note of the things driving the entrepreneurial renaissance in Cleveland (and – more broadly – the Northeast Ohio area). It follows:

Northeast Ohio (NEO), from the Akron/Canton area south to Cleveland North and from Youngstown east to Lorain County West has become a hotbed of innovation and entrepreneurship.   It’s the Polymer/Hi-Tech Valley.   So how has this happened? It’s taken a few years – starting with early growth about 8 years ago to more rapid innovation and startups today.  These are just a few of the factors that have contributed to this.

  • Universities – such as Univ of Akron & Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) – investment in tech transfer; Kent State known globally for its leadership in fashion design.
  • Disruptive innovation in higher education for the masses through the efforts of community colleges like Lorain County Community Collegewhich increase access to education and training for skilled labor, liberal arts and high-tech:
  • World class medical research and innovation global leaders like The Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals and Summa Health System which spin out medical device and diagnostic equipment and protocol startups as well as bringing in millions of dollars in research grants.  Combined with increased investment sources (below), NEO is now one of the top bio-tech VC investment locations in the USA;
  • Increased seed, angel and early-stage funding sources – both private and local to state-level public sources.  While there were just a couple of sources 7 years ago, there are many sources today including some VCs from other parts of the USA who have opened offices here.
  • Entrepreneurship is ‘place-based’ and NEO has a growing, eclectic, inter-generational community that is building and attracting startups, including an increasing number of serial entrepreneurs which means more and more companies being created with more experienced people who have learned from failure and success and apply that to each new venture (a virtuous spiral)
  • Rapidly growing IT/Design/New Media/Social Media sector with young, passionate, terrific people who are helping make Cleveland and the region and cool, fun, artistic, musical, foodie hot spot.  In fact, companies in these sectors are growing so rapidly they are having trouble hiring enough people.
  • Thriving Arts sector – visual arts, performing arts, music, etc.  Cleveland has one of the world’s best orchestras, one of the nation’s few free art museums and the soon to be opened new home of the Museum of Contemporary Art.  It is also home to one of the top conservatories in the US, Oberlin College Conservatory that is doing innovative work not just in music,     but also in the business of music and in using music to increase academic achievement in underserved K-12 education locations. The Cleveland Institute of Art is a major global player in industrial design.  In addition, the East 4th street restaurant scene has great music (and food and shopping).  Galleries, bands, gathering places are popping up all over the region.  These attract all kinds of creative and innovative people from very diverse backgrounds.  As Richard Florida has said over and over, the Creative class needs the arts!
  • Foodie Haven – Cleveland has become one of the nation’s Foodie hotspots as well.  A restaurant review for the New York Times recently wrote about how surprised and delighted she was with the great food in Cleveland.  Our local chef, Michael Symon, put Cleveland on the map when he became an Iron Chef.  There is every type of ethnic cuisine in every type of venue and ambiance.  A recent visitor to the city remarked on the terrific food and the use of locally grown produce.  In fact, the internationally renowned over 100-year-old West Side Market has been chosen to host the 8th International Public Markets Conference in 2012.
  • The North Coast is a neat place to live – downtown occupancy rates are over 95%, the lake is a great place to enjoy the warm season, including a new boat house for the Cleveland Rowing Foundation, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, one of the most visited in the US, amazing parks (e.g., The Emerald Necklace), paths and history.
  • History of entrepreneurship and innovation – let’s not forget that Cleveland has a strong history of innovation and entrepreneurship over the past 150 years.  While the elements that fostered that economic engine had dimmed, they were not extinguished and are coming alive, being built upon and learned from.

While you won’t read about much of this in the local Cleveland press, there is something almost daily in the national on-line/off-line press.  Cleveland’s growth stems from its heritage, its diversity of people, education institutions, arts, sciences, skills and recreation. Innovation comes from all these areas – in themselves and in combination bringing new viewpoints, new customers, new markets and new needs. All of these are why Cleveland and NE Ohio has become a great place to start a business and a life.

Motivations Of The Different Players In A Startup Community

Over the years I’ve encountered and discussed the motivations of each of the different players in a startup community. Mel Baiada runs a small venture fund in the Greater Philadelphia area named Basecamp Ventures, is the benefactor of the Entrepreneurship Center at Drexel University, and built the Business Calendar Network which is deployed on many entrepreneurial support orgs around the country as a resource to the entrepreneurial ecosystem to help get entrepreneurs together.

Mel emailed me the following chart which is his effort at summarizing the mission, target clients, and motivations of each of the participants. One of the chapters of the upcoming book Startup Communities is dedicated to this topic – please comment on (a) players that Mel has left out and (b) any targets or motivations that are missing from the chart below.

Player Mission / Purpose Target Clients Motivations
  • Varies
  • Varies
  • Fix a problem
  • Change the world
  • Hit it big financially
  • Entrepreneur
  • Purpose, vision
  • Hit it big financially
  • Part of something
  • Fun
Executive Pool
  • Entrepreneur
  • VC
  • Angel Investor
  • Low risk
  • Personal cash flow
  • Hit it big financially
  • Difficult to work with
  • No consistency
  • Tax revenue
  • Pubic safety
  • Economic growth
  • No consistency
  • Four year cycle
  • Tax revenue
  • Public safety
  • Economic growth
State EDA
  • Drive job creation
  • Budget from State
  • Supportive business environment
  • Start ups
  • Rent revenue
Business Incubators
  • Supportive business environment
  • Start ups
  • Rent revenue
  • State funding
Business Associations
  • Help grow the industry
  • Create jobs
  • Create wealth
  • Facilitate Networking
  • All players in ecosystem
  • Membership revenue
  • Event revenue
  • Sponsorship
  • Course revenue
  • R&D
  • Ranking/status
  • High salaries
  • Generate large ROI
  • Low risk
  • Start up companies
  • Hit it big
  • Fairly secure high salaries
  • No salaries
  • Help entrepreneur
  • Generate large ROI
  • Can be a hobby
  • Entrepreneur
  • Hit it big
  • Intellectual stimulation
  • Meet people
Professional Advisors
  • Provide service
  • Minimal motivation to educate or provide knowledge transfer
  • Start ups
  • VCs
  • Angel Investors
  • Revenue
  • Looking for next big client
Chamber of Commerce
  • Help grow the local businesses
  • Facilitate networking
  • Local business people
  • Membership revenue
  • Event revenue
  • Sponsorship
  • Businesses
  • Rent Revenue

Entrepreneurial Attitudes In Kansas City

I’ve gotten many emails about how startup communities grow and develop completely separately from Silicon Valley. Following is an overview of what’s driving the Kansas City startup community right now, written by Herb Sih, the co-founder and managing partner of Think Big Partners.

The founders of Think Big Partners toured the startup scene in Silicon Valley before they launched their Midwest business incubator and startup accelerator.  And although the Think Big team uncovered helpful tips during a tour of the Valley (like the impact of coworking spaces, the need for local funders and the importance of a tech culture), they seemed to learn one lesson that was much more impactful after returning back to their home of Kansas City:  You don’t need to be like Silicon Valley in order to get Silicon Valley-esque results.

And that’s where Think Big Partners started.  They asked themselves, “How can we make a Silicon Valley impact with our own Midwestern roots?  How can we make a dent in the startup and tech worlds in our own city, on our own watch?”  The team answered these questions by developing one of Kansas City’s first coworking spaces, which has been the second home to over 50 entrepreneurs and their startup companies.  Think Big Partners also developed a business incubator and startup accelerator model that has helped to launch and grow some of the most successful Midwestern businesses today.  With collaboration from other Kansas City entrepreneurial superstars such as the Kauffman Foundation, KCSourceLink, Kansas PIPELINE, the University of Kansas City-Missouri Bloch School and others, Think Big Partners helped to make entrepreneurial success one of the city’s main focuses.

And Think Big Partners’ launch was timed just right.  Because soon after the launch of TBP, Kansas City (and the Midwest for that matter) underwent an immense entrepreneurial transformation.

Since the launch of Think Big Partners, entrepreneurship seemed to explode in and around the Kansas City area.  Startup companies such as Zaarly, Dwolla and LiveOn have flourished in the Midwest.  There has been so much startup success that the Midwestern region has become known as Silicon Prairie.

But it isn’t Silicon Valley that has defined the terms for Silicon Prairie.  The Silicon Prairie area is an entrepreneurial movement in its own right.  For instance, Silicon Prairie has become the home of the nation’s first Google 1-Gigabit Fiber Network, has been named the IT hub by The Wall Street Journal and is gradually becoming known as The City of Entrepreneurs.  This has all been on Silicon Prairie’s watch—not Silicon Valley’s.

But how has this entire region grown its startup scene without help from Silicon Valley?  The answer is obvious: with entrepreneurial attitudes.  Silicon Prairie is all about collaboration.  At one moment, you’ll see that H&R Block has rejuvenated its entrepreneurial mentorship program and the next, you’ll find that The Kauffman Foundation has invested in Kansas PIPELINE initiatives.  In one instant, you will learn about Think Big Partners’ Gigabit Challenge business plan competition and the next, you’ll see five new coworking spaces pop up around the Midwest.  Everyone is working on entrepreneurship together—making the Midwest one of the nation’s up-and-coming entrepreneurial hubs to date (we like to also call this “coopetition”—where competitors end up cooperating together instead of competing against each other.  This is one of the main reasons that Kansas City and the Midwest have become so entrepreneurial.)

It’s not about having a Silicon Valley attitude—it’s about having an entrepreneurial attitude.  It’s about partnering with other organizations in and around your area.  It’s about thinking big with entrepreneurs that sit next to you in your coworking space.  It’s about collaboarting with tech gurus, social media wizards and community leaders at cool business events.  It’s the people that make a community an entrepreneurial one—not the location—and it’s up to you to contribute.

Troy, NY – Uncle Sam’s Original Home

When I lived in Boston in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I got to know John Miller through Young Entrepreneurs Organization. We were both in the Boston chapter and in the same forum group. It was a powerful time in both of our lives as we were each running our first company at the time. Now, 20+ years later, we are each deeply involved in creating a startup community where we live. John’s spending his time these days in Troy and his story of what’s happening there right now follows.

Troy, NY is beginning its renaissance; a great city of the past uniquely poised for the future. It has grand architecture befitting one of the richest cities in the country in its heyday. Uncle Sam is ‘the’ iconic symbol of American patriotism and is a Troy native. Troy is home to historic schools such as RPI. Many movies have been filmed here due to the architecture. Troy is one of the beautiful cities along the Hudson River. Where else can you see bald eagles flying around from your office window.

You can feel the energy in the air. Something exceptional is happening here. It is not just the revitalized downtown and a booming tech and gaming industry that make this area on the Hudson river ready for its second coming. It is individuals and local companies at the center of this rally. Yes it is home to top gaming companies including Vicarious Visions, 1st Playables and Agora Games. What else makes this special? It is the massive grassroots support for growing an entrepreneurial ecosystem. When someone in the community needs help the others are there. Dozens of people and companies are giving freely of their time and resources to make Startup Weekend and GrandSlam Alley a success. Both these efforts are something the whole community is rallying around.

GrandSlam Alley is a business accelerator in the heart of downtown Troy run by full time entrepreneurs and business people. We have the focused goal of growing prosperous businesses, creating jobs and making this area the gaming capital of the world. We are just opening our doors and we have already seen dozens of local companies interested in becoming part of GrandSlam Alley. We won’t let companies settle in for the long haul – we help you set milestones that will either prove out your business model quickly or shut you down and out you go. Move forward or fail fast and try something else. We hope to find the next Zynga – but our core goal is to grow small companies into thriving businesses that contribute to the local ecosystem. We are confident that we can do this repeatedly with the continued support of our business community as well as the local Government agencies. Local universities and accelerators as well as the upstate venture funds have all shown a keen interest in working together to foster upstate entrepreneurship.

The Capital District is just a short and beautiful train ride from NY City. It is a great place to raise children and have a balanced family life. The cost of just about everything is less up here than in ‘the city’. We have growing Nano and Biotech industries and excellent universities that feed them including Albany State, Sienna, Skidmore, Russell Sage, Union, and RPI. We will never be Silicon Valley but we can and will grow successful companies and build out a great entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Detroit Harmonie’s Get Funded Challenge and Entrepreneurial Community Building

I’ve gotten to know Zakaria Shaikh through his work at Startup Michigan. I thought his post on his Thoughts on Detroit Harmonie’s Get Funded Challenge and Entrepreneurial Community Building was great and it is reposted here with his permission.

It’s not every weekend that I have the opportunity to be surrounded by entrepreneurs working on transformational ideas in the city of Detroit. Last Saturday, I was invited to judge Detroit Harmonie‘s Get Funded Challenge, a social entrepreneur pitch event with entrepreneurs competing for $50,000 in funding. I have judged a number of university-, corporate-, and state-sponsored business plan competitions and pitches over the years, but this pitch event was distinctly different. This was certainly one of those “you had to be there to feel it” events. Here are my thoughts on the parallels between what I thought DH did right and its application to entrepreneurial community building in Michigan.

As a background, I have been doing a lot of thinking recently about the lack of a robust statewide, entrepreneurial community in Michigan– primarily the need and how to go about developing one. I noticed many aspects of the Get Funded Challenge that illustrated key, but often overlooked, points to consider in developing a stronger entrepreneurial community.

1. The DH Board did a phenomenal job in engaging a great breadth of stakeholders in Detroit. A representative from the White House’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities was present. The Mayor’s chief of staff kicked-off the event. Detroit-based corporations were engaged as sponsors or as participants. Small- and medium-sized businesses were in attendance. (Ann Arbor-based Zingermans had a great cheese-tasting table there– If you were trying to get to the table, I apologize. I was the one holding up the traffic there, and asking the Zingermans’ rep questions about the cheeses and tasting each one.) There were many students from colleges and universities present. And a diverse group of entrepreneurs were also there- engaged, networking, exchanging ideas about startups and community projects, and just having a good time.

Detroit Harmonie engaged with all stakeholders in Detroit. I bet not everyone understood the organization’s vision from the website, press releases, or executive summary and just showed up for the celebration (more on this below), but I am willing to bet that by the end of the night, after experiencing the pitch event, great food, diverse people, and live music, everyone understood clearly what DH was about, what makes its activities critical to Detroit’s revitalization, and five reasons (five pitches) to support DH.

So, engagement with all stakeholders is critical. If some don’t get it, there’s nothing like some food and entertainment in a great venue to put on some “show and tell”. There are many storied, Michigan-based corporations and family foundations— has the startup community (and I put myself in this boat) engaged with them sufficiently to help them understand what Michigan’s startup universe looks like, its community and economic impact, its challenges, and the types of resources needed to support these job creators? If you are passionate about this, send me a note and I will put you in touch with a kickass group of entrepreneurs heading this project.

2. Another great aspect of the event was its premise. It was very simple, at least in the way that I interpreted it: let’s come together to celebrate entrepreneurs who are making things happen in the city. Who doesn’t want to be a part of something like that? Think about the city-, county-, or state-wide impact Michigan startups are creating everyday. Did a company close a large financing round, expand its facility, and start hiring people? Did a company exit and its alum are now out there investing in or starting up new ventures? We have many such  examples in Michigan. All these activities translate into quantifiable community and economic impact worthy of a celebration. So, pick a reason and celebrate. Repeat.

3. If you are not an entrepreneur (universities, EDCs, incubators, accelerators, VCs, law firms, corporations), listen up. Put entrepreneurs in the driver’s seat. DH’s founders and over half its board are entrepreneurs who are committed to Michigan, community-minded, visionary, and working everyday to build a robust community. There is no substitute for this sort of leadership. If you are a public or private organization that is serious about nurturing a statewide entrepreneurial community and making Michigan a go-to place for entrepreneurship, then go find the visionary, community-minded entrepreneurial leaders (and there are quite a few around the state) and ask them how you can help. And then help them. Have them lead and get out of the way.

This post is way longer that I expected. But hopefully the point is abundantly clear: to nurture a statewide entrepreneurial community, all strata and stakeholders of the city/county/state must be engaged –very few people will turn down food, entertainment, and a great cause; make the intersection of the strata/stakeholders an opportunity to celebrate something– in other words, make it a fun event that appeals to the human element in all of us and not just another boring meeting; and develop/support entrepreneur-led community-building efforts- there is no substitute for it.

Startup Neighborhoods – An Infographic of Toronto

When I was in Boston in January I started thinking about the notion of a Startup Neighborhood. In Boston, I found myself spending almost of my time in the Kendall Square neighborhood of Cambridge. It’s adjacent to MIT and defined by an incredibly high entrepreneurial density which I wrote about on the post I’m In Cambridge, Not Boston. A robust comment thread ensued and carried over to the repost on the BostInno blog.

While I’ve been using the phrase “Startup Community” to define a geographically bound but somewhat regionally non-specific area (e.g. not a city, not a state, not a province), I’ve never felt like “community” was the smallest relevant element. As I pondered the notion of a neighborhood, like Kendall Square (in Cambridge), or the Leather District (in Boston), or the Innovation District (in Boston), they are all part of the greater Boston startup community. But what should we call Kendall Square, the Leather District, or the Innovation District?

I love the phrase Startup Neighborhood. A cluster of Startup Neighborhoods can make up a Startup Community, which could also be (or not be) a Startup City or a Startup State. Neighborhoods are at the heart of this – the most atomic element in the build up to a Startup World.

Recently, I got an email from a team of folks at the MaRS Discovery District, a non-profit innovation centre, who have been  working on an initiative to explore the startup ecosystem in Toronto and Ontario. They’ve defined a set of neighborhoods (ok – spelled “neighbourhoods” in Canada) and have created a very neat visualization of the clustering of startups in Toronto along with a quick analysis of where startups are located in the city and what draws some of them to particular neighbourhoods.


FinServe Tech Angels in St. Louis, MO

I’ve been getting lots of emails from readers of this blog and Feld Thoughts about my Startup Communities book effort with stories of their own. For now, I’m going to keep posting them (with permission of the authors) as I explore a way to open this site up so people can self-publish their own stories. In the mean time, please keep them coming – they are enormously helpful as I continue to work through both the book and my theory about how Startup Communities work. In addition, it’s great exposure for your startup community and some of the comment threads have been outstanding (please weigh in if you have thoughts and/or are doing similar things in your startup community.)

Today’s post is from Kyle Welborn, the founder and executive director of FinServe Tech Angels in St. Louis, MO.

I want to start by saying that I am not yet a leader in my city’s entrepreneurial community, but I am trying to be. I left a day job in September of last year to launch a new angel group in St. Louis, MO. In building this new angel group, I am trying to capitalize on St. Louis’ strengths. I think it is much harder and more expensive to build entrepreneurial capacity from scratch than it is to focus on an area where my community already has some domain expertise. In St. Louis, we have a large cluster of people who know the financial services industry. According to our chamber of commerce, 84,000 St. Louis residents work in the financial services sector. In fact, two of the three professional sports stadiums in the city are named after large financial services companies headquartered here, the Edward Jones Dome and the Scottrade Center.

My belief is that entrepreneurs ultimately decide where to locate their business based on three things: where do their customers live, where can they hire great talent, and where can they raise capital. No region has all three of those elements for every business industry out there. However, I believe St. Louis has the customers and talent necessary for financial services technology entrepreneurs to succeed. I decided to start building an industry focused angel group to fill in the missing capital void for these start-ups. It is way too early to know if this idea will work or not. My group is only up to 10 members, and to date, we have not yet made an investment. However, I have gotten people to join, built a Board of Directors, and we are in due diligence on several companies.
There are several other cities trying to improve the start-up eco-system by focusing on their strengths as well. Cincinnati is leveraging Proctor and Gamble in running an accelerator program called the Brandery specifically focused on consumer products companies. Rock Island, Illinois is tapping into John Deere to help their entrepreneurs find new uses for old patents. Not every city is going to be Silicon Valley or Boulder. However, every community has something that its city’s big corporations are good at, and focusing on these strengths seems like the right way to start building a successful start-up community.


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