Hometown Pride

“The inhabitants of Cincinnati are proud of their city as one of the most interesting in America: and with good reason.” – Charles Dickens

Is your hometown the place you were born?  Where you grew up? Or where you live?  For me, I always talk about being an “adopted son” in Cincinnati.  Its my hometown and where I’ve now spent nearly half of my life.

I bring this up because the last few weeks have been one of hometown pride.  On a small scale, our new class started at The Brandery, which means 20+ entrepreneurs that are moving to town and becoming part of #StartupCincy.  They are moving into our new Branderyhaus apartments and becoming part of the community in Over-The-Rhine.  And if we do our job right, they will want to make Cincinnati their home well past Demo Day in October.

But the hometown pride I talk about took part on a much larger national scale this past week as the Major League Baseball All-Star Game came to town for the first time since 1988.  To say the city has changed dramatically since the MidSummer Classic last came through the Queen City would be an understatement.  A good reminder of that change came on Tuesday morning when the team from REDI Cincinnati invited me to do a short talk.  REDI is our regional economic development initiative and they were hosting a group of Site Selectors in town for the All Star Game (ie the consultants that help companies decide where to relocate / open new offices).  We spent the morning at the 3CDC offices talking about the Public-Private Partnerships that have led to not only the revitalization of our OTR neighborhood but has also served as a catalyst for #StartupCincy.  During one presentation, the team from 3CDC showed the before and after photos of their work in Over The Rhine.  You could literally hear gasps from some of the audience when they saw the change.

I spend most of my time across the Midwest in cities like Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis and others.  The common thing about all of them is that they are filled with entrepreneurs who spend each day fighting the good fight to help their community reach it’s potential.  The past week was one of those where we got to see the hard work pay off and others saw first hand why we have the hometown pride that we do here in Cincinnati.

The Rise of Brand Tech

When the industry talks about startups and technology in the advertising industry, it often receives the shorthand description of “AdTech”.  It is a term that I have always struggled with from the perspective of a Brand Marketer.  Most brand marketers aren’t hands on when it comes to their media buys.  Instead they rely on the expertise of their internal media staff and external media agencies to understand the differences in Automated Performance, Real-Time Bidding, DSP’s, Agency Trading Desks, and all the other odd sounding language of AdTech.  They know their budget allocation of their media dollars, but not the details of the buys themselves.

On the other hand, we have seen an increasing number of startups that are calling directly on marketers themselves.  The rise makes complete sense when you consider Gartner’s prediction that by 2017 the CMO will Spend More on IT Than the CIO.  Or that by 2015, 25% of enterprises will have a Chief Digital Officer.  Salesforce for one is capitalzing on this shift as they have spent $3.5 billion to get into the CMO Suite through the acquisitions of Exact Target, Buddy Media, Radian6 & Social.com.

While Salesforce talks of the Marketing Cloud, I lean towards calling this new area of startups “Brand Tech.”  Brand Tech is the concept of technology startups that live in the worlds of the CMO and Brand Marketers.  Its not about the traditional working dollars of media or CPM’s necessarily, but new channels for marketers to reach consumers.   Brand Tech defines companies in Content Marketing, Loyalty, Social Sharing, Gamification, and other emerging channels. These themes are at the heart of many of the companies that graduate from The Brandery in this space including Donde, Ahalogy, and CrowdHall.

Speaking of The Brandery, the rise of Brand Tech could lead to another shift in the startup space when it comes to geography.  In particular, it could lead to a shift in the cities where business is done between startups and brand marketers.   I was talking with a Brand Tech startup founder who previously spent his days in the AdTech world.   Based in New York, he told the story of how his AdTech startup led him to spend every day calling on the likes of media companies such as Mediavest, Carat, and GroupM throughout NYC.  But since moving to the world of Brand Tech, it meant being on a plan and heading to Cincinnati, Minneapolis, Detroit, and Chicago to visit the headquarters of the largest brand marketers instead.   As he thinks about building out his business development team, this means he is going to be looking at those cities for expansion, instead of just building a sales team on the East Coast.

The rise of Brand Tech is going to have a fundamental change on the both the startup world and the marketing industry.  For startups, it means finding the right investors that understand this space and the right geography to capitalize on the business.  And for marketers, it is going to mean becoming increasingly focused on external innovation and new channels instead of just the allocation of their media budget.  For both, its going to be exciting change ripe with opportunities.



A Merging of 19th Century and 21st Century Entrepreneurship

When the Mercantile Library in Cincinnati opened its doors in 1835, the 19th century institution stood in the middle of the fast-growing nation’s busiest startup community.  It was a community that would give birth to some of the largest companies in the country including names like Procter & Gamble, Kroger, and E.W. Scripps.  A group of 45 young, energetic, and confident merchants came together to organize the Library and put themselves on track to become the entrepreneurial engines of the growing city’s future prosperity.

Mercantile LIbrary – Courtesy of Urban Cincy

This history, firmly rooted in entrepreneurship, was what attracted me to recently join the Mercantile Library Board of Directors.  It was an opportunity to take a deeper role in one of our city’s cultural gems, while also helping guide the Mercantile as it sets its sights on a third century of invention and reinvention.

This past weekend saw one of our first efforts in that path of reinvention as we brought the 21st Century concept of a Hackathon to the Mercantile.  The goal of the Hackathon was to convene the brightest minds in the city to help us come up with the best way to present the Library to a new generation of readers, writers, and thinkers.   The result was a group of designers and hackers that came together for 36 hours to reimagine the digital presence of the Mercantile Library.  From mobile apps to open data to new website designs, the results were pretty remarkable.  In fact, every team had at least one concept that the Library plans on leveraging in the coming months as the Mercantile Library charts their path for the next 175 years.  I’m looking forward to taking part in the journey.

See The Difference A Weekend Can Make

One of my favorite emails is one from an aspiring entrepreneur that is looking to get involved in the Cincinnati start-up community.  Generally the common theme is the person is looking for a co-founder, especially a technical co-founder.  I usually start with suggesting things like StartupDigest for events, StartupCincy for seeing existing companies, and meetups like Web / Tech Drinkup for networking.  While all of those are amazing first steps, they do not offer an opportunity to immerse yourself into what a startup is really like.  Luckily for those looking for that immersion, you will have that opportunity on July 27 – 29 as Cincinnati hosts its first official Startup Weekend.  There is no event better for getting a taste of the entrepreneurial startup life.

If you aren’t familiar with Startup Weekend, it is a non-profit, community-building event that brings together entrepreneurs (and aspiring entrepreneurs) of all backgrounds including software developers, marketers, designers, and other enthusiasts to pitch ideas, form teams and start companies in just 54 hours. The participants that attend have 60 seconds to make a pitch (optional), the pitches are whittled down to the top ideas, and then teams form around the ideas to come out with several developed companies or projects. Finally, the weekend culminates with demonstrations in front of an audience of judges and potential investors.

Today is the last day to get the early bird registration price of $40 for the weekend so hurry up and register.  I promise it is an experience that you will never forget.

The Brandery joins the TechStars Network

Note: I had meant to post this news a few weeks ago but somehow it ended up stuck in my draft folder.

The Brandery is now a member of the TechStars Network, a newly launched White House-sponsored alliance of independently owned and operated startup accelerator programs from dozens of cities across the United States and around the world.

The TechStars Network is comprised of other startup accelerator programs similar to The Brandery that provide seed funding and mentorship to innovative entrepreneurs. The Brandery will collaborate with these organizations and learn best practices from the mentorship-driven model pioneered by TechStars, the leading startup accelerator program in the United States.

As a member of the TechStars Network, The Brandery will have access to a rich set of strategic resources including professional development and ongoing support to effectively lead and mentor innovative entrepreneurs in Cincinnati.

The TechStars Network is part of the Startup America initiative, launched today by President Obama. In partnership with the White House, the goal of the TechStars Network is to become an engine for job growth by ensuring that over the next four years, 5,000 experienced business leaders and investors will mentor and support 6,000 promising young entrepreneurs. The aim is to increase the success rate and sustainability of each program, and to ultimately create 25,000 new economy jobs by 2015.

“We are pleased to have The Brandery join the TechStars Network,” said David Cohen, founder and CEO of TechStars. “The TechStars Network signals and formalizes our support for credible mentorship-driven programs like The Brandery. We believe the proliferation of the mentorship-driven accelerator model is healthy for entrepreneurs. Through this network of independent organizations, we can help increase their impact dramatically and make entrepreneurial communities the real winners.”

Brandery co-founder David Knox said the network provides a terrific opportunity to expand the reach and resources of Cincinnati’s consumer-marketing-oriented accelerator.

“For our first class last summer, more than 70 companies applied from 15 states, and three of the six we accepted moved here from outside our region,” said Knox. “This network will offer visibility that will help us continue to provide Cincinnati with a net gain of entrepreneurs.”

Also, Knox said, “with TechStars Network’s rich set of strategic resources, we will build stronger companies faster.”

The application period for Brandery Class 2 begins April 1. More information will be available at www.brandery.org.

The Brandery joins a select group of invitation-only TechStars Network members in major cities across the United States and around the world. Today the network is open to all entrepreneurial thought leaders and organizations interested in building or enhancing mentorship-driven startup accelerator programs.