When I arrived I knew very little, when I left I couldn't stop talking about the area. If I was starting a business right now, I would most likely start it in Cincinnati. Less than a month ago I would have never thought that. But it's true.
Why? It's a combination of things. Every city comes down to access. Access to capital, access to the other large businesses in the area, access to talent and access to entertainment.
Access to the Business Community
Cincy is unique. It has taken their strong, established companies (P&G, Kroger, EY) and partnered them with startups.
The nerve center is in one historic building, Union Hall, located in a neighborhood called Over-the-Rhine. OTR was one of the roughest neighborhoods in America ten years ago. Community investment and commitment has accelerated it in to being one of the best and trendiest neighborhoods in America.
But that story isn't unique. The Hillman Accelerator, Cincinnati's very intentional commitment to diversity and inclusion is. And their community for entrepreneurs, Cintrifuse, is a real community effort.
"Cintrifuse was born from BigCo execs--city and business leaders who knew that in order for the region to grow, it was going to take more than just the nine Fortune 500 companies we have HQ'd in Greater Cincinnati," Eric Weissmann, VP of Communications, Cintrifuse. "And what if we could recruit and woo startups from across the globe to work on their (BigCo) issues? Help them challenge their own paradigms, think differently, avoid disruption -- all those jargon-y phrases."
The University of Cincinnati has taken note and almost completed a four-story building that will engage middle-school students all the way to large companies all in one place.
"The iHub within the Uptown Innovation Corridor provides us the opportunity to create the place for the recruitment and retention of talent in our community. Whether you're starting or expanding your business, exceptional talent is required," said David Adams, Chief Innovation Officer, University of Cincinnati. "Talent has choice and we must collectively strive to recruit and retain that talent here."
Access to Capital
Mike Venerable, a successful tech entrepreneur and investor returned to Cincinnati in 2006 to help launch seed investor CincyTech. Since then they have funded 76 local companies that cumulatively have topped $1B in regional economic impact.
The portfolio has a large biotech concentration, with Cincinnati Children's Hospital being one of the nation's top pediatric research institutions.
Biotech company Enable Injections is creating an easy device with no visible needles to deliver the emerging class of biologic drugs in a patient's own home. It may change the cost and mobility of healthcare, and could be a billion-dollar company.
Genetesis, run by 23-year-old Ohio State dorm mates, has decided to stay in the area because of the access to capital and connections. Mark Cuban is now an investor. Their new lightweight biomagnetic imaging technology could reduce some lengthy and invasive chest pain diagnostics to one-hour trips and drastically save costs for both the patient and the hospital system.
The tech company LISNR is another example. They have pulled people from Silicon Valley as the leader in data-over-audio. They use ultrasonic waves to transfer data via sounds you can't hear. They work with huge brands like Land Rover to integrate systems so all of your devices just work in a car but it can be used for anything. Imagine being able to send an event trigger to over 30,000 phones in a crowd in seconds.
"Much of our growth and success to date is thanks to our Cincinnati roots. When you add Ohio's diverse talent pool drawing from more than 140 colleges and universities, to Cincinnati's commitment to the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, you get a burgeoning tech scene that can only get better," said Rodney Williams, CEO, LISNR.
Access to Entertainment and Talent
Cincinnati is walkable. It has major sports. It has James Beard award-winning chefs. Mita's, a collection of Colombian tapas, was my absolutely favorite. It has multiple art museums, large performing arts centers. Taft's is a brewery located in the single coolest old building I have ever seen. Imagine having 9.7 percent beer in something that looks like the New York Public Library.
Cincinnati may have decided to reinvent later than Pittsburgh, another city I love for different tech reasons, but it's downtown amenities are far better and OTR is exactly where any founder or aspiring founder would want to live. And it's still cheap enough because not everyone knows about it yet, but it's big enough now that there is a base of talent that can migrate from company to startup to company. Workers may come for P&G or other global companies but now stay because there is no shortage of places hiring or opportunity right now.