Since Cincinnati accelerator Ocean
announced its flagship class of startup companies
in December, the phrase "faith-based" has been bounced around quite a bit. Though the accelerator's website uses the term and local media have deemed them a "faith-based venture
," co-founder Tim Brunk says that the term may be getting more attention than it should.
"This is a high-tech accelerator," Brunk says. "This is not a mission. We are here to bring jobs. We're here to help the kind of people who are going to build hospitals and create jobs."
If anything, Ocean seems to be more of a faith-integrated
startup accelerator. Though the founders — Brunk, Tim Metzner and Chad Reynolds — are all Crossroads
church members, Ocean isn't a church program. The accelerator has partnered with Crossroads due to the overwhelming support the three got from the 25,000-plus congregation members and the organization itself. Ocean also uses space on the Crossroads campus in Oakley to conduct its operations.
Though the founders may feel a theological tie to Crossroads' mission, such a tie or connection isn't required when recruiting startups and definitely not when recruiting investors.
In fact, Ocean's new class actually includes two self-proclaimed agnostics.
"All we ask is that they are willing to explore," Brunk says. "Religious involvement is not a requirement."
The accelerator's main goal is to create startup founders with character — ones that investors can truly trust with their money. Generosity, honor, intelligence and integrity are all qualities Ocean hopes to foster alongside their business-related curriculum.
"Faith is a foundation, not a guarantee," Brunk says. "We foster a belief in respect, of not taking advantage of or exploiting others."
When asked if the companies that come out of Ocean would perhaps be at a disadvantage without the dog-eat-dog mentality that can lead to Fortune-500 status, Brunk shakes his head.
"There's a perception that good people are naïve, and a lot of times, unfortunately, that assumption is true," Brunk says. "But I see (our program) as putting our companies at a significant advantage, not a disadvantage."
To the Ocean team, success is measured by more than money. If its startup founders can find a way to build balanced, successful personal lives alongside their steadily-growing businesses, the accelerator will have done its job.
The thing that makes Ocean unique from other accelerators — and the part that earned the term "faith-based" — can be found in its supplemental curriculum. The session speakers include CEOs who have gone through tumultuous marriages due to their never-ending hours at work discussing faith, family and community with startup founders. Some members of the Ocean class go to church, others do not. As for the Ocean founders, all they want to do is open doors.
In the meantime, Brunk is tasked with finding the types of investors who are looking for a well-rounded, likable, trustworthy individual or team. He spends his time connecting with investors and making sure that the companies who have signed on are receiving the highest quality business education possible.
Though Brunk did quote the Gospel once during our interview, it's apparent that the label following Ocean may not be entirely accurate. Right now, the accelerator is in its second week of what is best described as "business boot camp," getting their companies ready for any investor that could walk through the door.
Just like any accelerator, they're most interested in making sure their companies are poised for success. The accelerator plans to have weekly practice runs with potential investors to make sure their companies stay on their toes. If they emerge as better people, that bodes well for the future.
"This is still an experiment," Brunk says. "We still don't know if it is going to work. But if we can succeed in creating a dialogue, well, that's all we can ask for."