Unpolished, a grassroots collective of startup leaders based at Crossroads Church
, will host a national conference
Sept. 17-18 focusing on the intersection of faith and entrepreneurship.
“There is an incredible lineup of speakers and teachers,” says Matt Welty, executive producer at Crossroads. “I think everyone who attends will walk away inspired, encouraged and motivated to jump into their work. People will hear surprising things about how faith and entrepreneurship overlap in very meaningful ways.”
“Unpolished came about when a few entrepreneurs who were attending Crossroads were gathered together by senior pastor Brian Tome,” says Unpolished co-founder Tim Brink. “He had seen us working out of the atrium. He was curious what we were doing, why we were there and if there was anything Crossroads could do to support us.”
Weekly meetings led to creating “place where we can talk about the things that are hard about being an entrepreneur: co-founder issues, health and space,” Brink says. “You spend so much of your time pitching — investors, employees, customers — you’re constantly trying to sell and put your best foot forward. Unpolished provided space for the other stuff.”
As word of the informal group spread, attendance grew, culminating in an event last January that drew 3,500 attendees.
“When that happened, something clicked,” Brink says, “This isn’t just a localized interest, there is a real DNA level thing going on here and our hunch was that it was broader than Cincinnati. That planted the seed for this conference.”
Unpolished aims to engage a wide range of entrepreneurs.
“Entrepreneurship very easily gets defined as tech,” Brink says. “But that is such a small piece of it. Most of the people we have speak at our Unpolished events are not tech — they’re just great creators of products, businesses and services.”
Andrew Salzbrun, managing partner at Agar
, describes Unpolished as suited for everyone: “The tech startup who has big ideas they’re dreaming about bringing to life; a small business owner who needs to be encouraged and filled with great content; corporate innovators who are expected to lead the way and push boundaries; and students of entrepreneurship from regional colleges.”
The two-day conference features mainstage speakers as well as break out sessions and networking opportunities. Conference keynotes include Kirk Perry, President-Brand Solutions of Google; television producer Mark Burnett; and Wendy Lea, CEO of Cintrifuse. Other presenters include photographer Jeremy Cowart, Choremonster founder Chris Bergman, attorney Calev Myers and Chris Sutton of Noble Denim. The event will be hosted at Crossroads’ main campus in Oakley; tickets are available here
“We have two days of highly interactive and engaging content that explores and discusses different facets of faith and entrepreneurship,” Salzbrun says. “Unpolished is based on the idea that entrepreneurship is one of the loneliest jobs on the face of the planet. Some of today’s best leaders will provide context on how to do work that is meaningful and with purpose.”
In addition to formal presentations, attendees can visit Startup Village “featuring startups and small businesses representing technology as well as people who are makers,” Welty says. “It is going to be a really cool opportunity to show off the Cincinnati entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
Participants can also apply to the second class at Ocean
, also hosted at Crossroads, or take part in a contest where attendees can record a brief video pitching an idea to the conference. The other participants will be able to vote on which ideas are the best; winners will receive $2,500-$5,000.
The event is working with entrepreneurs and leadership from regional accelerators, including The Brandery, UpTech, Ocean, Mortar and Cintrifuse.
“A big desire of mine is to find ways for the Cincinnati startup ecosystem to gel and come together,” Brink says. “There is often a sort of competitive, parochial view of the world, but we're competing with San Francisco and New York, not each other. There is a chance to have something really special here.”
“Crossroads is really passionate about being a source of inspiration,” Welty adds. “To create a place where entrepreneurs can gather and be who they really are while being encouraged in their faith and in their businesses. Our hope is that through the ongoing Unpolished group that meets here in Cincinnati, we can begin to develop an even bigger community of people who are connected to each other beyond just one conference.”