Last week, 1,000 founders converged on Cincinnati for the sixth annual FounderCon
, an event geared for startups hosted by a mentorship-driven startup accelerator, the Colorado-based Techstars
. This is the first time the two-day event was held in Cincinnati, and for good reason.
“This is a founders kind of city,” said Johnna Reeder, president and CEO of REDI Cincinnati
. “Startups could be anywhere but they choose to be here. Cincinnati knows how to help build businesses. We embrace doers, disruptors and dreamers.”
Two years ago, Cintrifuse
CEO Wendy Lea reached out to Techstars to propose they host FounderCon in Cincinnati.
“Our goal in hosting was two-fold: We wanted our entrepreneurs to meet and mingle with people from all over the world who are doing the same thing they’re doing,” said Eric Weissmann, Cintrifuse’s director of marketing.
After an initial visit last year, the Queen City was chosen because of its growing entrepreneurial scene comprised of dozens upon dozens of startups and a wealth of Cincinnati business accelerators and incubators: Bad Girl Ventures
, The Brandery,
Cincinnati is also home to Techstars’ companies FamilyTech
, as well as a Techstars Fund company, ConnXus
. In 2015 Cintrifuse made a sixth investment from its $57 million fund into companies emerging from the Techstars ecosystem via the $150 million Seed and Series fund.
“Our goal in hosting was two-fold: We wanted our entrepreneurs to meet and mingle with people from all over the world who are doing the same thing they’re doing,” said Eric Weissmann, Cintrifuse’s director of marketing. “We also wanted to demonstrate to a completely new audience that StartupCincy
Both of those goals were accomplished, he said. The event’s Twitter reach far exceeded expectations, outpacing other big weeks by more than 100 percent. #StartupCincy and #FounderCon were trending locally, and many of the visiting founders were able to leverage social media and make connections with others.
Techstars founders from all over the world came for FounderCon, and for many, it was their first time here. Many knew each other from past Techstars events, and the conversations and collaborations began before the first speaker took to the microphone.
FounderCon brings Techstars founders together to learn from industry leaders and their peers, as well as share best practices and leverage experiences and connections. On Tuesday, those connections were strengthened during the first-ever Investor Day, which put Techstars founders face-to-face with investors.
Founders also had the opportunity to participate in Techstars BizDevDay, where they met with corporate partners during 30-minute speed-dating sessions.
FounderCon on a local level
There, Cincinnati startups had the chance to interact with national and international Techstars founders. These collaborations could lead to partnerships in the future, or just help strengthen networks.
“The StartupCincy message rang throughout the week, and several of our new friends went home as walking billboards sporting StartupCincy T-shirts,” Weissmann said. “We just created a bunch of new ambassadors!”
During Wednesday’s StartupCincy Community Day, Techstars' co-founder Brad Feld spoke to the group about what it takes to keep the startup ecosystem going. Entrepreneurs need to be in leadership roles, and think big-picture. They need to be inclusive and saturate the community with activities and events on a regular basis.
“Cincinnati is a great example of a startup community,” he added.
Startups are also big on working together, and not just within the walls of an incubator or accelerator.
“There’s an infrastructure and attitude of support uncommon to other communities across the country here,” Weissmann said.
FounderCon took this idea one step further by stressing the idea of #givefirst. Many Techstars companies donate one percent of their equity, profits, products or time philanthropically to give back to their communities.
“Everyone in this room is the future of society,” Feld said. “Engage with each other and society.”
Techstars recently became a B Corp in order to become more impact. B Corp is to business what Fair Trade is to coffee — they're for-profit companies that are certified by the nonprofit B Lab
. They must meet a certain set of standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. Last fall, they also started the Techstars Foundation and partnered with Defy Ventures
to help prisoners become entrepreneurs.
Startups are paving the way for the next generation. They’re the ones developing new technologies and better ways to do things. They’re the ones thinking outside of the box.
“Bringing the All-Star Game of Entrepreneurship to town is only the beginning,” Weissmann said. “There are big things in store for StartupCincy. We’re just getting started.”