StartupCincy Week attracted more than 2,400 attendees

StartupCincy Week concluded last Friday after five days of free programming with about 200 speakers, panelists, and events — including a job fair, college and social innovator pitch competitions, and a plethora of happy hours. It provided countless opportunities for anyone with an interest in — or curiosity about — the startup scene, to immerse themselves in a budding culture of likeminded individuals who make it clear that inspiration, opportunity, and collaboration are thriving in Cincinnati.

Most events took place within Over-the-Rhine’s Union Hall, a collaborative workspace that also serves as the permanent home for accelerators and startup catalysts like The Brandery and Cintrifuse. It’s a space that embodies the entrepreneurial spirit that Eric Weissmann says anyone can become a part of.

Weissmann serves as Cintrifuse’s vice president of external relations and is the lead organizer (part of a team of 14 passionate individuals who met every Wednesday since July to make StartupCincy week a success) for what is really a celebration of all that our city has to offer and the ways in which it will continue to evolve.

“Our objective is to get more people involved in the ecosystem, so if you're running a startup or want to run a startup — you’re a part of StartupCincy,” he says. “If you work for a startup or want to work for a startup — you’re a part of StartupCincy. Corporate innovators, university students, investors, angels … if you’re just a fan, clapping from the side of the street as the parade goes by and you want your city to remain relevant — you’re a part of StartupCincy. This is the one time a year where the carousel slows down and comes to a stop to let more people on the ride.”

More than 2,400 attendees were able to hop on that carousel last week, and it made it abundantly clear that Cincinnati is maintaining relevance and will continue to do so for years to come — an affirmation proclaimed by speakers and panelists throughout the week.

BLINK artists Jonathan Lamb and Matthew Dayler joined David Sobon, founder of Sacramento-based nonprofit Wide Open Walls, to discuss the power of murals in public spaces.

Lamb’s a Denver resident, but he grew up in Cincinnati and says it’s amazing to see the development that’s taken place here within the past 20 years. He’s witnessed what murals have helped accomplish within the alleys of Denver’s River North (RiNo) Art District, and he can’t help but see similarities and promise for Cincinnati.

RiNo was once an old vacant warehouse district but, according to Lamb, it’s now rivaling Rocky Mountain National Park in terms of foot traffic.

“It’s insane how activated the community is there,” he says. “There are more breweries than any other neighborhood.”

Lamb’s art studio is located in the RiNo Art District, and he’s behind the painted alleyways that have helped transform the area.

“We started painting to increase pedestrian traffic and decrease petty crime … the streets didn’t have sidewalks, so we started painting alleys to get the pedestrians to walk the alleys instead of the streets,” Lamb says.

A staple within the RiNo Art District is the Denver Central Market, a food hall and gathering spot for locals and visitors alike, and Lamb can’t help but to see parallels with Findlay Market — a place near and dear to his heart.

“To have a 150-year old market — Findlay Market — there’s so much history in that neighborhood. It’s so authentic,” Lamb says. “To see small businesses pop up and the redeveloping of buildings there … I really think that neighborhood’s on the brink of something special. There’s amazing art going up there, and I can’t wait to see what happens.”

Sobon agrees and has seen the same sort of transformation in Sacramento that Lamb has seen in Denver.

In the past four years, Sobon’s fundraising efforts led to the development of Wide Open Walls, which is responsible for creating 125 permanent — to the extent that graffiti art can really be considered permanent — and 400 temporary murals in Sacramento. It all stemmed from his vision of “activating alleyways.”

One such alley that has seen a complete transformation is the one in which Sobon was parking his car.

“It was rated by the city as the second-worst alley in Sacramento for all the reasons you might imagine an alley would get that title, so with that in mind, and the fact that’s where we needed to park our car, I set out to make a difference in that alley,” he says. “Nobody would walk down it. But two years later, there’s 15 pieces of art, and it’s now one of the biggest tourist destinations in Sacramento.”

There are just two vacancies surrounding the area now, and Sobon is about to sign a lease to put in another studio, which leaves just one.

“It’s one thing I absolutely love about what we do, and what art can do,” Sobon says.

Not only is art transforming our city, but as the oldest franchise in Major League Baseball, the Cincinnati Reds, have made it a priority to stay relevant throughout their 150-year existence.

Reds’ President and Chief Operating Officer Phil Castellini discussed the ways in which the franchise has innovated throughout the years, in addition to the ways Amazon Web Services’ MLB Statcast AI, for example, is helping to keep the game current.

“We try to innovate the ballpark, modernize it, improve the fan experience, focus on the new millennials and beyond that are going to be the fans of the future,” Castellini says. “It’s a different way that they see the game.”

For lifelong Ohioan and Price Hill resident Julie Meyer, new technology and innovation will help keep the game of baseball that she so loves relevant.

“Baseball is losing its audience, and I don’t want it to end and then have people wonder why,” she says.

It’s tools like MLB Statcast AI, which can predict things like the likelihood of stolen base success rates, that Castellini says he’s confident will keep the game around and will have people more invested and involved as, in essence, it speeds the game up as real-time data is gathered and transmitted, making every play something to be invested in.

“I think we tend to hold things back longer than we should because of this notion of wanting to control the heritage and history of the game and not wanting to be progressive enough,” Castellini says. “We’ll still probably play that game for a little while … but the reality is that at some point, it’s going to be real-time, gloves off, everything is there in the dugout.”

StartupCincy Week may be over, but the community never stops. If you missed last week’s events, there’s plenty in store, and still time to hop on that carousel.

“As far as what's next, on the immediate horizon, we'll be launching Union Hall pop-up programming starting this week,” Weissmann says. “We'll keep up this weekly cadence of programming featuring subject matter experts from the ecosystem. We’re also kicking off the debut of Union Hall Studios for startups and entrepreneurs to tell their stories a little better. It's set up for podcasting, talking heads — whatever helps get your message out.”

And if attendance and interest in the third iteration of StartupCincy Week was any indicator, rest assured that the startup community will have even bigger things in store for 2020.

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Read more articles by Brittany York.

Brittany York is a college educator, freelance writer, and the event producer for Ohio Civics Essential. She loves travel and photography. Keep up with Brittany on Instagram @brittbrittbrittbrittany.