Cincinnati is a great place to be a female founder

Nestled on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine is Union Hall. A renovated building managed by Cintrifuse, it hosts key players in Cincinnati’s startup ecosystem. From funding to business training to networking, Union Hall is an incredible resource for the burgeoning female entrepreneurs in the city.

One key player is Flywheel Social Enterprise Hub. A startup accelerator for early and mid-stage social enterprise ventures, Flywheel focuses on startups with a mission in the sustainability and equity arenas.

Two flagship programs, SustainableCincy and Elevate Equity, support social enterprises in building their businesses. Each company in the Spring 2023 Elevate Equity cohort has a female founder, and many of its coaches and workshop presenters share about their journey as female entrepreneurs.

Dr. Leah Lewis, of Cocoon Technologies, shared “I absolutely love leading and building a startup with a social impact bent. My journey, thus far, has been ripe with professional development opportunities. Consequently, I have met some outstanding people. Similarly, I am exercising my greatest potential. Regardless of the challenges, I enjoy being a founder and the work entailed to bring our solution, LARA, which stands for License and Registration App, to the marketplace.”

Founded in 2021, Cocoon Technologies was sparked out of necessity for an added layer of protection for both civilians and law enforcement. Drawing from the imagery of a caterpillar’s cocoon, their name is emblematic of the solution to allow both parties to remain safe in their own “cocoon” during face-to-face encounters. Their solutions fall under justice tech, which refers to technology-enabled innovation that supports all people affected by the U.S. and global criminal and civil justice systems and the organizations that serve them.

An upcoming workshop presenter, Jessica Shely of GPD Creative Agency said, “Being a female founder has impacted my life in unimaginable ways. It has boosted my confidence and served as proof of my capabilities. It has empowered me to exercise control over my career and financial future. I have overcome many challenges in life and being a female founder gives me a great sense of accomplishment knowing that running a business requires the development of a broad range of skills.

Shely continues "I am thankful to be an inspiration to other women and girls who are following the path of entrepreneurship. The most rewarding aspect of being a female founder is having something that no one can take from you. In society where women are being stripped of constitutional rights and are still fighting to break gender barriers, entrepreneurship is a way to reclaim your power. There are no glass ceilings in entrepreneurship. The only limits are the ones that are self-imposed. Becoming an entrepreneur is one of the best decisions I've made in my life. I love it here!”

D. Sangeeta, CEO of Gotara, was a panel speaker earlier this month at a Women's History Month event with Together Digital. She’s passionate about recruiting and retaining talented women in STEM+ fields. Her platform is a safe, confidential space for women to network and grow their skills.

The founders enjoy a much-needed break. Pictured l to r: Dr. Leah Lewis, Basette Smith II, Elle Baker, D. Sangeeta, Denisha PorterAs one founder mentioned, “I strive to live and work to my fullest potential. My femaleness is most likely an issue for other people, not me. As a woman tech founder, I understand I am operating in a wider space dominated by men. Yet, when I enter a meeting or a space as a female founder, no one knows my solution like me. I am the unquestioned expert on the topic. I am the one that holds the vision and the authority. “

In 2018, Cintrifuse-led efforts were described as building a ‘Shecosystem’ to improve entrepreneurial conditions for women in Cincinnati. Black Tech Week brought minority founders recognition and space to share their wisdom and expertise.

Cincinnati’s Female Founder’s Network, with 40+ female entrepreneurs, is a strong local network dedicated to creating opportunities for founders. Similar to building a startup, creating a strong space for female leaders is a long but rewarding journey.

Cincinnati is showing the way.

This is part 2 of a 2-part Women’s History Month series showcasing the female founders and leaders of Cincinnati.
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Read more articles by Miyah Byrd.

Miyah Byrd is a storyteller and advocate based in Ohio. Her work has been featured in KIIONA Magazine, Forge, Human Parts, and ThriveGlobal. She is a former educator whose interests include food insecurity, green energy, and the self-sufficiency of the Black community.