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Entrepreneur of the Year - Getting a Jump-Start

Friday, July 25, 2008

How Ray Leach helps local entrepreneurs move closer to the finish line

Provided by Smart Business
Written by Staff Writer

In 2002, the forecast for entrepreneurs in Northeast Ohio looked rather dour. A ranking by Entrepreneur Magazine rated the region 61st — dead last — among U.S. metropolitan areas surveyed in terms of attractiveness to innovative start-ups.

Faced with such gloomy proclamations, many promising professionals left the region. Ray Leach, in the true spirit of entrepreneur-ship, decided to run against the herd and stick around. He had already founded several successful start-ups in the area, and he recognized the potential that had eluded so many.

Leach began to unearth that potential when he joined Northeast Ohio Technology Coalition (NorTech) in 2003. With help from McKinsey & Co., a management consulting firm, NorTech was beginning to implement changes to boost the local entrepreneurial economy. The two organizations lacked the necessary resources, however, and Leach soon realized a separate entity needed to be created to shoulder the burden.

That entity was JumpStart Inc.

Founded in 2004, JumpStart sought to bring together a broad range of public, private and foundation leaders to promote, support and sustain entrepreneurs and/or companies that had the potential to transform the regional economy.

The task was easier said than done, however. Many observers of local economic development and the entrepreneurial community believed that Leach would have a limited ability to impact outcomes that could help transform the region.

Since that time, JumpStart has met with more than 4,800 Northeast Ohio entrepreneurs, has directly assisted 150 companies and has made 37 investments in 26 different companies. Leach has also helped develop IdeaCrossing.com, an online community where ideas meet capital and where services and support help stimulate growth and opportunity for a broader audience of entrepreneurs.

In the process, Northeast Ohio has catapulted into Entrepreneur Magazine’s top 25. With a goal to reach the top 10 within the next few years, it appears the region’s entrepreneurial forecast is beginning to clear up.