Here at JumpStart, we’re all-hands-on-deck preparing for our Aug. 15 annual event: Startup Scaleup in Cleveland’s Gordon Square Arts District. It’s one of the biggest entrepreneurial events of the year, and Akron is well represented.
I recently sat down with two local entrepreneurial leaders who will be hosting sessions at this year’s event — Launch League Executive Director Courtney Gras, and The Bit Factory Co founder/program mentor James Hilton — to talk about what drew them to their respective topics.
Before she became the head of Launch League, Courtney co-founded the Akron-based clean energy startup, Design Flux Technologies as an undergraduate student studying Electrical Engineering at the University of Akron. Later, she transitioned into the role of CEO.
At Startup Scaleup, Courtney will be hosting a session called “Founder/CEO—Should You Be Both?” alongside Pamela Springer, president and CEO of Columbus-based Oris Intelligence. The session will examine the pluses and minuses from two perspectives, a startup founder and the CEO of an established business — two very different jobs that require very different skillsets.
“In my previous startup, I served as a CEO at the beginning but eventually decided to hire an outside expert,” said Gras. “That experience taught me a lot. As a founder, you have to ask yourself a lot of questions to determine whether you’d make a good CEO. And even if you decide to hire external, there are even more questions to ask, like timing and terms. So, I’m hoping I can help other founders understand all of these questions and make the best decision for them.”
James Hilton co-founded several tech startups since graduating Walsh University in 2010, and is currently focused on his medical software startup, Clusio. He’ll be at Startup Scaleup with fellow Bit Factory co-founders Austin Kettner and Jack Hilton (who is also James’ twin brother) to host a session called “Understanding Equity in Your Startup.” It’s all about learning when (and why) entrepreneurs should give up pieces of ownership in their company — considering that most startups will eventually have to do so if they plan to grow aggressively.
“This won’t be a session to provide a full legal understanding. For that you would need to hire a lawyer,” said Hilton. “But, lots of founders have fundamental questions about equity and there are lots of small nuances you might not know unless you’ve been through the process a few times.”
“Ultimately, there are really only three things that a founder has to work with — time, money and equity,” he added. “So, it’s a matter of looking at equity as a form of currency to move the company forward, then understanding how equity decisions can change investment valuations for future fundraising rounds.”
Jessica Peplowski from the Akron Global Business Accelerator and Elyse Ball from the University of Akron Research Foundation also will be at Startup Scaleup to help facilitate a hands-on workshop called “Startup Lab 101: So You Want to Start A Company.”
Participants will work on their business model canvas, a methodology commonly used across the northeast Ohio regional ecosystem that emphasizes customer validation and iterations to develop the best value proposition.
Outside the startup space, Akron’s GOJO Industries will also be in town, as chief strategy officer Carey Jaros sits down with retired Hyland Software CEO A.J. Hyland for a session that examines how Hyland grew from a ’90s startup into a massive software company, and how GOJO pursues a culture of constant innovation.
All of these Akron business leaders will be rubbing shoulders with some new faces from the coasts this year, as a whole new group of current and former Silicon Valley investors, executives and entrepreneurs will be in town to see how Northeast Ohio has grown and provide some insights of their own.
“In the past 12 months, as more and more companies have received national recognition our region is really starting to get people’s attention,” said Gras of the increased presence of coastal investors and entrepreneurs. “That’s good because it’s important to get outside perspectives. Sometimes It’s good to look beyond NEO in order to do what’s best for NEO.”
“Northeast Ohio is in a renaissance for startups right now and the region is embracing innovation and its entrepreneurs,” added Hilton. “The more we have events like this where founders get together, the more they can see the incredible collaborative support system that we have.”
For more info about Startup Scaleup 2017, go here.
This post originally appeared in Crain’s Cleveland Business on August 7, 2017