Let’s Not Cry Over Phenom’s Western Success

A recent Crain’s Cleveland Business headline, reporting on local startup Phenom’s entry into the Silicon Valley accelerator, 500 Startups, led with the words “sad truth,” going on to say that Phenom probably wouldn’t have been accepted into the acclaimed West Coast accelerator unless founders Brian Verne and Mike Eppich had moved from Cleveland to San Francisco.

Somewhat ironically, the story (and the comments found underneath) went on to point out that Phenom hopes to come back to town and that our local startup scene has grown significantly in the last decade.

Still, there was something about those introductory words, “sad truth,” that felt like another “woe-is-me” headline we Clevelanders have got to find a way to stop using.

By this point in time, I would hope we’ve all been in the startup game long enough to know that no one should view this development as another “sad Cleveland story.”

To me, there’s nothing sad about Phenom getting accepted to 500 Startups. In fact, this story could turn out to be some of the best news I have heard in the last few months regarding both Phenom and Cleveland’s entrepreneurial future.

Cleveland today has hundreds of startup entrepreneurs working on great ideas – it’s way past time we realize that maybe losing a few startups to San Francisco (whether it is for a few months or forever) is not the end of the world.

Growth is good wherever it happens. Startups that grow aggressively do so because they think of themselves as nationally, if not globally relevant companies.

These businesses are not just “Cleveland” or “Silicon Valley” ventures. The sooner we realize this and stop treating the economy as if it ends at the Cuyahoga County border, the better it is for everyone.

Phenom’s willingness to put everything on the line and move to San Fran with the goal of eventually coming back to Cleveland is exactly the kind of entrepreneurial hustle our city and region needs. If they are successful, they will go a long way toward increasing the credibility of other Northeast Ohio startup entrepreneurs here at home, in Silicon Valley and all across the U.S.

The simple truth is Cleveland is not yet well known as a software town, particularly B2C software.

Despite the success of homegrown startups like Explorys, we still have a significant focus on biotech and other B2B enterprise businesses, which makes perfect sense considering our current and most significant assets and resources (large health care institutions).

Instead of bemoaning this challenging truth, we should be using it as motivation to do an even better job of commercializing disruptive technologies into strong products and growing companies. Leaders in our community are doing just that, and I believe we are going to continue to make increasingly significant progress in the coming years.

One of the blessings and curses of striving to develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Northeast Ohio is that the work is never done and our challenges are very real.

Having said this, Phenom getting accepted into 500 Startups is something we all should celebrate, not bemoan.

This post originally appeared in Crain’s Cleveland Business on March 13, 2016.