Launch League Hopes Flight Will Secure Akron’s Place On Startup Map

Launch League is hoping to put Akron in the national spotlight as host of a regional startup conference.

This December, the nonprofit group will launch Flight, “a conference for those who build, fund and support scalable startups.”

Flight has set its sites on great heights, according to Launch League interim director Courtney Gras. Launch League wants to make Flight its signature event and “THE conference for startups in the Midwest,” she said. The group is spreading its reach to include startup players in Cleveland, Columbus, Youngstown, Pittsburgh and Detroit as well as Akron.

“Our goal is to make it an annual, nationally recognized event,” said Launch League co-founder and chairman Nicholas Petroski.

Startup and tech conferences are abundant in Silicon Valley and California, Gras said, but a lot of new companies don’t have the money to make the trip to the West Coast. Flight will be more accessible for them. And it’s a way to show off Akron’s collaborative startup and entrepreneurial community.

Akron is uniquely positioned to make this a success and garner national attention, organizers said.

The cooperation within the startup community is what’s helping the conference come together, according to both Gras and Petroski.

Like Launch League itself, whose mission is to help Akron’s scalable startups, Flight sort of evolved. In 2013, Petroski started OSC Tech Lab, a coworking space in downtown Akron. With an interest in startups, he saw the space as a way to get closer to that community and create more collaboration. “I didn’t have it in my head that I wanted to create this entity (Launch League) … I just wanted the community to be there.”

Petroski began hosting all sorts of networking events. In 2014, Richard Stockburger, who had community building experience in the civic arena, became a member of the tech lab. Soon he and Petroski worked out a structure, and Launch League was born.

“One of the things we made sure with Launch League when we started was that we were going to break down any silos that existed and we will not let them form again,” Petroski said.

With the start of Launch League, the seeds of Flight were planted.

“We always wanted to do something big,” Petroski said.

First, Launch League spearheaded the precursor to Flight: NEXTOhio, a conference for Internet-focused startups held in 2015 and 2016. The latest drew about 275 people, Gras said.

Flight is taking NEXTOhio to the next level, Petroski said, and organizers set a conservative estimate of 300 attendees for the Dec. 1-2 event at the John S. Knight Center.

Read the full story at Crain’s Cleveland Business.