When JumpStart Inc. introduced its all-day Startup Scaleup event in 2015, the main objective was to help homegrown entrepreneurs connect with each other and learn from Northeast Ohio investors and business professionals.
That core mission has not changed, according to JumpStart CEO Ray Leach. “What has changed in those three years is the number of people from outside of our region who are starting to pay attention to what we are building here,” he said. A handful of those onlookers, including several investors and executives from the Bay Area, came to this year’s Startup Scaleup — held Aug. 15 in the energetic Gordon Square Arts District — to meet face to face with Northeast Ohio’s entrepreneurial community. The event featured nearly 40 workshops, panel discussions and networking opportunities spanning nine Gordon Square venues. Crain Content Studio-Cleveland sat down with Leach as last week’s Startup Scaleup was getting started.
WHY DID JUMPSTART CREATE STARTUP SCALEUP?
A lot of what JumpStart is about is celebrating individual entrepreneurs. In the past, we had done annual events aimed at bringing the entrepreneurial community together, but it ended up having more of a trade show kind of feel. We wanted to create an event that was really to the benefit of the entrepreneur, because in the previous approaches — while it was great that the entrepreneurs got to meet a lot of community people — they never really had a chance to learn from each other or to learn from experts both inside and outside the community.
So, we launched Startup Scaleup three years ago with two principal goals. The first was to have a festival, a celebratory event, in an interesting neighborhood in Cleveland. It is a way to demonstrate, physically in the community, all the activity that is going on in the entrepreneurial space and to facilitate connections between entrepreneurs that are here. Secondarily, we wanted to bring in experts from both inside and outside the region share insight and knowledge with the entrepreneurs.
HOW HAS THE EVENT GROWN OVER THE YEARS?
Startup Scaleup 1.0 was in Gordon Square. It was basically an experiment. We did not have a really good sense of how it would “work,” but ultimately, we were really encouraged. We had approximately 1,000 people show up at the first event. Through that event, we also learned a lot.
Version 2.0, last year, was a representation of learnings from the first year and attendance grew by about 30%. We also had a focus on diversity and inclusion that year, which is something we continue to do. This year, the big focus has been to bring individuals, investors, serial entrepreneurs and experts from other parts of the country –particularly Silicon Valley– to Cleveland to participate and see firsthand what is going on here.
AMONG THE BAY AREA VISITORS ARE FORMER YELP CFO ROB KROLIK AND CAREER TECHNOLOGY ENTREPRENEUR/INVESTOR ALEX BARD. WHY IS SILICON VALLEY INTERESTED IN WHAT’S GOING ON IN CLEVELAND?
Right now, there are all sorts of demonstrations that incredibly successful startups can be founded and grown in places like Cleveland, Indianapolis, Ann Arbor, Pittsburgh and Chicago, which was not necessarily the case five or 10 years ago. One of JumpStart’s portfolio companies, a firm called CoverMyMeds, which was founded in Twinsburg and now has locations in Columbus and Highland Heights, was a pure raw startup eight years ago. In the last year, it was acquired by McKesson (Corp.) for over $1 billion. Just this morning (Aug. 15), it was announced that MacroPoint of Independence was bought by a public company for over $100 million. Investors and entrepreneurs on the Coasts are starting to recognize this. It used to be that would very rarely if ever happen in Ohio or Indiana or Pennsylvania. Now it’s happening all the time.
In addition, the cost to start and scale a company here can be as low as one-fifth the cost it would be in California. And, it’s not just the cost to hire the talent, but it is the taxes, the cost of living, the cost of real estate. So, you are beginning to see individuals who are considering reallocating from San Francisco, targeting areas like the Midwest, as well as individuals who grew up in Ohio – or in Cleveland in our case – who are boomeranging back without any reservations or misgivings that they can’t do here what they had done in Silicon Valley because they’ve seen the success of companies like CoverMyMeds.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE NORTHEAST OHIO ENTREPRENEURS WILL GLEAN FROM THE WEST COAST VISITORS?
The first time I went to Silicon Valley was in 1987. I was 21 years old and I perceived that the people were different, because I am a Midwesterner from Ohio and they are from California. What I came to learn a long, long time ago is that the issues and challenges for all our businesses are the same. You should not feel inferior as an entrepreneur here compared to there, and there is no reason to contemplate or consider going anywhere else to grow your company. You can accomplish all the things you want to do with your business right here. That’s one reason why we brought a tiny piece of Silicon Valley to Cleveland in Startup Scaleup this year.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR ASPIRATIONS WHEN IT COMES TO FUTURE STARTUP SCALEUP ITERATIONS?
I think we are going to be able to highlight a lot of our success stories. It takes 10 years to go through all the stages and phases of company growth. In JumpStart’s portfolio, we have had about 15 companies achieve a significant exit in the last handful of years and we anticipate over the next couple of years that number will increase.
We want to continue to put Northeast Ohio entrepreneurs upfront and highlight their accomplishments and their successes to help our entire community understand how valuable these people are, how smart they are, so we can increase the volume around celebrating these people – who are not only building great business, but creating a lot of jobs.
This story originally appeared on Crain’s Cleveland Business.