THE FUTURE OF CINCINNATI INNOVATION
Candice Matthews Brackeen at the 1819 Innovation Hub.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS VOL.3, NO.2
CINCINNATI USA REGIONAL CHAMBER CEO Jill P. Meyer PRESIDENT Brendon Cull VICE PRESIDENT, STRATEGIC MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS Danielle Wilson
04 LETTER FROM JILL MEYER 08 BY THE NUMBERS
10 TALENT KITCHEN AID
18 TALENT ONE ON ONE
The Incubator Kitchen Collective gives time and space to foodies.
Startup TinnCann helps make virtual connections with experts.
12 TECHNOLOGY RIDE THE ELEVATOR Measured risk-taking supports business expansion in Mason.
14 TECHNOLOGY 80 ACRES GROWS The indoor farming phenomenon expands to two new states.
16 TALENT FOUNDER INVASION
Where the tech jobs are located in our region, where our tech talent lives, and what kinds of tech jobs are open right now.
20 TALENT INCLUSION GRANTS
TRAFFIC MANAGER Tracey Brachle BOARD CHAIR Leigh R. Fox, President and CEO, altaﬁber CHAMBER OFFICE 3 E. Fourth St. Cincinnati, OH 45202 (513) 579-3100 All contents © 2022 Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. The contents cannot be reproduced in any manner, whole or in part, without written permission from the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.
$50,000 grants from REDI and JobsOhio push small businesses to the next level.
22 LEADERSHIP CINCYTECH SHARES Two $200-million investments help the Cincinnati region’s startup ecosystem blast off.
XCentric will bring 500 entrepreneurs to town in September.
DEEP DIVES 26 LIGHTING THE WAY FOR INCLUSION Candice Matthews Brackeen brings Black Tech Week to town to highlight inclusive startup investing and support.
GET READY FOR THE FUTURE OF HEALTH CARE Medical innovations are sprouting everywhere in the region.
PG. 56 56 PHOTO ESSAY: 1819 INNOVATION HUB Take a peek around the nerve center of Cincinnati’s Innovation District.
62 ASK ME ABOUT Get to know Myron Rivers of Lerch, Laura Randall-Tepe of Flywheel Social Enterprise Hub, and Jeff Hart of Mike Albert Leasing.
64 FROM THE DESK OF Ryan Rybolt, founder and CEO of Payload
FROM THE PUBLISHERS OF
CIOs REDEFINE THEIR ROLES Chief Innovation Officers are bringing fresh ideas to every aspect of business operations.
VCs ARE BULLISH ON CINCINNATI More and more venture capitalists find the Midwest to be rich in talent and opportunity, not just “flyover country.”
PUBLISHER Ivy Bayer EDITOR-IN-CHIEF John Fox DIRECTOR OF EDITORIAL OPERATIONS Amanda Boyd Walters ASSOCIATE EDITOR Lauren Fisher DESIGN DIRECTOR Brittany Dexter ART DIRECTORS Carlie Burton, Logan Case, Jessica Dunham, Jen Kawanari, Wesley Koogle, Emi Villavicencio SENIOR ACCOUNT MANAGERS Maggie Goecke, Julie Poyer ACCOUNT REPRESENTATIVES Laura Bowling, Hilary Linnenberg SENIOR MANAGER, SPONSORSHIP SALES Chris Ohmer PRODUCTION DIRECTOR Vu Luong EDITORIAL AND ADVERTISING Email firstname.lastname@example.org Website cincinnatimagazine.com Phone (513) 421-4300 Subscriptions (800) 846-4333
O N T H E C O V E R : P H O T O G R A P H BY A N G I E L I P S C O M B , S T Y L I N G BY M E G A N H I N E S
I L LU S T R AT I O N BY ( M I D D L E ) M A R Í A H E R G U E TA / P H O T O G R A P H S ( T O P ) C O U R T E SY G E N E T E S I S / ( B O T T O M ) BY D E V Y N G L I S TA
P H O T O2022 G R A P H REALM BY T K T K T K 3 SUMMER
am so excited for you to read this issue of Realm. My friend and colleague Mike Venerable from CincyTech instigated our decision to do our ﬁrst ever themed issue, focused wholly on our region’s growing tech and innovation economy. In these pages, you’ll read about the dreamers and leaders like Mike who are driving new breakthroughs in our region—creating jobs, inspiring talent and, quite honestly, saving lives. This issue is a great look at the region’s successes and opportunities, from venture capital attraction to cutting-edge startups found only here. It’s also a tool for all of us to help grow our region further. If you want to convince someone to open their business or invest in people in Cincinnati, send them this issue. It’s a compelling billboard chock full of evidence that our region is open for business. Our cover story features Candice Matthews Brackeen, one of the most talented executives in our region. This summer, Candice will bring almost 1,000 people to this area to celebrate Black Tech Week. Read what she’s up to and try to keep up with her pace, her passion, and her persistence to make Cincinnati the place where everyone can build a business and succeed. The people within these pages inspire me, and I know they will inspire you as well. Take a look, give me your feedback, and let’s continue building into this new economy that’s the future of our region. Have a great Summer!
JILL P. MEYER email@example.com
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$1.8B 130+ VENTURE AND STRATEGIC INVESTORS DIRECT INVESTMENT
Local Innovation Global Impact CincyTech portfolio companies represent the best of innovation from founders and research institutions in our region. In Q1/2022 a record $460 million of outside capital was invested in these companies. Investors and customers across the country and around the world have discovered these high growth innovative companies with deep local roots. To learn more about our portfolio and our mission visit: www.cincytechusa.com
80 ACRES EXPANDS ITS INNOVATIVE INDOOR FARMING TO NEW STATES. P H O T O G R A P H BY C H R I S V O N H O L L E
Get a jump on news about inclusion grants from REDI and JobsOhio, a new startup making connections, and a national conference for startup founders coming in September. Learn how CincyTech, Mason’s Tech Elevator, and the Incubator Kitchen Collective support local entrepreneurs.
SUMMER 2022 REALM 7
THE JUMP SECTORS WITH THE MOST JOB POSTINGS Software Developers and Quality Assurance Analysts/Testers
715 Computer Occupations, All Other
394 Computer User Support Specialists
220 Database Administrators and Architects
The 16-county Cincinnati region is currently home to 35,746 tech jobs, a number that’s projected to grow to 37,577 by 2026. (“Tech jobs” are a group of 13 occupations related to information technology and computing identiﬁed by REDI and the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.) The average compensation for these jobs is $83,111; the 90th percentile compensation is $148,459. More than 80 programs at colleges and universities in the region produce graduates who end up in tech jobs. There were 2,142 completions of tech degrees in 2020, which includes 838 graduates with computer and information sciences degrees and 356 graduates with information technology degrees.
Computer Systems Analysts
Total job postings: 1,961
SECTORS WITH THE MOST JOBS
Computer Systems Design and Related Services 22.9% Others 47.6%
Management of Companies and Enterprises 14%
Statistics provided by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Center for Research & Data.
WHERE THE TECH JOBS ARE
WHERE THE TECH TALENT LIVES
Liberty Twp./Middletown 757 Fairfield/Hamilton 1,024 West Chester 1,478 • 1,084
Mason 1,721 • 1,390 Loveland 1,224
Glendale/Springdale 1,620 Blue Ash/Montgomery 2,446
Downtown 6,521 8 REALM SUMMER 2022
Insurance Carriers 5% Depository Credit Employment Software Intermediation Services Publishers 4.1% 3% 3.3%
TECH JOBS BY COUNTY Hamilton (OH) -------------------------- 20,986 Butler (OH) ------------------------------- 4,227 Warren (OH) ----------------------------- 3,930 Clermont (OH) --------------------------- 2,056 Kenton (KY) ------------------------------- 1,911 Boone (KY) ------------------------------- 1,632 Campbell (KY) ------------------------------ 573 Brown (OH) --------------------------------- 107 Dearborn (IN) ------------------------------ 103 Grant (KY) ------------------------------------ 61 Franklin (IN) --------------------------------- 39 Pendleton (KY) ------------------------------ 27 Bracken (KY) --------------------------------- 18 Gallatin (KY) --------------------------------- 16 Ohio (IN) ------------------------------------- 14 Union (IN) ---------------------------------- <10 Source: Emsi, June 2022
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SOMEONE’S IN THE KITCHEN Rachel DesRochers launched the Incubator Kitchen Collective in Newport in 2013 after starting her own food company, Grateful Grahams, a line of handmade vegan graham crackers. Her goal is to provide mentorship, support, business know-how, and occasionally funding for others looking to explore their own food or drink concepts.
BY THE NUMBERS
The 10,000-square-foot kitchen space has hosted almost 170 member concepts, 60 percent of which are women-owned and 40 percent minority-owned. About 50 different startups will utilize the space in a typical month.
SLOW AND STEADY
DesRochers says her goal is to help prospective startups differentiate between what’s a business and what’s a hobby. By using restaurant-grade equipment and learning from other incubator members, people ﬁgure out if they really can or want to start a business. “We provide time and space to explore,” she says.
The Newport incubator, as well as a smaller second space in Covington, is meant to be a positive, supportive space for entrepreneurs. “Healthy people build healthy businesses,” says DesRochers. “Kindness will always win.”
A number of former incubator members have launched their own storefronts or online businesses, including Boombox Buns, Mochiko, Pickled Pig, Sweet Jazz Treats, and Tuba Baking. “But we’re never in a hurry to push them out on their own,” says DesRochers. Jen Eisenstein (center) and Emily Lilley of Dinner to Doorbells work on their meal delivery service in the Newport space.
10 REALM SUMMER 2022
P H O T O G R A P H BY D E V Y N G L I S TA
SUMMER 2022 REALM 11
RIDING THE TECH ELEVATOR
A BETTER VISION Mason-based Genetesis offers new technology to scan the heart for blockages.
Mason lifts startups and expanding companies with collaboration and measured risk-taking.
Local startups and expanding businesses typically know where to turn when they’re ready to level up: Over-the-Rhine, Covington, and the area around the University of Cincinnati are among the most attractive spots for fresh talent to congregate. Mason is positioning itself to give these go-to spots some competition, attracting international companies to a population boom town that can be overlooked as a business epicenter. Unlike private or higher education backers in the urban core, Mason city leaders themselves are stepping out to help interested businesses find space and connections for growth and expansion. Michele Blair, the city’s director of economic development, works with public and private sector entrepreneurs through Mason’s “Tech Elevator” to help make the area more of a go-to business location. Mason’s population has grown 12 percent since 2010, Blair says, and more than 800 businesses now operate within its 19 square miles. The Tech Elevator spreads over three campuses and has hosted at least 20 startups with more 12 REALM SUMMER 2022
than 500 new jobs. The city is also focusing we help you build a lab? and How can we support on developing medical and science innovation you in small ways in conjunction with CincyTech?” through its “BioHub” at Oak Park along I-71, One result of the collaboration was that which strives to create collaboration initiatives Mason and Assurex formed a partnership to for research and discovery. “We want to attract build a new lab in a 10,000-square-foot space bio, biohealth, IT, and technology-related com- on the city’s municipal campus. The company’s panies and underwrite a space current success partially stems that allows them to innovate,” from its early start in the medical “We want to genomic and informatics space and says Blair. The recruitment effort start- underwrite its subsequent rapid growth, which ed with Assurex, a genetic testled to Assurex being acquired in a space 2016 by a well-respected genetics ing and informatics company company, Myriad Neuroscience. that uses technology originating that allows The Salt Lake City-based parent from Cincinnati Children’s Hos- technologycompany is now expanding the pital Medical Center and the related Mason lab for the fourth time, Mayo Clinic, commercialized with funding from CityTech. companies Blair says. Without the Tech Elevator, to innovate.” “ What we learned as a city Blair says, Mason wouldn’t have partnering with an aggressive startbeen able to help. “It allowed us up is how bad government entities to attract some investment and job creation that usually are at taking risks,” she says. “But as a wasn’t meant necessarily for long-term opera- unique and creative city, we’ve learned to take tions but rather for quickly scaling the compa- measured risks, and now we’re seeing those ny,” she says. “We started looking at How can measured risks pay off.” P H O T O G R A P H C O U R T E SY G E N E T E S I S
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80 ACRES FLOURISHES New Kentucky and Georgia facilities will boost indoor farming beyond Cincinnati.
—SARAH M. MULLINS
Hamilton-based startup 80 Acres Farms is expanding its innovative tech-based operation to additional markets through new indoor farm facilities in Northern Kentucky and central Georgia. A $160-million round of venture capital investment last year will allow the company to grow 700 percent more food than the flagship location when the new farms open. 80 Acres grows salad greens, herbs, microgreens, and tomatoes in Hamilton and ships them to Kroger locations and other retailers like Clifton Market and Jungle Jim’s in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. Its facilities use robots and artificial intelligence to provide the freshest produce possible; because crops are grown vertically indoors,
they’re away from pests and soil with no need for pesticides, which yields fresh, tasty produce in a more sustainable way. “Not even the best open-field farmer can control the weather, and with climate change, farmland loss, and resource scarcity conventional farming is only getting more difficult,” says CEO Mike Zelkind. “Our technology takes all the variability out of farming, helping us conserve resources and deliver a consistently high quality product.” An 80 Acres indoor farm can produce up to 300 times more food than traditional practices by using renewable energy and 90 percent less water. Sustainable practices include shipping only to retail locations close to growing sites. Most
produce you’ll find in the grocery store is shipped several hundred miles to its final destination; when produce travels far distances domestically or internationally, it’s not the freshest possible product. “Our plan was always to prove out our business model close to home, showing that we can do this in a smart, scalable way,” says Zelkind. “Our Boone County location
is far enough from our Hamilton headquarters that we can reach new consumers but close enough that we’ve been able to keep a close eye on the construction of the 200,000-square-foot facility.” Zelkind says he needs to continue building new facilities to keep up with customer demand. “Both of the new farms can grow everything we grow: lettuce, herbs, fruits, and vegetables,” he says. “We know we can’t feed the world with lettuce, which is why we’ve been leading the industry in product breadth for years. We’re continuing to invest in research and development so we can offer a wider variety of healthy options.” Zelkind says he’s also focused on attracting talent to the company in order to stay ahead in a quickly changing industry, with the new Boone County facility adding 125 jobs in the region. THE FUTURE OF FARMING The new 80 Acres facility in Boone County, says CEO Mike Zelkind, will allow the company to improve innovations in sustainable farming, renewable energy, water consumption, and transportation.
14 REALM SUMMER 2022
P H O T O G R A P H S ( T O P ) C O U R T E SY 8 0 A C R E S / ( B O T T O M ) BY C H R I S V O N H O L L E
Transformation through Partnership Thank you to our partners who are investing in the Build + Elevate NKY economic growth plan! They are enabling the economic transformation of Northern Kentucky to 2026 and beyond.
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THE JUMP t’s lonely at the top, they say. But the Cincinnati chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), a global peer-to-peer network comprising 14,000-plus members across 61 countries, creates a safe space for entrepreneurs to belong and be known. In September, the chapter will host the U.S. Central Region’s annual XCentric Conference for the first time in its history. “Our main focus as a committee to land the conference here was showcasing our town,” says Jim Salters, the event’s sponsorship chair and co-founder of Quanta HCM. “People are going to be blown away from a tourism standpoint.” Salters pitched Cincinnati to the conference committee wearing traditional German lederhosen to celebrate the region’s beer culture and sold the city as “the Napa Valley of bourbon.” The kitsch worked. EO XCentric is expected to attract 500 entrepreneurs from the Central EO region’s 24 chapters— from Austin and Louisiana to West Michigan and Pittsburgh—with 5 to 10 percent of attendees hailing from the coasts or outside of the U.S. The conference presents three days of keynotes and breakout sessions September 19–21 themed “Tell your story, change your life,” plus an additional two days of programming for visitors to experience Cincinnati; think history walks and food tours. “Nobody knows how amazing Cincinnati is,” Salters says. “That’s been the drive for so many of us (in the local EO chapter) to volunteer hundreds of hours over the last year and a half to put on this event.” Salters hopes the conference experience will leave a lasting impression on visitors, so that Cincinnati is top of mind when entrepreneurs think of future office locations, new business ventures, merger and acquisition opportunities, or even just personal travel destinations. The conference will also spotlight the local EO chapter’s power. Within each local chapter, members are connected in an eight-person forum group that meets monthly to delve into personal and business affairs. “Forum groups have been the source of the most influential and intimate relationships in my life,” says Salters, who is now in his 14th year of EO membership and is a recent past president of the Cincinnati chapter. “There’s no way as a first-time entrepreneur CEO I would have been able to have success and also keep my marriage and family life intact without EO. I’m loyal to the organization for what it did for me personally.” To apply for EO membership, entrepreneurs must be a founder, co-founder, or controlling shareholder of a business with at least $1 million in annual sales. A feeder organization for those in the $275,000 to $1 million sales market is also available. The Cincinnati EO chapter comprises 53 members who account for 1,197 employees. “We’re creating an event that we want to change our own lives and, by extension, everybody is going to benefit,” says Salters. Conference details are at eoxcentric.com.
INVASION OF THE FOUNDERS The XCentric Conference and 500 entrepreneurs come to town in September. —ELIZABETH MILLER WOOD
16 REALM SUMMER 2022
I L LU S T R AT I O N BY J A N N E I I V O N E N
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ONE ON ONE Startup TinnCann connects users with leaders in arts, sports, and technology.
Ryan Frew grew up in Cleveland with an abundance of energy and curiosity. Those traits have helped the Xavier University grad go from high school business owner (pressure washing) to nascent entrepreneur ( YounGlobe) to technical solutions expert at Microsoft and ﬁnally to founder of TinnCann, an online marketplace that facilitates one-on-one conversations with experts in ﬁelds like arts, sports, and technology. An avid autocross racer, Frew met a professional driver who shared tips with him, which provided the inspiration for TinnCann’s launch in October 2020. “The idea deﬁnitely came from racing,” says Frew, who tinkered with the project at night while working at Microsoft. “I told my wife about it, joking that this was the right one, and she said, ‘Yeah, that actually is a good idea.’ So I erased the bad ideas off the whiteboard and eventually felt like I needed to take this on full-time.” Frew launched TinnCann’s website from his East Walnut Hills home. In July 2021, he landed a spot in Techstars, a Chicago accelerator program that provided access to $120,000 in equity ﬁnancing. When he ﬁnished, he hired Molly Meiners and Christine Lenahan to recruit experts. “I’m happy with the months from October 2021 to today,” says Frew. “Working alone upstairs through COVID, I was less happy. We had 19 experts in January, and today we’ve more than doubled that.
18 REALM SUMMER 2022
What I’ve learned as we add experts is to ask them what they really love to talk about. Everyone perks up when you ask that.” Frew cites Jenn Gustetic, director of early stage innovations at NASA, as a good example. She said she loved talking to girls in K through 12 about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). “This is a person who oversees a multi-million dollar budget,” he says, “and she’s charging $50 for a 30-minute conversation because she hopes to connect with girls who don’t have access to a resource like her.”
Access at a reasonable cost (the experts keep 80 percent of fees) and ease of use are two of Frew’s priorities. The TinnCann technology is simple: Visit the site, browse the expert proﬁles, book the session; a Zoom link (the current version of two cans connected by a string) confirms the transaction. “If you’re a high school athlete who’s serious about track and ﬁeld and want to talk to a two-time Olympic discus thrower (Alex Rose) who carried the ﬂag for Samoa (in Tokyo in 2020), the probability of that happening was really low unless you were lucky with ﬁnances, geography, or connections,” Frew says. “Now you can do that in three clicks.” TinnCann currently has a roster of more than 50 experts, so the next step is building demand. “We’re going to high schools and nonproﬁts and asking who among their coaches, students, and clients would benefit from trying this,” says Frew. “The goal is to give people connections with somebody who understands them in a way that maybe not everyone around them does.”
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GRANTS SUPPORT INCLUSION
JobsOhio and REDI offer $50,000 grants to support small businesses owned by underrepresented populations. —ALEXANDRA FROST
Eric Rose started an athleisure company featuring brightly colored hats covered in ﬂying pigs and racing jaguars, among other designs, just before the pandemic in 2019. His passion project turned into the startup Sprints LLC, and just a few years later his product is now available through 500 retailers nationwide, including Fleet Feet in this region.
Rose’s success was due to all the hard work, blood, sweat, and tears that go into starting a business, but also partially thanks to the JobsOhio Inclusion Grant program, which allowed him to hire more
employees in a “distressed zip code.” “We were able to go from a business that my wife and I were running out of our garage to an ofﬁce in Walnut Hills that currently employs ﬁve fulltime employees and a couple of different contractors,” he says. “We
HATS OFF Eric Rose expanded his Walnut Hills-based business, Sprints LLC, thanks to an inclusion grant from REDI and JobsOhio.
20 REALM SUMMER 2022
felt like we wanted to be a small part of the revival going on in Walnut Hills.” Cincinnati businesses in these distressed areas or those run by underrepresented populations can access up to $50,000 through the grant program. Businesses apply for the grant through REDI (Regional Economic Development Initiative), Cincinnati’s private, not-forproﬁt organization focusing on driving new job growth and capital investment. Cierra Clymer, REDI’s director of international business development and inclusion, says the program has supported 45 or so local businesses through the grant application process by exploring their “wish list” items for the upcoming three years to determine if their goals align with the grant’s guidelines. Businesses she’s mentored through this process have been met with around a
90 percent approval rate, she estimates. “Historically, with more traditional JobsOhio programs companies had to have three years of operating history with a minimum of $3 million in annual revenue, which basically cuts out any early-stage companies,” says Clymer, noting that the Inclusion Grant requires only one year of operating history and $100,000 in annual revenue while aiming to help businesses owned by minorities, women, veterans, and people with disabilities. “Companies with underrepresented
ownership often don’t have the same access to resources to compete in capital-intensive industries.” Like other grant programs, JobsOhio recipients don’t just get an instant, free, and easy $50,000. One of the considerations applying companies need to make, Clymer says, is whether they have the ability to front the funds themselves, as this is a reimbursement-style grant. The company also has to commit to at least a 10 percent net growth over the course of three years in the form of hiring new employees. The grant can’t pay for the new employees’ salaries but can cover payments such as leasing a facility large enough for those new employees, necessary equipment, and more. For Rose, the application process itself took just a few hours with REDI’s help, and he found out he’d qualiﬁed for the grant within a few weeks. He says reimbursement then took two to three more months.
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CINCYTECH SHARES THE LOVE & FUNDS
working remotely. Walker has served as CEO, chief technology officer, and head of product, but he stepped away from day-to-day responsibilities as experienced executives were hired to fill each of those roles. “Ry has stayed in Cincinnati the past 25 years launching companies, which is what this —JOHN FOX region needs in order to continue attracting investment,” says Venerable. “We want to develop a deep bench here of people with the mentality cyTech CEO Mike Venerable. “They have to and experience of 100 percent growth.” scale up quickly and really produce 50 to 100 Both Venerable and Walker point to Silicon Valley as an example of how success breeds sucpercent top-line growth each year. The way the cess. That area’s FAANG companies (Facebook, business world works these days, there’s a 24- to 36-month period where categoApple, Amazon, Netflix, and Goory winners are decided. You don’t “We want gle) spin off employees every day who land multi-million-dollar inhave to be first in your category, to develbut you need to be at least second vestment deals on their work resume op talent or third, or you aren’t relevant.” alone. Can any of the new startup Walker founded Astrono- here with businesses take the lead in feeding a talent pipeline for this region? mer in Over-the-Rhine in 2015 the menand based its data-analysis tools Walker says he feels a responsion an open source coding plat- tality and bility to support Cincinnati’s startup form that’s become an industry experience ecosystem because it’s provided him standard, boosting accessibility with funding and encouragement. of 100% He’s been advising the University for clients of all sizes and industries. At the beginning of growth.” of Cincinnati, his alma mater, and the pandemic in 2020, he says, doing some small-scale “angel inthe company had 30 employees; today there vesting” in local startups. “I’d love to spend the are about 300, with roughly 10 percent based next 15 years of my working life replicating in Cincinnati and the rest in Silicon Valley or some more me’s,” he says.
Two $200-million investment rounds so far this year help Cincinnati’s startup scene blast off. The startup world’s high-stakes, high-pressure push for growth can feel like an action movie when described by insiders. Start fast. Explosive expansion. Disrupt the status quo. Win or die. Be a hero. Then move on to the next thing. “It’s like a rocket ship,” says serial Cincinnati entrepreneur Ry Walker. “You either make it into orbit, or you blow up.” Several of Walker’s startup efforts have taken off, including Astronomer, a software company that helps businesses manage and study data. In March it raised one of the region’s largest ever investment rounds, $213 million, to push growth; the only larger local fundraising announcement was in January, when Enable Injections raised $215 million. CincyTech participated in both funds and has backed both companies from their earliest days. “Our goal is to identify and support companies that address big market opportunities with disruptive products or services,” says Cin22 REALM SUMMER 2022
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MEMORIAL HALL | HOST VENUE FOR BLACK TECH WEEK
Photo: Louis Rideout
WELCOME TO THE CINCY REGION — WHERE CULTURE REIGNS. Entrepreneurial spirit has found a welcome home in the Cincy region with minority-owned restaurants, shops and businesses leading the way. Visit Cincy is committed to fostering a culture of creativity, passion and innovation. We create and bring prestigious events to our region like Black Tech Week, Vibe Un-Told Speaker Series, Entrepreneurs’ Organization XCentric and Kidpreneur Expo. Contact us today and we can help bring your next event or FRQIHUHQFH WR &LQFLQQDWL ΖW ZLOO LPSURYH RXU ORFDO HFRQRP\ GLYHUVLI\ RXU RHULQJV DQG contribute to our thriving Cincy region, where culture reigns.
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CANDICE MATTHEWS BRACKEEN SEES OPPORTUNITY FOR UNDERSERVED STARTUP FOUNDERS P H O T O G R A P H BY A N G I E L I P S C O M B
Black Tech Week comes to Cincinnati
Medical innovation takes ﬂight
Chief Innovation Ofﬁcers redeﬁne their roles
Why outside VCs are bullish on Cincinnati
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Lighting the Way for Inclusion
t’s never been particularly remarkable for a person growing up in the Cincinnati region to leave home to attend a college or university and then choose to build a career elsewhere. Parents have seen their children head out for “the big city” over and over again. These days, though, retaining graduates and attracting new talent have become economic development priorities across the Midwest, with a special focus on building a pipeline of highly skilled workers and encouraging entrepreneurs. The COVID-19 pandemic introduced a host of new wrinkles—including remote work and a broader recognition of the Midwest’s attractiveness for tech-driven manufacturing and strong startup culture—that are actually contributing to a return of talent and investment to U.S. heartland cities. Tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist Candice Matthews Brackeen, founder and executive director of Lightship Foundation, is working at the intersection of talent retention and pandemic responses. She’s hoping to ensure that both pandemic recovery resources and new investment flowing into the region’s innovation ecosystem equitably support Black-owned startups and other underrepresented communities. Brackeen has found numerous partners in this region and honed her purpose of empowering diverse innovation ecosystems here and across the nation. She credits her University of Cincinnati economics degree work with exposing her to opportunities within the local business community. From there, she developed an app for which she raised venture and angel capital, launched Hillman Accelerator, coaxed a cohort of fellow Cincinnati “Black techies” to regularly 26 REALM SUMMER 2022
CANDICE MATTHEWS BRACKEEN IS RALLYING SUPPORT AROUND EQUITYBASED INVESTMENT AND STARTUP SUPPORT WITH BLACK TECH WEEK AND LIGHTSHIP CAPITAL. BY GAIL PAUL ILLUSTRATION BY ERIN GALLAGHER
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THE NEED FOR DIVERSITY
Procter & Gamble executive Maurice Coffey II helps Lightship Foundation and Cintrifuse expand funding opportunities because “less than 2 percent of VC funding goes to anyone other than white men.”
convene, and launched a $50 million venture capital fund with her husband and fellow startup founder, Brian. Brackeen’s profile is steadily rising. She serves as a member of the Cincinnati Innovation District’s advisory council along with Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, retired Procter & Gamble CEO David Taylor, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center CEO Steve Davis, REDI Cincinnati CEO Kimm Lauterbach, CincyTech CEO Mike Venerable, University of Cincinnati President Neville Pinto, and others. The district is currently anchored by the 1819 Innovation Hub and two soon-to-open Digital Futures buildings, as well as by a mission to serve as the region’s primary driver for talent attraction and development.
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(See more about the district’s uptown facilities on page 56.) In March, Lightship Foundation announced it had acquired Black Tech Week, a five-day conference with thousands of attendees annually. Held in Miami, Florida, for the past seven years, including two virtually, Black Tech Week happens in person in Cincinnati July 18-22. The conference intentionally is a bookend event to the Procter & Gamble-sponsored Cincinnati Music Festival July 21-23 at Paul Brown Stadium, which usually attracts more than 70,000 visitors. Janet Jackson is its Saturday night headliner. Minority-owned businesses in all sectors have been disproportionately impacted by COVID. Brackeen, 44, says that while there’s a sense of “hope and optimism” among Black entrepreneurs and other founders historically underrepresented, “the numbers have slid backwards in the last two years. If 1 percent of Black founders and 6 percent of women and people of color before the pandemic were getting venture capital, those numbers are even less at this point,” she says. “Our local region has spent time saying, OK, we recognize that rescue plan dollars didn’t make it to who
needed it. We recognize that lots of small businesses closed and many of them were historically disadvantaged. Now let’s try to course correct some of those things. So I’m hopeful that if we pull together we can go in and fix disparities as we see them.”
INVESTMENT EQUITY IS BEING TAKEN SERIOUSLY
A N D I C E M AT T H E WS and Brian Brackeen rekindled a friendship at Black Tech Week in 2018, so the event is near and dear to their hearts. They married in 2019 and a year later announced that a new VC fund, Lightship Capital, would raise $50 million to invest in underrepresented founders in the Midwest. That same year, The Wall Street Journal named Candice Matthews Brackeen to its top 10 list of women VCs. She says that although most venture capital in this country gets invested in San Francisco, New York City, and Boston, there are plenty of great opportunities in Cincinnati and across the Midwest. “I feel that intelligence is distributed equitably, but opportunity isn’t,” she says.
“I AM JUST ATTACKING A MARKET FAILURE WITH LIGHTSHIP CAPITAL,” SAYS CANDICE MATTHEWS BRACKEEN. “THE MARKET HAS FAILED THE DEMOGRAPHIC OF PEOPLE WE SERVE.”
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A BIG GET
“I am just attacking a market failure with Lightship Capital,” Brackeen said in late June at REDI Cincinnati’s board meeting. “The market has failed our area, and it’s failed the demographic of people we serve. I’ve gone back to my economics background and said, How do I serve a niche that no one else is working on? I’m able to find companies at a really great valuation, invest in them, and spend time helping them grow and thrive and drive them up toward a higher valuation. If I look at my peers who have invested at inflated valuations, they’re struggling to figure out what they’re going to do. Our portfolio is tracking quite well.” SoLo Funds is one success stor y Brackeen cites from her work through Hillman Accelerator, which she launched with former Cincinnati Bengals player Dhani Jones. The Blackowned lending platform helps users secure small-dollar, short-term loans as an alternative to traditional banking or risky payday lenders. When Brackeen moved from her hometown in Toledo to study at UC, her intention was to forge a career path in entrepreneurship. Her connection to UC continues to shape her journey; she hasn’t ventured too far outside of the institution’s forcefield. “A group of UC professors helped me enjoy a discipline that I would have never gotten involved with had it not been for a few people saying, You should apply for this scholarship,” she says. “It was through that (economics) fellowship that I was able to see what was happening in Cincinnati.” Lightship Foundation will relocate its office later this year from the 1819 Hub to The Beacon, owned by UC and located at 121 East McMillan Street. Black Tech Week, which had been held in Miami, Florida, will meet in Cincinnati July 18-22.
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the number of Cincinnati’s minority-owned business enterprises in five years. Led by the African American Chamber, the Minority Business Accelerator, the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, Mortar, and the city of Cincinnati, Lincoln & Gilbert is providing loans and technical assistant primarily to Black entrepreneurs. The initiative is named for the intersection of Lincoln and Gilbert avenues in Walnut Hills, site of the neighborhood’s historic Black business district.
NO MORE EXCUSES
D LEADING ON INNOVATION
(From left) UC Chief Innovation Ofﬁcer David Adams, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Candice Matthews Brackeen, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, UC President Neville Pinto and then-Mayor John Cranley discuss the Cincinnati Innovation District in October 2021.
UC and JobsOhio, the state’s private economic development organization, are among the project’s funders. The Beacon represents a meaningful expansion of the Cincinnati Innovation District’s footprint. Maurice E. Coffey II, a senior P&G marketing executive who spends the majority of his professional time “on loan,” has served as a fulltime executive-in-residence with Cintrifuse since 2017 while also leading the board at Lightship Foundation. “I have been with Candice since 2018 when she was one of the founders of Hillman Accelerator,” he says. “I sat down with her and her team and came up with a five-year plan from my P&G training. They looked at me like I was crazy and said, Everything is exactly what we need, but we’re startups. We don’t have five years. They took that plan and have squeezed into the
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last two or three years what normally would have taken Procter & Gamble many years to roll out.” Brackeen says Cincinnati’s culture enables entrepreneurship and innovation growth. “It’s kind of wild that C-suite executives will have coffee with you here,” she says. “Folks give you a level of grace and patience you might not get elsewhere. I’ve been allowed to grow personally and professionally. When I’d speak with business leaders about making the local tech ecosystem more inclusive, they did truly believe in their heart of hearts that it already was. And when I told them it wasn’t, they listened. The difference here is that I was taken seriously. I couldn’t have grown Lightship Capital anywhere else.” Lightship Foundation is a member of the new Lincoln & Gilbert consortium deploying funds to help double
AV I D A D A M S , U C ’ S chief innovation officer and executive director of the Cincinnati Innovation District, wrote in The Wall Street Journal in January that Intel’s planned $20 billion chip factories near Columbus “points to a broader shift away from the country’s predominantly bicoastal tech economy.” In March, the Brookings Institute released research supporting that premise, citing evidence of the rise of tech jobs in atypical cities across the U.S. heartland and beyond. Cincinnati was named as one of 36 metro regions where tech employment grew significantly in 2020 compared to pre-pandemic years. “In today’s knowledge economy, talent is the economic driver—it’s 10 times more valuable than land,” Adams wrote, saying that Intel’s decision was partly due to the work under way across Ohio to build the workforce of the future. “That’s a fundamental shift in the economic development discussion. Are there states willing to build the workforce that’s needed?” Brackeen says the public sector’s financial support and championing
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are critical for cities, states, and regions to attract and retain talent, noting state government’s role in recruiting Intel. “If we think about Silicon Valley, there would be no chips without federal grants,” she says. “The role of government is validation and being a convener. It fixes things when private markets don’t or can’t.” Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval says the city is investing to enable more tech-enabled manufacturing and follow-on investments spurred by the Intel announcement. “I’m convinced that we will see an inward migration of talent because of the rising costs of living on the coast and because of climate change that continues to erode our coastline,” he says. “We’re already seeing the effects of the multibillion-dollar investment from Intel into Central Ohio. One of the key reasons they chose that area is because of Ohio’s climate resiliency and access to water.” In addition to the city’s investments, particularly around Black Tech Week, Pureval says he’s trying to leverage the Intel investment by partnering with REDI Cincinnati and The Port to invest $7 million in the city’s budget for development site readiness to encourage and grow high-tech manufacturing plants, par-
ticularly along the I-75 corridor. The city is also investing $5 million in the Lincoln & Gilbert fund. “At every level of the Black ecosystem, from tech to traditional, the city is making investments,” he says. “But the biggest thing we can do as a city is to be a destination for young, diverse talent. That means creating dense, diverse neighborhoods that are walkable, where people who are my age and look like me want to live.” Pureval says his administration is “laser focused” on growing the city’s economy with racial equity as a centerpiece. “Racial equity is a buzzword that gets thrown around, but the way I define it is with one word: ownership,” he says. “Black ownership of homes, Black ownership of neighborhoods, and Black ownership of businesses. Data shows that Black businesses fail to start or to grow because of a lack of access to capital, to talent, and to infrastructure. We’ve made specific and bold investments in our budget to accomplish those goals, specifically helping fund Candice’s efforts through the Lightship Foundation to bring Black Tech Week to Cincinnati.” A recent Brookings report, BlackOwned Businesses in U.S. Cities, attempts to quantify the revenue, jobs,
“IN TODAY’S KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY, TALENT IS THE ECONOMIC DRIVER— IT’S 10 TIMES MORE VALUABLE THAN LAND,” SAYS UC’S DAVID ADAMS. “THAT’S A FUNDAMENTAL SHIFT IN THE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DISCUSSION.”
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Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval says the city is investing to grow diverse talent and attract companies to employ them.
and wage gains for Black residents of U.S. cities if the percentage of Blackowned businesses was on par with the metro area’s Black population share. There are 732 Black-owned businesses in the Cincinnati region, accounting for 2 percent of all employer businesses. If Black businesses accounted for 13.8 percent of employer firms, equivalent to our Black population, there would be 4,398 more Black-owned businesses here. An April Brookings case study, Cincinnati Cited As a Model for Inclusive Economic Growth, highlights positive steps being taken to build inclusive economies and includes the Cincinnati Innovation District as a national model. P&G’s Coffey agrees with the positive outlook, saying the work underway to build a diverse tech ecosystem across the region makes it difficult for companies to say they can’t find diverse vendors and companies to invest in.
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TAKEAWAYS BLACK TECH WEEK Lightship Foundation hosts the in-person conference in Cincinnati July 18-22; it had previously been held in Miami, Florida. Tech professionals, enthusiasts, funders, and allies will hear featured speakers like Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code; Derick Pearson, CEO of Center for Black Innovation; and Lightship CEO Candice Matthews Brackeen. EQUITY MATTERS The city of Cincinnati and regional corporations and foundations are investing in Brackeen’s vision for supporting entrepreneurs and business activity in underrepresented communities. Only 2 percent of businesses here are Black-owned. “I feel that intelligence is distributed equitably, but opportunity isn’t,” she says. OWNING IT Racial equity is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot, says Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval, but “I deﬁne it with one word: ownership. Black ownership of homes, Black ownership of neighborhoods, and Black ownership of businesses.”
“The data show that less than 2 percent of VC funding goes to anyone other than white men,” says Coffey. “But I think that’s being accepted and addressed by those in power here. The excuse in the past was, But we can’t f ind quality workers or We can’t f ind the right types of businesses to invest in. Local corporations, foundations, and funders immediately accepted the challenge of Cincinnati hosting Black Tech Week, so we were able to hit almost all of our fundraising goals within 45 days.” Brackeen is pleased that regional companies and foundations got on board quickly to support Black Tech Week. “I think we’ve finally gotten to a point in Cincinnati’s history that we’re funding entrepreneurship to support people to get out of the places they were instead of putting philanthropic money into dealing with issues of poverty,” she says. “Economies grow when you give folks other ways. I think that’s
what I’m most proud of.” Pureval says that Black Tech Week is emblematic of the current state of Cincinnati and its future. “We are young, diverse, bold, and ambitious,” he says. “We’ve got that Cincinnati swagger, not unlike our Bengals, and we’re not just happy to be on the national stage. We belong here. The fact that we’re taking Black Tech Week from Miami and putting it in Cincinnati says everything about what we value, who we are, and what we believe our future to be.” Entrepreneurial spirit and gumption is alive and well in Cincinnati’s African-American community, Coffey explains. “It always has been that way, despite the structural and systemic racial barriers of education, employment, and wealth-creation. There is now more light being directed on these barriers, and so more institutions, both private and public, are committing real resources to address them.”
EXPAND THE FOOTPRINT
The Cincinnati Innovation District, run by UC’s Chief Innovation Ofﬁcer David Adams, will expand soon when Lightship Foundation moves to the new Beacon building and two Digital Futures buildings open.
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Getting Ready for the Future of Health Care INNOVATIONS IN PATIENT CARE, DRUG AND DISEASE RESEARCH, AND TECHNOLOGY ARE FUELED BY LOCAL MEDICAL GROUPS AND THEIR SPIN-OFF COMPANIES. BY DAVID HOLTHAUS
hen the next pandemic comes— or the next mass shooting or the next natural disaster—Cincinnati should be ready. The region’s busiest emergency medical center is undergoing a major expansion at UC Health, more than doubling in size and building in ﬂexibility to respond to whatever the latest emergency may be. It will also house technology and expertise to assess and promptly treat the kind of challenging patients who usually wind up at UC’s emergency department. Innovations in facility design, emergency medical technology, and medical education will be incorporated into the new emergency department, which is slated to open in two phases beginning at the end of July. No one knows what the future will bring, and that’s just the point—the new center is being designed by physicians and nurses to adapt to whatever crises occur. “We have to be ready to take on whatever craziness
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comes in the next 30 years,” say Arthur Pancioli, MD, chair of UC’s Department of Emergency Medicine. UC’s project is multi-tiered innovation on a grand scale, but cutting-edge thinking is driving the region’s health care businesses of all sizes, from the largest hospital systems to the smallest startups. Fueling these state-of-the art developments is the constantly evolving medical landscape, ranging from COVID to cardiac care, that accounts for $4 trillion total in annual spending in the U.S.
EEYUSH SHRIVASTAVA is a 2013 graduate of Mason High School and a co-founder of Genetesis, a Mason-based startup that’s well down the road in developing and marketing a technology to improve the detection of cardiac disease, still the No. 1 killer of Americans. His team is adapting and reﬁning technology that was ﬁrst developed in the 1960s, when researchers discovered and recorded the heart’s biomagnetic signature. Back then, scientists developed a technique called magnetocardiography to measure the heart’s magnetic ﬁeld; by mapping it, clinicians can detect abnormalities that might be signs of arrhythmia or other heart malfunctions. But the technology hadn’t advanced much since the ’60s, Shrivastava says, and the equipment needed to detect, measure, and record the biomagnetic ﬁelds was still big and clunky. The sensing medium was still liquid helium, an expensive and relatively scarce resource. Most machines on the market still required special rooms with magnetic shielding. The technology was ripe for improvement, as it was being used to locate and measure magnetic ﬁelds that are tens of millions of times smaller than the earth’s own magnetic field.
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“Needle-in-the-haystack type measurements,” as Shrivastava says. Around 2015, he was part of a small team that included his father and two other Mason High graduates. They began working on the technology as well as examining its potential to detect ischemia, the reduced ﬂow of oxygen to the heart, especially when no artery blockages are known. “With improved sensing, next-generation computing, and a good team committed to meeting clinical needs that weren’t even known at the time the technology was originally conceived,” Shrivastava says, “we knew we had an opportunity to bring this technology to the forefront.” Shrivastava and his Mason partners left college in 2016 to work on the project full-time, developing a noninvasive diagnostic machine they call CardioFlux. In 2019, it was cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use as a tool to non-invasively measure and display the magnetic signals produced by the electric currents of the heart. In late 2020, CardioFlux was granted “Breakthrough Device Designation” by the FDA, a program that allows for speedier review by the government agency. The Cleveland Clinic, as well as hospitals in North Carolina, Texas, and Michigan, have installed Genetesis systems as part of an ongoing clinical investigation. It’s also being tested at The Christ Hospital, which expects to complete its study this year. The company has attracted venture capital, beginning with a $7.5 million round in 2018 that was led by CincyTech, Cincinnati’s public-private seed stage investment company, and included Mark Cuban of Shark Tank and Dallas Mavericks fame and the Ohio Innovation Fund, an early-stage tech investment ﬁrm. It landed an additional $9.2 million
LEADING WITH HEART
Genetesis CEO Peeyush Shrivastava says Cincinnati is “a great place to build an exciting new business.”
in venture funding in 2020, a round that included TDK Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based corporate VC investor. All told, the company has earned $25 million in venture funding, Shrivastava says. “This has been our lives for almost 10 years,” he says. With Greater Cincinnati as its hometown and the participation and support from CincyTech, as well as the proximity of other tech-based health care startups, he says, “we saw this as a great place to build an exciting new business.” Advances in treating heart disease, which kills 660,000 people in the U.S. every year, has furthered medical innovation. Doctors at The Christ Hospital, renowned for cardiac care, last year performed a new treatment to eliminate calcium in the coronary arteries. Lithotripsy, which uses sonic waves to break up calcium, has been used for years to treat kidney stones and is now available at Christ to treat certain kinds of arterial blockages. Medical staff there also became the ﬁrst in a four-state region to use a minimally invasive technique to implant an aortic valve in a procedure that did not require open-heart surgery. And UC Health cardiac surgeons last summer replaced or repaired three heart valves in a 63-year-old woman using endoscopic surgery, the least invasive surgical procedure possible.
L E N T Y O F N EW B U S I nesses have been launched and supported by an engine of health care innovation here, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Children’s employs more than 1,000 faculty members, about 300 of whom are PhD-level researchers with the rest as clinical faculty, typically doctors and nurses. It enjoys a legacy of pioneering medical research, most notably that of Albert B. Sabin, an immigrant from Poland who, while at Children’s in the SUMMER 2022 REALM 35
1940s and ’50s, developed a vaccine that helped rid the world of the fearsome disease of polio. Children’s researchers also developed a vaccine to prevent rotavirus, a disease that causes 450,000 deaths worldwide, and conducted the ﬁrst successful bone marrow transplant to treat sickle cell disease, as well as other ﬁrsts. The legacy of groundbreaking research and commercialization goes way back at Children’s, and today the medical center employs a staff of 20 in its Innovation Ventures office to work with a portfolio of young busi-
“TO GET NEW PRODUCTS AND SERVICES FROM THE BENCH TO THE BEDSIDE,” SAYS ABRAM GORDON OF CHILDREN’S, “WE NEED TO COMMERCIALIZE THEM AND LICENSE THEM.”
nesses and get new technologies into the commercial marketplace. “Research and innovation go hand in hand,” says Abram Gordon, who leads the Innovation Ventures team. “Children’s has had a culture of research and innovation almost from its beginning.” The role of Innovation Ventures is to help move promising research out of the laboratory and into commercial use, and they do that through patents, funding, creating startups, and licensing new technologies. “It’s not enough
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to do research and have it published and speak about it at a conference,” Gordon says. “That doesn’t get it to the patients. To get from the bench to the bedside, we need to commercialize it and license it in order to make it available to all who need it.” Children’s partners with universities—including UC, Ben Gurion University in Israel, Oakland University, and others—as well as with early stage seed funds such as CincyTech and funds on both coasts. It has licensed technology developed at Children’s to outside companies to be further commercialized and brought to use at hospitals, doctor’s ofﬁces, and homes. One of those is Enable Injections, based in Evendale, which is marketing a wearable drug delivery system called enFuse, designed to be an alternative to intravenous administration of maintenance drugs. In January, Enable announced that it received $215 million in ﬁnancing. It’s also received funding from Children’s, CincyTech, Cincinnati-based startup accelerator Cintrifuse, and the Ohio Innovation Fund. Enable has raised more than $300 million in venture ﬁnancing, making it one of the region’s best-funded startups. Other startups have been spun off from work that was begun at Children’s. Bexion Pharmaceuticals, for instance, is moving forward with FDA-approved clinical trials of a new drug, BXQ-350, that’s shown promise in treating brain and colorectal tumors. Bexion was founded in 2006 by Ray Takigiku, MD. Now headquartered in Covington, its work is based on a technology platform licensed from Children’s. Since then, it has received more than $100 million in venture ﬁnancing as well as grants from the
National Cancer Institute. Better cancer treatment is also the reason behind the work of Kurome Therapeutics, whose team is working on developing more effective cancer treatments with fewer side effects. Born from work developed at a Children’s lab around 2013, Kurome is in an early stage of developing a targeted approach to blood-related cancers, particularly a form of leukemia. In 2020, Jan Rosenbaum, a Procter & Gamble scientist for more than 20 years, was named CEO. Children’s licensed the technology to the company, and CincyTech (where Rosenbaum was an executive-in-residence for several years) led what has since become $15 million in ﬁnancing. The company says it expects to begin clinical trials of its therapy in 2024. Not all the technology is conceived by doctors and scientists. Abby Hess is a nurse practitioner at Children’s who came up with a way to deliver anesthesia to young patients who may be anxious about an upcoming surgery and unable or unwilling to breathe the gases used to render them unconscious. Over the years, she’d seen very young children become terriﬁed while laying on the gurney and being ﬁtted with the anesthesia mask. Hess had the “a ha” moment of making the experience less stressful by adding some fun to it. She found a video game app that was controlled by breath, jerry-rigged it to an anesthesia mask, and used it as a prototype. She’d never developed a product or sought grant funding, but with a model in hand she was able to work with developers and others at Children’s to reﬁne her idea. A mentor at the medical center suggested she apply for a hospital innovation grant, and in 2016 her idea was awarded $100,000. The product is now being tested in operating rooms.
“It’s not just the research faculty or the clinicians,” says Gordon. “It’s people throughout the institution who can think in innovative ways about how they can make a difference.”
OMETIMES INNOVATION means pivoting an enterprise and adapting it to meet a need or pursue a trend that holds promise. Kenwood-based Patient Point was started in the late 1980s by P&Ger Mike Collette and others who held down their day jobs while building the company to educate and engage health care patients. Collette was working with a thennew method of marketing P&G
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brands—aperture marketing, targeting consumers at moments when they’re most open to messaging. It seemed to be a concept that could be applied to the health care business in waiting rooms, exam rooms, and doctors’ ofﬁces. Collette cashed in a life insurance policy and maxed out a credit card, and then he and his team burned the midnight oil on the project. “We bootstrapped the whole thing,” he says. After getting the company off the ground, Collette left P&G and focused full-time on Patient Point. In its pre-digital phase, the new company marketed content to doctors ofﬁces to be shown on TV screens in the waiting rooms. When the digital era emerged
in the late ’90s, it delivered messaging that accelerated patient engagement using touch screens. By then, the company was attracting local venture capital as well as the attention of private equity ﬁrms, one of which bought it. Today Patient Point is a “several hundred million dollar” company with nearly 600 employees, Collette says, and is still growing. The company now has the largest digital health care network in North America, with 140,000 doctors and 500 hospitals signed up. Collette is currently launching the third evolution of Patient Point, pivoting from being solely a point-of-care media company to offering a suite of patient engagement solutions, includ-
Enable Injections uses technology licensed from Children’s Hospital to market a wearable drug delivery system called enFuse.
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TAKEAWAYS COMMERCIAL SPINOFFS Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center launched its Innovative Ventures team to work with in-house researchers to get new technologies into the commercial marketplace. Startups like Enable Injections and Kurome Therapeutics launched from Children’s. FLEXIBILITY IS KEY UC Health’s new emergency facility will allow staff to easily convert intake space and treatment rooms to handle mass casualty events and infectious diseases we don’t even know about yet. PIVOT, THEN PIVOT SOME MORE Patient Point started as a side project for P&Ger Mike Collette, but today it’s a multimillion company with nearly 600 employees. Collette says the company has pivoted several times over the past 30-plus years as the medical world and patient needs changed.
ing automated patient acquisition, patient intake, reputation management, and even remote patient monitoring. “We’re migrating the company from what’s historically been thought of as a patient point-of-care media company to more of a health tech company,” he says. Its remote patient monitoring systems allow doctors to check their patients’ health after they’ve left the physicians ofﬁce. Using biometric devices that can send data back, physicians can monitor blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, weight, and more. “It’s a whole series of medical devices to monitor patients in real time,” Collette says. If a problem becomes evident, doctors can then ask the patients to come in for an examination and counseling or to see if a stepped-up level of care is necessary. The physician’s ofﬁce can do the monitoring, or nurses employed by Patient Point can do it for them and then contact doctors if the readings are out of line. Patient Point’s latest evolution appears to be happening on the cusp of a rapid growth wave driven by new technologies. The market for smart, wearable health care devices was valued at $13.8 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow to $37 billion by 2028, according to Veriﬁed Market Research.
ACK AT UC HEALTH’S emergency department, meanwhile, the number of patients is growing, as is the severity of their afﬂictions. The current facility, which opened in the late ’80s, was designed to treat 50,000 patients a year; the staff is now handling about 100,000 a year. And patients are sicker and suffering from deeper trauma from things like
high-speed car wrecks and gunshot wounds, Pancioli says. “We needed a facility that was inﬁnitely more patientand family-centric,” he says. He and others from UC spent months visiting emergency departments around the country to identify best practices and the latest standards of care. The new UC emergency department is designed for maximum ﬂexibility, so it can be adapted to allow health care professionals who work there to be able to respond to whatever
PATIENT POINT’S LATEST PIVOT TO SMART, WEARABLE HEALTH CARE DEVICES COMES AS A PRODUCT CATEGORY VALUED AT $13.8 BILLION IN 2020 IS EXPECTED TO GROW TO $37 BILLION BY 2028.
comes their way. For example, when COVID-19 emerged, UC staff erected tents outside the emergency department to screen what was expected to be a massive number of patients with respiratory symptoms. But the tents lacked medical gases and adequate electricity and information technology. High winds blew them down a few days later. Fortunately, UC didn’t see the volume of patients as hospitals in a city such as New York did, so the medical staff was able to manage the volume indoors. But the experience showed the need
HEALTH CARE FOR THE NEXT GENERATION
UC Health’s upgrade to its emergency room capabilities was led by (from left) Arthur Pancioli, MD, chair of UC emergency medicine; TQL CEO Kerry Byrne, UC Health board member; and Rick Hinds, UC Health’s interim CEO.
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for adaptability. At the new facility, staff will be able to quickly convert a waiting room and intake space into a space to handle a mass-casualty event. “It’s a game changer,” Pancioli says. “It’s a whole new world for us.” The current facility contains three shock resuscitation units, rooms where critically ill patients, who are often unconscious, can be rapidly assessed, treated, and stabilized before being moved to surgery or to an intensive care unit. Effective use of such units has been shown to save lives. UC’s current shock units are designed for just one patient, but they often hold two, Dr. Pancioli says. The new department will have 10 such units. Four of them will be 50 percent larger than the current spaces “to accommodate more technology, larger teams, and a greater ability to tackle medical problems,” he says. One entire section of the emergency department will be equipped with negative airﬂow technology, which keeps air potentially contaminated by infectious agents inside the room, rather than allowing it to escape into uncontaminated areas. It’s essential for stopping the spread of diseases carried by the air, such as COVID. Positive airﬂow rooms are also being constructed to prevent outside air from entering the patient room. These are often used for cancer patients whose immune systems are weak and may not be able to fend off airborne pathogens that enter their space. Three rooms will be specially designed to safely treat patients infected by diseases spread by bodily ﬂuids, such as Ebola. “In the next 30 years, might we see a droplet-spread infection like Ebola? We sure could,” Pancioli says. “You can’t wait and build it later.” That statement sums up the spirit behind much of the region’s innovations in health care and medicine: Build it now to be ready for what the future may bring.
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Innovation Starts With a Mindset
CIOs AND TECHNOLOGY LEADERS HAVE THE REGION ON “AN INCREDIBLY GOOD TRAJECTORY.” BY LEYLA SHOKOOHE
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stablished businesses might appear to outsiders as operating like well-oiled machines, but who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? In the case of innovation, the mixed metaphor is warranted, as information technology leaders across the Cincinnati region are proving they’re never too old (or established) to learn something new. “The really good IT folks totally understand their business mission and know what technology can do, so they’re constantly coming up with ideas like e-commerce,” says Geoff Smith, co-chair of the Cincinnati CIO Roundtable and senior technology advisor for the Cincinnati Bengals. “To me the role of a really dynamic chief innovation officer is to connect what’s possible with what’s needed.” Smith would know. Among other past roles, he spent some 25 years in IT and innovation with Procter & Gamble, rising through the ranks to the eventual position of deputy chief innovation I L LU S T R AT P HI O TNOBY G R ADPE HN IBY S FTRKETI KTAT KS
officer. His P&G experience became the foundation for his innovative mindset; he’s particularly fond of sharing an anecdote about his work as CIO of company operations in Japan, when P&G was first setting down roots in Asia. “We had this huge blind spot, and when we first opened business in China we got a rude surprise,” says Smith. “We didn’t understand the Chinese mentality of abundance being a safety net, so our employees there were just stacking boxes in warehouses. Products were slow to sell at first, and they were just getting accumulated in warehouses. So the innovation back in 1994 or 1995 was, Hey, we’ll give each of these distributors a PC loaded with software to manage their inventory. Sometimes I think people consider ‘innovation’ to be whiz-bang laser beams, space technology, or whatever. Often innovation can just be a mindset.”
N N OVAT I O N O F T E N B E gins with small steps, once leadership’s minds are focused on change. Incremental improvements can be just as innovative as top-down ultimatums. More often than not, for big companies with brand recognition and deep roots in their community and business sectors, the kind of agility typically associated with innovation isn’t readily accessible or easy. Take insurance, for example. “In the 1880s, we were probably selling life insurance on the back of horses, and now we’re selling it online digitally,” says Jim Fitzgerald, chief innovation officer of Western & Southern. “You don’t exist for that long without innovating. That mindset is hugely important. My motto is, Innovation at a micro level. It doesn’t always have to be a big lightbulb H E A D S H O T C O U R T E SY GT KE OTFKF S M I T H
idea. It can be, Hey, I changed this one thing, and that can have a trickle-down effect to a lot of other areas of your business.” Fitzgerald joined Western & Southern in October 2021 following a nine-year stint with the New York Life Insurance Company. Shortly after his arrival, Western & Southern acquired Fabric, a digital life insurance platform and mobile app. Direct-to-consumer insurance sales and service is the natural next step in the insurance industry, he says, though it doesn’t eliminate the need for in-person interaction. “The Fabric acquisition and the
things we’re going to go to market with because of that partnership are very innovative,” says Fitzgerald. “A lot of it involves simple process changes. To me, innovation without execution doesn’t matter. Being able to execute and deliver on what you say you’re going to do is paramount.” Fitzgerald is a strong proponent of empowering employees throughout the organization to think innovatively. “The thing I like with innovation is asking the teams, Hey, what do you think? If you could change something, what would it be?” he says. “And, again, the answers often don’t involve big, grandiose changes.”
Former P&G executive Geoff Smith says a good chief innovation ofﬁcer connects what’s possible with what’s needed.
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A company like Western & Southern, managing billions of dollars of assets, doesn’t surpass a century of success without innovation, Fitzgerald acknowledges, but 134 years of success can breed some amount of rigidity in terms of “how things are done.” Reassessing and streamlining are always in order. “So we’ve changed some processes and removed some processes that were just a burden,” he says. “It can be amazing, when you ask the question, Hey, why are we doing this? Is it helping us? that often our people will respond, No, no, no. So we need to have the right mindset to say, OK, let’s stop doing that.” Maintaining the company’s focus on individual customers is the next immediate step for Western & Southern, says Fitzgerald. “The biggest innovation is happening around the direct-to-consumer product space,” he says. “We have a product called IncomeSense that’s aimed at folks who are younger and who don’t necessarily know about insurance or want to buy a large insurance policy. IncomeSense is perfect for them because it can replace their income if something unfortunate were to happen.”
WESTERN & SOUTHERN CIO JIM FITZGERALD SAYS HE ALWAYS ASKS HIS TEAM, “IF YOU COULD CHANGE SOMETHING, WHAT WOULD IT BE? THE ANSWERS OFTEN DON’T INVOLVE BIG, GRANDIOSE IDEAS.”
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INET TIX IS A BLUE Ash-based IT field services organization serving a wide swath of clients across the globe, and like Western & Southern its innovation focus is centered on the end user. The company uses technology to solve problems for clients, says Vice President of Strategic Design Lisa Cook. “ The market we’re in is highly commoditized, so we’re always looking for the angle of, What makes us different than any other IT field services provider?” she says. “In the last two years with the pandemic and higher fuel expenses, a looming recession, and higher costs everywhere, we figured out that the most expensive part of our
transaction is the technician himself who’s on the ground solving our client’s problem.” The company now allows clients to directly engage with a Kinettix technician, while “wraparound services” from the office make sure that each technician does exactly what he or she is supposed to do to complete the job. Cook says it isn’t all that difficult to come up with innovative ideas, but the challenge usually comes in implementing those ideas. That’s where she sees the natural evolution of the company’s direct engagement solution—decentralizing control and empowering clients is the key to business expansion and client retention. “We want to take a not-as-skilled field technician, send them onsite to H E A D S H O T C O U R T E SYP HWOETSOTGERRANP H& BY S O UT TKHT EKRT NK
a job, and have someone in a central location feed them the information they need in real time to complete the work,” she says. “That’s innovation out on the edges, right? To get there, a lot of training has to be developed, both internally and with our clients. But that drives your innovation. If you have a vision for where you want to go, you’re going to have to innovate to accomplish it.” Another commoditized business sector is market research, where 84.51 excels in analyzing data from Kroger shoppers. With information flowing in from 60 million U.S. households and more than two billion annual sales transactions, Chief Data and Technology Officer Todd James says innovation is part of daily life at the downtown-based firm. “You really see the impact when business knowledge and science come together,” he says. “There’s an increasing focus on making sure our science is getting more intimate with the business clients so creativity can happen. That’s where you get the benefits of applied analytics.” The company invests in disruptive innovation, such as its Collaborative Cloud platform, as well as in making sure innovation finds buy-in throughout the organization. Fostering such an environment across 800plus employees is an integral part of what makes the analytics giant tick. “I’m fortunate to be working at a firm that has a lot of talented, restless, and innovative people,” says James. “We’re focused on making sure that staff creativity and ideas can rise to the top. You need to create and reinforce a culture that says, We’re collectively better off when we take ideas and share them among each other and our teams start to build on them. Across the diversity of experiences that we
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have in our firm and across a diversity of skills and education, we can really benefit by listening to each other and listening up and down the entire chain.” Fitzgerald agrees that being open with work colleagues about the aim of innovative ideas usually results in better buy-in. “As a leader I try to be very open with my team,” he says. “You need to create a culture of, It’s OK to have a bad idea. I think people, especially in large corporations, are afraid to speak up. We manage
risk for a living. We’re an insurance company, so we have a tendency to automatically swarm an idea and say, No, we can’t do that. We need to temper that back. You need a diversity of ideas.” In the case of 84.51, James says he’s combining the firm’s existing capabilities in data analytics with focused experimentation. “We’re looking at ideas that are high-risk and high-return,” he says. “We’re trying to drive that forward by managing our innovation kind of like you
THE VISION THING
Lisa Cooks drives innovation at Kinettix, saying, “If you have a vision for where you want to go, you’re going to have to innovate to accomplish it.”
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TAKEAWAYS DELIVER ON PROMISES Innovation is critical to a successful business, even a traditional one like Western & Southern. “But innovation without execution doesn’t matter,” says CIO Jim Fitzgerald. “Being able to execute and deliver on what you say you’re going to do is paramount.” INNOVATION AS A COMPETITIVE PLUS In a commoditized industry like IT ﬁeld work, says Kinettix VP of Strategic Design Lisa Cook, innovation can set a company apart. Like Fitzgerald, she says the key is execution. “The challenge usually comes in implementing the new ideas.” WORKING ON INTERNAL BUY-IN Being open with employees about the need and vision for innovation is key, says 84.51 Chief Data and Technology Ofﬁcer Todd James. “We can really beneﬁt by listening to each other and listening up and down the entire chain.”
manage an investment portfolio. You realize that a lot of these ideas aren’t going to succeed, and that’s OK as long as the overall portfolio succeeds. The goal here is to advance the company’s overall portfolio of products.” Coincidentally, both James and Fitzgerald took on their current roles in October 2021. And much like Fitzgerald’s foray with absorbing the Fabric acquisition, James is overseeing a new innovative rollout to leverage the 84.51 brain trust.“We have some work being done around pricing and promotion optimization,” he says. “If you have 10 products and you can hit each of those products with five price points each week, across four weeks, you know how many combinations you have? Five to the power of 40. So that’s using science to say, Across five to the power of 40 different price combinations, what’s the right one? I mean, that’s some exciting science. That’s a win for us in serving our clients.”
OOMING OUT FROM the individual companies, wins in the proverbial IT and innovation community across Cincinnati come on the wings of another well-worn metaphor: a rising tide lifts all ships. The Cincinnati CIO Roundtable has been bringing together the region’s information technology leaders since 2006 to connect and grow the region’s IT ecosystem. While a company’s technology and support systems can certainly be proprietary, the Roundtable is eager to share resources. “We’ve gone from being a passive group that shares best practices or learnings with each other to a much more proactive group that co-invests in talent and attraction,” says Smith.
“CIOs are coming together and actively sharing resources and ideas and building relationships that can help grow the talent pipeline for everyone. That’s pretty cool, I think, and I’m not sure there are many parallels in cities across the U.S.” In a similarly vein, INTERalliance of Greater Cincinnati invests in the next generation of IT professionals by giving area students an in-depth look at information technology field and possible careers in the region.
“I SEE GREAT COLLABORATION ACROSS UNIVERSITIES, THE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT GROUPS AND CORPORATIONS, AND COMPANIES THEMSELVES IN CINCINNATI,” SAYS TODD JAMES OF 84.51. “PEOPLE ARE TEAMING UP TOGETHER TO MAKE THIS CITY EVEN BETTER.
Pre-COVID, Smith says, the organization was engaging with 1,000 or so high school students a year in 30 to 50 schools across the region. “The important thing is that close to 40 percent of those students ended up matriculating into an IT-related major in college,” he says. “Almost that same percentage came out at the end of college into tech careers.” Both 84.51 and Western & Southern are participants in INTERalliance, which launched in 2005. Building and supporting a
Todd James says 84.51’s use of science to serve client needs is an exciting example of day-to-day innovation.
strong information technology talent pipeline is important for the whole region, Smith says, adding that the CIO Roundtable also hosts an annual summer event for college interns at local companies. “The intent of the event is, especially for those out-oftown students, to say, If you accept a full-time job here, look at what kind of vibrant tech community you’ll be joining,” he says. “People tend to stereotype the Midwest and think, OK, it’s not Silicon Valley, and it’s not New York City or Boston or Chicago or wherever. These organizations and alliances help attract and retain talent to help the region win through collaboration rather than have companies fighting
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each other for talent.” As the local IT market continues to strengthen and grow, the need for talent will also continue to grow. “We’re hiring all the time for technology,” says Fitzgerald. “I’m really looking for younger technology professionals because I want to get a younger culture coming in to Western & Southern, and I also want their ideas. I want them on my team so I can understand how they think and they can challenge how we think.” James says he’s seen the Cincinnati IT community evolve, in his words, dramatically. Before taking on his role with 84.51, the last four of his 14 years with Fidelity Invest-
ments was spent in the Cincinnati region, so he’s had some time to observe it in action. “For a midsize city in the Midwest, Cincinnati is on an incredibly good trajectory,” he says. “Coming out of Boston, which is one of the hubs of innovation, I have been pleasantly surprised, to some extent, but it also makes a lot of sense why we’re where we are now. I see great collaboration across universities, the economic development groups and corporations, and the companies themselves. Quite frankly it’s the result of a lot of people teaming up together to make this city even better. I think that’s the power of Cincinnati.”
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Corporate Tables Available
Experience Savor: Chef’s Table, a fresh take on our classic dinner series. Be sure to #savorthedate with us and support our favorite local restaurants while enjoying a unique ﬁve-course dinner. Limited tickets available.
Why VCs Are Bullish on Cincinnati MORE AND MORE VENTURE CAPITALISTS OFFER FUNDING, MENTORSHIP, AND A VISION FOR LOCAL TALENT.
BY SARAH M. MULLINS
tartup businesses need a lot of support to succeed. They have the best chance of thriving when they’re part of an ecosystem of resources providing access to the brightest talent and mentors possible. When you think of the country’s best-know startup hubs—from Silicon Valley to Austin, Texas, to Boston—you understand the components of such an ecosystem: talent, innovation, research, major universities, medical facilities, and existing infrastructure. Funding is critical to a startup’s success as well, but money will usually find the best ideas and the brightest minds. It’s a lot more portable than universities, hospitals, and
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Fortune 500 headquarters. Venture capitalists ( VCs) have known about and been investing in Cincinnati for years, thanks in large part to work from CincyTech, Cintrifuse, The Brandery, and other resources to position this region as a low-cost, low-hassle place for entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into scalable companies. Cornerstone institutions such as Procter & Gamble, Kroger, Fifth Third Bank, Western & Southern, Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and the University of Cincinnati are investing in innovation through those startup resources as well
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as through their own internal mechanisms. As a result, Cincinnati has gained a reputation among the VC world as having the right ingredients for launching and scaling innovative companies. UC’s Innovation District is where the region’s major corporate players interact with university talent, and Intel’s commitment to Ohio is due in part to its access to talent and support in this region. We spoke with venture capitalists inside and outside of the region to hear about what makes Cincinnati special and why investment continues to pour into the startup ecosystem here. First, though, here’s a rundown of how venture capital differs from traditional funding sources and what it means to raise your first rounds of funding.
HEN A NEW BUSIness takes out a loan, banks assess its track record and lend an amount that’s proven to be low-risk through bank statements and credit history. VC firms use money that isn’t their own, private equity they’re tasked with investing on someone’s behalf. They will provide a startup or small business with capital in exchange for an equity stake, with an assumption that the investment comes with a certain level of risk. If the company is unsuccessful and ultimately fails, a VC firm has several other companies it’s investing in to make up for the loss. “Venture capital is about finding those outliers,” says Tim Schigel, venture capital manager at Cincinnati-based Refinery Ventures. “For every 10 meetings, one hits. It’s like the music industry—I invest in a lot of artists, but I only need one Taylor Swift.” Thus VCs take more risks with their in-
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vestments, while traditional funding sources divvy out only the amount they believe is likely to get paid back. Firms specialize in different stages of funding. CincyTech, for instance, offers seed funding for young companies to start and grow their business. Once a company has a product in front of customers, it will start attracting VC firms to invest in the next stage. Each funding stage roughly aligns with the stage of a company’s growth—the more established the product and the business, the more money a VC will provide. In addition to funding, most VCs offer networking and mentorship opportunities to provide the company with resources and guidance as it continues to mature. Networking can be one of the most important pieces an investor gives an entrepreneur, as VCs typically have an expansive list of contacts. Seed Funding: This is a startup’s f irst investment and often comes from family or friends. Sometimes it’s from “angel investors,” who invest their own money into a startup. Funding is approximately $100,000– $1 million. The company has little to no product or revenue at this point. Series A Funding: This is the first large investment from a venture capital firm that specializes in early-stage funding. The company is starting to build its customer base and providing clearer pathways to success. Series B Funding: The business is well-established at this point. Scaling is clear and valuation is growing, often attracting later-stage VCs. Series C Funding: The company is established but looking to grow product offerings or acquire other businesses. Hedge funds and banks are attracted at this stage.
A N Y I N V E ST O R S I N Cincinnati companies are locally based or have ties to the area, but interest is growing and connections are building for those outside looking to invest in startups here. Blair Garrou, co-founder and managing director at Houston-based Mercury Fund, one of the country’s largest early-stage venture capital firms, sees the Midwest’s potential. Aside from being a VC, Garrou is an adjunct professor at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University, where he teaches a course on venture capital. He helped launch the largest technology incubator in the state of Texas, Houston Technology Center, and is the former CEO of Intermat, a leader in product information management software. Garrou recognizes the power and possibility of investing in Cincinnati. “Our thesis is that middle America is largely underfunded and that entrepreneurs there are more modest as a rule than their coastal counterparts and therefore need more assistance and more feedback,” he says. “We first invested in Cincinnati back in 2007
TALENT HUNTER Texas-based VC Blair Garrou says, “Innovation is everywhere, and we’ve found a lot of talent in Cincinnati.”
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A HEALTHY ECOSYSTEM
San Franciscobased VC David Allison says Cincinnati “has all the right ingredients” to build successful healthcare and bio tech companies.
and have been trying to be a part of the fabric in Cincinnati and partner with accelerators, incubators, angel investment groups, and universities to try to understand who are the connectors, who are the entrepreneurs, and who are those startup development organizations that work with entrepreneurs so that we can find those young companies over time.” Garrou says that when Mercury makes investments here he’ll often set up an office in Cincinnati to take advantage of the region’s consumer understanding. The firm’s investments include Lisnr, a platform that sends micro-communications using sound between devices on standard speakers and microphones, and Amplify, which provides a platform for brands to more easily sell their products on Amazon’s marketplace. Amplify was originally headquartered in Washington, D.C., but Mercury helped move it here to interface better with Amazon’s expansions at 50 REALM SUMMER 2022
CVG Airport. Its Cincinnati office has more than 60 employees now and continues to grow. “Some places, especially coastal cities, used to require startups to move to Silicon Valley or places like Boston and New York in order to receive their investment,” says Garrou. “They believed that being based on the coasts would de-risk the investment from a talent and a capital perspective, because most of the capital is on the coasts. But innovation is everywhere, and we’ve found a lot of talent in Cincinnati through the years in companies like Procter & Gamble and Kroger.”
ECAUSE CINCINNATI IS home to major med ic a l groups, facilities, doctors, and researchers, 5AM Ventures partner David Allison, who focuses on biotechnology startups from his office in San Francisco, has invested here. “We are exclusively focused on healthcare
and biotech,” he says. “We look for businesses and company ideas where we have skills and expertise to help the company be successful.” Allison underscores the other services that VCs bring to a company, beyond the infusion capital. They can help the business scale and navigate the inevitable growth challenges together, he says. His expertise is invaluable when investing in the biotech space, a portfolio that includes BlueRock Therapeutics, later acquired by Bayer, and NeuWave, acquired by Johnson & Johnson. He received a PhD in bioengineering from Rice University with a focus on cardiovascular disease and a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering. Before his VC career, he worked in the diagnostics and drug discovery business unit at SurModics and was a National Science Foundation Research Fellow at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation’s Heart Valve Laboratory. “The Cincinnati area has incredible healthcare and biotechnology startups,” he says. “Cincinnati Children’s, for example, is on the forefront of innovation for novel therapies for everything from cancer to central nervous system diseases to rare orphan diseases. Clearly, the region also benefits from the expertise and talent of companies like Kroger, Procter & Gamble, and the University of Cincinnati, among others. This is a region with all the right ingredients to build and scale innovative companies.” One of the largest local investments Allison has been involved with is CinCor Pharma, which develops new drugs for resistant hypertension. The company’s senior executive leadership team has drug development experience and raised $143 million in Series B funding, which brought more P H O T O G R A P H C OPUHROTTEOSY G R A5 PA HM BY V E NT KT UT KR ET KS
investors to the Cincinnati ecosystem. CinCor is now a public company after an IPO earlier this year. Relationships with local investors and accelerators help navigate a local geography where a firm such as 5AM Ventures doesn’t already have an established presence. Allison sees Cintrifuse as a critical part of attracting VCs to the region. “They have brought us potential new companies of interest and helped our local investments find space and even service providers,” he says. “They’ve helped highlight the incredible foundation that exists for startups in the Cincinnati area.”
F YOU’V E EV ER CLICK ED the option to share content from a website to social media, you’ve interacted with Tim Schigel’s successful ShareThis business. The Palo Alto, California-based business grew to $50 million in less than four years, and its success has shaped his approach to startups in the Cincinnati region through his Refinery VC firm in Over-the-Rhine. Schigel’s focus is on making an impact on the Midwest startup community. The challenge? Experience. He says the Midwest doesn’t see Silicon Valley style success stories very often, so it can be tough for startup leaders here to imagine the success they could have. Thinking back on his own experience, he says he realized the reason he believed he could start a business is because he saw others do it. Today one of the first questions he asks leaders of startup businesses is: What would it take to get to $10 million next year? That amount of money, he says, usually shocks everyone in the room. “It dawned on me that entrepreneurs in the Midwest probably haven’t seen people go from zero to
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$10 million. The only reason I was able to do it was I saw someone else do it. It’s not whether they’re smart or capable—it’s experiential.” In Silicon Valley, he says, it’s a daily occurrence for company leaders to discuss improving revenue by millions of dollars. The Midwest? It’s uncommon. Schigel grew up in Cleveland and received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Case Western Reserve University. The son of a steelworker, his love for the Midwest remains. “I started Refinery with the goal in mind to make a big impact in the Midwest by actively building a pipeline and recruiting leaders who understand the impact that they can have,” he says. “Having a successful career in Silicon Valley is one thing. Having a successful career in the Midwest is a whole different thing. When you think about all the jobs that you help create, you can actually change the trajectory of a city.” The Midwest, particularly Cincinnati, has a hidden advantage with access to talent, Schigel says. Former Procter & Gamble and Kroger employees can bring a wealth of industry knowledge to startups. Silicon Valley is filled to the brim with top tech talent, he says, and the assumption is that’s where you must build your company to recruit the best talent. “What people forget is the high competition in Silicon Valley. The moment you hire someone, LinkedIn and Facebook and Google are trying to hire them. It’s nonstop poaching. You don’t have that problem in the Midwest yet.” Some of his best employees, says Schigel, have been boomerangs who grew up in the Midwest, moved to another city and worked for tech companies in places such as Silicon Valley,
and then returned to the Midwest to bring their skills and talent back home. His business investments include DotLoop, which was later sold to Zillow, and launching and managing Cintrifuse, one of the best performing funds in the country. “Success begets success,” he says. “You first have to focus on one, two, or three companies. Some of those employees go out and start new companies, which creates confidence. It’s more about quality than quantity. Too often people focus on the quantity.”
A FAN OF BOOMERANGS
Cincinnatibased VC Tim Schigel enjoys working with Midwestern natives who get experience in startup centers on the coasts and then bring their skills back home.
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TAKEAWAYS A SOLID BASE The Midwest is “largely underfunded,” says Texas-based VC Blair Garrou, and entrepreneurs here need more assistance and more feedback. But the talent and corporate and university infrastructure in Cincinnati provides a great base for our startup ecosystem. ENVISION SUCCESS Not many local entrepreneurs have experience leading a startup company from zero revenue to $10 million in a year, says Cincinnati VC Tim Schigel. He did it because he saw someone else do it, and now he wants to provide that sort of experiential guidance in the region. FINDING TALENT VCs will ﬁnd investment opportunities wherever they are, says San Francisco-based David Allison, but Cincinnati beneﬁts from an organization like Cintrifuse that’s constantly putting opportunities in front of VCs on both coasts. “They’ve helped highlight the incredible foundation that exists there.”
HE CONNECTIONS A ND advising side of the startup ecosystem, as mentioned, can be equally important as or more important than the funding an entrepreneur can raise. Covington-based eGateway Capital fulfills this need by offering mentorship to the companies it invests in. “Our team is a unique blend of operating, scaling, and investing experience,” says Chad Summe, managing partner and co-founder. “Our balanced backgrounds and industry expertise assist us in adding value to our portfolio companies.” Before Summe launched eGateway Capital, he was chief operating officer and chief strategy officer at Quotient Technology, worked in brand management at Procter & Gamble, and served in the U.S. Navy. His wide range of experience allows the VC to focus on the future of digital commerce and its value chain of how things are produced, marketed, transacted, and distributed. Summe’s presence in the region allows eGateway to scale its portfolio companies as they work with Amazon’s North American HQ for Prime Air and DHL’s hub at CVG, as well as UPS Air Operations in Louisville. “We believe this secular tailwind around digital commerce will be greatly beneficial to our region and the broader Midwest,” he says. “Our vision is to build a premiere community around this opportunity focusing on the human, social, and especially financial capital to help drive our region’s growth.” Over the past 16 months, eGateway has invested in five companies: three in California, one in Austin, and one in this region (80 Acres). Some of Summe’s investments outside of this region have local ties. The co-founder of Flowspace, based in California, is a
UC graduate and is back in town scaling his engineering team within the region. Cargomatic, also located in California, has an executive located in this region. And Firework has an executive who’s a Cincinnati native and has hired a handful of employees here. “We’re partnering with the leading innovators in the future of digital commerce from around the world and helping them realize that there is no better place to scale their business and workforce than in our region,” says Summe. “This will help create innovation going forward and spawn many other businesses. We’re thrilled to be headquartered in the Midwest.”
Covingtonbased VC Chad Summe focuses on digital commerce and this region’s access to Amazon and DHL shipping hubs at CVG and the UPS hub in Louisville.
P H O T O G R A P H C O U R T E SY E G AT E WAY C A P I TA L
ES ITI ATI N TU NN OR INCI P OP E C IT NG IN TH GION EA L RE CR R AL FO
Why Meg Whitman Is Bullish on Cincinnati
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BACK TO THE FUTURE AT THE 1819 HUB The Cincinnati Innovation District brings academic, corporate, and research worlds together under one roof. And they’ll soon open three more facilities nearby. –JOHN FOX
PHOTOGRAPHS BY DEVYN GLISTA
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INNOVATION IS IN STORE
The 1819 Innovation Hub is a renovated Sears department store reﬂecting the University of Cincinnati’s past, present, and future. The 100,000-square-foot building, named for the year UC was founded, is the nerve center of the Cincinnati Innovation District being developed near the I-71 interchange with Martin Luther King Boulevard—just a few blocks from UC’s campus.
Corporate executives, entrepreneurs, and UC students and faculty mix every day in the district. Altaﬁber/Cincinnati Bell, Cincinnati Insurance, Fifth Third Bank, Kroger, and Procter & Gamble are among the co-located companies using their 1819 Hub spaces to work on innovation projects and interact with UC students and faculty. UC programs from business to engineering to DAAP use the building for classes or events.
GOING ON A VENTURE
UC’s Venture Lab at the hub helps students and others start new companies from scratch by connecting them with talent and funding. Entrepreneurs-in-residence help create business models, go-to-market strategies, roadmaps for product development, and funding plans.
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UC’s Ofﬁce of Innovation, headed by Chief Innovation Ofﬁcer David Adams, manages the 1819 Hub and led creation of the Cincinnati Innovation District. Besides this building, the district will include the Digital Futures complex and The Beacon nearby. The Beacon will serve as an incubator for minority-led startups and headquarters for Lightship Foundation, which is now based at the 1819 Hub (bottom). The ﬁrst two Digital Futures buildings will open this summer.
H E A D S H O T C O U R T E SY T K T K
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AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH BY JUSTIN SCHAFER
The hub’s 12,000-square-foot makerspace (opposite page and below) is now open to the public in addition to UC students/faculty and district partners. Full-time staff and student workers are on hand to help train users on the equipment and to supervise activity. A new Esports Innovation Lab (above) opens this summer.
A BRIGHT FUTURE
Seventy percent of Digital Futures Building 1 (foreground at left) will be occupied by research labs, many of them moving from UC’s campus, with the remaining space managed by the Cincinnati Innovation District for expansion needs and for new strategic partners. Building 2 will have 180,000-square-feet of ofﬁce and research space for lease. Future plans for the adjacent space include a hotel and possible mixed-use development.
H E A D S H O T C O U R T E SY T K T K
ASK ME ABOUT
LAURA RANDALLTEPE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FLYWHEEL SOCIAL ENTERPRISE HUB ASK ME ABOUT My new role in the Cincinnati region’s innovation ecosystem.
MYRON RIVERS FOUNDER AND CEO LERCH
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF THE LERCH STARTUP JOURNEY? Aware-
ness. Getting our names out there. The Lerch app delivers cashless, order-ahead drink service, so with live events starting back up we know event producers are looking for ways to connect with their attend-
ees. Lerch is not only a new company, but it’s also new idea and new way of connecting to audiences. There’s been some apprehension from potential customers.
HOW LONG DID YOU BRAINSTORM AND PLAN THIS BUSINESS BEFORE OFFICIALLY LAUNCHING?
We came up with the idea in May 2020 and
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ASK ME ABOUT My startup experience launching an event concierge software app.
quickly began the work of researching the landscape to see if there was a product already out there. We didn’t ﬁnd anything similar to our idea, so we began the process of creating the company, and 18 months later Lerch launched the MVP (minimum viable product). That was in October 2021.
WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS THE COMPETITIVE EDGE THAT WILL HELP LERCH SUCCEED LONG TERM?
Our success rests in the ease and the speed that we can integrate into your venue or event. For the Cincinnati region, we’re one of the ﬁrst of many new ideas to come to market in the entertainment space. We hope to continue
to change the landscape and operation of live events across the country. –ELIZABETH MILLER WOOD
WHAT HAS BEEN THE CONSUMER RESPONSE TO THE NEW SUBSCRIBE LEASING MODEL?
The response has been terriﬁc. Supply chain challenges, the rising cost of purchasing a vehicle, and the debate on whether to buy a combustion- or electric-powered vehicle have all had a positive impact. Quite simply, busy people fall in love with the notion of having to just put gas or electrons in their car and not worrying about maintenance and insurance. Plus, Subscribe members can drive a different vehicle every month. It’s a car lover’s dream.
HOW DO YOU BALANCE INNOVATION WITH HONORING A 65-YEAR-LONG BUSINESS LEGACY AT MIKE ALBERT LEASING? One of our core
values is, “What got us here won’t get us there.” Yes, we have 65 years of rich history, which has
P H O T O G R A P H C O U R T E SY L E R C H
YOU WERE NAMED EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR IN JUNE TO SUCCEED FOUNDER BILL TUCKER. HOW DOES YOUR EXPERIENCE PRIME YOU FOR THIS POSITION? I’ve been a nonproﬁt leader for 10 years, but in 2017 I co-founded a startup. We were using sensor technology to help seniors stay safe at home. We went through an accelerator, so I’ve done the work and I’ve pitched to funders. I know it’s crazy hard,
taught us a lot, but it doesn’t move us forward. We let our purpose drive us: To provide the most rewarding mobility experiences that enrich lives and organizations. What our clients and the data tell us is advancing our purpose stays; everything else goes.
ARE THERE ANY OTHER PRODUCT OR SERVICE INNOVATIONS IN THE WORKS? I can tell you that we’re working on other innovative services like Subscribe as well as enhancing the data-based tools we use to manage car and truck ﬂeets for client companies. –E.M.W.
but I also know there’s nothing more exhilarating than building out an idea that can make a difference.
able and just place to live. We call it the double bottom line. Our Sustainable Cincy business founders are creating prodFLYWHEEL ucts and serFOCUSES ON vices that supHELPING SOCIAL port a healthy ENTERPRISE planet, and our STARTUPS. WHY IS IT IMPORTANT Elevate Equity founders are TO INVEST IN THEM IN ADDITION solving for systemic race and TO REGULAR gender bias. STARTUPS? Social enterprises grow the IN WHAT WAYS local economy DO YOU HOPE TO ADVANCE THE FLYjust like other WHEEL MISSION startups and UNDER YOUR they make our LEADERSHIP? As community a our acceleramore sustain-
tor programs grow, we’re able to attract the most talented startup founders. The next step is to enhance the way we connect them to the talent and capital around this region that they’ll need to launch, grow, and scale their businesses. –E.M.W.
JEFF HART PRESIDENT MIKE ALBERT LEASING ASK ME ABOUT Our new car lease service called Subscribe.
P H O T O G R A P H S C O U R T E SY ( T O P ) L A U R A R A N D A L L - T E P E / ( B O T T O M ) M I K E A L B E R T L E A S I N G
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FROM THE DESK OF
PAYING IT FORWARD
Ryan Rybolt is one of Cincinnati’s best-known entrepreneurs, launching Inﬁntech in 2004 to process credit card payments and now running Payload, which he founded in 2019. Payload builds payment software for real estate, professional services, and insurance businesses. Rybolt and four colleagues run the company here, while other staff, including his business partner and tech developer, work remotely. – J O H N F O X
Rybolt works at a standing desk in an open ofﬁce in Blue Ash, sharing space with other companies. “It’s interactive and collaborative,” he says.
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He and wife Kara have daughters entering sixth and ninth grades this fall. This photo at the Roebling Suspension Bridge is one of his favorite mementos.
Payload’s payment software product for the real estate industry, Keybox, allows home buyers to pay earnest money and downpayments electronically.
Rybolt has built up tons of area connections, from serving on Symphony Orchestra and UC Foundation boards to owning part of the Florence Y’Alls.
P H O T O G R A P H BY D E V Y N G L I S TA
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