“All together now.” Lennon/McCartney
September’s VentureDinner made one thing clear: when it comes to Ohio’s entrepreneurial activity, the tide is definitely rising across the state. This is something that I see day in and day out, but pulling together nearly 300 of our community’s leaders made it all the more apparent and exciting!
VentureDinner was a hit because as a state, we had—and still have—a lot worth celebrating. VentureOhio was proud to shine a light on four of our state’s pre-eminent growing companies—Assurex Health, Airway Therapeutics, Ahalogy, and TOA Technologies (now Oracle Field Solutions)—as well as this year’s David Morgenthaler Lifetime Achievement recipient, Jamie Ireland. We also took a glimpse at the 2014 VentureReport, highlighting the $321 million invested into Ohio companies over the past year.
We undoubtedly are building something special, but haven’t hit our stride just yet. Ohio still faces a $392 million—and growing—capital gap for early-stage ventures. Closing this gap won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen in a vacuum, but focusing our efforts on these areas will give us progress worth celebrating at next year’s VentureDinner:
Each major Ohio city—and every pocket in between—adds a new dimension to Ohio’s entrepreneurial potential. Cincinnati is building a tech-based economy with the support of corporate leadership. Cleveland is emerging as an innovation hotspot in life-sciences and, Columbus continues to draw from its extensive student talent network to foster an entrepreneurial mindset throughout the city.
What we lack, though, is the connective tissue to pool each region’s resources. Going forward, VentureOhio aims to forge that infrastructure so that Ohio’s innovators and entrepreneurs understand how to capitalize on the resources available in our own backyard.
Our state currently lacks the institutional capital to compete with ventures growing along the coasts. While connecting our region’s resources can generate higher quality deal flow and talent retention, we still require sufficient local capital to support high-potential companies and hold our own on a national stage. A statewide fund-of-funds will not only provide a resource to benefit deserving Ohio venture capital and angel funds, but to also invite participation from investors across the country, leading to more institutional capital being deployed throughout the state—and more entities becoming stakeholders in Ohio’s success.
Leveraging outside investors can bring much more than capital to Ohio’s growing companies. By securing connections in major innovation cities nationwide, we can draw on these regions’ investment best practices and industry knowledge. Southwest Airlines recently added direct flights from Columbus to San Francisco and Boston, which already is helping to integrate Columbus with the rest of the national innovation economy.
Growing our state’s innovation economy doesn’t just require buy-in from entrepreneurs and investors: we need support from local businesses willing to take an interest in early-stage concepts. 55 Fortune 1000 companies call Ohio home, providing a vast network of potential customers to validate our concepts. Our success will depend on our ability to integrate them into our ecosystem, educate them on our up-and-coming companies, and encourage them to support concepts that will support their missions. Columbus-based Rev1 Ventures, Cleveland-based JumpStart and Cincinnati-based Cintrifuse already support programs that help facilitate this process, and developing this mindset as a state will help our startups to outpace competition from other innovation cities.
This year’s VentureDinner was a success because it allowed us not only to reflect on the previous year’s successes, but also to plan for the future so we will have even more to celebrate in 2016. To accomplish our goals, we need buy-in from our key stakeholders as well as community leaders from across the state and the nation. Yes, we need more capital, but we also need to promote our story so that investors from across the country want to take part in our success. After all, a rising tide raises all boats. By attracting more capital and fostering more success stories throughout the region, we can leverage Ohio’s innovation to spur innovation nationwide, turning our state into a national entrepreneurial hub in the process.