In 2010 the idea of The Brandery was just starting to come to life.  We had nothing but an idea and desire to help entrepreneurs in Southwest Ohio.  The Brandery founders had a pitch deck and were just crazy enough to think they could make this thing happen.

In other words, we were just like the startups that we one day hoped to help.

Seven years later, 66 startups have graduated from The Brandery accelerator and we have been consistently ranked as one of the top programs in the country.  And in that time, the landscape of entrepreneurship and accelerator programs has changed.  And it is time for us to change with it.

We’ve learned a lot from our founders – and learned even more about how we’re able to help them. For us, it means going to back to basics. Cincinnati is referred to as the Branding & Marketing Capital of the World, thanks to the presence of storied consumer companies like Procter & Gamble, Macy’s, Kroger, and many others. If we’re going to continue our goal of bringing top-notch startups to Cincinnati and improving their odds of succeeding, we need to ensure they find customers early – and often.

To that end, in 2017 we’re going to be placing a significant emphasis on recruiting, interviewing, and accepting startups that operate in the world of Digitally-Native Vertical Brands (DNVBs) and the Ad/MarketingTech startups that support these kind of companies (both large and small).

Prior to announcing our sharpened focus for 2017, I spoke with several of our closest mentors, investors, and supporters to share the news with them and get their thoughts. Overwhelmingly, their responses sounded something like the following:

“It’s about time.”

“What took you so long?”

“This is a no-brainer.”

While there are various reasons this focus didn’t happen sooner, we’re all excited about the new direction. In the minds of most everyone in The Brandery network, our decision to recruit and invest in DNVBs and the ad/marketing tech companies that support them was long overdue. However, a lot of folks outside our network may be wondering why this is; after all, what’s so special about a midwestern city like Cincinnati compared to similar business ecosystems on the west and east coasts?

More than anywhere else in the country, businesses here are equipped to build better brands. It started with our Fortune 500 companies but over time, professionals from these large corporations spun out and went on to build independent agencies, consulting firms, and think-tanks dedicated to consumer marketing and branding. Today, Greater Cincinnati is home to more than 200 consumer product companies and upwards of 60,000 industry professionals, as well as several globally-renowned agencies. Nowhere else in the country can you find more consumer branding expertise per capita than right here in Southwest Ohio.

This re-focusing of our program came from some real soul-searching. There are a lot of great stats that I often use when talking about The Brandery –  $130,000,000+ raised by our companies. Over 400 jobs created. A Top-10 accelerator in the US. However, if you’ve ever heard one of my talks before, you know that the most important statistic to me is this one:

100% of our participant companies said the program was worth it.

No doubt this remains true today. That said, I’ll be the first to admit we are hanging onto that 100% by the skin of our teeth.

After many years of great results, and a particularly great 2015, we got over-zealous in thinking we could move the needle for anyone we brought in. While we always added some value to everyone who came through the program, the truth is we can help some companies tremendously and others in only limited ways. This is a function of the talents of our staff, mentorship pool, and the intrinsic nature of our close network of partners and sponsors.

We also overestimated our ability to take early teams and will them over the line to funding (as we have in years past). Historically, we average close to $2MM in funding per company, but out of the gate in 2016, our alumni did not find great success fundraising. Some of this is the function of the environment, but a lot is on us as well. The current state of venture funding requires significant traction to raise a proper seed round. What was needed to raise an A Round in 2012 you now need for the seed. This means we need to find talented teams that have already hit that product-market fit, raised a bit of money, and are looking to get to that next level. It’s almost impossible to get a small team with just a bare-bones MVP there in the span of a 16-week accelerator program.

Our new focus is all about distilling the essence of what The Brandery and Southwest Ohio is uniquely suited to do. Leveraging the unfair advantage that no one else in the country can copy. Running a startup is all about building, testing, refining – and repeating. I look at The Brandery in the same way. We can’t get better unless we’re honest with ourselves about where we fell short and have the drive to execute a thoughtful plan on how to improve.

I have a very targeted ask of you – help me find great startups to invite to our 2017 program. Here’s the kind of companies we are looking for:

Digitally-Native Products – Companies that have built a physical product and sell primarily online, but would also potentially value retail connections.

Examples:

Retail Tech & Digital Commerce – Companies working to bridge the gap between digital and physical shopping through use of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and analytics.

Examples:

  • Brandery grads Shelfie (acquired by Infoscout) & Skip
  • Basket (founded by Brandery mentor Andy Ellwood)
  • Belly (founded by Brandery mentor Logan LaHive)

Marketing Tech – Startups that are focused on CRM, mobile marketing, analytics and sales technologies.

Examples:

  • Brandery grads Ahalogy & AdAdapted
  • Shift (founded by Brandery mentor James Borow)
  • Cerkl (founded by Brandery mentor Tarek Kamil)

Our ideal team is talented, has product in market, has raised a seed round, has traction, but is not quite ready for more funding. We will marshal every resource we have to get them where they need to be.

Our applications for 2017 are OPEN. Click here to refer a great company. Or send folks directly to our application:

F6S: www.f6s.com/branderyaccelerator2017

Angel List: https://angel.co/the-brandery

Help us continue our mission of bringing great talent to Southwest Ohio. I’ll continue to do my absolute best to keep them here!

Tony Alexander is a Board member and General Manager at The Brandery. He has been involved since the beginning of the program in 2010. He is a serial entrepreneur & investor based in Cincinnati. Tony has a business degree from Miami University (’99) and serves as the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at The Farmer School of Business.

Photo by: Zackariah Cole (http://zackariahcole.com)