Northeast Ohio’s Startup Ecosystem: The Visible & The Invisible

By Deborah Hoover

Deborah Hoover serves as President and CEO of Burton D. Morgan Foundation, an ecosystem builder and enthusiastic champion of the entrepreneurial spirit in Northeast Ohio.

Jun 26, 2017 | Economy, Society | 0 comments

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I travel frequently on behalf of Burton D Morgan Foundation, visiting other regions in the United States where entrepreneurship is thriving. I am especially happy when flights take the dramatic approach to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport that allows for a stunning birds-eye view of Lake Erie and the Cleveland skyline. We always say that as a regional funder of the startup ecosystem, the Foundation is privileged to have that special birds-eye view of all things entrepreneurial in our region.

On a recent flight, I peered down from my window seat to the city below, picking out those recognizable points of activity where entrepreneurship is catalyzing innovation, creating jobs, and changing lives. It was easy to connect the dots across the city among the innovation hubs at universities, major medical centers, anchor companies, and startups to discern the physical manifestations of Northeast Ohio’s burgeoning ecosystem. 

Northeast Ohio: On the Rise

To leave this reverie at what you can map from the air would be to miss the nuances of the extraordinary chemistry and connections that make our startup ecosystem hum. Northeast Ohio has seen its fair share of challenges in recent decades as a result of plant closures and industry transitions. Yet out of these monumental challenges, new ideas and revitalized urban economies are emerging that are changing the face of the region in exciting and promising ways for the future of Northeast Ohio.

 This entrepreneurial transformation did not happen in a serendipitous way, it happened because networks of leaders across the region stepped up to take on the tough intellectual work and daily toil required to build a robust ecosystem. Over the last decade, determined champions of the entrepreneurial spirit like JumpStart and BioEnterprise have spent their days igniting the invisible parts of the ecosystem; the networks, the webs of connectivity, the tech platforms, the partnerships, and the collaboratives that wire our ecosystem for success.  Recently, JumpStart and BioEnterprise  celebrated a unicorn” event as Northeast Ohio-spawned venture, CoverMyMeds, was purchased by McKesson for more than $1 billion.

Burton D. Morgan Foundation Program Focus

As one of the region’s champions of entrepreneurship, Morgan Foundation has been among the ecosystem builders focusing on startup support for all types of entrepreneurs. The programs we fund help children develop the entrepreneurial mindset, support college students as they conceptualize and launch new ventures, and undergird the services that propel experienced adult entrepreneurs to develop high potential startups.

We are joined in this work by a host of incredible partners–our ecosystem colleagues–who work with us as we connect the dots each day to cultivate the fertile ground for entrepreneurial success. This is the invisible, behind-the-scenes effort that ecosystem promoters tackle each day building bridges among talented people, disparate ideas, and unique opportunities. Setting the stage for idea collision is key and examples of such intersections are abundant in Northeast Ohio.

Entrepreneurship & Liberal Arts Collide

Burton D. Morgan Foundation has long been a proponent of the cross-disciplinary intersection of ideas because we know that entrepreneurship thrives in this electrifying space where ideas intersect and the unexpected can and does happen. This year we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of an initiative we conceived with Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to understand what it means to unleash entrepreneurship on a liberal arts campus.

Now, a decade later, we are looking at what factors optimize the collision of ideas on campus, as liberal arts students absorb the entrepreneurial mindset. The stories are inspiring; musical theater students crafting performances for the hearing impaired, equestrian students launching specialized equine feed ventures, and undergrads capitalizing on family recipes to develop food products for sale by major chain grocery stores.

To learn more about what happens when the liberal arts meet entrepreneurship, see Morgan Foundation’s Intersections release chronicling the stories of five Northeast Ohio colleges that have promoted entrepreneurial thinking among students and faculty over the last decade.  From a kernel of entrepreneurship on these five campuses has sprung a network of 22 campuses that engage in peer-to-peer learning and share resources in order to foster a collegiate entrepreneurship ecosystem that spans the region.

Bringing Ideas to Life

When I attended MOTM in California last year, I met bold entrepreneurs who are creating urban art installations, addressing major challenges facing cities, and driving programs that foster inclusive innovation. These initiatives emerge because their creators do not feel bound by their disciplines; they think spherically and combine diverse ideas in refreshing and promising ways. The final ingredient that helps ideas take flight is the entrepreneurial mindset.  While the generation of innovative and promising ideas is critical, ideas will remain just ideas until they are coupled with entrepreneurial skills that can bring them to life. When embryonic ideas combine with entrepreneurship as the catalyst, dynamic ventures take shape.

Northeast Ohio is doing well at concocting its entrepreneurial stew, but we recognize that there is always more to learn.  As we prepare to welcome Meeting of the Minds to Cleveland in the fall, we see the goal of this gathering as ideal for the crucible of interdisciplinary thinking that is teeming in our region. We expect that it will throw “gasoline on the fire” and we are anxious to showcase all the great intersections brewing in and around Cleveland; the blending of medicine with biomimicry, fashion with technology, and 3-D printing with manufacturing!

Our Northeast Ohio ecosystem is privileged to be hosting Meeting of the Minds this October and we look forward to sharing both the visible and invisible highlights of our growing ecosystem. We will also be excited to learn from fellow innovators about all the unique ways of combining the entrepreneurial spirit with creativity, technology, sustainable practices, and new discoveries to help shape the future of our nation’s cities.


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