It’s roughly 900 miles from Cincinnati to Boston, a trip that I’ve taken many times in the past few years. But this last time was different. Within a week, I sat in a room with some of the most talented and passionate individuals working in technology and the startup community from both cities. The energy and excitement in both rooms were palpable, but the conversation was different. And to me, it revealed what Cincinnati is missing and what we have going for us that no one else can touch.
TechStars is one of the most coveted startup accelerators in the country, with programs in Boulder, New York, Seattle, San Antonio and Boston. It just so happened that a personal trip happened to align with TechStars Boston’s demo day, where the graduating startups pitch to a room full of investors, and through work connections I was able to secure one of the most sought after tickets in town. So on a rainy Boston morning, I walked into the Wilber Theater in the downtown theater district and was immediately struck by the feeling that something big was about to happen.
TechStars Boston Managing Director, Katie Rae, took the stage first. She spoke with pride about how hard the startups had worked, but another sentiment echoed even louder – “Boston is leaning in” she announced. A number of head’s nodded fervently as she noted how local universities were getting their students more involved and how the city government was taking steps to support Boston’s startup community. Moral of the story: You don’t have to go to the Valley, because Boston is all in.
A week later I attended a conference called QC Merge at the Contemporary Arts Museum. The sessions focused on everything from design, development and social media, with one evening closing with a panel on the current state of Cincinnati’s tech scene, where the talent is and how to continue the momentum gained throughout the past couple years. Some said that talent here is hard to find – young professionals are often wooed by the high salaries of Fortune 500 companies, or leave the city all together. One panelist also commented that the city government is so focused on fixing other things, that tech isn’t a priority. But one thing had most agreeing – we’re here because we’re dedicated to growing a community.
A who’s who (no, seriously. who?) of the Cincinnati tech scene talking about very important things. Or just complaining about the traffic on 75.
So now whenever anyone outside of our fair city asks if anything is going on here, I tell them a different story than I would have two years ago. I tell them that the resurgence of downtown and OtR is only going to draw more college students in as they graduate, and while some will join Kroger or Proctor and Gamble, some will also join startups or become founders themselves. I tell them about a group of people working in technology who are hungry for the opportunity to put Cincinnati on the map. I tell them about a thriving community that is less fiercely competitive internally than other cities, but is more collaborative, thus fostering a much more open atmosphere and in turn – a more successful ecosystem in the future.
Local designer, Ryan Cayabyab and myself being complete nerds.
So what’s the moral of our story? We may only be at the beginning, but it’s a great place to be. Feel like hosting a conference? Do it. Want to meet with local high-profile individuals and talk about your mutual passions? Do it. Want to have your own business and still have a high quality of life? Do it.
There’s no doubt that the city government and universities aren’t leaning in as much as they are in Boston, but as we learn how to tap resources from the likes of NKY’s Infomatics department and UC’s DAAP program, we only stand to gain. Perhaps the mayor will even add a tech representative to his YP kitchen cabinet.
So to the people who asked me during my time on the East Coast ‘Does anything ever happen in Cincinnati’? Now more than ever, I simply say ‘yes’.
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