change agents: how business accelerators are revitalizing urban neighborhoods across ohio
Stand at the intersection of Vine and West 14th
Street in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood and you’ll find a community in the throes of urban renewal. Just a decade ago, crime and dilapidated buildings plagued the area, which had the unfortunate distinction of being declared one of the most endangered historic neighborhoods in the country by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Today, the U.S.'s largest collection of Italianate architecture shines, thanks to a concerted redevelopment effort in recent years. One entity that has contributed to this revitalization is a startup accelerator, The Brandery
, which has attracted dozens of new companies to the community.
The Brandery, whose aim is to help startup companies develop their brand and marketing niche, is housed in a 15,000 square foot commercial building on Vine. The accelerator moved into the renovated space, which recently underwent a $10.5 million historic rehabilitation, in July 2011.
Dave Knox, co-founder of the Brandery, remembers what the neighborhood was like in 2007. “There was no place to get lunch,” he says. A mere two years later, “you saw the blossoming that was starting to happen. People were starting to move down there, and it was attracting a young, professional, diverse crowd.”
The Brandery employed a formula for success that is so simple and obvious, it could easily be written on a bar napkin. In fact, given the presence of thriving bars and restaurants as well as a brewery district in Over-the-Rhine, it very well might have been.
It goes something like this:
Lure young, creative talent to your neighborhood and guide them to success.
They'll hire new people, bringing even more young talent and giving other service-driven businesses, like bars and restaurants, reason to set up shop.
Thanks to this patently simple strategy, the entrepreneurial energy of business accelerators across Ohio is fueling not only the state's economy, but also the revitalization of urban neighborhoods.
Cincinnati isn’t the only city in Ohio benefitting from the presence of business accelerators. The Brandery and Innov8 for Health
in Cincinnati, 10xcelerator
in Columbus and Shaker LaunchHouse
in Cleveland have all taken a leading role in filling empty buildings, bringing a new, exciting energy to their cities.
These incubators, which are responsible for nurturing business startups, have all been rewarded grants through Ohio Third Frontier’s ONE Fund
(Ohio’s New Entrepreneurs) initiative. The ONE Fund aims to attract and retain young entrepreneurs by providing them tools and funding to start companies.
When Todd Goldstein of Shaker LaunchHouse began looking for a place for his accelerator a few years ago, he found an old car dealership in a part of Shaker Heights where home values had taken a sharp nosedive in the wake of the recession.
“Most people would have run out screaming,” he says. Yet it was obvious from the beginning to Goldstein that the same positive energy that has prevailed in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine district would blossom at Lee and Chagrin.
Sunnie Southern, the co-founder of the health care startup accelerator Innov8 for Health in Cincinnati, also chose the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood for her venture. She was drawn to the positive, creative energies brought here by young startups. She was also encouraged by the nearby presence of the University of Cincinnati.
Michael Camp, Executive Director of 10xcelerator in Columbus, describes startup accelerators as “catalysts” to local communities. He portrays 10xcelerator as a “nomad” because it relocates based on the class of entrepreneurs, yet 10x is nonetheless focused on fostering connections between startups and their communities. “If a company’s going to succeed in a locality, then it’ll be because we make great connections that benefit the company in that locality,” he says.
“We connect them to people, we connect them to customers, we connect them to funding and we connect them to service providers,” he adds. It’s easier to form connections like this in an urban area in which companies are in proximity.
Many young, educated entrepreneurs prefer being in cities -- a recent Pew Research Center study found that Millenials are more likely to live in cities than older generations. They prefer dense, walkable and architecturally unique neighborhoods. A selection of fun bars and tasty eateries near the office to socialize with friends and co-workers is a must. They are less interested in cars and long commutes and keener on public transportation, biking or walking.
Revitalized urban areas have a natural competitive advantage over suburbs when it comes to luring young talent. Because of this, accelerators have focused on creating urban environments where they can thrive professionally and socially. The resurgence of interest in urban locales will, these groups hope, lead to the ongoing transformation of historic communities like Over-the-Rhine.
Currently, the Brandery houses four companies that employ 11 people. ChoreMonster
offers an app that makes performing chores fun for kids, VenueAgent
helps book unique venues for weddings, social and corporate events, and Leap
is an app that allows you to compete in health games with your friends. Finally, Roadtrippers
is an online platform that helps people organize road trips.
James Fisher, a British native who created Roadtrippers, says The Brandery stood out to him and his co-founder, Tatiana Parent, because of its strong consumer marketing focus. He’s also witnessed firsthand the stunning revitalization efforts taking place in the neighborhood. “I’ve travelled and lived in many countries and have rarely seen the pace of positive change that is happening in the neighborhood,” says Fisher, who adds that he is “stunned” every time he stops to admire Over-the-Rhine's surfeit of preserved Italianate architecture.
Recently, Fisher and his co-founder began working to acquire and renovate an office space of their own in Over-the-Rhine with the help of 3CDC
, a non-profit development corporation dedicated to strengthening Cincinnati’s urban core. “As we grow, we hope to hire and train locals from the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, and work with schools to provide new opportunities for young people.”
Fisher, currently a commuter from the Gaslight District, hopes to ditch the car and count himself a local resident as well, citing the density of bars, restaurants and cultural amenities as reasons to move. “The park is going to be a big draw for me,” he adds, referring to the complete renovation of Washington Park, a $48 million green space project that will include a performance stage and event plaza.
“We’ve had a brain drain in Cincinnati,” says Southern of transplants like Fisher. “So one of the things we’re very focused on is ‘how do we make the city cooler?’”
To her, much like Knox, Goldstein and Camp, the answer is quite simple. “We believe by creating a cooler environment that people will want to stay here.”
All photos by Ben French
Photo 1 : Over The Rhine
Photos 2-4 : The Brandery and Dave Knox
Photos 5 - 9 : Over the Rhine
Photo 10 : Todd Goldstein of Shaker Launchhouse
Photo 11 : S. Michael Camp of 10xcelerator