Cincinnati startups: Consider this your cordial invitation.
Introducing a new research tool that is intended to help everyone keep track of Cincinnati’s developing startup scene: The WCPO Startup Registry is a searchable database that all users can update with contact information, news and key indicators of company success, including employment numbers and investment capital raised.
The goal is to quantify the size, scope and strength of Cincinnati’s startup community. How many jobs are being created? How much revenue? How sustainable are the companies that are being formed? We want to track changes over time to see what kinds of startups do best here. We want to identify pockets of the startup world that need improvement.
We’re aware that this is not the region’s first attempt to develop such a list. CrunchBase, Google’s startup genome project, the “Made in Cincy” tech directory and Gust, the global platform that connects startups to venture capital investors, are all variations on this theme. That's not to mention the non-public lists assembled by groups like CincyTech, Cintrifuse, the Hamilton County Business Center and others.
We’re hoping the WCPO Startup Registry will be different from all previous data-gathering efforts by being open and transparent in its editing and curation process. It will be a list defined by its users.
What do we get out of it?
Already the project has yielded new insight on the startup scene. For one thing, local startups aren't all young companies. More than 40 of the startups on our list were incorporated before 2009. These include CincyTech –affiliated companies like Bioformix, SpineForm LLC and Akebia Therapeutics, the biotech company that recently raised $100 million in an initial public offering.
"One of the things that is consistent among these Cincinnati companies is that we keep hustling until we figure out the thing that works," said Chris Ostoich, founder of Blackbook HR, a software maker that helps companies keep their best employees. The company has refined its business plan several times since 2008.
"We’re still building businesses," Ostoich said, "but lots of these companies have made four to five pivots along the way. We’ve all done this."
The WCPO Startup Registry also includes about 60 companies that are not registered as active business enterprises in Ohio or Kentucky. These include Cintrifuse-affiliated startups myActions LLC and nugg-it. It also includes Touritz and Student Source, two startups affiliated with the Uptech accelerator in Northern Kentucky.
Student Source ceased operating one year after graduating from Uptech because it “made several key discoveries” that made its original business model unworkable, founder Adam Triester wrote in a farewell letter to company supporters last June.
While assembling our initial startup list, we also discovered that a local water technology startup has left town . Bacterial Robotics LLC, which uses synthetic biology to combat water pollution, relocated its headquarters to Winchester, an Adams County village about 55 miles east of Cincinnati.
These are the kinds of stories that can fall through the cracks in a market where many reporters are covering the startup scene but much of the coverage is promotionally driven. This is not a criticism, just a fact. Most startup stories arise from pitches by founders, investors and organizations seeking positive stories about their new business idea.
So, for WCPO, the Startup Registry is a tool that could broaden the scope of coverage to address success and failure, growth and shrinkage, wins and losses.
What do startups get out of it?
WCPO pulled company information from all lists we could obtain. We added companies that WCPO reporters have featured in the last year or so. We came up with a list of 219 companies that have been active in the innovation ecosystem that so many groups are working to develop. But that’s just a starting point. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be asking those active in the startup world to help us make our list more complete, more robust.
We’d like all startups - and the organizations they turn to for funding, advice and networking connections – to adopt the WCPO Startup Registry as their own personal resource for startup intelligence. Check out the list. If your startup isn’t there, add it. Check our information. If it’s not complete, update it. You can do the same for friends and rivals. Keep in mind that every time you update our Caspio database we get an email. That will help us as we will review all database changes to make sure bad information is excised from the list.
“There’s something to be said for having … a birds eye view of everything that’s in the ecosystem,” said David Willbrand, a Thompson Hine attorney who
is active in the startup community. “It could lead to some alignment, some connections being made. One of the complaints of this community is that it’s very ad hoc in terms of who’s invited to what, who gets on what list.”
The WCPO Startup Registry will be as inclusive as its users make it. Over time, we hope to add new elements to the registry project, including a recurring survey of local founders and perhaps some day a dedicated web site where startup news can be aggregated, events can be listed and entrepreneurs can post video about their business ideas. If we get broad participation from company founders, we may establish an advisory panel to review ongoing changes to the database – seeking expert opinion on companies that belong on the list and those that don’t.
OneMorePallet founder Bill Cunningham agreed to participate in the WCPO Startup Registry because he’s always looking for new connections that can help his shipping company find investors, customers and talent.
“There’s a lot of intelligence you can pick up from other startups,” Cunningham said. “You get a good idea of how they operate. Plus, we do business together.”
Willbrand estimates the region has from 200 to 300 companies active in the startup community, but no one knows the precise total because so many organizations limit their lists to companies they could potentially serve.
Cintrifuse, for example, limited the companies in its manifest of local startups to companies that are “scalable and venture fundable.” Cincy Tech collects voluminous data on its portfolio companies, but doesn’t share those metrics publicly – at least not on a company level. The Procter & Gamble Alumni Network keeps a list of former P&G employees who’ve started new companies, but not all are local and many wouldn’t fit the classic definition of a startup as an early-stage company that needs outside funding from venture capital investors to be sustainable long-term.
The WCPO Startup Registry is starting with a definition that is deliberately broad because that is the universe of local startups emerging in Cincinnati.
Why would a startup want a piece of that action? The long answer is that all will benefit from knowing more about the developing ecosystem. The short answer is networking. If this works as we hope, it’ll be a useful tool for startups to connect with each other.
“If you’re a startup, there’s no such thing as a bad meeting, as bad connection, bad publicity, a bad network,” Willbrand said. “It’s a pure numbers game, whether you’re talking about raising money, finding your next customer … it’s not linear. You just never know where it’s going to come from. You just have to get out there and bounce into as many molecules as possible.”
How do you you do it?
With that in mind, we invite you to click on the WCPO Startup Registry .
It has 23 fields of data we’re trying to collect, including outside investment capital raised, 2013 revenue, total number of direct employees and total contract employees. We think this database is easy enough to use, but here are a few quick tips: When adding a company, please fill in all fields and scroll to the right to click the “Add” button. Otherwise, the changes won’t take. To update company information, scroll to the right, click “Edit” to begin the process. At the end, be sure to scroll right to click “Modify” when you’re finished.
If you have questions or comments about the database or the registry project in general, don’t hesitate to reach out via the contact options below.
In the meantime: Molecules, start bouncing.