First Cincinnati Startup Week to draw thousands for celebration of local entrepreneurship

Free weeklong event kicks off today

CINCINNATI -- So far, the biggest challenge of putting together the first annual Techstars Startup Week Cincinnati has been to keep it from growing out of control.

"We wanted to collaborate with everyone across the city," said Bjorn "B.K." Simmons, community catalyst for Cincinnati startup advocate Cintrifuse. "We had to scale it back. We said for the first year, we just want to make it successful … to create an annual event people can look forward to."

The free, weeklong celebration of entrepreneurship begins Monday. Organizers had hoped to have at least 3,000 sign-ups for the nearly 100 events, with some of those sign-ups coming from the same people. With 10 days to go, they already had 3,600 signed up for at least one session, said Henry Molski, marketing manager for Cintrifuse, a local nonprofit that supports the local startup community and invests in startups.

Officials with Techstars, a Colorado-based, worldwide network designed to help entrepreneurs succeed, have told locals they can expect to get 90 percent of their signups in the week before the event, Molski said.

Organizers are expecting attendees to come from cities as far as 300 miles away, he said.

"It's really turned into a mega-destination of a thing," said Tom Savoca, the co-founder of the startup Urban Hive, who's one of many volunteers helping make the week happen. "It's really blown up into a crazy event."

Most of the local startup organizations and venture capital investors are helping, with seed-funder CincyTech acting as the lead sponsor. (Full disclosure: Cincinnati-based Scripps, which owns WCPO, is also a sponsor.)

Savoca is one of about 60 speakers scheduled to make presentations during the week. He'll be talking about how entrepreneurs can follow his example and use local resources to start a business from scratch. With 10 days to go, 30 people had already signed up to hear him, he said.

Other speakers include Raja Rajamannar, the chief marketing officer for Mastercard and a member of the board of directors of Cintrifuse. Prominent startup founders such as Rodney Williams of LISNR and Summer Crenshaw of Tilr are also scheduled to speak.

For the spiritual seekers in the crowd, Brian Tome, the pastor of Crossroads, the Tri-State's largest church, will talk about the parallels between faith and entrepreneurship. Crossroads holds an annual startup conference called Unpolished, and the church also created the OCEAN accelerator for startups.

Organizers chose this week because other things of interest to entrepreneurs are happening too, such as demo days for The Brandery business accelerator the Hillman Accelerator, both on Tuesday.

On Tuesday night, several local startup groups are partnering to present the StartupCincy Community Pitch night, where anyone can pitch a business idea and win $10,000.

That event is expected to draw people not part of the local startup community, Simmons said, which is one of the goals of the week.

Tom Savoca, co-founder of startup Urban Hive, is one of about 60 speakers expected at next week's Techstars Startup Week Cincinnati. (Photo provided)

Hosting a Techstars Startup Week Cincinnati seemed a logical progression for the StartupCincy community, Simmons said. Two years ago, the community invited the public to a one-day event called NewCo, sort of an open house for the startup community. Last November, StartupCincy hosted FounderCon, a three-day, private event that brought together graduates of Techstars accelerators and larger companies.

Techstars provides communities with a blueprint and a playbook to put on a startup week, then gets out of the way, Molski said. Last year, 46 cities in 16 countries held Techstars startup weeks.

Wendy Lea, CEO of Cintrifuse, became a member of the Techstars board of directors in January.

In a blog post about Startup Week, Lea called it a chance to create an "a la carte" tour through the Tri-State's entrepreneurial community. "You can come talk business, share code, make plans or just have a beer at happy hour," she said.

To register for events, visit Startup Week online.

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