Atumsoft strives and thrives in Cincinnati's work-hard, play-hard startup culture with The Brandery
Over-the-Rhine site where big ideas go to incubate
Matt Koesters, WCPO contributor
6:00 AM, Jul 21, 2016
6:34 AM, Jul 21, 2016
CINCINNATI -- It’s really a minor quibble.
But if Atumsoft CEO Olivier Lemaitre, 23, has one complaint about his experience as the leader of a startup with The Brandery, the renowned startup accelerator, it’s the meetings.
Between meetings with mentors, seminars and Brandery leadership, a lot of Lemaitre’s time is spent in conference rooms getting schooled by some of Cincinnati’s best business minds.
Atumsoft, a maker of products that will allow laboratory workers to monitor and control lab testing equipment from anywhere, was one of 10 companies out of more than 1,000 applicants that were named to The Brandery’s startup accelerator class of 2016.
Just over five weeks ago, the company relocated from the HCDC Business Center in Norwood to Union Hall in Over-the-Rhine. With access to more than 70 mentors, four Brandery-paid interns and free access to services for which most companies would pay thousands, the company is poised to rocket into the stratosphere.
It’s 1 p.m. on a Thursday, and about 20 Brandery startup employees have crammed into a small meeting room on the third floor of Union Hall. Marvin Abrinica, today’s seminar speaker and founder of ThrivEra, starts with a question. “Have they kind of put you through the ringer the last three or four weeks?”
“Everyone’s here to help you, and everyone’s friendly. No one’s going to judge you because everyone is in the same spot.” Olivier Lemaitre, Atumsoft CEO
Abrinica gets a mixed, muttered response from his audience, but he knows better. This is the third Brandery class to which he’s given this presentation, and he knows what they’re going through.
He also knows what awaits The Brandery’s companies at the end of the 16-week program: They must pitch their businesses to venture capitalists and angel investors. With Ohio facing a nearly $400 million capital gap, it’s a moment that could make or break them.
That’s why the former P&G brand manager’s message may just be the most important one the startups hear during the entire program.
Abrinica starts his presentation on storytelling by telling the story of his father leaving behind his family in the Philippines as a young man.
He touches on business rock stars like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, whose own stories contributed to the power of the brands they created. He explains the concept of the hero’s journey, the role of mentors and how mentorship can inform a business’s development of its brand.
When Lemaitre emerges from the seminar, it’s clear that he’s taken Abrinica’s message to heart. Upon returning to the open working space his company shares with
The Brandery’s nine other startup companies, Lemaitre tells Atumsoft chief technology officer Andrew Carl, 26, how impressed he was with Abrinica’s message. “I want to be a mentor for the labs,” Lemaitre said.
Carl and Lemaitre are the two full-time members of Atumsoft’s four-person team. The two used to work together in a small, cramped office with paper-thin walls. And though the company started with a bang by winning AngelHack Cincinnati 2015, fatigue had begun to set in.
Now, instead of working in a hermitage, the duo are feeding on the energy around them in “a room of the smartest people that you’ll ever meet in your life,” Lemaitre said.
Every day is different, and each presents its own challenges. On Tuesdays, Lemaitre attends “CEO Standup,” where each of the company CEOs share their wins, losses and plans for the week with their counterparts.
Immediately after that is a meeting fondly known as the “dumpster fire,” where the companies can share their ideas and get feedback from everyone. If an idea’s bad, the idea’s owner hears about it. But it’s nothing personal.
“Everyone’s here to help you, and everyone’s friendly,” Lemaitre said. “No one’s going to judge you because everyone is in the same spot.”
Mentors and speakers show up throughout the week to impart their knowledge and advice. Sometimes veteran entrepreneurs, including Brandery general manager Tony Alexander, hold office hours for one-on-one counseling. Every week is different.
Thursdays are when Alexander meets with each company. He makes sure to stay abreast of the developments in each outfit. He offers advice, encouragement, and the occasional kick in the pants, when needed.
When Lemaitre and Carl meet with him, Alexander tells the two he’s happy with the progress they’re making. Lemaitre tells him that some of the company’s prospects are having trouble understanding the benefit of their product, and Alexander suggests having a short video presentation made.
That shouldn’t be a problem. The Brandery has connected Atumsoft with one of Cincinnati’s largest marketing agencies, LPK, which has advised Lemaitre and Carl to rebrand the company. They’re both on board.
And then there’s the space. The Brandery provides plenty of meeting space for its companies, including several small conference rooms, a large, well-appointed kitchen, and a large meeting hall. Impromptu huddles take place throughout the day as team members from different companies work together to solve problems.
“The space is awesome,” Carl said, “and you get pushed so hard by Tony and the mentors. It’s work, but this is the most fun I’ve ever had at work.”
Work Hard, Play Hard
Atumsoft is one of two Cincinnati-based companies in this year’s Brandery class. The rest are out-of-towners who stay at a Brandery-owned apartment building down Vine Street. Brandery workers don’t spend a lot of time at their apartments, though; Lemaitre estimates that the average Brandery startup employee works about 100 hours per week, and workers are routinely in the building until 1 a.m. or later.
That’s why it’s important for The Brandery to offer its workers chances to have fun. The work space includes a lounge with a huge flatscreen television, right next to which is a refrigerator stocked with energy and soft drinks. Oh, and there’s a kegerator, too. Drinking on the job is not only allowed, but encouraged.
The Brandery also regularly arranges social engagements like cookouts and group outings to sporting events. This week’s gathering is at another business accelerator, a place that the Atumsoft team knows well: UpTech, in Covington.
As they walk from the front of the building to the back, Lemaitre, Carl and Atumsoft chief creative officer Fontana Carl stop at a small, dark, empty office.
“This is where it all started,” Andrew Carl said, his voice tinged with a mixture of amusement and reverence.
This is the birthplace of Atumsoft. When the team entered and won AngelHack Cincinnati last year, this is the room where they created their business plan and devised their demo. Just down the hall is where they presented their concept. They’ve come a long way since.
They pause for a moment to take it in, then they head out to UpTech’s backyard, where other startups and investors are enjoying hotdogs and beer. Though someday these may be rivals, for at least the next 10 weeks, Atumsoft considers the other startup companies their peers, up against similar odds and similar challenges.