Dhani Jones and UC plot big

Posted at 7:00 AM, Nov 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-29 07:00:58-05

CINCINNATI – Dhani Jones and colleagues plan to open an off-campus dormitory/brainstorming hub by next fall dedicated to University of Cincinnati students pursuing world-changing business ventures.

As first reported by WCPO, Jones, a former Bengal and current entrepreneur, approached UC Provost Beverly Davenport a year ago about creating an entrepreneur house near UC's main campus. The idea is to create a fraternity of sorts that includes men and women from all walks of life devoted solely to developing marketable ideas for new products and services.

Students would collaborate and brainstorm on each other's projects, and various mentors and successful business people would hold court at seminars and workshops hosted by the house. 

Since his initial meeting with Davenport and a subsequent endorsement of the project by UC President Santa Ono, Jones has been busy recruiting students, refining the operation plan and collaborating with business incubators including The Brandery and Cintrifuse to get the house up and running.

Five students from as far away as India and as close as Cincinnati have been selected from a large field of applicants, and Jones plans to have them in a house by the start of the 2016-17 school year.

"We have students from different places, different countries and backgrounds," Jones said. "It's a mix of students that make it dynamic. We didn't want a homogeneous group."

The Entrepreneur House project is missing a fairly big component: a house.

Davenport said UC is busy on so many major capital projects – a new law school, a new business school, and others – that finding a spot for Jones' venture has not risen to the top of the queue.

But she hasn't lost her enthusiasm for it.


UC Provost Beverly Davenport


"It's such a great idea," Davenport said.

For his part, Jones isn't worried about finding the physical space just yet.

"Finding the right property is one thing," he said. "But finding the right people is the most important component." 

With the students in place and relationships with successful incubators established, he is confident that the project will move forward successfully.

Jones already has made his vision a reality at the University of Michigan, his alma mater, where he and fellow investors bought and renovated an off-campus house called Shift Creator Space that four students and an adviser occupy.


Students brainstorm about their ventures at Shift Creator Space off campus at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Photo courtesy of Shift Creator Space


More than 40 other entrepreneurs out of 300 applicants won access to the house, where they meet with venture capitalists and veteran entrepreneurs and participate in workshops and field trips to see successful ventures in action.

Ventures that the young Michigan entrepreneurs are pursuing include:
• Kandid, a spontaneous photo sharing app that makes it easy for groups to stay in touch.
• An indoor positioning system integrated with armbands to let users control their environment easily, especially in cases where one's hands aren't free.
• Chicago Girls in Computing, which aims to provide a friendly environment for high school girls who are interested in being more involved with technology.

He expects the house to eventually benefit UC through grateful and successful alumni.

"If you have a multibillion dollar business going public, all you want is for them to say we couldn't have done it without President Ono and Provost Davenport," Jones said in November 2014.

A year later, he's bullish on the project.

"It's just exciting," Jones said. "I'd encourage those in the community to reach out to me."