CINCINNATI - Because its fifth-annual FounderCon event set a business-networking record for Techstars LLC, the Colorado-based startup accelerator is exploring a return trip to Cincinnati for an encore business-development day.
“The corporate support has been fantastic,” said Dave Drach, vice president of corporate strategy for Techstars, as he wrapped up the three-day founder’s conference in Cincinnati on Wednesday.
The event featured 1,100 meetings between 240 startups and 70 corporations including Cincinnati-based Kroger, Procter & Gamble, Ohio National Life Insurance and Standard Textile.
Just like past events in Boston, Austin, Chicago and Boulder, this year’s FounderCon brought startups from all over the country to meet with potential investors one day and potential customers the next.
But Cincinnati’s business-development day was FounderCon’s busiest ever, with 60 percent more corporations attending than last year. Drach said that’s partly because Cincinnati is closer to the east coast, prompting more companies to attend. But it’s also due to Cincinnati’s strength as a host city.
“We had very strong participation from the corporations that are engaged in the startup community here,” Drach said. “I would not be surprised if we get another BizDev day here because of the density of the brands and the kind of corporations we had here.”
Why they came
P&G Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard welcomed the group Monday with a speech that explained why his company sponsored and participated in the event:
“Technology is changing everything. It changes how consumers communicate, interact with brands, consume media and shop. As a result, it changes our products and packaging, how we reach consumers with media and advertising, how we sell and supply, and how we innovate and operate. Technology also helps us solve problems in ways never possible before and open new opportunities to be realized at an amazing pace.”
Convey founder Rob Taylor said it was definitely worth the trip from Texas, where his Austin-based e-commerce startup is trying to help retailers do a better job of satisfying online shoppers with software that helps consumers track orders and retailers solve and prevent shipping problems.
Taylor met with Kroger, Clorox and P&G on Wednesday – along with Wal-Mart, Target and the grocery-delivery service Instacart.
“I don’t know if I won any contracts,” he said. “But I certainly am going to get some encouraging follow-ups from these meetings.”
Convey has so far raised $6.9 million from Techstars Ventures and three other venture-capital firms to develop its concept. Taylor is a serial entrepreneur whose previous startups include the automotive pricing web site TrueCar and Black Locus, a software company acquired by Home Depot in 2012.
Taylor found Cincinnati to be welcoming and said its venues – including Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ball Park and several spots in Over-the-Rhine – were great spots for mingling. Cincinnati’s reputation for consumer-marketing expertise is part of what drew him here.
“One thing that’s happening with consumer-product companies is that they’re beginning to think about their direct-to-consumer strategy,” Taylor said. “A company like P&G has distributed almost exclusively through other people’s channels and so e-commerce is just emerging for them.”
But if big players like Amazon and Wal-Mart grow too large, even giants like P&G might find itself with less leverage on pricing, new-product launches and marketing strategies. Over time, Taylor expects that will cause consumer-product companies to deliver directly to consumers.
“Everyone wants to create that one-to-one relationship with customers,” he said. “If you’re delivering through someone else in today’s world, it could be sub-optimal.”
While he considers P&G a long-term prospect, Taylor thinks Kroger might benefit from Convey’s software in its Vitacost division, which offers nationwide home delivery of health foods and nutritional supplements.
“Our offering is more appropriate for large marketplace sellers as well as large general merchandise omnichannel retailers,” Taylor said. “Kroger’s a little bit adjacent to that. I think they’re just starting to think about last-mile customer delivery. But there certainly is a potential to work with that over time.”
Whether he ends up doing business with Cincinnati companies or not, Taylor was happy he made the trip.
“It was great,” he said. “These founder conferences are quite productive at bringing people together.”