MASON, Ohio – Lab coats, safety glasses, expensive looking machines: An Assurex laboratory differs little from the image the word “laboratory” evokes.
It’s your typical lab, save for one thing: It’s in the basement of the Mason Municipal Center.
On Thursday, the Greater Cincinnati region celebrated NewCo Cincinnati, a showcase of up-and-coming businesses and startups that are making a difference. Several of those companies, including Mason-based Assurex Health and ConnXus, opened their doors and shared their stories with visitors as part of the NewCo festivities.
Despite wildly different missions, the two companies have plenty in common: Both were founded in Mason, and CincyTech, a public-private seed investor focused on technology companies in southwest Ohio, counts both among its portfolio of companies.
Today, both occupy space discovered with the assistance of Mason’s municipal economic development team, which has taken an unconventional, hands-on approach toward site selection and business cultivation.
Founded in 2006, Assurex Health’s signature service is GeneSight, which helps doctors individualize prescriptions by using patient DNA to identify which medications may or may not work for a given patient.
Company literature points to multiple clinical studies that show GeneSight patients are twice as likely to get on the right medication, eliminating a lot of trial-and-error and saving both time and money for patients and doctors alike. The company has become the beacon Mason points to when it’s recruiting other bioscience-geared businesses to the city.
“It’s exciting for us,” said Jeff Borcherding, the company’s vice president of marketing. “Being part of Mason in such an integrated way is good for us.”
That includes the municipal center’s basement.
When the company moved in to what the city once used as a storage area, they found old traffic lights. The company’s test result form uses the same red-yellow-green color scheme to show what drugs will and won’t work for patients, and now traffic lights are found at each Assurex Health facility.
“This is what entrepreneurs do, right?” said Michele Blair, the city’s economic development director. “You just brainstorm, and some of the ideas stick, some of them don’t, and some of them sound like crazy ideas. But we really thought we had something here.”
It turned out to be a win-win. Since 2010, Assurex Health has grown exponentially; while it only had nine full-time employees in 2010, it now counts more than 480 among its ranks. In the six-month period after Assurex Health located to Mason’s municipal and community centers, it doubled its workforce.
With its focus on information technology and biosciences, Mason’s role in the region as a business powerhouse is gaining momentum. In 2015, 2,100 new jobs and about $500 million in new investment were announced in the city, 80 percent of which were in the bioscience sector.
“I would say our key strategy right now is growing our bioscience ecosystem,” Blair said, “and Assurex Health is absolutely at the epicenter.”
ConnXus, a software-as-a-service company that helps Fortune 2000 companies with supplier diversity initiatives, now calls the Mason Tech Elevator home. Thanks to a three-way partnership between the building’s owner, the business and the city, ConnXus has the space it needs to grow for at least the next two years, said Rod Robinson, ConnXus’ founder and CEO.
Robinson used to help Cincinnati Bell with supplier diversity when he worked in procurement for them. He saw that many companies had the same problem, and he set off on his own to work on a solution. Today, ConnXus has 47 major clients, a database of about 1.6 million suppliers, and 25 employees.
Those big customers – which include Coke, Facebook and McDonalds, to name a few — are relying on ConnXus to ensure they’re engaging a diverse mix of women-, minority- and veteran-owned vendors. It’s not just about perception, either; when doing business with the government, supplier diversity is a requirement.
But that’s just one end of it for Robinson.
“At the end of the day, ConnXus is really about helping small businesses grow,” Robinson said.
Though the company just wrapped up a $5 million Series A round of venture capital financing, Robinson still approaches his business with a startup mindset. With the data his company has at its command, Robinson can envision eventually offering more services and targeting new market segments.
“When you stop innovating, especially as a young company, you die,” Robinson said.
The Mason Tech Elevator was once the headquarters of a check-cashing business. How things have changed.
“I feel like since 2010, we’ve witnessed a renaissance from a startup standpoint,” Blair said. “It just takes persistence.”