CINCINNATI — At the age of 25, Abby McInturf can legitimately say she's an entrepreneur.
“It’s really cool. I never imagined that I’d be in this role two years out of college,” she said.
As a University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) graduate, McInturf thought about turning one of her class projects into a product. It's hardware that connects to software that can be used by physical therapists to remotely monitor how their patients move.
Like many first-time business owners, she didn't know how to get started. It was just an idea she pushed to the back burner.
“When I graduated, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was looking all over the country at jobs,” said McInturf. But, she learned about a fairly new program at UC's 1819 Innovation Hub called the Venture Lab. It's an accelerator program that gives students, faculty and alumni the opportunity to work with other business owners and experts to get their ideas off the ground.
“It’s really opened the entire opportunity space for this project,” said McInturf.
Since opening in 2018, UC’s Venture Lab has seen 16 startups take shape. Now, UC is extending the reach of the program to other universities in the region.
Cincinnati State, Xavier University, the University of Dayton and Wright State University are now able to utilize the Venture Lab in an effort to feed the pipeline of ingenuity in the region.
The application process will be even more competitive with an enlarged field. There are five cohorts each year, and each one meets for seven weeks. The budding businesses have the opportunity to access resources within the 1819 Innovation Hub and the local business community.
“The ecosystem that is created here with everything that’s going on in this building has been a great resource,” said McInturf. “I’m not an expert in physical therapy obviously, and so being able to talk to those experts and understand more about what they actually need has been pivotal in how we’ve positioned our product.”
The idea is to create an even more robust environment for startups in the region, according to David Adams, chief innovation officer at UC.
“We don’t pretend that all innovation is going to occur here, but we’ve got something that we believe works for higher ed and if you think about how a lot of startups happen, its based on intellectual property. Universities are great sources for that intellectual property,” said Adams. He added that students and faculty in the program have intellectual properties rights.
Adams said they don't want to let great ideas die, or let great talent leave the region.
For McInturf, seeing her startup called BANDconnect and her product come to life has been a highlight. She has been able to use the 3D printers in the maker space at the 1819 Innovation Hub. There's even a printer that can make medical grade equipment. McInturf said she's gotten much further in the process than many of her former classmates.
“As an industrial design student in school, I saw so many of my peers create products that could have been viable in the market, or at least had the opportunity to, but they didn’t know what to do with it,” she said.
Adams said the program is designed to help, even if all you have is a good idea.
“They don’t have to have all the business expertise or everything that’s going to be required to actually start these businesses,” Adams said. “We believe any entrepreneur here in Cincinnati or in this region that wants to bring an idea to life, we again as a University, I think we have a responsibility to try to help make that happen."
McInturf is already leveraging her proximity to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center and connecting with clinics at the hospital that are interested in her product. Her next steps are already planned.
“The first step is the outcomes trial and then moving forward from there, getting it as an actual medical device product in the market and used by physical therapists and clinicians,” she said.
Graduation for her cohort is set for Feb. 18.