Connections Matter: The 2014 Northeast Ohio Entrepreneur Expo

By April 18, 2014
Entrepreneurs receiving advice at the 2014 Northeast Ohio Entrepreneur Expo.

Entrepreneurs receiving advice at the 2014 Northeast Ohio Entrepreneur Expo.

There are no shortage of community-building events available to Greater Cleveland entrepreneurs. In fact, it feels like there are more and more every year—a very good sign indeed!—which resonate well beyond a defined area.

“The community of entrepreneurs is growing, the community of investors is growing and, quite frankly, we’re all starting to generate a lot more buzz, not just locally but outside of the region as well,” observes Tom Lix, the founder of Cleveland Whiskey, a local startup that’s found a novel way to accelerate the distillation of the spirit.

Lix was part of one of the biggest gatherings in recent times: The 2014 Northeast Ohio Entrepreneur Expo, which took place on April 7 at the Cleveland Museum of Art. At this event, over 100 local startups—from app makers to healthcare IT companies and green-minded cleantech businesses—showcased their ideas in an Entrepreneur Showcase. These same entrepreneurs then had an opportunity to participate in one-on-one office hours (or “Speed Advising,” if you will), where they could get customized advice from experts in the areas of media, law, investing and marketing, among other sectors. In addition, three college-founded companies were honored as part of the Charter One Foundation Student Business Idea Competition, winning cash prizes and free assistance.

To round out the day, four seasoned Midwest investors (including Mark Kvamme, a former partner at Sequoia Capital) gathered for a panel discussion, “Attracting Capital Between The Coasts.” This hour-long conversation touched on the challenges and opportunities companies in the middle of the country face when it comes to funding. Topics the investors covered include the advantages of launching startups in the Midwest; where they see the funding landscape going in the future; and what stakeholders and legislators can do to encourage more investment in the coming years.

The conversation had many highlights; among them, Kvamme especially praised the affordable cost of living in the Midwest as a real boon for companies who’ve raised early stage capital. “What’s really unique about the Midwest is you can actually make that money go a lot longer,” he says. “What’s going on in Silicon Valley, the average cost of an engineer right now is about $30,000 a month all in. You can get an engineer here for $8-10,000. And by the way, that engineer here can still buy a house versus sharing a one bedroom apartment with five of his or her friends. So you actually can have a quality of life and you can find world class talent.”

In the end, while the goal of the day was to help entrepreneurs, the advice-givers also relished the chance to give back. “[This was] the perfect chance for me to connect and support a big pool of startup companies all at once,” José Vasquez, CEO of Quéz Media Marketing explained to Cool Cleveland. “When you’re first starting out as an entrepreneur, sometimes one piece of well-timed advice is all it takes to find a new breakthrough.”

To learn more, listen to the “Attracting Capital Between The Coasts” podcast; see video of Expo exhibitors; or read about some of the trends and strategies The Plain Dealer observed at the Expo. You can also check out photos from the day to see the energy around entrepreneurship in Northeast Ohio.

Annie Zaleski

Annie Zaleski is part of the communications team at the Cleveland-based nonprofit venture development organization JumpStart Inc., which provides intensive business assistance and sometimes direct investment to high potential, seed-stage tech businesses to accelerate their growth. At JumpStart, she applies her decade-plus of professional writing and editing experience to thought leadership, blogging, press outreach, social media, client company support and other strategic initiatives. A graduate of Harvard University, she is especially passionate about blogging, social media, content management, branding and rock & roll.