CC018: building the front door to #StartupCincy // a Coffee Chat with Eric Weissman (Cintrifuse) (Live from Cincinnati Podcast Festival 2018)

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Eric Weissman 0:00
We’ve got about, I don’t know, 15 to 18 different accelerators and incubators in town, not just the brand three, we’ve got four universities, not just UC, but there’s Xavier in Miami, and then k you and Thomas Moore and Mount St. Joe. So when we put that brand out there and started to do that assessment of how many sources of funds or how many co working spaces Did you notice 140 big coaches in Cincinnati that have an appetite for innovation through technology, and then smack this logo right in the middle of it of startup Cincy and said, You’re all part of this. It really woke people up.

Jay Clouse 0:35
The startup investment landscape is changing. and world class companies are being built outside of Silicon Valley. We find them, talk with them and discuss the upside of investing in them.

Welcome to upside.

Hello, hello. Hello, and welcome to the upside podcast, the first podcast finding upside outside of Silicon Valley. I’m Jay Clouse and I’m accompanied by my co host, Mr. Over the Rhine himself, Eric Hornung,

Eric Hornung 1:15
That’s right man, Over the Rhine, where I live here in Cincinnati. It is one of the most unique neighborhoods, I would say the United States. I think you got something similar in New York, you got something similar in San Francisco, and then you got Over the Rhine here in Cincinnati.

Jay Clouse 1:31
For the uninitiated, what is the Rhine? And how are you over it?

Eric Hornung 1:35
I don’t think the name Actually, I don’t know the history of the name. To be honest. The Rhine River is I believe in Germany, but it is not in Cincinnati. There is no rhyme to go over in Cincinnati. I probably should know the history of this name because it is a unique name.

Jay Clouse 1:52
Do you know the history of the area? You said it was a unique area? What can you tell us about why it’s unique

Eric Hornung 1:57
It is it was settled by Germans in the 1800s. In 1850, I believe since it was the sixth largest city in the nation had about 150,000 people. Today downtown Cincinnati has somewhere in the 300,000 range. But OCR, which is the shorthand for over the Rhine, was created in the tenement housing style, which was popular in Germany. So most of the buildings in over the Rhine are from the late 1800s, which is really cool. their unique style. They have the flare of the 1800s and when they’re redone and revitalized, because this area went through some troubles. They are absolutely beautiful.

Jay Clouse 2:40
Yeah, some troubles I forget who was telling me the story recently, of driving actually, I think it was literally an Uber driver at South by Southwest where you in the car when he was telling a story. He would tell a story of growing up in Louisville are driving a livable and passing through over the Rhine and having to get a police escort out of over the Rhine because it was maybe the most dangerous area in the country at the time.

Eric Hornung 3:04
Yeah, I think it was the most dangerous neighborhood the United States like three years in a row about a decade ago.

Jay Clouse 3:12
And you said you know what, that’s where me and friend of the podcast Colleen are going to live. And for the podcast, Hank.

Eric Hornung 3:17
Yeah, all three of us down there and over the Rhine. I love the area, there’s so much opportunity in that area. There’s so much that’s undeveloped. There’s so much that can be beautiful. And there’s a lot of social issues that come along with that. But there’s such a rich culture there. There are tunnels that connect a lot of the older buildings as well, because when prohibition hit, you had all of the bootlegging that would come through Chicago and into New York would go through Cincinnati, a lot of the breweries were here. The guy who is The Great Gatsby is based on actually is from Cincinnati, and all of the beer that he brewed, and liquor that he bootleg kind of made what is called price Hill, a very hot destination for very expensive houses. So there’s there’s just a really deep history here. And if you ever do come to Cincinnati, I haven’t done it yet. But I recommend checking out the brewery tour which goes through some of the caves and tunnels and talks a little bit more about this.

Jay Clouse 4:17
Well, I went down to Cincinnati and stayed with you and over the Rhine back in November, November 1 2018. And we took part in Cincinnati’s first ever podcast festival. It’s great because we only had to walk across Washington Park, which is maybe you know, point one miles just to get to the podcast festival event at Memorial Hall. Very easy walk. We recorded this interview with Eric Weissman, who’s the Vice President of communications and community and economic inclusion at Cintrifuse. We had a really great conversation we thought about maybe making it a part two never really got around to it. And so we’re releasing the conversation as it was. While it’s still close to the time of recording. It Eric was part of the founding team at Cintrifuse. He was responsible for establishing the strategy messaging, branding and positioning for the effort to catalyze growth through attracting and retaining startups. He at Cintrifuse leads the team credited with igniting the Startup Cincy effort, they evolved it from just a social media hashtag to a movement and now have a reputable community recognized from coast to coast.

Eric Hornung 5:21
Right? They were recognized by ink magazine as the best way to build a startup community. union hall, which is where Cintrifuse is headquartered is legitimately you don’t get to use this phrase often Jay so be prepared is legitimately a stone’s throw away from my apartment. I can throw a stone and hit union hall. I wouldn’t do that because it’s vandalism, but I could do it.

Jay Clouse 5:43
Do you have to stretch like are you doing any long toss beforehand?

Eric Hornung 5:46
No, really? I mean, legitimately it’s across the street. I could cold throw, I might even be able to hit it left handed. Wow.

Jay Clouse 5:55
Well, I really enjoyed this conversation. I wish we had a little bit more time. But that’s the that’s the reality of doing live events. Sometimes you can’t go over like you would regularly go over so please enjoy this interview with Eric Weissman of interviews.

Welcome Cincy podcast festival.

Eric Hornung 6:17
Man Eric, we are feeling the love here. You feelin the love?

Eric Weissman 6:20
I am.

Eric Hornung 6:21
Yeah, always feeling the love here in Cincinnati at the Cincinnati podcast festival. Eric, we have a quick episode today. So can we get on a rocket ship and take the audience through your kind of career starting when you left Ohio State and getting you to send your views?

Eric Weissman 6:39
Sure. So my backgrounds really been in corporate marketing. Left Ohio State took a job with Fifth Third Bank here in town on the retail side of things kind of on the management track of the retail operations and the banking centers and the bank bars the branches inside of Kroger’s. But I always wanted to be I always wanted to work for the Walt Disney Company. So the timing was right for me and my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife and the mother of my children to kind of pick up sticks and go to Orlando, things were happening there, the animal kingdom was just getting built, Downtown Disney Disney’s west side and the cruise line was just starting off, ended up with Disney event services for a little bit of time the 25th anniversary was happening where they painted the castle like a big cake, six foot gumdrops etc. have to remember one a rocket ship here I can barely introduce myself and

Jay Clouse 7:26
you don’t have to talk like a rocket ship, you can just give us the quick version through what was probably a decade or two.

Eric Hornung 7:32
It can be more of an airplane, I guess.

Eric Weissman 7:34
Ended up a Disney Cruise Line right when the brand was getting established. So all of this, you know, kind of new stuff for this gigantic retail and entertainment conglomerate was going to go into the cruise business. So helped establish the brand. They’re both on the land and sea packages with the resorts that were in the in the disease, Magic Kingdom and around that area. But, you know, my wife and I were both from the Midwest, Central Florida is a great thing place to visit. It’s a very transient, there’s no sense of community. So we wanted to move back. So I ended up back with Fifth Third Bank now in retail marketing. So the retail experience of being down there, you know, working at the bank previously, and now the marketing experience of working at The Walt Disney Company was there for about seven and a half years left to join a vendor of mine that was a production company that wanted to get out of the commodity business of how much is this microphone cost? And why is your speaker you know, a nickel more nickel less than this person ended up running Creative Services for that organization that taught me about small business about getting out there. And if you wanted to eat, you had to go find the beast kill it to hunt down skin it, cook it, bring it back to the villagers, but you had to you know, the customers weren’t coming in unless you went out to get them. So that got me into that side of the world, left that company and joined a serial entrepreneur, one of the 17 companies that he started. And that got me into this kind of the startup world. It was through somebody that I was networking with. So this was about probably six and a half years ago now. And then they said, you know, have you heard of Cintrifuse? I was like, No, no, I’m a much more conservative than that. And I’m not a startup guy was like, man, I think this is something that you need to talk about. Because you know you’ve got a foot in both worlds. On one side of that, you know, I’m I’m a campaign driven, big budgets, but also big beacons that we’re driving towards. I don’t get distracted by the tin foil in the tree, you know, I’m keeping things moving. But at the same stretch on that small business, and that that startup side, I don’t lose my cool when something changes. And I’m used to that dynamism and that that organic nature of just making things happen. So I’ve been with Cintrifuse for a little over five years, some into my sixth year now with the organization, part of the founding team. I like to say that I was there, we were making stuff up, and we kind of still are making things up. But it’s been it’s been a blast.

Jay Clouse 9:47
And so six years, you’re talking probably about 2012-2013 since Cintrifuse got started?

Eric Weissman 9:52
Yeah. That’s when sort of the seeds of Cintrifuse are planted products seven years ago, but it was the organization came to Jay about five and a half years ago.

Jay Clouse 10:01
I would love to hear what that V1 vision of Cintrifuse was. And then catch us up to today.

Eric Weissman 10:07
Sure at the end of the end of the day Cintrifuse is a economic development engine, we want people to stay and move to the Greater Cincinnati region. Full stop. Now how are we going to do that? Right? It’s not going to be we have partners, we have already the Regional Economic Development Initiative, we have the chamber, we have a bunch of different partners that we look for, to assist in that we’re talking about large manufacturing jobs, call centers, things like that. But who’s looking for those gazelles, those small companies that are high growth, which means there’s nowhere but up to go and high potential. So Cintrifuse was formed to kind of add to that mix, as most people know, you know, we were born from the brains of big Ko’s. So these giant corporations, they all get together, there’s a group called the Cincinnati business committee or the CBC. And they are what I refer to them as a horizon looking organization. They’re looking out there for what should Cincinnati be doing? Where should we be headed, and what icebergs are out there that we should avoid. And one of those two compelling things happened one Chiquita moved out to we had another fortune 500 company here, they move to somewhere in North or South Carolina, I’ve really lost track now. But they left for tax incentives, right, they left for a reason to somebody else dangled something out there, and they said, you know, we’ll, we’ll go there. So the CBC realized, you know, target isn’t going to come from Minneapolis to relocate those those days of trying to pursue those, those gigantic elephants are maybe past us, the second compelling event was that delta removed the hub status of the airport. So now, how does a region like ours grow? You know, how do we remain relevant or kind of landlocked, we’re here in the middle of the country. And we got to do things a little bit differently. So the CBC commissioned the McKinsey group, to do a study about our ecosystem, you know, pay them a hefty sum to kind of come back and tell us that our baby was ugly. But that’s what you know, we have to do. So the McKinsey study, you know, came up with about seven different things that we should be doing. And I’ll boil those down to just three, one for a city our size, we should be getting more venture capital from the outside, if you want to grow and you want to remain relevant, you can’t keep asking the same five people for money, you have to be compelling to outside of the 275 loop. The second thing is, you know, there’s a lot of jewels going on in the ecosystem. There’s an accelerator here and a seed stage investor here and an incubator here. But there’s, there’s nobody conducting the orchestra, everybody’s kind of playing their own instruments and squeaking and maybe somebody making a good sound. But you know, nobody’s conducting this whole orchestra. And then the third thing is there’s no belly button. There’s no one place that I can go in the ecosystem to get plugged in. Where do I go, if I’m out of town, and I want to see some cool startups or I want to hold some meetings in Chicago, it’s 1871. For instance, in Austin, it’s the capital factory in Durham. It’s the American Dream ground, so we needed to have that belly button. So working backwards, we formed union hall. So 38,000 square feet of space, just right around the block here and over the Rhine, four floors above ground two floors below ground, there’s a basement and a sub basement. It’s It’s It’s like Hogwarts. The building just keeps getting bigger as you as you go in it. So that’s our hub, that’s our clubhouse, the treehouse for innovation in and around the city. The second thing was to be that that lifeguard in the pool of the innovation that’s happening. So there was a hashtag that had just been kind of used as shorthand for the community to kind of tag each other on things and it was hashtag startup Cincy. So that was a way that people were communicating and talking to each other. But it wasn’t a brand yet. You know, there was a dynamic that if you weren’t a graduate of one of the accelerators here in town, you weren’t a startup in Cincinnati. If you didn’t have money in you from one of the leading you weren’t a startup in Cincinnati, so we kind of put the paddles on that brand woke it up, gave it a new life and made everybody a part of this. So it became this lowest common denominator in the best sense that everybody belongs to this thing called Startup Cincy.

Jay Clouse 14:09
And how active was the Startup Cincy flag, we’ll call it, when you guys started putting attention into it and who was using it?

Eric Weissman 14:18
So this startup activity in Cincinnati has been going on for decades, since the tech Main Street ventures, you know, all of those things have. There was even a movement called the digital Rhine, which was, you know, 20 years prior to what we founded here on Vine Street. So it’s just happening two blocks over. In fact, our new CEO at Cintrifuse who just started last Thursday, Pete Blackshaw, he founded a company called planet feedback and was one of the first ones that that moved into that that OCR area. So to have that kind of come full circle this startup since he got to come back in startups, since he was not the first thing, it just needed to be woken up and need to be polished off a little bit. Since the the formation of the brand and the brand new. I mean, ocean accelerator has come into the picture Hilleman accelerator so we’ve got about, I don’t know, 15 to 18, different accelerators and incubators in town, not just the brand re, we’ve got four universities, not just UC, but there’s Xavier in Miami, and then k you and Thomas Moore and Mount St. Joe. So when we put that brand out there and started to do that assessment of how many sources of funds or how many co working spaces Did you know there’s 140 big codes in Cincinnati that have an appetite for innovation through technology. And then smack this logo right in the middle of it of startups in scenes. And you’re all part of this, it really woke people up and felt that they could be a part of this ecosystem, that they are a part of this ecosystem. So whether you want to ever found a company, whether you want to work for a startup, whether you want to invest in a startup, whether you’re a corporation that just wants to work with startups, whether you’re just a fan, this clapping for the parade on the side of the street, and you want your ecosystem to be relevant. You’re part of Startup Cincy.

Jay Clouse 16:06
I know Eric wants to jump in here. And I’m sorry, I have to ask one more question on this. But right away when you guys started putting that brand together, that wasn’t a Cintrifuse forward thing from the beginning. Know, what do you mean? Like, like, it wasn’t, hey, we’re Cintrifuse and startup Cincy is for you, it was a thing.

Eric Weissman 16:25
And we just knew that as our mission was to draw attention to the Cincinnati region, there needed to be there there, people aren’t going to come from Minneapolis and be the first entrepreneur first time they needed to see themselves. And a lot of times they didn’t want to go through an accelerator, they weren’t ready to give up that equity. They didn’t want to give up that that capital and they just didn’t want to have that they didn’t have the time, they were already rolling. So if the only front door to the ecosystem is an accelerator, you know, you got to think about that. Thank God for the accelerators because they offer something, you know, if they’re the front, it’s the front door to the ecosystem. They’re kind of that welcome mat of saying, No, we want we’ve got something for you, whether that’s literally dollars, or introductions to mentors, or etc. So the accelerators are critical part of it, but they can’t carry that whole story. So by creating this brand, we allow everybody to stay in their swim lanes, and let the community you know, kind of be absorbed by everyone.

Eric Hornung 17:22
So I want to go back to kind of the early days for a second you get this report from McKinsey, it says there’s seven pillars. Here’s why your baby’s ugly. How do we here’s how here’s the seven things you can do to make it better. You’re young, how do you start? Did you start with this startup Cincy idea? Or did you? What was the first thing you did? And can you take take us into the weeds?

Eric Weissman 17:40
Yeah, so the first thing if I go back to three things that we didn’t have a belly button, we didn’t have a conductor of the orchestra, and we didn’t have outside capital. So we created a fund. And it’s a fund of funds. So it sounds like a funny name. But but we don’t invest directly in startups. We invest in funds that invest in startups. So we copied this off of the Renaissance fund in and Arbor, Michigan, and they have a really enviable regional economic multiplier. So for every dollar that leaves Michigan 17, I think it’s currently $17 comes back in. So that’s pretty impressive and counterintuitive, right? So when we go to the funders here in town to say, we’ve got this idea, you know, here’s how we’re going to help Stoke economic development in Cincinnati by spending money on VCs on the coast, like when this does not make any sense. But it does. Because now when you’ve got this, this, you know, right now, we’ve got about a little under 100 million dollars in assets under man assets under management between the two funds that we have, because we’ve got that honeypot sitting next to us, we’ve got a line of suitors that goes out the door and around the corner, they want to date our daughter. So now they’re coming to Cincinnati, they know where Ohio is on a map, which is a thing they don’t know, they know how to spell Cincinnati. They know that, you know, our airport is in Kentucky, and you have to know some of the quirks and I know we’ve got a very engaged corporate ecosystem here. And it’s not just interviews, then they come to union hall back wow, this is really impressive, because I didn’t know that this was here. But one of my goals is to really you know, put the put the hammer down on that. And I want startup Cincy to be known as the most connected, and the most inclusive startup ecosystem in the country, the most connected and the most inclusive ecosystem in the country, our infrastructure, if you think about it, you know how, when you walked across the street to get here, but let’s see, we’re going to, you know, on a trip, the infrastructure of you being able to know how to do that you know how to you I’m going to, I’m going to leave my driveway, I’m going to take a smaller road, go to a bigger road, that roads going to lead me to the airport, I have already bought my ticket, I get on a plane, then I do the reverse thing. You know how to get places. But you’re if you’re an entrepreneur, you don’t know how to get places. It’s a mystery, that you go back to I know what an accelerator is. But I don’t think I want to do that. I don’t know if I have an idea. But I really want to work for you know, an entrepreneur, maybe I am an entrepreneur, you know, we’ve got a demon to find that word here in Cincinnati, which is kind of become a code word I’m an entrepreneur is code word for I can’t hold a job. You know, that’s not that’s not fair. That’s not that’s not accurate. So we want to, you know, help make it easier for people to realize that entrepreneurship is a viable career option.

Eric Hornung 20:16
And how does it you you’re very involved with Cincinnati and you understand it, and you’re doing this benchmarking against other cities, obviously, tell by Ann Arbor, you said Renaissance fun. How does Cincinnati compare today to some of the other ecosystems out there? What are the strengths, the relative strengths and maybe some weaknesses?

Eric Weissman 20:35
So I think it was about a month ago. So the context of this list that we found ourselves on, which I’m very proud of, it’s a top 10 List of rising hubs, startup hubs in the United States. And I think we were number six, Columbus, you know, 99 miles away from us is number one, were the only state Ohio is the only state with two cities on that list. It’s a list compiled by Forbes but with information from Steve Case and his group, the rise of the rest. So the rise of the rest is it’s a the thesis is are the facts are that 75% of all venture capital dollars in America. 75% go to three states, New York, Massachusetts, and California 75%. The rest of us fighting over the last 25%. So Steve Case knew that wasn’t sustainable equation. So he and his team wrapped a big bus, they go on these road trips, they’ve done seven of them. Now Cincinnati was on the first road trip stop number two, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Detroit, I think Nashville was next. So that really was a wake up call for me and some other folks here in the ecosystem to say we’re not alone. You know, those first few months, the first year at Cintrifuse. I felt like no one else understands what we’re trying to do here because we’re not typical economic development. We didn’t have the job incentives. Well, we’ve got incentives for your awesome Mr. Mrs. startup is interested in this, how many people do I have to hire 1500 over three, like, Whoa, I can’t do that. I don’t even have the space requirements that we need. But then getting involved with organizations like Rise of the rest, like TechStars, the Kauffman Foundation, etc, etc. Now you realize that you’re not alone, that there are other people that that are out there doing the same things that you’re doing some better some you can help along the ways. I’ve learned from those from those ecosystems. I keep my eye on several Minnesota is admirable. I think they have more fortune 500 words per capita than us. That’s an argument. There’s an asterisk there because I think there’s some you know, per capita equations that go on them algebra that I don’t some gerrymandering and semantics, and they’re cool companies, man, Best Buy’s up there, etc. So they’ve really got their act together. I really like Minnesota, and some of the people that run that, you know, I try to stay in touch with Indianapolis is another one, they don’t have a central hub. Actually, none of these have a central hub that things spin around. So their stories that are told as derivatives of everyone else, you kind of have to put it everybody in a room and say, here’s what India is doing. Here’s what Minnesota or Minneapolis is doing. But kind of the epicenter of all this is Kansas City. So Kansas City at its central core is the Kauffman Foundation. So the Kauffman Foundation has been doing this for decades, and they’ve got Scrooge McDuck money. You know, they’ve just got billions and billions of dollars to invest in entrepreneurs. And they’ve been doing it for years. And despite this, you know, sprinkling 50,000 hundred thousand grants here in their first time business starts are at a 40 year low in the United States. 40 year low hasn’t been this bad and 40 years. So the Kauffman Foundation kind of scratching his head, like what do we do the you know, the usual stuff isn’t working. But they’ve posited that what if we focus on ecosystem building? You know, the old saw used to be Brad Feld book, first book on startup communities was you build entrepreneur communities around entrepreneurs? Nothing wrong with that, that does work. But there’s another way? And what if we could, you know, from Frankenstein an ecosystem together? What if we could, you know, kind of cobble these things together and really, you know, give that shot of adrenaline in the heart that we don’t want to wait that long until we do have a unicorn? Until we do have covered my meds up in Columbus, you know, we don’t want to wait for that. So how do we get all the bits and pieces together? And I think you see that in Cincinnati of trying to be collaborative, but the Kauffman Foundation is realizing that entrepreneurs need communities, communities need ecosystems, ecosystems need builders, an ecosystem building needs to be a discipline, it needs to be a professional course that you could follow.

Jay Clouse 24:39
Have you read the rain forest? The book?

Eric Weissman 24:41
Yes. What do you think about Don’t make me quote it though? I don’t know what happened on page 50.

Jay Clouse 24:45
Are you laying out? Are you suggesting essentially what the rain forest is saying,

Eric Weissman 24:48
Victor from?

Jay Clouse 24:49
from San Francisco.

Eric Weissman 24:50
Yeah, I think it was, well, maybe we’re thinking about a different book. But the one there was a Kauffman Foundation. I forget his title. But I think that he either contributed to that or was, we’re behind that. But that ecosystem mentality of a rain forest of saying, you know, this is all kind of a symbiotic relationship here, we need each other. It can’t just be an isolation, which is where you come from startup communities, of saying somebody who was able to navigate through this gets all their friends together, who helped them through this journey, and say, Let’s do this again. Let’s do this. Again, for more people besides me, because this was a blast. And I liked it. We’re just kind of getting those together before that.

Jay Clouse 25:27
This idea of the central hub you’re talking about. We just had an episode where we talked to Ali Felix in Tampa Bay, and they’re building an innovation hub there. How do you practically as a city build a central hub? Is that the right thing to do when you have people come with great intention, say this is gonna be a central hub. And then new people come around and they say, you know, what, you know, we need a central hub. And now you have two central hubs.

Eric Weissman 25:49
What you start off with is is a coalition of the willing, you need to get people in the same room that say, what do we want to happen? We want more jobs, okay, what kind of jobs full time part time high tech skilled worker, what are we talking about here? What is what are the two or three things that we want to move forward? So from a Cintrifuse standpoint, when we came in and said, We want to get more capital from the outside, and we want to you know, increase the the amount of jobs, then you get people on board. And when we put this the solidification of the the branding of startup Cincy to kind of relieve everyone of, you know, we’ve got a community here, and you’re a part of it. So now that we all understand that we’ll get there faster, we can all execute faster with this wind behind us. Instead of feeling like Well, I’m off in this area, and I’m doing tech transfer at the university. Well, I’m downtown and I’m running a co working space like no, you actually are. So that coalition of the willing comes to say we’re all actually in this together. So we’re all in our own separate, you know, have our own separate identity and our own swim lane. But we’re all rowing in that same direction. And if you’re not, you know, you’re rowing in the same direction, just three feet away from the shore and just keep banging into the shore. You know, what if we just go for a lighthouse that’s out, there are some you know Northstar metaphor that we reach to. So that’s what you need. First is that coalition of the willing with some sort of goalposts, it’s at the end, and then everybody agrees to that. And then you kind of go back to your regularly scheduled program and keep running your accelerator, keep running your co working space.

Eric Hornung 27:22
It sounds like the ugly baby that we started the story with has grown into an adolescent of sorts. But if we paid McKinsey, a hefty sum today, what would they come back with as the pillars on their executive summary that Cincinnati has to fix going forward?

Eric Weissman 27:37
So the irony of that is that we do have my Cintrifuse colleagues ran into the person that did the McKinsey research and kind of work this through. And she was shocked that you know, when you’re from Cintrifuse, are you that plays it? Did you guys actually do what we asked? You know, so we just took that as a strategic framework. And Wendy Lee, who is our real recently departed CEO, and team, you know, got together. So what are we going to do? How are we going to knock this stuff down? You know, I think that they would come back, and we’re on the right track talent is something that no one has figured out. Diversity and Inclusion is a challenge for every ecosystem. But I’m proud of the strides that we’re making here, not just with Cintrifuse, but with, you know, all of the ecosystem players and partners. So to find out, you know, I think I think we still need more of everything. You know, from a zero sum standpoint, this is not a zero sum game, we need more CO working spaces. So when we have some, you know, co working spaces opening up down the street from OCR, and people come to me and like, Oh, are you worried that this is going to like, No, no, we need more. And we need more Angel groups, we need more funds. We need more entrepreneurs, we need more people wanting to be entrepreneurs. So I don’t know exactly. You know, how they would quantify that. But when when Steve Case came back was four years ago, and he came and they came back last summer. And somebody you know, a question from the audience of you know, Steve, you’ve been around to 30 different ecosystem systems were to Cincinnati rank, and it didn’t take him long to answer middle of the pack mean, we’re not dead last. We’ve not made up too much ground on you. We didn’t really have we didn’t have a crater to crawl out of like Detroit dead. No, Detroit was in trouble. They declared bankruptcy. They sold paintings from their art museum to make payroll. You know, they were in they were in bad shape. And they’re doing great. We didn’t have any of that we didn’t you know, we Cincinnati’s always kind of been on that even keel of we didn’t lose our shirt and boom and bust everything the ship got righted, and then the mortgage crisis, you know, we didn’t, you know, I like to say that if, if, if things would have taken off back at that turn of the century with, you know, stuff, and they needed space, they would have raised OCR, we need this to be a Tech campus for you know, there’s that, but we didn’t have to do that. So now we’ve got dry powder. So Cincinnati has potential, we’ve got some some latent big codes that are eager to get involved in this game, Kroger and Procter and Gamble, and western and southern and Fifth Third Bank and St. Elizabeth and Children’s Hospital unit, you just rattle them off, they’re in, and they want to figure out what’s next and hopefully be a part of that.

Jay Clouse 30:12
I think something…that leads to something we didn’t put quite enough emphasis on was just the involvement of the Fortune 500 here in town, how they leaned into the creation of Cintrifuse, and we’re part of that coalition of the willing. I know we’re close on time. So I wanted to ask you, one final question for me. You know, Cintrifuse is such a rare model, you said, this is something that you pulled from this Renaissance fund idea, but it’s not something you see in cities across the United States.

Eric Weissman 30:36
The Renaissance was was a model for the fund of funds around which the strategic center of everything kind of gravitates. But yeah.

Jay Clouse 30:42
So would you say that if I am Truro Iowa or I am Birmingham, Alabama, is a Cintrifuse model viable for my community? And if so, how would I, as a community builder get started with that model?

Eric Weissman 30:57
It’s not right for everybody. We’ve had over three dozen I think the list is up to 42 cities and regions that have come to us I call it the doorbell report, you know, they came to us and how did you guys do this? It will tell us how you how you got the the big cars involved. We don’t have big codes, you know, how are we going to do this? It gets back to that what thing are you trying to move? What needle Are you trying to move? If you do have big Ko’s like Kansas City, you know, they’ve got to come to the table in a different way than they’ve come before. So we refer to ours as an active network different than Columbus, different than a lot of these, then even Minneapolis, of you know, we will pay for this will pay for this pitch competition or whatever. But we’re actually, you know, we’re pretty deep in these organizations with people that have a pulse on their innovation needs. So we we stay as close as we can to them. And you know, that was one of Wendy’s big proponent, she was a proponent of, you know, going back to the CEOs, when we didn’t have the access that we needed to introduce them to startups, and I’m confused here, you know, you’re not you, I thought you wanted this. And you know, your people aren’t calling me back. They’re not showing up to these events. And I thought we were here to help. So having them start that conversation is critical. But you know, it’s almost impossible to do that in reverse order.

Jay Clouse 32:16
And one last clarifying point on that. What about if I am a city and whether it’s big NGOs or wealthy individuals with the fund to fund models be enough to kickstart an ecosystem?

Eric Weissman 32:27
I think so. I think the funder funds model is interesting, because its geographic dispersion, its industry, you know, there’s no, there’s the vertical our investments are made off of, we have an advisory board and investment committee and the whole team that runs the fund, but the Advisory Board and the Investment Committee are based are made up of our LPs, which are these big codes. So if Children’s Hospital has, you know, some certain concern that they understand and they would like to know a little bit more about well do invest as reboarded Investment Committee, evaluates those funds got a return on investment. So the primary aim of the fund, it’s a for profit instrument. So since reviews as itself as a nonprofit entity, but we run a for profit fund, first and foremost, they want their money back. So you know, we’re dealing with CFO, we’re dealing with balance sheet, you know, type of stuff. Rule number one is Give me my money back. Rule number two is they want front row seats to the freak show. They want curated access to startups, they want cool things to see that they even they haven’t thought of and they haven’t seen. And the third component is it helps our community out. So now there’s something else besides Kroger going on in Kroger’s backyard. You know, we’re bringing cool companies through it’s fresh talent, its people with a healthy disrespect for the status quo. It creates a vibrancy around that. So I would say a fund of funds is a very viable model. It were never the biggest checks and a lot of these funds, but it it does. We’re a strategic investor You know, when it comes down to that it’s not as easy as you know, putting a fun together $50 million and saying there now this is going to work just like making a T shirt and slapping going to logo on it doesn’t mean you have a community. You know it’s a little bit more involved in that.

Jay Clouse 34:03
Eric, this has been awesome. Thank you so much for your time. If people want to learn more from you or follow you after the show, where should they go?

Eric Weissman 34:10
Cintrifuse and startup Cincy is pretty active on social media. So you can follow us on Twitter at Cintrifuse ci n t ri f u se or startup Cincy str it up ci n si y or I’m just e Weissman. That’s e w Ei s s ma n n.

Eric Hornung 34:27
And Jay if anyone wants to follow upside on Twitter?

Jay Clouse 34:30
That’s right after the show. If you have any thoughts on this or any questions for us, or Eric, you can tweet at us at upside FM. We’d love to hear from you. If you or somebody you know would be a good guest for our show, email us at

Eric Hornung 34:42
Thank you very much.

Jay Clouse 34:43
Thank you Cincy Podcast Festival.

This episode comes from the Cincinnati Podcast Festival on November 1, 2018.

Eric Weissman is the Vice President of Communications, Community & Economic Inclusion at Cintrifuse.

Cintrifuse has one clear mission: to make Greater Cincinnati the #1 tech startup hub in the midwest and among the most attractive innovation hubs in the nation. It creates jobs, brings talent, attracts investment, and unlocks our region’s potential to lead innovation in a wide range of industries.

Eric was part of the founding team of Cintrifuse. Responsible for establishing the strategy, messaging, branding and positioning for the effort to catalyze growth through attracting and retaining startups.

He leads the team credited with igniting the #StartupCincy effort, evolving it from just a social media hashtag to a movement and now a reputable community recognized from coast-to-coast.

Learn more about Cintrifuse:
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