Where ideas, networks and connections thrive
It might be a $ 76 billion global empire now, but Procter & Gamble was once just an idea.
An English candle maker named William Procter and an Irish soap maker named James Gamble sort of parted ways with Cincinnati, a thriving trade hub in the early 19th century.e century that was driven by the meat packing industry and connected to the rest of the country by the Ohio River and the Miami and Erie canals.
An economic crisis and a convincing stepfather the two men shared (love also plays a part in this story, as both had married sisters), forced Mr. Procter and Mr. Gamble to pool their capital. , amounting to approximately $ 7,000. , and start a business.
It was “an obscure startup in a choppy sea of business and failure,” according to “Rising Tide,” P & G’s semi-official biography.
It is successful, of course.
Its success has a lot to do with Cincinnati’s troubled economy of the 1830s and the connections they made to this city. They gleaned raw materials from slaughterhouses; they learned new efficient production methods from the meat packers and they sold their products to other towns using water transport links.
These connections are still the reasons why entrepreneurs of the 21st century have found cities to be great places to start businesses. New ideas, such as Procter and Gamble’s idea of mass producing candles and soap, can take root in cities, where networks and contacts exist to test these concepts, attract talented people, find partners. and customers and grow.
Entrepreneurs need dense populations, diverse networks, and access to finance and support to be successful, says Tyler Mathews, who runs Venture Café St. Louis, an entrepreneurial community in this city. All of these things are traditionally found in bulk in the metropolises.
“You want a high quality network of people,” says Mathews. “The more people in your network, the more likely you are to have great ideas.”
Cities also have problems, and problems need solutions, something that entrepreneurs know how to find and capitalize on.
“Cities are great laboratories for innovation,” says Pete Blackshaw, CEO of Cincinnati’s startup center, Cintrifuse. “Cities are at the heart of some of the great challenges facing society. And big challenges stimulate innovation.
Pete blackshawCintrifuse, located in the urban core of Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, is the type of resource that entrepreneurs can tap into at any stage of building their business. It can connect new businesses to a network of mentors, accelerators, leads, and funders.
“Helping startups win is our main mission,” says Blackshaw.
One of Cintrifuse’s main goals is to help develop the next Procter & Gamble, or the next Kroger, another startup from Cincinnati, circa 1883. Big companies like this attract smart people who sometimes end up creating their own business.
Blackshaw himself is a P&G alumnus who founded a startup called Planet Feedback in the 1990s.
Marvin Abrinica is also a P&G alumnus, having worked there for 17 years before going on his own. He launched Wunderfund, a digital resource for crowdfunding new businesses. One of Wunderfund’s first clients was a University of Cincinnati premedicine student named Brian Jackson, who decided craft beer making was a more satisfying career option.
Jackson and Abrinica have teamed up to launch Esoteric Brewing and, through crowdfunding, have raised nearly $ 1 million to launch their business. When the time came to locate the brewery and its retail hall, they envisioned the suburbs, but found what they needed in the urban Walnut Hills neighborhood.
Only a city would have a structure like the Paramount Square Building, a 1930s Art Deco gem that was vacant and waiting to be occupied. The Paramount building dominates the intersection of Gilbert and McMillan streets, once known as Peebles Corner, but had been empty for years and underused before that.
It was a good fit for the business, with a street level space that could be redeveloped into a tap room and a basement with a solid base that could support the brewing equipment. The new life of the building has been a key part of the ongoing revitalization of Walnut Hills.
“It all made sense to us,” says Jackson.
Jackson also benefited from the help he received from Mortar, a startup center focused on entrepreneurs of color and women. Mortar was started in 2014 by Allen Woods, William Thomas, and Derrick Braziel. Woods came to Cincinnati about 10 years ago from Indianapolis, looked around, and saw a lot of diversity in the city’s neighborhoods, but not so much among business owners.
“We came up with the idea to make the Cincinnati business community more like Cincinnati,” he says.
Allen WoodsIn a city that is roughly 50 percent black, only 18 percent of businesses are black-owned, Woods says.
“We wanted to create something that would make it fairer for entrepreneurs in the community,” he says.
What they created was a 15-week, three-hour, compulsory course program designed to give aspiring entrepreneurs an idea of what they’ll need to be successful and to build a network of like-minded people. who can share ideas, problems, and solutions.
Assistance from Mortar staff does not end after classes are over. Alumni of the program also serve as mentors for newbies. Mortar runs pop-up shops in vacant storefronts to test concepts and get around one of the big issues facing minority entrepreneurs: access to affordable space. Mortar is also working on the issue of access to capital by joining a micro-enterprise credit fund and partnering with a crowdfunding platform.
Mortar began in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Walnut Hills, a historically black community that has seen decades of divestment and decline. Cities have always been places where blacks and other minorities have experienced closed doors and systemic barriers to success. It is therefore in the cities that Woods and his partners decided to settle.
“We need to think about where the challenges come from,” he says. “Most of the time they take place in an urban environment or in the urban core where entrepreneurs try to pursue the American dream in their own neighborhoods. ”
Since 2014, Mortar has expanded its program to Covington, Ky., Milwaukee, Akron, Ohio, and Kansas City, Mo.
Mortar can boast of more than 300 graduates, more than 70% of whom are still in business, Woods says. In 2019, Mortar graduates accounted for $ 4.4 million in net income, he says.
Brian Jackson completed the 15-week program, found his partner, Abrinica, via the network, and was connected with the developer who was restoring and renovating Paramount Square via the network.
“I don’t know where I would be without their help,” he said.
Mortier and Cintrifuse are just two of the organizations created to help entrepreneurs.
The Cincinnati Innovation District is a new technology hub anchored by the University of Cincinnati’s 1819 Innovation Hub. It is an underdeveloped research and employment district that includes the UC and Cincinnati State campuses, UC Health and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center medical and research centers, the Cincinnati office of the US Environmental Protection Agency; and a new campus that will consolidate the offices of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
The District was conceived as a solution to a problem: too many talented graduates of local universities found jobs on the coasts or in the big cities. Cincinnati needed a way to heat up its ecosystem of tech talent, keep people smart here, attract new ones, and serve the businesses that need that help.
Silicon Valley is 70 years ahead as a hub of high-tech talent and capital, so Cincinnati’s Innovation District has been targeted for growth and investment by the state. of Ohio, City of Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati and other stakeholders.
Many other organizations support Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. CincyTech is an early stage investor funded in part by public funds. The Chamber’s minority business accelerator works with a portfolio of young businesses to support their growth; Blue North is a northern Kentucky startup hub; Hillman Accelerator focuses on businesses owned by women and minorities; HCDC offers a range of services to small businesses, including an incubator.
There are many more. The next P&G might even be filtering to one.
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The Case for Cities: Cities of Choice are Cities of Justice series is a partnership between UC School of Planning and Soapbox Cincinnati, made possible with support from the Carol Ann and the Ralph V. Haile, Jr. Foundation.