A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Global Entrepreneurship Week in NKy/Greater Cincinnati connects visionaries with possibilities

By Hannah Purnell
Special to KyForward

Say you’re an entrepreneur with a million-dollar idea. Maybe you’ve even secured funding to get started, or perhaps your small shop is already up and running at an unexpected pace, prompting you to wonder about the next step.

That’s often the biggest question for startups, regardless of where they are in the process. For a long time, the pathway to small business success in Northern Kentucky wasn’t very clear, but that could all change thanks to recent and unprecedented collaboration among leaders in the innovation sector.

Recently, Tristate innovators of every stripe got the chance to participate in Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW), the world’s largest annual celebration of entrepreneurship.

Networking during Global Entrepreneurship Week: (L-R) Naashom Marx, Kristine Frech, Casey Barach (Photos provided)

Networking during Global Entrepreneurship Week: (L-R) Naashom Marx, Kristine Frech, Casey Barach (Photos provided)

Held each November in more than 160 countries worldwide, GEW events encourage visionaries to share their ideas with the mentors, leaders and investors who can help convert those concepts into profitable enterprise.

Northern Kentucky’s involvement in past GEW events was minimal. With the help of an active Chamber of Commerce supporting incubator programs like Covington-based UpTech and Northern Kentucky University’s Small Business Development Center, however, entrepreneurial momentum has quickened dramatically in recent years.

This year, energized by the conversations happening locally and within startup communities across the nation — such as Detroit, whose interactive BizGrid served as partial inspiration — organizers designated a local GEW Celebration Committee to plan a series of events to highlight NKY’s diverse entrepreneurial spirit.

“As we considered our GEW events, we wanted to cover as many aspects of entrepreneurship as possible given that entrepreneurship is so vast and varied,” says Casey Barach, NKY Director of Kentucky Innovation Network. “Our events celebrated high school, college and adult entrepreneurs. We celebrated nascent entrepreneurs, mid-course entrepreneurs and established entrepreneurs in industries ranging from sustainability, food, wearables, technology, beer and more.”

The weeklong celebration spanned diverse venues across Northern Kentucky and downtown Cincinnati and featured business competition, panel discussions, information sessions and an education summit. But perhaps the biggest and most lasting outcome of NKY’s GEW events was the unveiling of a new online tool, NKY Startup Resource .

A roadmap for new business

The website is NKY’s first mobile business database, aggregating contact information and linking idea-people to decision-makers from ArtWorks Creative Enterprise, Bad Girl Ventures, The Brandery, NKU’s Chase College of Law and a long list of other regional startup resource providers.

The site’s design and layout are simple: Visitors are prompted to indicate the current status of their project (newly conceived, just getting started or ready to grow) and from there, identify their immediate needs from a list of common startup challenges that include:
• Business planning and strategy
• Funding
• Legal assistance
• Research and product development
• Sales and marketing
• Talent
• Accounting assistance
• Co-working
• Office space
• Production space

Brandery co-founder Dave Knox leads a discussion on startup resources at Braxton Brewing

Brandery co-founder Dave Knox leads a discussion on startup resources at Braxton Brewing

Users who submit an inquiry or request more information while visiting the site receive a personal response from Skyward Vice President Kristine Frech.

“We really envision this as a one-stop shop to know who is working in the entrepreneurial space in Northern Kentucky,” Frech says.

The site is made possible by members of Allies for Economic Growth (AEG), a coalition of key development players in Northern Kentucky who collaborate on “actionable items that will move the region as a whole forward.”

AEG members include the cities of Bellevue, Covington, Erlanger and Florence; several departments at NKU; Skyward; The Catalytic Fund; Duke Energy; and others.

That level of concert creates what Chamber President and CEO Trey Grayson refers to as an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“With so many different groups working together to support good ideas, an outsider wouldn’t necessarily know this is happening or where certain entry points are,” Grayson says. “Thanks to the site, those next steps are clearer. When people are able to take their ideas to the next level, it’s better for our economy and better for our overall quality of life.”

NKY and Cincinnati a ‘hotbed for startups

NKY and Cincinnati a ‘hotbed for startups

No one is really sure who coined the recently popular proclamation that “Covington is the new Brooklyn,” but the sentiment accurately reflects the economic symbiosis between Cincinnati and NKY’s largest city while at the same time acknowledging the distinctive traits and offerings that position this side of the river to achieve success independently.

During a GEW panel discussion at Covington’s Braxton Brewing Co. — another fairly recent embodiment of a brewery-meets-business-incubator trend — Rockfish CMO and Brandery co-founder Dave Knox shared his thoughts on what makes now the right time for a concerted effort to promote entrepreneurship in the region.

“In its early days, Cincinnati was one of the first truly American cities,” Knox said. “That frontier spirit has stayed with us all these years. The notion of working together and supporting each other to make great things happen is definitely woven into our identity.”

Knox isn’t alone in that view. Entrepreneur Magazine called the region’s entrepreneurial community “unusually supportive,” while CNN Money applauded the arrival of Cintrifuse — the regional provider of office space and general startup support — in its assessment of Greater Cincinnati as “making a name for itself in entrepreneurial circles.”

But how does all of this speak to Northern Kentucky’s goals in particular? According to Frech, entrepreneurial aspirations aren’t restricted by state lines.

“Skyward primarily serves the northern nine counties of Kentucky,” Frech says. “However, we know that we need to act regionally to see meaningful changes in Northern Kentucky. There are opportunities to network, learn from one another, hear success stores and be connected to all the great resources that we have.”

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