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Early-stage companies, especially those in the health care sector, rely on a seemingly incongruous mix of patience and urgency to achieve success. JumpStart CEO Ray Leach has been focused on urgency of late in his assessment of Northeast Ohio’s startup community.

“In our world, it’s a feeder system,” Leach says. “You have to be investing in things at some level of velocity. You have to be helping companies advance and then have companies have really huge breakthroughs, whether it’s a partnership with Genentech, they get bought by someone else or they raise a bunch of money. We’re seeing all sorts of indications that our tech ecosystem and our broader non-tech ecosystem are both continuing to advance and get stronger.”

Earlier this month, Convelo Therapeutics Inc. announced an exclusive collaboration agreement with San Francisco-based Genentech. The Cleveland-based biotech company was founded by Drs. Paul Tesar and Drew Adams at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Convelo is working on therapies that would deliver new options to people with multiple sclerosis and other neurological disorders.

“JumpStart and a handful of other entities invested in the company about 15 months ago,” Leach says. “Genentech, one of the largest biopharmaceutical companies, acquired the rights to co-develop the drug. Over the next three years, they have the right to acquire the company. We’re seeing a lot more companies that are able to raise that first $250,000 to $500,000 in the Greater Cleveland market today than just a few years ago.”

Making connections

JumpStart released its yearly economic impact report on July 18. It shows that companies assisted by JumpStart and its partners generated more than $1 billion of economic output in 2018 across Ohio and western New York. In Ohio alone, the economic output was $953 million. Since 2010, that figure jumps to $6.6 billion.

“We’re at an all-time high in terms of a level of collaboration with economic development organizations, funders and corporate, civic and public sector leaders to try to figure out where we want to make big bets in and around innovation, entrepreneurship and job growth,” Leach says. “The opening session at Startup Scaleup was a panel of eight different civic and community leaders I hosted talking about the areas they are focused on related to economic growth, innovation and collaboration. I’ve been doing this work for 16 years and I’ve never seen the level of collaboration at the height that it is right now.”

Startup Scaleup is an annual, one-day event featuring more than 50 different workshops, panels, sessions and networking events that occur across 13 different spaces in a particular area. This year’s event was held in June at Cleveland’s Flats East Bank. Leach believes there is a link between the launch of Startup Scaleup in 2015 and the positive developments in Cleveland’s startup community.

“Companies are getting funded because they come to the event,” Leach says. “Whether they are meeting bankers or angel investors, there are all sorts of anecdotes and stories in that regard. But also, entrepreneurs in the span of two hours or six hours get a chance to meet a whole bunch of highly expert individuals or organizations who can help them. It could be anything from the mental health of being an entrepreneur to getting capital to what are the particular issues or challenges in an industry. The variety of topics that an entrepreneur can learn about is incredibly unique.”

The event has grown from 28 sessions, 61 speakers and 1,200 attendees at the first event in Gordon Square in 2015 to 53 sessions, 154 speakers and 1,600 attendees last month at the event in the Flats.

“We have a lot of speakers from outside the region who come to Startup Scaleup,” Leach says. “We also want to attract more participants from outside the Greater Cleveland region, whether they’re coming from Pittsburgh, Columbus or Ann Arbor. JumpStart now has an office in Toledo. So I would anticipate we’ll have more participants from Northwest Ohio going forward. Pittsburgh is a great example of where there’s a lot of great entrepreneurs just two hours away. One thing we’ll look at is how to bring a broader geography of entrepreneurs to Startup Scaleup going forward. Our No. 1 priority is the local entrepreneur.”

To that end, Leach has also prioritized diversity.

“We want people who come to Startup Scaleup to look from a gender, race and industry point of view like the Cleveland community,” Leach says. “We had 154 speakers across 53 sessions and 68 of the speakers were women and 42 were people of color. We want people who live in Cleveland to see themselves and connect with individuals that are leading these sessions.”

Seeking disruption

Looking ahead, Leach has been encouraged thus far by the willingness of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and his administration to continue to support entrepreneurship and business innovation.

“At the end of the day, the public sector plays a huge role in economic development,” Leach says. “I think we’ve got not only great energy and vision, but also the resources in Columbus and matching resources in regions across the state to accelerate our economic growth and job creation. That’s not necessarily an automatic, particularly when you have an administration change.”

The blessing and the curse after all this progress, however, is that there is no finish line, Leach says.

“It’s not like, X, Y and Z happened, so we can claim victory and go home,” he says. “It’s an ultra-marathon, particularly when you’re in a geography that over the last five to 10 years has been really focused on lower growth industries, whether it’s industrial, manufacturing, paint or polymers. We have large multi-national companies that employ a lot of people. But they’re not necessarily in super-fast growing employment industries. We continue to lean into how we can partner with existing corporations who are interested in doing disruptive innovation, how we can expand into new markets or how we can create new products and services in a more disruptive way. That’s with more traditional companies, but then also to engage, support and fund the new big ideas that are just ideas and not companies yet. We’re trying to hit on all cylinders.”