Why Not Us?

Author: Heather Hall

You know when you go to a sporting event, and there’s that ONE fan.  The one who is decked out in head to toe team gear, knows every stat, and is vocal the entire game? 

That’s a rhetorical question, you live in Cleveland, of course you do.

Well I’m THAT fan, only it’s for Cleveland proper.  Yes, me.  The transplant, the one who didn’t grow up here, who has spent time amongst the West Coast and East Coast start up hubs and the Martec community.  It’s hard being a Cleveland superfan, especially amongst the ‘haters.”  Eyerolls are guaranteed from friends and colleagues, but I’d like to think that after a while they come to expect my unbridled passion for our great city.  Some of them are even starting to listen…

They should.

A little background to help you understand my enthusiasm:  I moved to Cleveland from the Metro New York area in 2003 to join a boutique marketing strategy and analytics firm.  The company was acquired in 2007, and I’ve spent the subsequent years helping to grow the business from inside the acquiring company.  It gave me the unique opportunity to see what was going on in Silicon Valley, Silicon Alley, the Research Triangle, Austin, and all the other tech hotbeds that turn out innovation after innovation.

It also gives me the unique opportunity to turn an eye home and ask “why not us” daily.  Sure, the markets I call out are larger centers of population, and they have a larger corporate base than we do, but with the good comes the bad. Cost of living is through the roof, with the closest viable options being 12-15% more expensive than the Cleveland metro area. Additionally, the population that drives their startup culture is transient, and that translates to a fickle labor force who follows the biggest exit as opposed to the greatest opportunity.  The heart, the devotion, dare I say the passion that is so unique to Northeast Ohio is sanitized out in the larger hubs, and with it, the incredible work ethic and drive that makes this area so unique.  We embody the grit, the scrap, the desire to keep trying, and yet in our start up community, it falls short.

It makes the ‘why not us’ question that much more poignant.

I want to say this loud and proud. If I’m lucky, GVArt or Cleveland Clothing will make me a shirt – Why not us?  There is no shortage of great ideas in this city.  Attend Startup Scaleup, spend a day at any of the incubators in the metro area, or plug into the innovation hubs on LinkedIn.  There are great ideas all over Cleveland.  What there isn’t is an integrated network that works to pull us all together to support each other, to champion the wins and empathize with the losses.  When I think about the people I met in San Francisco, New York, Raleigh, or Austin, they always cite the access to support and collaboration.  The person who will listen to their pitch and help hone their story.  Someone willing to poke at a business plan over coffee and offer some suggestions.  A warm introduction to a target company, no strings attached.  Larger companies are invested in innovation and growth, and are actively mentoring the next generation of talent. 


cleveland startup, why not us,

Very simply, we have all of that here, but we aren’t using it.  Actually, let me reframe that.  We have it, but we aren’t applying it.  Innovators and entrepreneurs are hungry for guidance, for support, for ideation.  They’re hungry for this city to come together under a unified banner, city, county, corporations, academic institutions, innovation hubs, and investors, and create a unified vision that is grounded in supporting growth in this region.

We have a wealth of talent in Cleveland.  Connections, perspective, experience, passion. We have great ideas, we have access to capital, and a limitless desire to show the world that we ARE a force to be reckoned with.

So I ask you again, Why Not Us?

As a transplanted Clevelander, but a Clevelander all the same, It should be us, but it only works if a) you are willing to ask and b) you are willing to share/support.  We can’t kvetch (sorry, my coastal influence coming out) about the lack of innovation if we aren’t willing to champion and rally around those with the ideas. 

You want to put this town on the map? To drive what we all know CAN be?  Challenge yourself.  Are you leveraging the local network to get where you need to be?  If you are not an entrepreneur, but advocate for innovation in the area, are you open and available to coach others or lend input?  Do you have experience in capital markets or funding, and if so, are you actively sharing that expertise?  Are you a part of one of the major corporations in the metro, and are you paying it back to the smaller companies?  An innovation hub and growth ecosystem as only as good as the participants in that cycle.

I know there are more of you out there who are just as passionate about this town and all it can offer.  Let’s all agree to put up or metaphorically shut up.  Make that call, agree to have that cup of coffee, or offer feedback on that pitch.  Invest some intellectual capital in helping drive innovation and growth in this amazing city of ours.  The potential is there, it just needs more cheerleaders and people willing to make the investment.

To paraphrase an iconic piece of Cleveland lore – I triple dog dare you to do something this week.  Change can come, but it takes action.  To prove I’m legit, I’ll take it one step further – you want to talk about anything on go to market?  I’m all ears, and I’m happy to listen. 

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Heather Hall is a transplanted Clevelander, passionate about sales, marketing, innovation, the Indians, and Blackbird Baking Co.  When not advocating for the CLE, she can be found consulting on sales, marketing, and product strategy or playing mom taxi.


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