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Why I'm bullish on Cleveland's tech sector (and you should be, too)


Originally published on Crain’s Cleveland

Folio Photonics, a Solon-based company improving how companies archive data using optical storage technologies, recently closed an $8 million seed-financing round. The company's technical breakthroughs are exciting, but what excited me even more was seeing another Northeast Ohio company successfully raise capital. Momentum is accelerating for those seeking early stage and growth funding. In the first quarter of 2019, six companies in Northeast Ohio announced funding raises totaling $101 million. This is an uptick from the first quarter of 2018 when $95 million was raised. And here's my prediction: 2020 will see double-digit growth thanks to promising Northeast Ohio companies coming to the markets for startup and growth capital and increasing demand for these types of investments.

Blockland and City Block

Blockland Cleveland is quietly building a world-class tech ecosystem that is turning Cleveland into the blockchain capital of the United States. That will not be a surprising headline for the more than 1,500 people who attended the first Blockland Solutions Conference late last year. The conference drew blockchain leaders from throughout the country and world and highlighted why Cleveland is a great place to work and live. The conference also served as the stage for three important announcements:

1. FlashStarts creating a $6 million blockchain fund

2. JumpStart, along with six other funds, plan to invest $100 million for blockchain startups

3. Blockland Cleveland's goal to see a workforce of 1,000 blockchain programmers in Cleveland by the end of 2019

Momentum didn't stop at the conference. Plans continue to be developed for City Block, which will serve as a tech campus headquarters for Blockland. With City Block's creation, leaders from startups to Fortune 100 companies will be able to identify and seize tech and blockchain opportunities. This will be a fantastic differentiator for the Cleveland tech community. Startups will be able to work hand and hand with large companies with the goal of securing them as investors, customers or both.

Institutional support and infrastructure

In addition to City Block, a host of funds and strategic initiatives have been popping up over the past few years to support the ecosystem. Scott Shane, a professor at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Managementlaunched the ComeBack Capital Fund to invest in Midwest startups. NCT Ventures, a Columbus venture capital fund, launched a $50 million fund to invest in Northeast Ohio startups. Plug and Play, a Silicon Valley strategic investor and accelerator, launched a Cleveland office to invest in health tech and other industry startups.

On the infrastructure side, there is an ever-growing number of great coworking spaces for Cleveland technology companies to work together. If you want to see leading-edge examples of ideal spaces, seek out Limelight in Ohio City, StartMart in downtown Cleveland or Sears think[box] at Case Western Reserve University. Case Western also just launched xLab to help large companies in Northeast Ohio develop their digital strategies while creating incentives for a pipeline of Case Western students to stay in the region.

These newer initiatives and companies are extending the powerful strength of longstanding resources and leadership. JumpStart and North Coast Angel Fundcontinue to invest in startups. Communication and corporate venture funds through University Hospitals and Cleveland Clinic continue to ramp up their investments and commitments to further leading the nation in many of the most important technical developments in our country.

Improving startup ecosystem

Serial entrepreneur Ed Buchholz launched StartInCLE in 2017 to help develop the Cleveland tech ecosystem. Since it launched, StartInCLE has hosted more than 40 events to benefit the people in Cleveland's startup community. Events range from founder dinners to startup job fairs. To date, the events have served more than 400 founders and introduced more than 500 people with the aim of creating the next generation success stories in Cleveland.

Is it any wonder why I am bullish on Cleveland's tech sector? The platforms, leadership, entrepreneurs and ingredients for success are all right here. Is it any wonder why you should be bullish, too? Cleveland's up-and-coming tech sector is on the rise. Long ago, forward-thinking leaders envisioned Cleveland as a hub for the arts and Playhouse Square was born. Today, forward-thinking leaders are envisioning Cleveland as one of the leading places for next-generation technology breakthroughs and companies. It's time to be bullish on Cleveland's tech scene, maybe even invest in a tech startup or take advantage of hundreds of emerging opportunities coming from Northeast Ohio.

Let's be bullish together.

ClevelandAri Lewis