Cleveland’s Technology and Startup Scene Is Reinventing the City

Rust belt revival

Born Again Cleveland

Cleveland is a comeback city. Like many manufacturing cities, it lost much of its economic viability when blue-collar jobs went overseas. Today startups and technology gigs are replacing decades-old factory businesses and their jobs, but the city hasn’t forgotten its past.

“The new economy in northeast Ohio can help the old economy here,” Michael Dealoia told us. Dealoia was the senior executive for technology development, or “Tech Czar,” for the City of Cleveland from 2004 to 2007.

Startups can actually help the trucking, distribution, and manufacturing businesses that remain in Cleveland, Dealoia said. “Those industries can be made better with software that is homegrown,” he added.

It’s the city’s industrial history that has pushed Cleveland’s technology sector toward b2b and big data startups, said Dealoia who now writes about the Cleveland technology scene for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The city and its downtown tech scene has changed dramatically. Fast. A few years ago Cleveland was a “ghost town” after 4pm, said Dealoia. But today “downtown Cleveland looks like a smaller version of downtown Chicago.”

Want to start a company in the Chicago of the Rust Belt? Here’s what you can expect.

The City’s Startup Support

Jumpstart, a non-profit, invests in Cleveland startups and offers business services like mentorship and scaling guidance. They recently announced a public-private partnership, called JumpStart Focus Fund that will fund Ohio-based startups (or those willing to move to the Buckeye State) run by women and minorities.

Later this month, Jumpstart will host their second annual Startup ScaleUp event. “Whether you are thinking of starting your own venture, currently building a startup or working to reinvent an existing business, we’re filling an entire neighborhood with people and resources that can help you achieve your entrepreneurial goals,” said JumpStart CEO Ray Leach in a statement.

Ohio Ventures Association supports startups and early stage investors through education, leadership development, and networking. Keep a look out for their Venture of the Year Awards held in June.

StartMart co-working space offers all the expected amenities and utilities, and quite a few surprises like a fitness room, makers room, and oatmeal and toppings bar. An open desk will cost you $200 a month.

Twice a year Cleveland’s startup founders and investors, and those who want to fall into one of those categories, meet for an evening of inspiration and beer at a popup conference called TechPint.

Sample the City’s Startups

Remash, a social media platform that uses AI and big data to collect multiple opinions and reactions to questions, launched out of SmartMart. It started as a way to get young Israelis and Palestinians to communicate. The founders were accepted into the first Barclays accelerator class in New York City in 2015. The Remash platform is currently being tested by corporate and political clients.

Perhaps the perfect example of the b2b businesses coming out of the Cleveland technology scene, LineStream Technologies provides tech and software that improves the performance of automated products and processes from motors to washing machines to manufacturing equipment. The company spun out of Cleveland State University in 2008.

Buyerquest’s software streamlines all aspects of the procurement industry for companies like McDonald’s, John Deere, and Coca-Cola Bottling. And they’re growing. A few years ago the company opened their own building just outside of the city–”a tech company name on a building,” marveled Dealoia the Tech Czar. “You don’t see that a lot.”

When the Time Warner guy shows up on time, you have Ohio-based TOA Technologies to thank. The field service management software and customer appointment scheduling company was acquired by Oracle in 2014.

DecisionDesk helps an often overlooked industry–colleges. The software helps admission departments review online applications more efficiently. Students also use the software when they apply; it offers features like auto-population of data and deadline reminders.

Food, Booze, and Recreation

It’s not just Cleveland’s technology scene that’s seen a rebirth, the city’s food and entertainment scene is experiencing one as well. And like many of the city’s startups there’s lots of collaboration happening between old and new Cleveland, like at Cowell & Hubbard, a restaurant in an old jewelry store that sat empty from 1980 until it was converted to a restaurant a few years back. You can now dine on French fare in the sprawling space and meet for private dinners in what used to be the store’s vault.

When the Spotted Owl bar opened in 2014, it was hailed as “a brand-new bar from the 1850s” by the Cleveland Plain Dealer thanks to its Civil-war era building, and its simple throwback cocktails. The owner, Will Hollingworth, is a great example of embracing Cleveland’s past. “It bugs me when people revive a neighborhood and just want to knock everything down that came before,” he told the paper. At Spotted Owl he used repurposed materials to build and decorate the interior.

It’s not just about eating and drinking in Cleveland–there’s pinball too. The throwback vibe is strong at the Gordon Square Arts District’s Superelectric Pinball Parlor where 20 games from the 1950s-1990s entertain visitors of all ages.

Or maybe it is all about eating and drinking in Cleveland. Another Gordon Square hot spot Happy Dog serves hot dogs with your choice of 50 toppings to sample while listening to live music–anything from indie bands to classical orchestras–or lectures from unusual speakers like local NASA stargazers.

You’ll want to wash down all those hot dogs with a Cleveland-made brew, and there are plenty of options. One of the city’s oldest breweries, Great Lakes, has a brewpub and beer garden in the Ohio City neighborhood and two outposts at the Akron Canton Airport. One of the more unusual breweries is Platform Beer Co, brews its own beer as well as acting as an incubator for would-be brewers.

And finally for dessert, beer donuts from BrewNuts, of course.


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