Start-Up Companies From Central Ohio Boast Success Around World

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UPDATED: Wednesday June 26, 2013 8:01 PM

Start-up businesses across central Ohio are making a name for themselves in how the world lives, works and plays.

Many of the most successful businesses start with a simple idea. But many times, it is a major challenge to take that idea and get it off the ground.

The truth is that we are seeing a boom in innovation. High growth companies with a worldwide reach are meeting that challenge and starting to make their mark.

Many may think that all of these businesses are based on the east or west coasts or traditional industrial cities like New York or Chicago. That's not the case.

Central Ohioans only have to look in their own back yard.

Central Ohio is fertile ground, boasting some huge success stories, and paving the way for the next big idea.

“We actually pay companies to protect their data -- and the environment,” said Paulie Anthony of e-Cycle in Hilliard.

"We make basketballs and other sports products very smart," added Michael Crowley of InfoMotion, based in Dublin.

"We tout ourselves as the world's largest screening and only recruitment network for the fine arts," said Don Hunter of Acceptd.

These three companies are all prime examples of a new breed of business taking off in central Ohio. They are high growth companies that are making a difference.

“They're all very different, but they're all exciting, unique,” said Victor Thorne of Columbus 2020.  “They are market leaders out of the gate."

e-Cycle

“It's just a great community to live in, to work in, to start a business," said Anthony of e-Cycle.

Endless supply and demand is the secret behind the electronic recycler’s success.

Millions of phones come through their Hilliard doors every year.

"There are more mobile phones currently in the world than there are people - and that is continuing to grow," Anthony added.

"What we decided as a company is that we wanted to maintain the highest global standards for environmental protection, worker safety and data security," said Anthony.

E-Cycle workers scrub used cell phones and other electronic devices - not once, but twice.

There's even a quality assurance team to make sure all data is erased and phone lines canceled.

"We put money back into telecom budgets of our clients, so it helps offset the cost of them upgrading their workforces with the latest technologies. And then we also provide a service overseas where entrepreneurs in developing countries can use these used devices to run their businesses and communicate,” said Anthony.

Anthony said the percentage of re-useable phones is growing, which in turn is helping to protect the environment.

"Unfortunately, e-waste is one of the biggest, largest growing toxins, and makes up 75 percent of the toxins in our landfills," he added.

Phones that cannot be saved are shredded. Plastics and metals are taken to separate recycling facilities, where everything is melted down.

The same goes for batteries, which are tested and bagged for reuse or sent to licensed facilities, where everything is recycled to make new products.

"Nothing that we recycle will ever end up in a landfill or shipped overseas to these toxic wastelands," said Anthony.

E-Cycle is hiring more workers and expanding into Europe this year.

Manta

"There are about 2 million people that come on our website every day," said Pamela Springer, one of the founders of Columbus-based Manta.

Manta is an online community of small businesses.

“It's just an unbelievably exciting time; we're growing phenomenally," she added.  "We help them connect with others and help them promote their companies to 30 million to 40 million people a month."

She says her company's success, and that of other small businesses, is becoming contagious.

“There are successes that are happening all over Columbus that reinforce that this is actually a very legitimate place not only to do business, but to come start a business,” Springer said.

Columbus 2020

"I see probably 20 or 30 new ideas a month," said Victor Thorne, the Managing Director for Strategic Development at Columbus 2020, an organization that helps turn those ideas into cash-earning companies.

"The secret to the success is real collaboration," he added.
 
And that is where Thorne said Columbus stands out from other communities by offering lower costs of doing business, an established network of companies in many diverse industries and a huge supply of educated workers from local universities.

But Thorne said the key factor is a unique alignment between the public and private sectors.

It’s a partnership supporting innovation and entrepreneurship.

"You have access to mentorship, you have access to funding and you have access to early customers," Thorne said.

"We have the largest angel investor network in the country," he added, which is just a part of the mix of millions of dollars of public and private funding resources for new businesses.

In the past decade, local economic development experts say 174 high growth companies across central Ohio have received financial help, with $566 million of that seed money coming from private industry.

And now, more than $300 million in fresh, private investable money will be available by the end of the year.

InfoMotion

"To do what we've done on either coast, it would cost two or three times the amount of money,” said InfoMotion’s Michael Crowley. “It's just that much more expensive."

The Dublin-based sports data technology business is one of the high growth companies benefiting from those funding sources.

The company is debuting what it calls the “9450” basketball later this year. It was engineered with a special sensor inside the ball that captures motion data, which helps build muscle memory.

“Any little impact on the ball, it'll measure when it comes into contact with something - it's very cool," Crowley said. "It is designed to be like the greatest coach you could ever be around that you could have every single day, so that you are always able to reach that next goal.”

The product provides instant feedback to help players from 8-years-old to the pro level increase their skill level in all facets of the game.

Information is saved and shared in an online database, so you can compete against friends - or even pros.

"You'll go out and play horse with somebody from China or Germany or wherever it is around the globe in real time," says Crowley.

With a coach always at your fingertips, Crowley believes his product will become the standard - in basketball and other sports, like soccer.

Acceptd

"You can fill out this profile section here for free, upload your media samples and then make yourself discoverable," said Derek Brown, as he pores over his new website.

Brown, and his friend, Don Hunter, grew up in Marysville and brainstormed their breakthrough idea as college students.

"We had that ‘aha’ moment when we were both sitting down on the campus of the University of Cincinnati, where we went to school, and we both said, 'There's got to be a better way for students to apply to college,'" Brown said.

“We just started talking to different programs, fleshed that out, got a lot of great feedback, and decided to pull the trigger," added Hunter.

And thus, the name of their new online company, called “Acceptd.”

"We couldn't afford the domain name,” joked Brown as he remembers the early days.

Their goal is to appeal to their target market of young people.

"We originally started as just a pre-screening platform, a pre-screening tool for universities to screen applicants,” said Hunter. “And we've grown in only two years to an entire marketplace and ecosystem for fine arts programs."

“Then all of a sudden, we have 20,000 applicants in a matter of four months, so it's been crazy,” added Brown.

Budding talent, like Reynoldsburg's Marisa Riegle, applied to 12 universities by uploading her material on the Acceptd site. (getacceptd.com)

"She actually got in and is going to the theater conservatory at Roosevelt University," Brown said.

Her cost ($25 per application) is a fraction of what it would have cost to physically travel to each university for an audition.

John Stefano is the chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance at Otterbein University, one of the most respected fine arts programs in the country. It includes a litany of graduates who have gone onto greatness on Broadway.

Two years ago, he said he and his counterparts at universities around the country were wrestling with the amount of time and expense the audition process was taking.

That’s when a breakthrough came knocking on his door.

"It was about a month later, I got an email from Derek and Don, these two whiz kids from Cincinnati," Stefano said. “And he started to sell me on the product and I said, ‘Derek, you don't need to sell me, you're an answer to my prayers, boy!’”

Stefano served as an advisor for the business, and Otterbein was the first client. Now there are 200 programs. A bell at the Acceptd office rings every time a new one comes on board.

"What they wanted to do is to help kids, and they wanted to help faculty," Stefano said. "Without this program, I would have to see, as I did two years ago, 380 students. And this year, I saw 160. So yeah, that's a huge difference, and it means we can spend more time on candidates who've got a real shot of getting into the program."

“I think one of the things that's led to our success so far is reaching out, being coachable, asking for help, knowing that we don't have all the answers," said Brown, reflecting on the rapid growth of his online company.

"We see a lot of opportunity for this - it's just a matter of how we strategize and execute against it," added Hunter.

"The message is ‘We're on the map,’” said Thorne. “And if you take Columbus from where it was ten years ago to where it is now, it's just been a paramount change - and it just keeps getting better."

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