The Future of Akron is in the hearts and hands of our local entrepreneurs January 4th, 2018 01/03/2018 Heather Roszczyk, Innovation & Entrepreneurship Advocate, City of Akron What are you most proud of doing or being part of in 2017? Helping to build out the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Akron. That’s kind of a cop-out answer, because it’s not a specific thing, but that’s also the nature of the beast. Ecosystem building is messy and constantly evolving work that involves tons of people and moving parts. It’s fluid and nimble. Frankly, it has a lot in common with entrepreneurship – you try something, see if it works, listen to feedback, pivot, and try again. Through my role with the Fund for Our Economic Future, we funded projects ranging from tech-focused hackathons to Summit Food Coalition’s directory of commercial kitchens. In the last year the entrepreneur support services have become a more cohesive, communicative network of resources and I’m learning about new businesses launching all the time. How are you building on that in 2018? In December, I accepted the position of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Advocate for the City of Akron. Mayor Horrigan has been clear that he wants to help local businesses grow and thrive in Akron and it’s my job to listen to those business owners’ needs and make sure we’re doing what we can to address them. I’m excited that the city saw the success of the work we’ve been doing and felt it was important enough to bring it under the umbrella of city administration. A lot of people think that “city government” and “innovation” are antithetical, but I don’t think that’s the case. We’re looking to change the status quo and we have some exciting projects planned! Who do you know that deserves a shout-out for their work in 2017? The other halfs of our local business owners. We’ve been trying to highlight lots of amazing entrepreneurs, both through our partnership with the Devil Strip and through our Akron Entrepreneurs Facebook page. And while those business owners are so very deserving of that attention, often they’re only half the story. For every Albert Macso (of Akron Coffee Roasters) there’s a Chrissy Macso supporting behind the scenes. These counterparts are often picking up slack at home while the entrepreneur is working nights and weekends getting the business off the ground. We always say it takes a special person to be an entrepreneur, but it also takes a special person to put up with one! Brent Ian Wesley, a.k.a. Wesley, Lord Supreme Keeper or CKO (Chief Keeper Officer) at Akron Honey Company What are you most proud of doing or being part of in 2017? I’m pretty excited for where Akron Honey is going. Unfortunately I don’t have any extra time to really be a part of anything else. But we are assembling a strong team and young group of contributors including STEM high schoolers. I’m really excited that we will finally be able to take the idea of ‘building better people and better places’ to the next level. I’m also really excited to be a part of a business model that is pioneering and transformational in how people experience small retail brands. How are you building on that in 2018? I’ve finally reached the point where I’m relying on the best talent. During 2018, having the best talent will be one of the most profound factors in small business success. The best talent is beginning to seek out Akron Honey as a home. What else are you excited about doing in 2018? Making Akron Honey full time. We did a bang up job during our first month at the Northside Marketplace. I’ve seen how how successful we can be from just one location. Once we start really hustling and working the back door, things will start getting really good. Who do you know that deserves a shout-out for their work in 2017? Lavar Jacobs (Not Just October) Nicholas J. Petroski, Founder and Chairman of the Board, Launch League What are you most proud of doing or being part of in 2017? The story behind this one is a bit insane but, Flight 2017 was easily the coolest thing I’ve ever done. The team and I essentially willed a startup conference into existence after a serious budget shortfall almost killed it. Having rockstar team members like Bradley Elliott, Pat Grospiron, Annal Vyas, and Meghan Goetz saved the day. When we got the survey results after the conference and it was almost unanimously loved meant that all the stress and work we put into it was worth it. Also, we were the first to bring actual Silicon Valley investors to Akron. How are you building on that in 2018? We’re funnelling all that momentum from the 2017 conference into driving our operations in 2018. We’re on a national stage now with contacts that reach from coast to coast and we’re working to bring that talent and knowledge to Akron. What else are you excited about doing in 2018? Well, it’s no secret that Launch League has experienced some growing pains. We expected them with us being a new, small organization that relies primarily on volunteers. I always view our operations through the lens of “What is best for Akron’s startup founders?” You know, the people who actually make things happen. So we’re hitting 2018 hard with a revamped community push designed to bring up the skill level of anyone involved in design, marketing, development, or operations. Who do you know that deserves a shout-out for their work in 2017? He’ll probably be annoyed that I did this since he doesn’t like to boast, but Bradley Elliott from Parlor Interactive does some of the best web design work I’ve seen. The fact that he’s always eager to help on whatever crazy project I throw his way is icing on the cake. Definitely check out his work over at heyparlor.com. If you let him, he’ll make your stuff stand out in the best way possible. (Photo of Nicholas J. Petroski courtesy of Nicholas J. Petroski) Michael W. Considine, Founder & President of NORKA What are you most proud of doing or being part of in 2017? I think for us it’s definitely been the ability to work with and become a part of so many small businesses that have opened up throughout Ohio in 2017. Collectively, we’ve seen small businesses such as bakeries, delis, breweries, wineries, gift shops, clothing stores, and others open their doors this year and reach out to us to sell NORKA at their new locations. It’s just been AWESOME to work with these entrepreneurs and be a part of their new business ventures. In working with all these new accounts we have so much fun and pride in promoting their businesses and feel honored to have NORKA included. How are you building on that in 2018? We’re excited to build on existing relationships in 2018 and then to continue to build new ones. As a local beverage option for businesses we always want to remain flexible and listen to what makes most sense for our retailers and customers. Building those relationships and getting to know our accounts better is always a priority. What else are you excited about doing in 2018? 2018 will be exciting as we determine the next big NORKA flavor! Who do you know that deserves a shout-out for their work in 2017? Howard Parr, Executive Director at the Akron Civic Theatre. Howard has done a tremendous job working to build one of the great gems of our downtown, The Civic. His work ethic and passion for building a better Akron is inspiring. 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