Interim Executive Director discusses role of connecting local startups
— Courtney Gras has worked for NASA and runs her own tech startup in downtown Akron, but recently she realized her true passion may lie in helping startup companies get off the ground.
“My startup was here and the idea of a startup community really appealed to me,” says Gras, the interim executive director of Launch League, which considers itself a backbone organization for local startups and entrepreneurs. While she aspires to lift up her own company Design Flux Technologies — which aims to reduce the cost of maintaining and managing stored energy, like batteries — Gras sees herself as a facilitator more than a serial entrepreneur.
“The Northeast Ohio entrepreneurship ecosystem has a lot of organizations,” she adds. “Launch League is trying to build a community of founders and connect that community to support organizations and to be the glue that holds it all together.”
And what better way to help solidify this role than Launch League’s inaugural Flight conference, Dec. 2 at the John S. Knight Center in downtown Akron. Flight 2016, which is intended to be Launch League’s flagship event, is the first ever startup conference in the Midwest designed to bring together entrepreneurs, investors and professional support vendors, including attorneys, marketing professionals and funders. The all-day conference will enable local startups and support organizations to network, learn from one another, recruit talent and explore ideas to help make them more competitive.
Gras says that she hopes the conference will better position Launch League to help our many local startups grow in a scalable manner. The conference comprises 21 different breakout sessions on a variety of topics. “The startup founders tend to like founder-led discussions. Hearing from startup founders that are local and that have raised money and been successful in the region is important to us,” she says.
The event will also include two keynote speakers: Chris Horne, an Akronite who publishes the Devil Strip magazine and works on a number of other entrepreneurial efforts; and Blake Squires, a partner at Hatch LLC, who’s also from Akron.
Even though it’s hosted in Akron, the Flight conference is expected to serve a geographic gap that also includes neighboring cities like Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Detroit.
Many regional startups have had to make the trek to Silicon Valley if they wanted to connect with resources, so why not keep these resources here in the Midwest, notes Gras.
Flight will follow the success of Launch League’s recent NEXTOhio conference, which brought about 275 people to Quaker Station, and Gras is expecting more than 300 for the Flight event.
She points out that we have a healthy ecosystem of business startups in Northeast Ohio. And Launch League can help connect all of these pieces of this regional startup puzzle.
In particular, Launch League will help our area’s many business founders to better connect to funding. “The No. 1 complaint founders have is, ‘we don’t know where the money is,’” she adds.
Flight takes place Dec. 2 at the John S. Knight Center in downtown Akron. The conference is open to startups and their employees, investors, attorneys and other support service organizations. There also is a VIP party scheduled for Dec. 1 at Chop and Swizzle bistro.
For info and to register, visit www.launchleague.org/flight.
Organizers also are hosting a “Meet the Speakers” event, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 6 p.m. at Nuevo Mexican restaurant. For details and to register, click here.