Ohio: The Silicon Heartland

Image courtesy of Pixabay

OhioX is a member-based nonprofit organization with representation from Fortune 500 companies, universities, research organizations, startups, and tech-focused businesses. Launched in December 2019, OhioX is working to build Ohio into a tech hub.

We spoke to Chris Berry, OhioX’s CEO, and Scott Allen, the Dr. James S. Reid Chair in Management at John Carroll University, about the plans to promote their state.

What would you call OhioX’s primary mission?

Berry: We’re a statewide tech nonprofit working to build Ohio into a tech hub. We work across the state’s 88 counties. We celebrate and promote and really just tell the story of tech in the state. We have these big metro areas Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Toledo, Akron, Canton, Youngstown, and so on, that each have their own tech ecosystems.

Why do you think getting the word out is so important?

Berry: Midwest modesty. The issue isn’t that we don’t have incredible tech innovation going on here. We’re just helping raise awareness for it. Our cities are three ecosystems in and of themselves. There’s incredible work happening in each of those cities, but we want to better tell the entire state story. We’re just trying to raise that awareness, bring people together, and celebrate tech in Ohio.

Are individual Ohio cities known for a specific tech vertical?

Berry: There’s a very robust insurtech ecosystem that has grown in Columbus. Cincinnati has some great stories around direct-to-consumer ecommerce and around supply chain logistics. Cleveland is home to medical innovation because it’s home to a number of leading hospital systems, the most notable being the Cleveland Clinic. There are definitely differences but that’s what makes the state special.

Allen: Dayton is known for its high concentration of aerospace and aviation technology. The National Air and Space Intelligence Center and the Air Force Research Laboratory both have their headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. [In 2009, Governor Ted Strickland designated Dayton as Ohio’s aerospace innovation hub, the state’s first such technology hub.]

That’s why I have so much respect for what Chris is doing. Because he’s pulling all of that together into one coherent story, sharing it, and building awareness and pride in the state.

It looks like the awareness is building. Tell us about the tee shirt.

Berry: We partnered with Homage, a Columbus tee shirt company to make it. A portion of every shirt sale is getting donated to schools and non-profits to get kids excited for tech careers. The shirts have the Ohio state seal under the heading ‘The Silicon Heartland.’ It was inspired by the Intel announcement [Intel is building two electronic chip plants in Ohio and will spend $20 billion to create 3,000 jobs.]

Allen: What’s been really neat is just the passion and the excitement around the shirt. Tech pros, tech leaders, and tech enthusiasts from all across Ohio have been taking selfies in these shirts and posting into their LinkedIn and Twitter accounts. It was just such an organic spin. I just saw one someone posted–he’s on vacation in Florida and he took a photo of him wearing the Ohio shirt.

There’s real Ohio pride here. And it’s not just the Reds, the Browns, the Bengals or the Buckeyes. People really love being from Ohio and I think that’s what we’re kind of seeing the shine in this.

Ohio is home to a number of Fortune 1000 companies. What has that meant to the state’s ecosystem?

Allen: We’ve got Kroger, P&G, Nationwide, Progressive. When you look at that aggregate, it’s really impressive.

Berry: Those companies spawn people who also grow the ecosystem. Someone at an established Fortune 1000 company might say, ‘Hey, I have this idea.’ And then they leave and go start a new business. I think that’s where the real Ohio opportunity is. It’s not just ‘Let’s get into artificial intelligence.’ It’s more about how does artificial intelligence make the home lending process or insurance tech better.

Northeastern Ohio has an incredible tradition of building things. Tech is the next generation for that. We’re implementing machine learnings within a space we’re already good at. That’s where people started their careers or spent their time doing. It plays into the investor thesis in our state. If you’re making manufacturing tech, then what better place to build your tech company? Intel is a great example of that.