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Silicon Valley Money Men and Women Look for Ohio Investments

Akron entrepreneur Rob Heiser talks to Nitin Pachisia (right) and other Silicon Valley investors about the derth of money for startups locally.

More than a dozen Silicon Valley venture capitalists are taking a closer look this week at what are often dismissed as rust-belt cities: places like Youngstown, Akron and Detroit. They’re trying to figure out if there’s a match to be made with their money and the region’s strengths. WKSU’s M.L. Schultze reports on the Akron stop on what’s being called the Comeback Cities tour.

The smell of the city’s rubber history still lingers in the stairwells in the old B.F. Goodrich plant on the south side of Akron’s downtown.

But the discussion among the more than two dozen people in a loft conference room at what's now the Bounce Innovation Hub is about the future – and ways venture capitalists can stop flying over the Midwest and start investing in it. Congressman Tim Ryan, who helped organize the three-day tour, says the region’s argument is economic and beyond.

Tim Ryan and Comeback Cities participants
Congressman Tim Ryan (right) says the booming economy needs to be spread more evenly through America.

“The economics match up to where these venture capital funds and businesses could say I could locate there, do the same thing I’m doing in Silicon Valley and cut a third of my costs just out of the gate. Plus you get entrepreneurs that are hungry, you get people that are graduating from the schools that are hungry and will work their rear ends off for you.”

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan told the group he’s counting on three things to revive his city: millennials, entrepreneurs and immigrants.

Nitin Pachisia, an immigrant from India who started a Silicon Valley fund 40 years ago to invest in immigrant startups, said that perspective was important for him to hear.

“I go where the talent is. So what I’m trying to do is get closer to the entrepreneurs, where they are, instead of sitting in our bubble and expecting them to come to us.”

Rob Heiser founded a startup 10 years ago in Akron called Segmint. It provides data analytics primarily to financial institutions. He acknowledges local investors are often more conservative and wary of start-ups.

“If you’re trying to do something that’s transformative, there’s no big access to funds here. There’s a huge gap."

The tour continues today in Detroit and Flint and wraps up in South Bend tomorrow.

M.L. Schultze is a freelance journalist. She spent 25 years at The Repository in Canton where she was managing editor for nearly a decade, then served as WKSU's news director and digital editor until her retirement.