The organization gathers startup community around dinner and coffee
People say it’s all about who you know — whether looking for a job, like-minded associates or business partners, most would agree that growing a network is essential for being a part of any startup scene. For Start in CLE, it’s another age-old adage that rings true: the best way to the heart is through the stomach. At the organization’s core is a dedication to building community through food-centered events, and as they pull up chairs to the table, they hope to revolutionize the startup network.
“Start in CLE began as an effort to enhance the culture in the Cleveland region and startup community,” said Ed Buchholz, founder and managing director. “We’re a nonprofit community organization that’s oriented around building a support system. Start in CLE. The command is in our namesake, we want to emphasize the importance of building a network of founders here.”
The best way to start? Tacos and coffee. The organization started around the idea of inviting entrepreneurs to dinner. What began as an informal gathering among friends quickly blossomed into a monthly founder dinner that rotates among restaurants in the Cleveland area, offering the chance for intimate conversation and idea sharing. The food-based approach doesn’t stop there. Start in CLE’s “co-founder speed dating” also hosted at local restaurants gives founders the chance to search for talent and create new connections as they rotate through tables in five- minute increments.
“I feel like there’s something about food that’s ingrained in our DNA,” said Buchholz. “There’s an innate lowering of the guard when you’re sharing a meal with someone. When you take someone out to dinner or you grab coffee it becomes sort of inspiring — you get out of the office and your normal circumstances and build an actual connection. It’s a great way to advocate for entrepreneurship, too. We’ve been to 14 unique local restaurants so far and those business owners are founders too. Everything we do is at a dinner or coffee shop, and I think that’s important.”
Start in CLE is also hard at work tapping into the startup system in Ohio. In addition to hosting community office hours with mentors like Ray Leach from Jumpstart or fireside chats with former Cintrifuse CEO Wendy Lea, both partners of Ohio Third Frontier, Start in CLE hopes to build their services as complements to the region’s existing scene.
“We’re trying make everyone familiar with each other, so entrepreneurs can take their relationships to the next level,” said Buchholz. “We’ve got big plans for the future in terms of working with these regional partners to promote a sense of camaraderie. Building a startup is hard. Sometimes entrepreneurs can hit a wall, and we want to be there for them, even if it’s doing something as simple as buying them dinner.”
As the team looks ahead to more founder dinners, panels and even a possible charitable organization, Buchholz noted the importance of community feedback when building the resources offered to their community.
“We’re really interested in addressing the needs of minority and women entrepreneurs. We want to better understand how we can help them be a part of this community and how we can bring everyone to the table to share a meal. I believe that we can start that conversation in Ohio, it’s the perfect place to begin.”