How entrepreneurs and creatives are helping transform this Dayton suburb
Think you already know where to find all of Ohio’s best tech and startup ideas? You might need to think again. With a population of just under 60,000, Springfield — home of Wittenberg University — isn’t your typical tech town. A few miles outside of Dayton, the city is adding exciting new amenities and showcasing how many big ideas can be found in Ohio’s smaller cities. Springfield Hustles was created this summer as a way to highlight a few local business ideas with a Shark Tank-style competition and more than $70,000 in grand-prize funding. But what organizers got was much more than they anticipated.
“We got ourselves in trouble a little bit,” laughed Dana Akers, a Springfield entrepreneur and co-founder of Launch Runner who helped organize the competition. “We thought there might be 50 applications and we ended up getting 133. They were all across the board — some tech startups, some bike shops, food-related ideas and drone companies. And the ages of these folks are across the board too. We have high school students and also an 82-year-old with a business idea.”
For Akers, the overwhelming response comes from a combination of economic and lifestyle changes in Springfield. Not only are organizations like the Small Business Development Center helping entrepreneurs, but Springfield’s amenities are improving and providing an environment that attracts creatives and entrepreneurs. And with the city on the upswing, he hopes next year’s Springfield Hustles will be even better.
“There’s a lot of momentum in Springfield right now,” said Akers. “Over the last five years, we’re really starting to see growth with some of the things that are being built like Mother Stewart’s Brewing Company, Hatch Artist Studios and COhatch’s The Market, along with coffee shops and restaurants and living spaces. There are a lot of really cool things going on like a lot of midwestern towns that are springing back to life.”
Springfield native Roark Thompson took home the event’s top prize Nov. 6 with his startup, PIPE Ag, an app for farmers that tracks their equipment while it harvests fields, improving efficiency and putting a farm team on the same page. For him, the idea represented the next step in PIPE’s evolution, and a great sign for Springfield companies beyond his own.
“Springfield Hustles is great exposure, can help bring us some credibility and is an amazing opportunity for entrepreneurs to get some financial help,” said Thompson. “We’re really starting to see changes in Springfield, and the city seems to be putting forth a significant effort to help small businesses to grow the city. This competition represents a spark to ignite people to improve their lives and their business in our area. It’s a way to bring Springfield together. I think we have something great here.”