Ron Stubblefield is one of the newest faces at Cleveland’s JumpStart. He’s the recently hired Entrepreneur-In-Residence, tasked with helping to diversify tech in Ohio. Stubblefield moved to Cleveland — where he spent summers with family as a child — from Baltimore, and sat down with TechOhio to talk about creating new entrepreneurial paths, the importance of equity and equality and the best parts of his new job.
How do you explain your role as an entrepreneur-in-residence?
We exist to help current entrepreneurs navigate their journeys and hopefully become successful. For most entrepreneurs, you don’t have the knowledge until you go through it three or four times. Those challenges and mistakes can mean the difference between a successful or unsuccessful company, getting your idea off the ground, avoiding being sued, hitting the right markets or getting funding. You want somebody who’s either been there or has advised people on the journey before and can give advice that will help you be more successful eventually.
How did your entrepreneurship journey begin?
My story is one of learning business and social justice as a kid. My parents were entrepreneurs — my mother is African-American and my father is Cuban-American. They grew up saying, “How do we help business owners?” and they were helping entrepreneurs themselves. They were accountants, advising people who had their own businesses. Watching them, I thought, “I want to be able to do that at some level to help somebody.” After I went to school too many times and had a chance to start working with different people and helping different entrepreneurs, I found my avenue to combine those passions.
Cleveland was one of the best places to do it because my mother’s family is from here and the city helped them to be successful. I want to be part of the conversation about what’s next for Cleveland and give back to the people here, just like Cleveland gave to my family. I want to help people become entrepreneurs beyond their wildest dreams.
How exciting is it that your job exists, let alone that you get to do it?
You know, it’s really amazing. Once upon a time, if you said, “I need help,” good luck. Maybe you had a friend or someone to connect you with somebody. Maybe if you were fortunate, a banker might say, “All right, let me try to talk with you about things.” And if you had some money, maybe you could afford a lawyer or some other services. The problem is that most people, especially those from black and Latinx communities, don’t have access to those resources. But they deserve support as entrepreneurs too. So organizations like JumpStart and roles like this are really exciting because it’s opening up more equity and participation.
What’s exciting about the future of Cleveland’s entrepreneurial scene?
We’re going to make Cleveland a model for the 21st century and grow the economy through innovation. That’s mission-critical because it’s going to create the jobs that ultimately create the wealth opportunities that can ultimately help lift people, grow the city, grow our tax base and show that Cleveland’s a city driven by innovation.
What’s the greatest impact you get to make in your position?
For me, it’s taking time to work with entrepreneurs. I think that has a big impact because I’m able to talk with them, inspire them and help them figure out how to turn ideas into realities. Ideas are not self-executing, and having the right coaches around you to help you figure out, how to take an idea into actualization is critical. That’s what gets me up every morning.
What are your short- and long-term goals?
My short-term goals are to let our entrepreneurs of color know these resources are even here, as well as demystifying what it takes to be an entrepreneur. You don’t need a tech background. Some of your greatest, most innovative companies over the last 20 years were people who were English majors. They just had the right idea and had the right support systems around them. So it’s important to educate on that support system.
In the long run, my goals are to start creating more funding access and direct program access to communities of color throughout the city of Cleveland. I want to better support them and be more responsive to their needs, because we don’t know what the future holds. If I’m effective, we can build infrastructure and resources so that the next time something like COVID-19 happens, people know that they can get the funding they need when they need it.
What do you like to do with your free time?
One of the things I love about this area is the fact that I can take my bike out on weekends and there are an infinite amount of spaces you can go to. I can bike off the Lake, downtown, different Metro parks and more. So that’s the number one pastime that I love.
Cleveland has a very organic sense of community. Even during COVID, there are different types of community events, virtual and in-person, that you can always plug into. And of course, if and when football season comes back to full force, I’m excited for that. Go Browns!
What makes entrepreneurship so exciting to you?
We tell kids to be imaginative — they have imaginary friends and write stories. I think the imaginative adult becomes the entrepreneur, because an entrepreneur is simply using their imagination and creativity to address something that they see as missing in society. Think of how cool that is and what it’s given us.
When I want to travel, I can find a room more easily because of Airbnb. But we also have people coming up with new treatments for diseases or helping people save money. These are all innovative ways we can change and improve people’s quality of life and do it in imaginative ways. That’s why it’s so exciting.
What makes Cleveland a great place to start a business?
What’s really great about starting a company here are the great resources and expertise and a community that wants to see you succeed. Different communities have different strengths, but in Cleveland, people want to see you thrive, no matter what your background is. There are resources to help you do that, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s cheaper to start your business here while you still have access to every major market that you want to get into.
What are you working on that’s exciting for the future?
I’m really excited to work on our entrepreneurial roadmap. It answers “What exactly do I need to do as an entrepreneur?” It can be confusing, especially when you’re a first time founder, and you need some help. So we’re organizing a roadmap that goes through the process of starting a business. We go from ideating to resources that are available, developing a product or service and finally launching it into a business and accelerating growth. As part of this initiative, we’re providing educational content to teach entrepreneurs the things they need to think about before they make business decisions, with the hopes that this will help our entrepreneurial community be able to move more effectively and with more knowledge in this space.
What’s an important piece of advice for a young entrepreneur?
One key piece of advice is this: be excited about your idea, but make sure you find people who can be a cold circle and give you honest feedback about that idea. Because, at the end of the day, what makes successful entrepreneurs versus unsuccessful entrepreneurs is how well you prove and validate that your idea is what the world really wants and will pay for. If you can figure that out, the rest can take care of itself. But a lot of entrepreneurs jump to building products and seeking funding without making sure there’s a market first. Test the market. Once you move the market, then build your idea.