Meet the Judges for the 2021 Startup Creativity Challenge

digital illustration of an award trophy

Impress these three expert entrepreneurs to take home the title

The 2021 Startup Creativity Challenge has officially begun! We’re celebrating the peak of creative solutions in our innovative state. But with so many great ideas across Ohio, how could we possibly select a winner? Luckily for us, we don’t have to!

To pick the best of the best in Ohio startup creativity, we turned to three entrepreneurs who are experts in creative solutions from different corners of the state. Judging submissions for the 2021 Startup Creativity Challenge will be Candice Matthews Brackeen in Cincinnati, Will Zell in Columbus and Heather Hall in Cleveland. Their selections will ultimately decide who is crowned our first-ever winner.

 Candice Matthews Brackeen General Partner at Lightship Capital

Candice Matthews Brackeen,
General Partner at Lightship Capital

Brackeen is a fixture of the Cincinnati startup world. Since 2017, she’s served as executive director of the Hillman Accelerator, an inclusive entrepreneurship education program focused on underrepresented entrepreneurs and their startups. She’s launched multiple Cincinnati-area businesses and is no stranger to the power of creative thinking.

“Creativity is critical when it comes to being an entrepreneur,” she said. “It’s necessary when establishing a point of difference, pivoting, and other meaningful decisions within a business environment. Iteration, predicting future needs, and capturing generations of customers requires expansion of the mind that few are able to achieve.”

 Will Zell Founder and CEO at Zell Capital | Co-Founder and President at Nikola Labs, Inc.

Will Zell,
Founder and CEO at Zell Capital, Co-Founder and President at Nikola Labs, Inc.

Zell is a longtime member of the central Ohio startup scene. He founded a real estate company in 2006 and a private investment company in 2011 before founding and serving as CEO of Nikola Labs in 2014. His most recent venture is Zell Capital, an investment fund focused on opening venture capital and private equity investing to all. He called creativity an “integral part of entrepreneurship,” and knows the value of creative problem solving.

“An entrepreneur starts a business because they believe there is a problem to be solved or an opportunity to be created in a market,” he said. “This journey starts as a thought or idea before it ever becomes a business. The process of building from thought to reality is a purely creative process. Creativity is not limited to design, branding or marketing. It is expressed in the thousands of problems an entrepreneur will encounter when they start a business and the fact that there is not a playbook full of solutions for each problem. You must be creative to look at each problem and figure out the best solution.”

Heather Hall

Heather Hall

When Cleveland entrepreneurs need guidance, they turn to Hall. As Entrepreneur-in-residence at JumpStart, she works with companies as they evolve from idea to application, develop plans and launch their products. With experience at both the startup level and larger companies like AT&T, Hall has seen the impact creativity can have on a business.

“A lot of times people view creativity as an artistic answer, but it’s more complex,” she said. “Creativity allows people to see problems differently and come up with novel solutions to those problems. The ability to see a problem and develop a different solution than the options that exist truly sets an entrepreneur apart and creates the strongest basis for the most innovative companies.”

Feeling inspired? Nominate your startup by the June 4 deadline and you could be the first ever winner of the Startup Creativity Challenge!

For full contest rules, click here.

Now you know who you’ll be aiming to impress! Between now and our winner announcement, be sure to check out TechOhio’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram, where we’ll be sharing submissions, info about our judges and more!

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