The world of startups can be challenging. At times, it’s a dog-eat-dog world with high costs and plenty of competition, and second chances can be rare. But for this startup, the extra runway and support provided by the Ohio startup scene is giving it that rare second chance. Akron-based Bezlio, founded by brothers Adam and Brian Ellis back in 2016, is a cloud-based mobile platform meant to make the lives of manufacturers and their employees easier.
“Bezlio makes shop floor productivity software for middle-market manufacturers,” CEO Gerald Hetrick said. “We believe that really great products are built by productive and inspired employees. The majority of manufacturing employees are on the shop floor doing tech and production tests, receiving materials and shipping goods and producing the goods that are being made. We exist to make their lives more productive so that manufacturers thrive and grow.”
In spite of a promising plan, the startup’s process of going to market started to stall after a few years. That’s when Hetrick joined the team after falling in love “with the passion” coming from the Bezlio team. One of the first things he prioritized was rebuilding its support and investment, and he only had to look into the company’s back yard.
“The Northeast Ohio investor ecosystem was intentional about reviving this business,” he said. “We may not have been able to do this in any other place. JumpStart led the group that invested in us, and they’ve been the most active investor in the last five years. They’ve really fought to keep it alive. But this was a plan. When I got here, I saw that there was an opportunity and there were great people on the team and we could leverage our local resources to revive this.”
That process culminated in a $4.5 million fundraise, which was announced in April of 2023. That funding was led by Ohio Third Frontier partners in Cleveland JumpStart and North Coast Ventures, in addition to JobsOhio, Advantage Capital, and M25. That support will allow Bezlio to reinvest in its team, its products, and its brand and marketing, and will set the stage for a relaunch. And if all goes well, Hetrick said he wants Bezlio to be “one of the drivers” of the exciting Northeast Ohio startup scene.
“The team we’re building is intentional about being in the Northeast Ohio startup community,” he said. “The people we’ve brought in were specifically sought out because they want to be part of this tech startup ecosystem. If we’re successful, they’ll all go on to do other things at great companies or become founders themselves. My ultimate goal is to build this waterfall effect of creative growth in Northeast Ohio.”
Giving back to his community is a major motivator for Hetrick, and he said it’s one of the values of his entire team. On a personal level, he grew up in the Cleveland suburbs and attended John Carroll University before leaving the area for places like New Orleans, California, Tennessee, and Kentucky. But when he returned as an adult, he found a community that he loved, and is now a major proponent of Northeast Ohio and its community.
“I came back and fell in love with Cleveland,” he said. “There’s this rich balance of cost of living, green space, waterfront, family space, and everything else. Then, through building a couple companies here, I’ve become part of this great ecosystem and I love the people who are part of it. The people who are in this tech scene are great CEOs, they’re super authentic. It’s different from being on the coasts, and we have such a great atmosphere here. I want to look back one day and say, ‘We did special things in Cleveland and we were part of the inspiration for other folks to do it.’”