ELYRIA — A Cleveland-based technology organization wants to breathe new life into Ohio’s entrepreneurial spirit by providing free business resources and mentoring to folks looking to start high-tech businesses.
NorTech officials visited Lorain County Community College’s Spitzer Conference Center on Tuesday to unveil TechLift, an initiative that uses matching state money to help technology entrepreneurs turn their ideas into reality.
The program will help entrepreneurs secure funding and grants for businesses, as well as develop business strategies, find workers, connect with potential customers and negotiate the challenges that can impede even the most ambitious businessperson.
“It’s easy to forget that the goal was to drain the swamp when you’re trying to fight off all the alligators,” said Chris Mather, vice president of NorTech.
Organizers say the TechLift program’s greatest asset will be its free access to business mentors — industry specialists who already have learned which tools can knock down business barriers.
TechLift is funded in part by NorTech, though matching funds were provided from the state.
The meeting at LCCC was one of five, with the four other meetings focusing on other regions in Ohio.
The entire $15 million in funding that the TechLift program has obtained will allow it to provide $6 million in early funding for technology startups that are trying to move from the conceptual stage to the venture-capital business stage, Mather said, adding that making the jump from the two stages is a formidable task – what industry experts call “The Valley of Death.”
It means moving a business to where private investors or grant money can be secured to turn the business idea into a viable enterprise.
TechLift’s remaining $9 million will be used to pay for entrepreneurial experts and entrepreneurs-in-residence who will provide hands-on training to businesses.
The local entrepreneurs’ resource, for instance, would be Don Knechtges, who runs LCCC’s Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise, a program that offers local startup companies free access to essential services — an office, phones, clerical help — so the companies can focus on developing and solidifying a place in the business world.
The TechLift program zeroes in the five “signature” high-tech industries: advanced energy, information and communications technologies, electronics, bioscience and advanced materials.
Ultimately, getting entrepreneurs to start businesses in these industries will be the key to job creation and economic growth, Mather said.
“We want to make Northeast Ohio the best place in the U.S. to start and grow a technology company,” Mather said.
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