VentureOhio CEO describes Ohio entrepreneurship as one valuable package for investors.

VentureOhio CEO describes Ohio entrepreneurship as one valuable package for investors.

The CEO of VentureOhio spreads the word about companies worth investing in across Ohio.

She's slight in stature, but "diminutive" is not a term anyone applies to Falon Donohue after experiencing the energy she brings to her role as CEO of VentureOhio. Dynamo is more like it.

VentureOhio is a statewide catalyst to magnify efforts of community-based venture capital initiatives for entrepreneurs and carry a more powerful aggregate message of possibility to investors around and beyond the state. Donohue has led the trade association since May 2015. Its most recent annual report touts $373 million invested across Ohio for ventures in all investment stages, up from $321 million in 2014.

Donohue praises the work of local entrepreneur accelerators like Rev1 in Columbus, JumpStart in Cleveland and CincyTech in Cincinnati and takes pride in seeing them begin working together. "Things are improving vastly, and you can just feel it. We're working together more. Rev1 and Jumpstart just announced their first co-investment," Donohue says.

"There wasn't a whole lot of co-investing in Columbus. That's happening more and more. We like to think that the efforts of VentureOhio have helped facilitate that, if for no other reason than that we put people in the room together. A lot of the magic that's occurred in the last year and a half didn't have an agenda. There was no reason for people to get together other than to get together and start to learn more about what these 'foreign countries,' it seems, were doing," she says.

Studying the local VC scene in Ohio's metro areas and then sharing developments among counterparts is not so different from Donohue's duties as an OANG staff sergeant with an air terminal operations controller mission. Raised on a Mansfield farm, Donohue joined the National Guard in July 2001 a few days after turning 18. Her military service eventually resulted in the duty of ensuring planes took off on time across a broad range of cargo and destinations.

Donohue had to determine what was on board, what kind of ground support was needed to greet a plane and prepare it to take off again, and then brief flight crews on all particulars. "Time is money, and we needed to make sure that those planes took off on time," she says.

Now reliable information and key contacts are the currency she trades as she fills in entrepreneurs and VCs in communities across Ohio about developments and resources available just up the road. In turn, Donohue and those she briefs share a broader message of Ohio's entrepreneurial ecosystem with potential funders outside the state.

One of Donohue's primary messages is "We are Ohio," and then she touts what entrepreneurs are doing across the state. "We need our entrepreneurs, our investors, our journalists, our service providers, to start thinking about, we are Ohio, not we are Columbus, because Columbus will never compete with Silicon Valley. Neither will Cincinnati. … but if you think about Ohio as a full package, and you consider that it still takes less time to drive from Cleveland to Cincinnati than it does to drive from one end of LA to the other, and you consider us as one unit, it's a really sexy package," she says.

"If I'm a Silicon Valley investor, I'm not as likely to get on a plane just to come to Columbus just to see these three to four companies that might fit my investment criteria. But if I can fly into Cincinnati and then drive up to Columbus and then Cleveland and spend a couple of days here, you've tripled the impact of your visit. Now there's a reason to come. And so we're working on initiatives to just make that easier for those guys," she adds.

One example is Advantage Capital, which focuses on the Midwest but had not invested in Ohio prior to attending VentureOhio's annual meeting gala in 2015. Donohue says she followed up by scheduling seven meetings across the state with companies that fit the firm's criteria and they ended up investing about $20 million in Ohio. "If we could replicate that even once a year, it would make a tremendous impact," she says.

In her first few months with VentureOhio, Donohue was surprised to realize"that people in the different cities did not know each other. … Just the fact that the entrepreneurs and community members aren't aware of the resources that are in their own backyard, let alone just a short drive away, has been surprising. But pleasantly surprising has been how fast we've been able to change that, so we're really optimistic about what 2017, let alone 2018, will hold."

To help spread evangelism for what is happening across the state, VentureOhio is creating community advisory committees in Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati with designated champions to facilitate the conversation. "We hope that that cross pollination will develop friendships and those friendships will develop into opportunities and innovation and dollars. People do business with friends, and if you don't know what someone else is working on, it's hard to help out their efforts and complement their efforts," Donohue says.

Getting entrepreneurs from the different areas together will also allow them to "talk about what's working, what's not, and help each other see around the corner a little more," she adds.

How much are you on the road in Ohio and outside the state?

I'm doing both but most of my time is traveling within the state. We need to get a better understanding of what Ohio is doing well and what we need to improve upon so we can continue to hone the message that we're communicating to a global audience.

How do you measure success?

Ultimately how we will measure this is the amount of venture capital, angel capital, invested into Ohio companies increasing year over year. And we're also keeping an eye on the number of investors making investments in Ohio year over year.

What communications channels do you use?

The way we're getting a lot of the word out is grassroots. It's me having conversations with people in Ohio and those people in Ohio evangelizing that message when they're in Boston and when they're in Silicon Valley and Texas. We mailed hard copies of (the 2015) venture report to over 800 venture capitalists across the country. We've extended invitations for them to come visit, and that's going to be an initiative that we're going to hit really hard in 2017. Our website is under construction; we'll have a lot more content in 2017.

Who are VentureOhio's community champions?

We're piloting in Columbus, and there was really one person that came to mind and stood out above anyone else, and that was Ryan Frederick. Ryan was the winner of the VentureOhio Social Impact Award this year because of his altruistic spirit and all the great work that he's done in the community. By day, he's principal at AWH, but he also was instrumental in bringing i. c. stars to Columbus, co-creating BLK Hack, Product Camp. And then he's also the director for Startup Grind Columbus, and he helped to get Startup Grind started in several other Ohio cities, so he's just been fantastic.

What in your previous work translated to VentureOhio?

Everything; I grew up in rural Ohio on a farm. Then I joined the military right after high school. Congruently and then from there, I attended school. I got a job as a receptionist. I worked in sales and I worked in tech sales and I was a consultant. Really all of that was leading up to where I am today.

A lot of the magic that's occurred in the last year and a half didn't have an agenda. There was no reason for people to get together other than to get together and start to learn more about what these 'foreign countries,' it seems, were doing.

Mary Yost is the editor.