Message to Cincinnati Start-Ups: The critical importance of a people-centered growth strategy

The Queen City was in the top five metros in terms of the percentage of entrepreneurs remaining employed from 2015 to 2016 in the Kauffman Index of Startup Activity. They were also ranked number 24 overall in the rate of new entrepreneurs and density of start-ups. The entrepreneurial scene that has taken hold over the last several years continues to fuel Cincinnati’s economy and shape its culture. Home to 10 Fortune 500 companies, Cincinnati’s start-up scene is an interesting collaboration of partnerships between corporations and small businesses. From sustainable start-ups to networking conferences like FounderCon and regular events centered around entrepreneurship, the city is teeming with opportunity for growth. Just search #StartupCincy if you’re not convinced.  

The city’s start-up network is bursting at the seams with resources. Incubators like HCDC’s Business Center and Bad Girl Ventures, along with accelerators such as UpTech and the Brandery provide a range of programs designed to transform ideas into small businesses, all with a slightly different niche. Funding and research is available through organizations like Cincy Tech, and most resources fall under Cintrifuse, a venture development investor that works as an umbrella under which much of Cincinnati’s start-up ecosystem falls.

The value of HR for entrepreneurs

An important task for new business owners is assembling the right team and establishing practices for engaging and retaining employees. Core Founder Maggie Frye finds that start-ups often approach human resources too narrowly; focusing on paperwork, risk management and employment law. Don’t get me wrong – these are all critical to the success of your start-up; however, equally critical is the human dynamics piece. Your employees are vital in shaping the cultural norms of your organization and will ultimately be representing your brand. As we often say around here, “Your People Are Your Core.”  It’s people who will propel your business forward – nothing more, nothing less.

Maggie is a member of the advisory board committee for Bad Girl Ventures (playfully named the Avengers), a start-up incubator that backs female entrepreneurs through a variety of programming, mentorship and access to funding. Core puts an emphasis on talent strategy and prioritizing competencies and values to help shape talent acquisition messaging and collateral to attract the right team. For example, if you put the time in up front to strategically profile a new role and cultural fit, you can use that profile to write a job description, draft interview questions, select assessments, etc. A workshop on “discovering your strengths,” led by Maggie last year for BGV’s Grow program, also echoed a more strategic and human approach to talent strategy. As does Core’s HR and talent curriculum embedded into BGV’s  Launch program.

Featured start-up with people-centered strategy: Hive

For Andrew Savitz, one of three founders of the Hive app and graduate of UpTech’s accelerator program early last year, it was important that his initial team consist of those who seek initiative. The app creates playlists for users based on the swipe of a 30-second clip; think Tinder for music lovers. Beyond providing visibility for new artists, Hive focuses on connecting musicians with record labels and updates users via their blog about the most popular trending artists. A passion for Hive’s mission and a bold attitude are crucial in looking for new employees, says Andrew. These attributes establish a culture of creative independence at Hive, where individual accountability pushes team members to their full potential without micromanaging.

“We try focusing on culture, the team being close to each other, and the mission of the company…finding passionate people who are willing to take reduced salaries to work on something they actually care about and have fun. It makes the talent pool much smaller, but when you find the right person, it really works.”

Andrew expresses gratitude for team members who go out of their way to do things without being asked and rewards behaviors where autonomy is exercised for the good of the company. Business leaders need to remember to reward the behaviors they want to see repeated; and constructively address the behaviors that they don’t (the first time!).

What’s your talent strategy?
As Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial landscape grows and changes, the necessity for acquiring and retaining the right talent for your team will remain. Ensuring the success of start-ups like Hive means being very intentional with recruitment. As the saying goes, “Hire slow. Fire fast.” Tap into the wealth of resources geared toward start-ups in the tri-state and contact Amy Clark  at Core for more information on leadership programs, consulting services, and workshops for your new business.

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