A central part of our work in recent years has involved collaborations with a dense network of fellow economic development entities in our home region. We gain ideas and energy by interacting closely with these colleagues and together we have built an entrepreneurial support ecosystem that’s a model for other regions.
 
Even as our network of collaborators and thought leadership has grown beyond the boundaries of Northeast Ohio, we believe it is crucial to continue to build on these strategic partnerships closer to home, which strengthen our region and serve as a compelling platform for telling our story elsewhere.
 
As Northeast Ohio’s economic challenges evolve, we continue to adapt to these changes, while also serving at the forefront of those leadership efforts. Through the Fund for Our Economic Future of Northeast Ohio, the region’s major philanthropic stakeholders have been working in concert for more than a decade to build a vibrant and sustainable regional economy.  Now, these entities are taking a more integrated strategic approach to bring new business to the region and help existing businesses thrive.
 
This approach led to a fundamental transformation of Team NEO—a successful partnership between the region’s business sector and philanthropic community. Charged with retention, expansion, and attraction of business, Team NEO merged with NorTech just over a year ago and is now better positioned to align the region’s technology clusters with business development priorities.
 
Fund leaders have learned that a focus on growing jobs, however, is not enough to create a healthy regional economy. Instead, those efforts must be married to strategic initiatives that provide greater access to opportunities. Thus, we’ve mutually committed to better connecting communities in economic distress to the larger regional economy.
 
This regional transformation is also evidenced through our participation in such initiatives as Forward Cities, a national learning collaborative dedicated to encouraging urban innovation. Through this new program, we have been fortunate to enter into conversations with other cities—Durham, New Orleans, and Detroit—to share best practices for building regional innovation ecosystems.
 
The two-year pilot program, co-chaired in this region by Foundation President and CEO Deborah Hoover, seeks to strengthen existing networks and accelerate entrepreneurial activity. It’s identifying new ways to develop and support more entrepreneurs, social innovators, and neighborhood change-makers from low income communities, while also working to ensure a vibrant pipeline of talent among the next generation.
 
One could see the fruits of this transformed regional approach at last year’s JumpStart annual meeting. Convened in the Gordon Square Arts District, a near-west-side Cleveland neighborhood that has undergone a remarkable renaissance in recent years, the sessions focused on topics of interest not only to traditional high-growth companies, but also to smaller emerging businesses and solo entrepreneurs. The agenda demonstrated the true scope and diversity of the region’s entrepreneurial community.
 
At that meeting, JumpStart CEO Ray Leach publicly recognized the Foundation as “the straw that stirs entrepreneurship in Northeast Ohio.”