Jonathan “JB” Woodruff was in the process of changing hats when NKY Thrives caught up with him one recent morning at UpTech
’s Covington headquarters. He does that a lot, as one of only two full-time staff for the regional tech accelerator that recently announced its fifth annual cohort of data-driven startups.
In his role as Program Director, Woodruff helps decide which companies make the cut to receive UpTech’s considerable program benefits that range from mentorship and legal advice to up to $50,000 in startup capital. He’s also responsible for continually developing program curriculum, connecting with potential investors, aggregating business resources and mentoring entrepreneurs throughout the six-month cohort cycle. Meanwhile, he serves as Commercialization Director for the Kentucky Innovation Network
It’s a chaotic pace, but Woodruff adjusted quickly after coming on board 18 months ago, thanks to support from UpTech founders and board members Casey Barach and Bill Scheyer of Skyward
as well as Woodruff's counterpart, Operations Manager Abby Ober.
UpTech Program Director JB Woodruff
A native Cincinnatian, Woodruff’s career trajectory has roots in Nairobi, Kenya, where he caught the "startup bug" while mentoring fledgling organizations before returning stateside to start his own web and graphic design firm. The experience abroad changed both Woodruff's personal worldview and his approach to leadership — a shift that’s apparent in the nine companies selected this year. UpTech 5 participants hail from nearby Cincinnati, Dayton and Kenton County, and as far away as Luxembourg, New Delhi, Riga, Dublin and Chile. (See the full list of companies at the bottom of this article.)
Incubation techniques five years in the making
Since its earliest days when it was referred to as Greater Cincinnati’s “innovation cluster,” UpTech has maintained a strong regional focus, but now organizers cast a wider recruiting net, not just to diversify the talent pool and showcase our region’s benefits for a broader audience; the goal is also to draw interest from corporate investors.
Soon after joining UpTech, Woodruff authored a 12-point curriculum that serves to streamline the overall incubation process while opening the door to large-scale implementation by corporations like 84.51°
, enabling industry giants to tap into the agility and passion that characterize startup culture.
“(Cincinnati-based accelerator) The Brandery
partners with Kroger and Procter & Gamble,” Woodruff says. “Data is a little harder, so we’re still trying to find out if the corporate sector could support something like this. Ideally, we would provide training and support for companies that want to house the incubation model and develop the tools to explore great ideas from within.”
Also new to UpTech this year is a “5-plus-1 month” format that gives startups a chance to decompress at the end of the rigorous process.
“It used to be that these companies would just run, run, run for six straight months and then suddenly stop,” Woodruff explains. “Now we’re able to have more of a transition after the product demo, tie up loose ends, take a look at what worked and what didn’t and talk about next steps.”
That recovery time is especially helpful for those startups that fail to gain the support and funding they need to proceed to market — a disappointing conclusion, but not an uncommon one, Woodruff says. “This process isn’t for everyone, and not everyone succeeds. UpTech can only provide the tools and push these ideas along, but we can’t guarantee success. Each company is responsible for building a good product and, more importantly, doing what’s necessary to get customers to use it and invest in it.”
Nine diverse companies share strong community interest
Christi Brown is confident that her UpTech 5 submission is up to the challenge.
Brown's idea for iReport
— a data-collection app that streamlines companies’ safety and training programs — stemmed from a terrible experience she had as a third-party administrator. While investigating an on-the-job fatality resulting from negligence, Brown learned that her client's inefficient processes had failed to ensure training, certification and systems of accountability for the parties involved in the incident.
“Looking a person’s family member in the eyes and telling them their loved one’s death could have been prevented is not something anyone should ever have to do,” she says.
That experience sealed the deal, and Brown began exploring incubator programs and researching micro-technology to get a sense of how her idea might translate to app format. She was selected for UpTech 5, and her passion for business incubation grew.
Fast forward to present. Within two years, Brown will sell iReport, which she describes as “absolutely scalable and absolutely saleable,” and start a brand-new venture with the primary goal of helping other entrepreneurs grow their ideas.
“Lots of people are here for the money,” Brown says. “I’m here for the ecosystem.”
Similarly, Glenn Lawyer is confident that his product will “hit the curriculum,” but his take on ecosystem extends beyond the startup community. A physician by trade, Lawyer created Healthcast
primarily to give families a reliable framework for navigating cold and flu season.
Described as a GPS system for good health, Healthcast technology relies on a combination of public health data and user-generated info to help patients first prevent illness and, in the event illness occurs, to track symptoms and manage care delivery.
“I wanted to join a program with a strong sense of community, since that's the focus of my work,” says Lawyer, whose colleagues Tariq Khaleeq and Tobias Theobald studied at Germany's Saarland University. “Good health is a community endeavor. If your kids are healthy but the rest of the community isn’t, then no one is healthy.”
Lawyer anticipates that “average people and families” will be the first and strongest investors in Healthcast, but long-term goals include partnering with St. Elizabeth and other area health providers to disseminate the app's benefits across a wider audience.
Seven other data-driven startups make up this year's UpTech 5 cohort. Read their company descriptions below and visit UptechIdeas.org
to learn how to invest or beta test this year’s product offerings.
- Papr: End-to-end hardware-plus-software solution that offers businesses an alternative to printing physical paper.
- Rescoper: Project management software infused with artificial intelligence that encourages team-based efficiency and productivity.
- Road-aid: An analytic company that captures and productizes collected road data for a wide range of customers with initial product focus on pothole data that will soon be tailored for governments, drivers and insurers.
- Shogooru: Discovery and streaming platform for podcasts and radio that makes it possible for producers to highlight content within their shows and for listeners to find and interact with it.
- Social/Arcade: Online drag-and-drop template service for launching branded apps, quizzes and games; will be aimed at creative agencies and small and medium enterprises.
- TheMonetizr: Helps game developers monetize their mobile games by turning design assets into branded merchandise. Designed to provide high returns and ultimate automation, from products and shop to manufacturing and worldwide distribution.
- WhatSupp: Mobile app that enables the nutritional supplement industry to help consumers make better-informed decisions when purchasing and taking dietary supplements.