Ray Leach walked from table to table inside the Kardiac Club at FirstEnergy Stadium and chatted with dozens of entrepreneurs, all of whom had joined his organization to help their small businesses take a giant leap.
Leach is the CEO of JumpStart, a nationally recognized venture development organization that provides capital, services and connections to small business owners in Northeast Ohio. The organization held its third event in partnership with the Browns on Tuesday at FirstEnergy Stadium — a "First and Tech" happy hour event for tech startups led by minority founders in the area to expose their business to investors and learn from other entrepreneurs and business experts about how they can grow their companies.
"At JumpStart, we focus on three principal resources: capital, services and connections," Leach said. "What's unique about the Browns is they can bring the whole community together, so entrepreneurs here have an opportunity to meet all different kinds of stakeholders, bankers, investors and other service providers, and also each other.
"In the community of entrepreneurs, finding ways to connect with each other and help each other is all incredibly meaningful."
That's exactly what the happy hour event was for.
For tech startups, such gatherings can be crucial for the growth of their company because they don't always have a tangible item or service to sell in a retail store or their own shop. Their businesses thrive on actions such as app downloads or website visits, which requires a strong network as they look for ways to inform others about their service.
"I hope these founders can be exposed to different ways to support their growth," said Camille Heard, an entrepreneur in residence for JumpStart who helped organize the event. "A lot of people in the tech space need access to venture capital and resources as far as connections and a network to get them to the next level. Our goal is to give them that exposure and that opportunity to showcase their brands and products."
Large networking events for tech startups aren't commonplace in Cleveland, and founders often have to travel long distances or find other ways to spread their business outreach to investors and possible consumers.
But with the help of the Browns, JumpStart was able to provide them with a signature event right in the heart of downtown Cleveland.
"While JumpStart has had annual events every year that have attracted thousands of entrepreneurs, what we haven't had is a corporate or institutional partner like the Browns," Leach said. "They're doing the convening at their home stadium in this case. It's a very special approach, and we're really excited to build on this with the Browns to make an even greater impact."
In the weeks before the happy hour event, the Browns and JumpStart had also hosted a Small Business Impact Showcase and a Small Business Training Camp that also provided entrepreneurs a chance to learn ways to grow their companies. Leach said the partnership with the Browns has already sparked growth among companies under the JumpStart umbrella. It's also led to an increase of businesses who have reached out to JumpStart seeking help and looking to attend the Browns-partnered events.
In previous JumpStart events, the organization would usually have around 100 entrepreneurs in attendance.
The "First and Tech" event, however, included 600 entrepreneurs.
"So much of that has to do with the Browns being a part of this," Leach said. "We've really been encouraged by how much higher our profile has become because of our partnership with the Browns. There is such an important connection that the team and business has to the community, and it's led to more traffic on our websites and applicants to our services."
That means the Browns are accomplishing the top goal they had in their partnership with JumpStart — to grow the number of successful minority-owned small businesses in the Cleveland area.