For decades, Columbus, Ohio was the nation’s test market. New product launches from wild coffee concoctions to concept stores from top retail brands often began in Columbus given that its demographics closely mirrored that of our nation. If it plays in Columbus, it’ll play everywhere.
This representation extends beyond simple demographics. Its economy is truly diverse, with no one sector accounting for more than 18% of employment.
It’s against this backdrop - a community that is a true reflection of our society - that The Ohio State University sits. As one of the largest public universities in the country, with 15 colleges and a world class academic medical center, Ohio State helps attract and retain some of the brightest young talent to the region (Columbus is top 10 in the nation in millennial concentration, for example). Did you know it’s a top 10 product of Fulbright scholars? And the CTO of Pixar went there too.
It tracks that a vibrant community of young people working across diverse industries and anchored by the region’s largest and most prominent university would also be on the bleeding edge of innovation. And it is, with Ohio State leading the charge. More on this later …
Let’s get to it. What is Techstars Columbus powered by The Ohio State University looking for in founders & companies who apply?
We want founders who are building software businesses to solve some of the most fundamental problems faced by every single human in our country and world. Companies that can become the critical infrastructure to helping all of us lead healthier, more fulfilling lives and leave a better world for the next generation to inherit.
While this is a purposefully broad scope, there are some specific areas where our conviction level is particularly high:
Increasing access to quality, affordable healthcare
Normalizing discussion and treatment of mental health
Establishing new paradigms in “social” media that drive IRL connections and seek to unite, not divide, us
Creating novel paths for financial security for young people as they age into life’s big milestones and, eventually, into retirement
Building solutions & incentives for the average person to meaningfully and affordably reduce our carbon footprint
Given that Columbus, in its population and economy, represents our nation so closely, we believe Techstars Columbus powered by The Ohio State University is the ideal place to work on these problems together. These are the issues we, as global citizens, find among the most pressing we face, so our goal is to gather the best minds in the world to tackle them - founders, mentors, corporates, academics, and alumni.
You don’t have to be connected to Ohio State (student, alum, etc.) - anyone worldwide can join us in Columbus for 13 weeks to build alongside other awesome founders, mentors, educators and partners. And to be very clear - this program is focused on software companies. Hardware, medical devices, consumer products, etc. are essential verticals, just not ones we believe this program can best support.
So why Ohio State? This is an easy one. Ohio State’s growing innovation district, Carmenton, has received an investment of $100m from JobsOhio, the state’s private economic development corporation. The university is committed to achieving a 50% increase in research awards from the National Institutes of Health towards advancing new commercialization opportunities. Plus, Ohio State is investing more in STEM programs, particularly health sciences, engineering and computer sciences. The goal is to drive up new graduates in those disciplines by 22,500 over the next 15 years.
Most recently, the Timashev Foundation, in the largest donation made to the university in its history, pledged $110m to establish the Center for Software Innovation and drive even more entrepreneurship and new product development activity at Ohio State and across the region. That pledge is why the Techstars Columbus powered by The Ohio State University program now exists, evidence that Ratmir, his Foundation, and Ohio State are serious about their goal of attracting the best young software companies in the world.
Fans of the Columbus Crew, the local Major League Soccer team, have a saying - “Massive.” The origins came from when the club was pretty down on its luck and adopted by fans as a bit of self-deprecating humor to dull the pain of losing. “We are Massive,” said with a wink and nod that the club was just the opposite.
But, as the club improved (eventually winning the MLS Cup), it became something more. A statement of belonging and pride. A recognition that all great things start off seeming silly but can be willed into existence by those with unrelenting conviction and dedication.
For the dreamers & builders out there who are creating the change they want to see in the world, come Be Massive with us.
Tim Grace is the Managing Director of Techstars Columbus powered by The Ohio State University. Tim is a 2x founder, most recently as co-founder/COO of Draftbit, a low-code platform for mobile app development. He co-founded and led LongJump, a first-check venture fund launched in 2021 that quickly became one of the most active pre-seed investors in the region. Tim also held early-team roles in product leadership at Trunk Club, Signal, Apartments.com and Cars.com. He was an alum of Techstars Chicago in 2016 and is an All-Star Mentor for Techstars programs. Sometimes he runs marathons.