They've Got LeBron, But Now Cleveland Seeks MVP Entrepreneurs

"In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I'm ready to accept the challenge. I'm coming home." -- LeBron James

LeBron's instantly famous words summing up his return to Cleveland conveyed something essential about Northeast Ohio that many outside the region may have missed:

The culture of Northeast Ohio has long been about hard work -- putting in the time and energy needed to get things right. (That's how LeBron went from promising high school player to world champion, after all.)

Where Los Angeles can be said to be about beauty and fame, or New York about ambition or talent, Northeast Ohio has a long history of manufacturing and celebrating the excellence and hard work required to make or do things well.

Since the early 20th century, Northeast Ohio, with its central supply chain location and skilled, motivated labor force, has been a manufacturing powerhouse. The oil business started in Northeast Ohio, as did the rubber and polymer industries, and the region has been dominant in stoneware, sanitary sewers, fishing tackle, farming equipment, matches, toys and auto parts. As U.S. manufacturing moved overseas toward the end of the century, Northeast Ohio struggled to redefine itself, until recently.

With Northeast Ohio now becoming something of a hotbed of activity in a number of areas such as biomedical products and business services technology, a group of young business leaders at Shaker LaunchHouse are hoping to tap that legacy and work ethic to bring the region back to its manufacturing heyday by growing a hub for technology hardware.

While many parts of the country are trying to attract tech startups, LaunchHouse, a business accelerator in Shaker Heights section of Cleveland, is among the first to focus its efforts on tech hardware and interface technology.

LaunchHouse is currently seeking entrepreneurs to apply for its intensive 16 week accelerator program that includes $20,000 of initial funding for ten companies that focus on user-interface or hardware/robotics technology. Applications are being taken at

"With its rich history in manufacturing, Cleveland has become the perfect place for the intersection of technology and hardware," said Todd Goldstein, CEO and managing partner at LaunchHouse. "We're encouraging the undiscovered MVPs of manufacturing to be like LeBron and set up shop in Northeast Ohio -- where we know how to build and distribute manufactured goods."

LaunchHouse already has a track record for launching successful startups. Since 2008, the business accelerator has invested in 51 diverse companies, which have raised more than $15.5 million in follow on funding and created more than 70 jobs in Northeast Ohio.

Goldstein said that applications for the program that begins on September 29th are now being accepted. "We even welcome out-of-town submissions," he said. For entrepreneurs who are not from the area, the organization provides temporary, low-cost housing to accommodate them during the program, in houses located directly behind their headquarters. Last year's crop of businesses included four from out of town.

While Northeast Ohio may never compete with place like Silicon Valley, New York, Austin or Boston for pure technology startups, Goldstein says that the region is poised to carve out a significant position in interface and other technology-based hardware.

"Tech hardware may only be a niche of the overall tech business, but it's an enormous niche and one that will expand exponentially in coming years," he said.