Archive for the ‘Non-Profit’ Category

BrianrossA smart man once told me, “The education community has it backwards. Neither the student nor their parents are the customers. The customer is business. Students are the product.” Little Suzy or Johnny aren’t really widgets fresh off the assembly line. The real purpose of school is to prepare kids for career.

How are our schools doing? Although there are many excellent schools, the answer in general is not great. The Organization of Economic Development tests 15 year-olds across the globe. The U.S. results out of 65 countries are remarkably unimpressive: 24th Reading, 36th for both Mathematics and Science. OK. Maybe you don’t believe the validity of international tests. However, only 28% of employers in a 2009 Association of American Colleges and University survey said that 4-year colleges were doing a good job preparing students for the challenges in today’s global economy.


jessica reading miamiIt’s summertime- for many it means amusement park season.  I remember anticipating a day at King’s Island- my friends and I would get up extra early, excited to take on the newest roller coaster. It may have only been a day long, but the only thing we talked about when we were leaving was when we were coming back.

Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial community is much like life in an amusement park.  The roller coasters, varied in size and thrill level, represent different startups.  The people, embarking on various rides for a period of time, function as the teams.  Some team members stick to one they like or others spend time riding each one.

It’s hard to make sense of this amusement park- why put people through fear and stomach-wrenching experiences and call it fun? Well for some- it’s the accomplishment of getting to the tallest peak and going upside down with their hands in the air.  For others, is being able to rely on each other to get through a tough challenge.

But who makes the most willing rider of all? It’s the student intern…and here’s why:


The Business of Non-Profits

Posted: December 9, 2012 by Bill Cunningham in Ecosystem, Money, Non-Profit, Social Entrepreneurship

Bill Cunningham BioThink of all the great works that non-profit organizations give to our communities. They embody a lot of the characteristics of startups – passion for an idea, deeply held beliefs by the founders and impact on the region (market.) Although the term social entrepreneurship is relatively new, the process has been around for centuries. Instead of making a return on investment measured in terms of profit, social entrepreneurs measure their positive returns to society.

However, for-profit and non-profit organizations probably have more in common than differences. The distinction between the two really lies in how the Internal Revenue Service treats the taxability of each group. The 501(c)3 non-profits are exempt from income tax, sales tax and property taxes. In return for this benefit, they must meet stringent requirements so that society and not an individual is personally benefitting from this tax exemption.

In just about every other way, the non-profits look, smell and act like a for-profit business. Non-profits must take in more money than they spend. They must market their services and goods to their constituents (customers.) While often associated with volunteers, many non-profits have payroll for workers who make their living doing these good works. In order for non-profits to succeed, they must run like a for-profit business.

One of our first customers to test our service was Homestretch Hounds, a dog rescue shelter in Hillsboro, Ohio that provides a second chance for dogs whose time has run out at other facilities. This started as a small home operation and grew to accommodate the demand of the marketplace by providing a great environment for the dogs or by a great adoption network they have built. Like any other business, they have to buy supplies and services and as a donation-centric entity, they like to spend their money effectively. To maximize the impact of donations, they negotiated a great deal with a dog food manufacturer. Just like other small businesses, getting a great deal on the product doesn’t necessarily mean you will get a great deal on the shipping. In fact, the market charges premiums for small loads versus using an entire trailer. Keeping an eye on the budget, the founder caught wind of our service in Soapbox and Homestretch Hounds stretched their budget to save 33% on shipping. The lesson is that non-profits need to run their organizations like a business.

Many non-profits get started by non-business people. So how do you acquire the skills and knowledge to become a sustainable business in the non-profit world? Follow the paths of many non-profits by forming a board of advisors or directors that have different backgrounds: financial, marketing, governmental and more. Don’t appoint your people who all have the same background — build diversity on your board in multiple ways. Seek out the advice of other successful non-profits – they all had to start somewhere and like entrepreneurs, most are glad to help others along the way. If you are just getting started, ArtWorks offers an 8-week boot camp called Springboard, which provides you with the basics of starting your organization (for-profit or non-profit.)

Seek out these resources and you will increase your chances of success.

Find out more about Homestretch Hounds at

Find out more about Springboard at

Bill Cunningham is the CEO of and shop foreman at the Greater Cincinnati Venture Association.

What One Person Can Do!

Posted: October 7, 2012 by Bill Cunningham in Ecosystem, Innovation, Leadership, Non-Profit, People, Startup, Technology

The Greater Cincinnati Venture Association set a new record of over 200 attendees for the Cintrifuse presentation by Jeff Weedman. Hot topics always make for great crowds, but Cintrifuse drew over 60 non-members to the event highlighting the importance of entrepreneurial ecosystem to the regional economy. The GCVA also took the opportunity to recognize Laura Baverman, the Enquirer’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship reporter, for her contributions to the entrepreneurial community. As Jack Wyant, Blue Chip Venture Company’s founder and managing director, so eloquently delivered,

“You helped change an entire region in just one decade
For 1,875,000 words our thanks is hereby acknowledged and paid!”

 As part of the team of business school professors and entrepreneurs who pen this column, we applaud all the media that have curated our progress as growing startup community.   As Jeff Weedman stated at the GCVA, “We are fighting above our weight class!” That is the dream of every entrepreneur – to appear bigger and better in the eyes of the world. Thanks to Laura and all the media sources, we read about it, celebrate it and create a culture that appreciates it!

So thanks to Laura, there would be many successes missed in the journey without her reporting. And there are many other unrecognized leaders in building the community — people who do it for the “good of the order” and because it is the right thing to do. For example, you have no idea of the thousands of hours Rich Kiley logged back in the early 2000’s (at CincyTech then known as the Regional Technology Initiative) working on Senate Bill 180. SB180 created the Ohio Venture Capital Authority allowing many venture firms to leverage the Third Frontier and create new startups, technologies and jobs. Cincinnati was fortunate to borrow Rich as an on-loan executive from P&G — or SB180 would not have seen the light of day.

Many more “Wizards of Oz” work behind the curtains towards the success of our entrepreneurial community. If I try to name them all, I will miss most of them. They may not seem to be a part of the ecosystem, but they all are doing their best to support it. They include the volunteer (and tireless) organizers of events like TEDx, Continuous Web, the GCVA, the software interest groups, IEEE and the like. The programs at Cincinnati State that create new chefs and Springboard at ArtWorks that creates business-savvy artists and creatives – make up the fabric of our entrepreneurial community. The Venture for America program (recruited by a team led by Eric Avner of the Haile Foundation) is quietly building the next generation of entrepreneurs and building a network of high energy foot soldiers for startups.

Now it is your turn — what can you do to make a difference? No one can do it all, but all of us can do something that moves the needle. I truly believe Laura Baverman had no idea of the impact of her work on our efforts and how grateful we are that she communicated so well, and understood our mission, our challenges and our personalities that produced a vibrant economy. So find something you can do well to support entrepreneurship, whether it is starting a new business, or supporting the ones that are getting off the ground. One person makes a difference and we have a lot of “one persons” in Cincinnati doing just that. Be one!

Bill Cunningham is the CEO of and shop foreman at the Greater Cincinnati Venture Association.

Starting a Non-Profit

Posted: September 23, 2012 by Chuck Matthews in Non-Profit, Social Entrepreneurship, Startup

“The great aim of education is not knowledge, but action.”

— Herbert Spencer, British Philosopher

Thinking about starting a not-for-profit venture?   Perhaps you are thinking of starting an education or education-related start-up?  It is a very timely topic given the focus on the role that entrepreneurs can play on the social entrepreneurship front as well as the on-going debate on how to fix problems with education.  For example, the business of education is one of the most challenging and perplexing endeavors on the planet.  It involves multiple stakeholders, volatile emotions, and no easy answers.  The keepers of big data tell us that spending per pupil has gone steadily up while student performance overall continues to erode.

As if that weren’t enough of a challenge, when it comes to starting a venture in the education related field, the debate also extends to the public policy arena and politics, where politicians and business leaders are often at odds on how to define and address the problems.  Of course, education is more than just another business model (no matter how many times we call parents, students, and potential employers customers, they are not), but even a non-profit needs to have a monetization model to sustain its ability to offers its services beyond the here and now.  Let’s take a look at what it takes to start a not-for-profit in the education field.

Multiple Stakeholders, Multiple Styles