Akron hasn’t kept pace with other cities when it comes to having a nurturing place for tech-savvy entrepreneurs to live their dreams and start a company.
That’s the thinking behind the Bit Factory — soon to open within Akron’s downtown incubator, called the Akron Global Business Accelerator.
The Bit Factory — the name derives from computer “bits” — will cater specifically to promising tech entrepreneurs, who will pay nothing to participate.
“Participants could be web-oriented, making gaming applications, doing anything in the IT (information technology) space,” said Anthony Margida, CEO of the Global Business Accelerator, a 31-year-old city- and state-funded program.
“There has been a gap here; we didn’t have an offering like this,” Margida said, noting that the Cleveland area boasts three such tech-focused “startup accelerators.” They include Bizdom in Cleveland and Detroit; a nonprofit started by Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans; and the for-profit LaunchHouse in Shaker Heights.
In Akron, Bit Factory organizers are trying to line up members of the first “class,” who will be tenants of the Bit Factory.
The Bit Factory will be located in space — now being outfitted — on the fifth floor of the Global Business Accelerator, one of the red-brick buildings that are part of the sprawling former B.F. Goodrich factory complex, now known as Canal Place, in downtown Akron. The Bit Factory will encompass 5,000 square feet, with an impressive view of downtown.
Already, Margida said, “We’re pretty close to signing three good clients, and that’s really without the benefit of any marketing.” He said there’s room for more in the first class. The program is to begin in August.
For more information, visit www.thebitfactory.com, send an email to email@example.com or call 330-375-2173.
Key parts of the Bit Factory’s program will be intensive mentoring and coursework, including lessons on marketing, product development and investment. In addition, the entrepreneurs will meet potential partners, investors and customers.
Distinguishing it from similar programs, each Bit Factory “class” will run for six months, considerably longer than many of the other tech startup accelerators.
Mentors will be on-site, with their own work spaces at the Bit Factory.
“The mentor group will be here and accessible,” Margida said.
The mentors who signed on to work with the entrepreneurs have tech know-how, in addition to business experience. “They know how to do [computer] coding, they know how to do computer programming,” he said.
While entrepreneurs of any age can apply for the program, organizers expect the Bit Factory to appeal to those in their 20s and 30s.
“There’s a young culture. They want to create something for themselves, not just [get] a job somewhere,” Margida said.
It’s a natural for the Bit Factory to spring from the accelerator, Margida said, noting that participants could graduate to the accelerator and set up shop in accelerator space.
One of the Bit Factory mentors is 26-year-old Jack Hilton of West Akron, who already is working on his second tech startup venture.
“We will basically be in there every day, on the ground floor with entrepreneurs,” Hilton said. His twin brother, James, and their friend Austin Kettner, 23, also will serve as mentors.
“Since the three of us are technical,” Jack Hilton said, “we’re going to be able to provide very good technical feedback.”
Hilton actually helped come up with the idea for the Bit Factory. He earlier participated in a multi-week program at Bizdom in Cleveland for startup entrepreneurs.
“I thought something like this [Bizdom] should exist in Akron,” Hilton said. “There was kind of a void here. We were driving every day from Akron to Cleveland.”
Hilton’s startup that he worked on at Bizdom was Quixby.com. It sought to offer e-commerce software to large online retailers.
Currently, he is trying to sell Quixby.com assets — a patent and other intellectual property — and is starting another venture. This venture also involves his twin brother and their friend Kettner, as well as a fourth partner. It’s an app for iPhones that involves people sharing their selfies — photographs people take of themselves — through a social network.
Grant funds program
While the city of Akron is owner of the Akron Global Business Accelerator, city taxpayers aren’t footing the bill for the Bit Factory. Rather, the Bit Factory is being established as a business itself. Mentors will be compensated if and when any of the participating Bit Factory tenants/entrepreneurs make a profit or sell a venture.
The Bit Factory received $150,000 from the Burton D. Morgan Foundation for startup costs, including contemporary-styled workstations and other furniture — all being built by a local furniture maker.
Separately, the city has received a $2 million state grant for the Bits and Atoms Innovation Center, also to be organized by the Akron Global Business Accelerator. This will be a place, including co-working and “maker space,” for inventors to create and make new products.
Eventually, the Bit Factory will become a part of this initiative.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook www.facebook.com/KatieByardABJ