Mistakes Were Made


$130,000,000+ raised by our companies.
Over 400 jobs created.
A Top-10 accelerator in the US.

There are a lot of great stats that I often use when talking about The Brandery. However, if you’ve ever heard one of my talks before, you know that the most important statistic to me is this one:

100% of our participant companies said the program was worth it.

No doubt this remains true today. That said, I’ll be the first to admit we are hanging on to that 100% by the skin of our teeth.

The Brandery team has done a lot of thinking on how to get better in 2017. Our conclusions are that we have slipped in two main areas: type of company selected to be in the program and the stage that company was at when chosen.

When The Brandery was started in 2010, the goal was to bring great talent to Cincinnati. That’s why, in every class, most of the teams come from outside the city. The initial thesis was to choose consumer-facing, high growth companies but we quickly created a lot of wiggle room there to accommodate talented founders over any other factor. I don’t necessarily think that was a bad decision, but we certainly lost focus on other variables. A talented round peg can succeed in spite of the square hole, but it’s not exactly ideally sustainable.

After many years of great results, and a particularly great 2015, we got over-zealous in thinking we could move the needle for anyone we brought in. While we always added some value to everyone who came through the program, the truth is we can help some companies tremendously and others in only limited ways. This is a function of the talents of our staff, mentorship pool, and the intrinsic nature of our close network of partners and sponsors. See here for more about the types of companies we are going after in 2017. Pretty much everyone in our network is well-positioned to add tons of value to these kind of startups.

We also overestimated our ability to take early teams and will them over the line to funding (as we have in years past). Historically, we average close to $2MM in funding per company, but out of the gate in 2016, our alumni did not find great success fundraising. Some of this is the function of the environment, but a lot is on us as well. The current state of venture funding requires significant traction to raise a proper seed round. What was needed to raise an A Round in 2012 you now need for the seed. This means we need to find talented teams that have already hit that product-market fit, raised a bit of money, and are looking to get to that next level. It’s almost impossible to get a small team with just a barebones MVP there in the span of a 16-week accelerator program.

If there was another miss it was simply around expectation setting. Past performance is no guarantee of future results but we didn’t do a great job of correcting the expectation that, as with past Brandery classes, a good majority of our companies would be able to raise a round of funding soon after Demo Day. We need to do better in preparing our companies for the reality of what comes after they leave us.

Running a startup is all about building, testing, refining – and repeating. I look at The Brandery in the same way. We can’t get better unless we’re honest with ourselves about where we fell short. Will our sharpened focus work? I think it will, but the only way to find out for sure is to dive in. I’m looking forward to an exciting 2017 – and learning even more.

We’ve seen a lot of accelerators shut down in 2016/17. It is a tough model if you have lulls/gaps. That said, we’re going to continue to be a strong pillar of the StartupCincy ecosystem for many years to come. Our drive to learn, evolve, and grow is the reason why. I welcome anyone and everyone to help us continue to get better!

2016 Applications open on February 1!

It’s that time of year!

We’re here on the blog this morning to officially announce that applications for The Brandery’s 2016 accelerator program will open on Monday, February 1st.

This might be a time when you are trying to figure out if The Brandery’s program is right for you, and what sets us apart from other accelerators. Check out this nifty infographic that we created to give you an overview of The Brandery program and our 2015 highlights!

Over the next few months, we’ll be posting a lot of content here to help you get a sense of what life at The Brandery is like. We’ll highlight our office space, Branderyhaus startup housing, our cool partners, what we look for in outstanding applications and so much more. And don’t forget to connect with us! We’re on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

If you have questions about the program or the application process, you can find contact information for our staff and founders on our website or you can email info@brandery.org.

Startups in the Class of 2015 to Have New Housing Option

Picture this: You’re a three-person team of entrepreneurs with the next big idea, from, let’s say, San Francisco or NYC or Vancouver. You just got accepted to The Brandery and need to move to Cincinnati within three weeks for the kickoff of the program. You’re spending 18+ hours a day working on your startup. Housing in a new city is the last thing you have time to worry about.

We’re constantly asking ourselves (and our alums), “What can we do to make our entrepreneurs’ lives a little easier?” Year after year, finding affordable housing, close to the office, with a landlord who’s willing to negotiate a short-term lease is a major pain point. What if you could just check a box and know you’re getting the best deal in the best neighborhood?

We’re thrilled to be working with Urban Sites to bring affordable startup housing to our neighborhood in downtown Cincinnati, Over-the-Rhine. For those who live in town, we know the renaissance of the neighborhood is one of the most incredible success stories in the city. The way the few blocks around our office have exploded with restaurants, bars, businesses, and startup offices in the past few years has been inspiring. However, living in the “trendy” neighborhood sometimes comes with trendy prices. Instead of more entrepreneurs moving into the neighborhood where the entrepreneurial spirit is so perfectly represented, more were moving away. If we want this area to become the startup hub we know it can be, we need founders living in it. Rent prices will be slightly subsidized, making them affordable for entrepreneurs’ budgets.

Here’s what’s within proximity of our new startup house:

  • The Brandery – 3 blocks
  • Frameri (2013 graduate) HQ – 3 blocks
  • Sqrl (2013 graduate) HQ – 4 blocks
  • The new Cincinnati startup hub, which will eventually house The Brandery, Cintrifuse, and CincyTech – 2 blocks
  • Roadtrippers (2011 graduate) HQ – 6 blocks
  • Modulus (2012 graduate) HQ – 7 blocks
  • Choremonster (2012 graduate) HQ – 6 blocks
  • Dozens and dozens of incredible, award-winning restaurants and bars, an urban market, concert venues, breweries, and a huge portion of the creative class living and working within 10 blocks

The building will be ready for move-in on June 1, just in time for our 6th accelerator class. Read more about the initiative in the Business Courier.

Procter & Gamble To Offer Up To Two Fellowships to Brandery Companies in 2015

As an expansion of P&G’s continued support of the Cincinnati startup ecosystem, two fellowships will be offered to Brandery companies in the 2015 accelerator cohort. As with our other fellowships, any startup that applies will be considered for the fellowship. Here are the benefits:

1. Direct access to P&G mentors & experts who will help the startup better prepare for solution driven engagements with potential large customers.

2. Active connections with P&G brand teams and executives to inform solution design and go-to-market strategy.

3. Pre-commitment to a paid in-market pilot with a P&G brand as part of The Brandery experience.

4. Opportunities to engage with global senior executives on business strategy.

Specifically for this fellowship, The Brandery and P&G are looking for startups that excel in one of three core areas: Connected Products and Platforms, Seamless Brand Building & Commerce, or Big Data & Analytics. You can read more about these three categories here.

“We’re thrilled about Procter & Gamble’s continued support of The Brandery and our startups. If you’re a startup looking to sell to marketers or work with CPG companies, there is not going to be a better opportunity to change the trajectory of your business.”

–Dave Knox, Co-founder, The Brandery

Procter & Gamble has been an active supporter of The Brandery, including hosting startup pitch events at P&G for brand tech companies, participating in Brand Fusion, helping lead workshops (like Growth Hack Day) and mentoring startups.

P&G’s fellowship offering is going to directly impact startups in our accelerator program, adding even more fuel to the fire for #StartupCincy.

The final deadline to apply to The Brandery is April 16. Apply now.

How To Stand Out When Applying To The Brandery


[Editor’s Note: This post is by co-founder of The Brandery, Dave Knox. Dave, along with the rest of The Brandery team, will be reviewing applications for the next few months as we recruit startups for the Class of 2015. By day, Dave is the CMO of Rockfish. Read more of Dave’s blog posts and thought leadership here.]

Did you know that getting into a top tier startup accelerator is actually statistically more difficult than getting into Harvard? For its Class of 2018, Harvard accepted around 5.9% of their 34,000 applicants. In 2014, The Brandery accepted half that percentage with <2.5% of applicants being offered a spot in the program (a number we consistently see with other top-ranked peer programs).

So what should a founder do in order to get their application to stick out? After reviewing thousands of applications over our five previous classes, here are a few best practices I have seen work to help your startup stand out from the crowd. None of these are hard and fast rules, but more what I personally look at when I am reviewing our applications.

1. Become a known entity

If there were only thing that a startup could do when applying to The Brandery, this would be it. It amazes me how many startups apply for The Brandery but do not do any personal outreach. It is pretty easy to find out the decision makers behind our program. All of the founders and staff are listed on the website. All of us are very open about our contact info with emails and Twitter. And we hold a ton of events during application season where you can meet Brandery staff, alumni, and mentors in person. Yet despite this, an amazingly low number of applicants take any steps to reach out beyond their written applications. One of the keys to standing out is to have champions that believe in your team and your company. You can increase your odds of finding those champions by putting in the extra effort to meet the people behind the selection process.

2. Get a personal introduction / endorsement

Speaking of finding champions, one of the best ways to stand out from the crowd is with a warm introduction from someone in the Brandery network. We have an amazing group of mentors, investors, and alumni that are part of The Brandery family. If I get an email introduction from any of them telling me that “so and so startup is applying for The Brandery and they are awesome”, then I put that application on the top of my list. For instance, we had one application a few years ago that had a so-so initial product. But right before they applied, I received an email from an investor I trusted who said the startup had “one of the best mobile product teams” they had ever seen. Needless to say, that type of endorsement changed how I viewed the application right off the bat.

3. Do not be a “Me Too” Startup

Every year, The Brandery receives around two dozen applications that are best classified as “Me Too” Startups. The common theme of these companies is that they are a small twist on whatever the hot startup happened to be that year. When Groupon was gearing up for an IPO in 2011, we had an influx of companies with takes on the Daily Deal space. When Instagram was bought in 2012, our application inbox was flooded with photo startups. The shame with these applications is that I often don’t spend the time digging into the team because I’ve already dismissed the potential of the idea right off the bat.

4. Prove your hustle instead of telling us about it

Every startup talks about having the perfect “Hacker, Hustler, and Designer”. But it is interesting how often The Hustler actually doesn’t show their hustle. If you want to see hustle, talk to Michael Wohlschlaeger, CEO & Co-Founder of Ahalogy. When Michael applied to The Brandery, he and his wife were living in China. That year, The Brandery was having a “get to know us” happy hour during applications at a local bar in Cincinnati. Michael showed up at the event, where we learned that he flew from China to St. Louis (where his family was from) and then drove six hours from St. Louis to Cincinnati— just for the happy hour. That is the definition of hustle. I knew at that moment I would place a bet on Michael as an entrepreneur no matter what. Since Ahalogy has been ranked the fastest growing startup in Ohio the past two years, I think Michael has lived up to that reputation for hustle.

5. Apply early

Do not wait to the last minute to apply. Yes, the final deadline to apply is April 16th, but don’t make the mistake of waiting that long. All of us are reading applications as they come in, and I personally have a ranking of my top 10 applicants that is evolving in real-time. If your company has applied early, that has given me a longer time to learn about you, the company, and your team. I have been able to research the space you are playing in and talked with other investors about the opportunity. If you apply at the last minute, you are “forcing” me to make a quick decision about whether you should be a company we interview and accept.

All that being said, applications to the Class of 2015 are open now. The deadline is April 16.

The Brandery's New Accelerator "Deal": $50,000 Per Company


This summer, the sixth cohort of companies will be joining us at The Brandery. What an amazing first five years we have had (note: information on our five year anniversary celebration will be forthcoming – you need to be there)! Five years later, we remain more focused than ever on our mission of accelerating startups by building powerful brands. Our core approach of layering inspiring brands on top of dazzling technology and driven founders has proven to be a recipe for success. Like the beef Bolognese recipe of your great-grandmother, we are less than enthusiastic to make adjustments to the formula.

But, who are we kidding? We’re an accelerator — evolution and retooling shouldn’t be limited to our portfolio companies. Excellence can be found in rational and thoughtful change. As such, in 2015 we will be announcing some core changes to our accelerator program that will provide our participant companies with an even stronger platform to grow.

We are excited to announce our sixth cohort of companies will receive a total of $50,000 of capital from The Brandery. This will be split into two tranches: (1) $25,000 in for a six (6) percent warrant upon beginning the program, and (2) another $25,000 through an uncapped convertible debt note to each company that completes the sixth week of our accelerator program.

Some accelerators offer more cash than The Brandery and some offer less, but after having 45 startups go through our accelerator, we believe $50,000 is the right amount. We have always had two juxtaposing beliefs about the capital that we provide companies: first, our companies need enough capital to focus solely on building a great company, and second, The Brandery funding should not provide such a substantial runway that the startup loses its sense of urgency. We believe $50,000 will accelerate our startups to the next step, whether that’s raising a round, bootstrapping with revenue, or moving onto the next thing.

The Brandery has always felt strongly that the “deal” needs to be explicit at the outset. Some accelerators offer more capital but hinge the capital on different performance metrics or, in some cases, the discretion of the accelerator’s investment team. We think this is unfair to the startups because it does not provide them with the ability to plan their burn and so that there is not an investment decision that adversely impacts the relationship between the accelerator and its participating founders. As such, the second tranche of $25,000 will be invested purely on the temporal requirement of each company making it through six weeks of our program.

And that’s not all! We’ll have more big news to break in the next week or two. We can’t wait to share.

If you’re interested in learning more about The Brandery Accelerator, go to brandery.org/accelerator, or apply now.

#Brandery2014 Kicks Off In Just Three Weeks


Recruiting season, application season, reviewing season, and interviewing season flew by this year. It’s already June, and we’ve (after many, many hours of vetting and debating) selected twelve startups for our fifth accelerator class. The program begins on June 25th, but the teams have already started to trickle in. While we would love to share the ideas with you, we can’t just yet!

We promise you’ll hear more about the teams and their startups soon. In the meantime, here’s some stats about the applicants and the incoming class:

  • This was our largest number of applicants in five classes.
  • We had applicants from 58 countries— the most ever.
  • We had applicants from 33 states.
  • Over half of the out of town finalists flew to Cincinnati for their interview. That’s dedication!
  • The 2014 class includes four Ohio companies.
  • The other states represented in the class are California, New York, South Carolina, Mississippi, Massachusetts, Texas, and Illinois. We have one international company, hailing from Argentina.
  • The 2014 class has an average age of 28.
  • The biggest age difference in the class is 24 years, with the youngest founder being 19 and the oldest (wisest) being 43.

Follow the hashtag #Brandery2014 for updates from the companies and for more fun facts from us. If you’d like to help us welcome the teams to Cincinnati, send us a note. We would love your help in convincing them how great Cincinnati is.

Want to get access to the same resources as The Brandery companies? Register for Cincinnati Startup Day on June 14th.

Reason #22: Other pitch events.


While Demo Day is our flagship pitch event, there’s no shortage of opportunities for you to get in front of potential investors, partners, and users. In the past, our pitching tour has included the following events:

  • Agency Pitch Event – Startups pitch to our agency partners and more, focusing on how to add more tools to the toolbox when the agencies are pitching clients themselves. This leads to great partnerships and an even broader network for both parties.
  • Procter & Gamble Pitch Event – Startups pitch the marketers at nearby P&G headquarters to develop partnerships or corporate pilots. In the past, this has led to a partnership between Choremonster and Crest and Oral-B, among others. Not many other accelerators can get you a meeting with some of the biggest brands in the world.
  • Chicago & New York Investor Pitch Events – While we believe Cincinnati is the place to be when starting up, we also recognize that there are key investors in other cities. We caravan to Chi-town and NYC each year a few weeks after Demo Day to pitch to investors that weren’t able to make it to Cincinnati.
  • Community Pitch Event – Added in 2013, the Community Pitch Event is made to satisfy the interest of the local Cincinnati community in Brandery companies as with a focus on user acquisition. We noticed extremely high demand for Demo Day tickets and hated turning people away, so this is their opportunity to see the progress the teams made in four months. This one’s hosted at one of our favorite venues, Rhinegeist Brewery. Pitch events are better with beer.

Sound good? Apply to The Brandery now. Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis, so the sooner the better.

Meet the Founders: Rob McDonald

The Brandery has decided to feature more of our companies, mentors and founders! Please take this opportunity to learn more about one of our co-founders, Rob McDonald!

1. Tell us about yourself! Who are you and how are you involved with the Brandery?

I’m Rob. I’m a Co-Founder of The Brandery. I’m also an attorney at a local law firm called Taft Stettinius and Hollister, LLP. Prior to attending law school, I worked in advertising for TBWA\Chiat\Day, so I have an odd mix of marketing, venture capital, and law experience. As my co-founders sometimes joke, I’m the co-founder that makes sure that no one gets in trouble and that we are doing everything by the book. In all seriousness though, all of the co-founders are pretty good about trading off responsibilities between each other based on capacity. So, my role is ever changing but includes working with the companies on a daily basis, assisting our Brandery team to manage our day-to-day operational needs, and thinking strategically about what The Brandery should be doing.

2. Why are you passionate about the startup community here in Cincinnati?

When I moved to Cincinnati in 2009 it was clear that we had a problem; smart young professionals were fleeing. I thought that if The Brandery could be successful in fostering a high-tech start-up community in Cincinnati, there would be a palpable energy that would not only stop young people from fleeing Cincinnati, but also draw top talent to Cincinnati. Dave and JB convinced me when we all first met that we had the ability to reverse the course locally. I’ve said it before but 3 years removed from when we launched The Brandery and I feel like we are the precipice of something pretty special. I think this must be how the Napa vineyards felt in the 1970’s. They thought they could take on the French and create world class wines. I feel like we can take on the coasts. We have some start-ups that are proving this.

3. What is your biggest piece of advice for applicants and aspiring entrepreneurs?

Tough question. I regret that I likely have too much advice for applicants and aspiring entrepreneurs. The one major learning for me over the last three years has been to focus on people, not ideas. In our first year, we really focused more heavily on ideas (i.e. What idea does the applicant have?). In year 2, we focused more on team (i.e. Who is on the team?). In year 3, we started to get even smarter and focused on the team and the idea (i.e. Does the team have the capacity to execute the idea?). Now, I think we have gotten relatively good at selecting teams that have the capability and grit to create a business. The term grit has been used quite a bit in education recently, but it is absolutely necessary for entrepreneurs as well. Suffice to say, my one piece of advice would be to build out an incredible team that has the skills to execute the idea.

4. If you started a company, what would it be (does not need to be a serious answer)?

I would start a business accelerator and call it The Brandery. Just kidding. Everyday I think of 100 new businesses I want to start. Last night, I really wanted to start a company to create machines to fold my laundry for me. Kidding again, but seriously, how useful would that be!

5. What are your goals for the Brandery?

Our long term goal has always been to make the Brandery a self-sustaining community. We need the Brandery to remain a powderkeg of innovation and we need it to be built to last for several decades. I think the concept of having successful Brandery graduates fueling future Brandery graduates decade over decade is a powerful vision. So far, so good.

Have additional questions for Rob? Email us at autumn@brandery.org!

Consumer marketing execs launch nonprofit startup accelerator


The Brandery will build businesses:

Consumer marketing execs launch nonprofit startup accelerator

CINCINNATI (July 19, 2010) – Cincinnati digital marketing executive David Knox and serial entrepreneur J.B. Kropp have teamed up to launch the region’s first startup company accelerator, a nonprofit organization called The Brandery that will package funding, mentoring and partnerships around local entrepreneurs to help grow consumer marketing businesses here.
Knox, brand manager of global branded entertainment at Procter & Gamble, and Kropp, vice president of channel development at Vitrue who also has been integral in launching six startup companies, joined with Taft Stettinius & Hollister attorney Rob McDonald to create The Brandery. The name, coined by Brandery mentor and P&G brand manager Bryan Radtke, was designed to convey both the consumer marketing/branding focus as well as the idea of generating new companies.
“The power of The Brandery is the collaboration between people and companies in our community,” says Knox. “Entrepreneurs will benefit from a wide range of talented people in consumer marketing here as well as globally.”
The Brandery is looking for consumer-facing businesses such as consumer Internet, media and entertainment companies, based on technology platforms.
The 12-week program will include a structured curriculum that includes seed investment, industry leader mentors and access to top talent in the industry.
About 30 mentors will participate, ranging from local experts such as Bob Gilbreath, Bridge Worldwide’s chief marketing strategist and Pete Blackshaw, executive vice-president of Nielsen Online Digital Strategic Services to high-profile entrepreneurs such as Wendy Lea, CEO of Silicon Valley startup Get Satisfaction. (Click here for a full list: http://brandery.org/mentors/)
Each company that is selected through a review process will receive a $20,000 grant in exchange for equity in the company. As part of their participation, each company also will receive brand identity guidance from leading agencies including LPK, Resource Interactive, Barefoot Proximity, Empower MediaMarketing and Ample.
Companies can begin applying immediately at Brandery.org. Deadline for submissions for this first session is Aug. 11, 2010. Five companies will be selected for the first session, which will begin in late August.
The $20,000 company grants will come from CincyTech, a public-private venture development group that invests in high-tech startup companies. CincyTech is using its Imagining Grant funds, which are aimed at growing companies to the point where they are investable. “Our hope is to create a whole new pipeline of startup companies that focus on consumer marketing, to complement our portfolio of companies in information technology, bioscience and advanced manufacturing,” said CincyTech President Bob Coy. “Our mission is to grow jobs in thriving industries.”
In addition to CincyTech and the five creative agencies, support is coming from the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation, the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, and Xavier University’s Williams College of Business, which donated money for operating capital for The Brandery, a 501c3. The Brandery also is endorsed and supported by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, Queen City Angels, Hamilton County Development Corp., and other local entrepreneurial organizations.
The Brandery was modeled after TechStars in Boulder, CO.; Y: Combinator in Silicon Valley; and Capital Factory in Austin, Texas; among others. However, while most of the others focus on scalable technology and Web-service startups, The Brandery is the first to focus exclusively on consumer marketing, Kropp said.
The strategy fits well with Cincinnati’s positioning as a national Consumer Marketing Hub through the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Agenda 360 regional action plan.
The Brandery will serve as the region’s incubator for consumer marketing companies as promised in the Agenda 360 Consumer Marketing Center and Ohio Hub of Innovation plans, said Rich Kiley, who is serving as head of the Consumer Marketing Center for the Chamber. “The Brandery is an innovative way to leverage the competencies uniquely available in this region,” said Jerry Kathman, CEO of LPK. “This will burnish our region’s reputation for brand-building excellence.”