Innovation Space Targets Akron, Ohio, Tech Entrepreneurs

The Bounce Innovation Hub, housed in an old 300,000-square-foot B.F. Goodrich tire factory, is trying to draw in new ideas and give them a place to develop.

by Jim Mackinnon, Akron Beacon Journal / February 26, 2019
Shutterstock/Henryk Sadura

(TNS) — Linear Labs came to downtown Akron to work on proprietary artificial intelligence software.

The startup, not even a year old, is one of four software companies that won a funding contest last fall that allowed them to take part in a four-month program in the city's Bounce Innovation Hub off South Main Street. Linear Lab's software is intended to provide real-time market research and consumer insights to businesses that sell packaged goods.

"We're still refining," said Ted Troxell, the company's 28-year-old co-founder. He's happy with the progress being made — Linear's first "minimum viable product" will be out by mid-April.

Like Linear Labs and the other small businesses inside, Bounce continues to refine itself on the Canal Place campus. The business incubator and accelerator right now uses about half of its 307,000-square-foot, nine-story building on the site of the former B.F. Goodrich complex.

Today, Bounce will show off its under-renovation "generator" — some 27,000 square feet of publicly available space that will officially open for business in May.

"We're 300,000 square feet in an old tire factory building focused on innovation, acceleration and working with companies in the building, and programs we're fostering to help entrepreneurship," said Doug Weintraub, who celebrates his first anniversary as chief executive officer of Bounce in March. The work is a continuation of the transformation of what had once been called the Akron Global Business Accelerator.

"The first floor that we're opening in May is really an open innovation hub," Weintraub said. "It's a big space. It's our entire first floor."

Available to all

That hub will be open to anyone, Weintraub said. It will include co-working spaces, event space, maker space and open offices.

Opening the first floor will allow for "collisions and opportunities" among entrepreneurs, investors and people with ideas, Weintraub said.

The open co-working area will feel familiar to anyone who goes to a coffee shop to do work. People will be able to rent desks and offices there, too. The maker space eventually will be expanded to the second floor and include heavy-duty CNC (computer numerical control) machines, welding equipment and more.

"We do have people lined up," said Jeanine Black, chief marketing officer for Bounce.

There's no place else in the area that consolidates all of the Bounce first-floor features under the same roof, Weintraub said.

"It's a unique opportunity to repurpose a building, and really enhance the ability of bringing in the community right into innovation and entrepreneurship," Weintraub said. "Even if you are not necessarily a tenant of the building, there will be programs and opportunities to come in."

While the first floor won't open for a few more months, elsewhere in Bounce there are about 50 businesses in various stages of growth that pay low rent to be there, Weintraub said. The low rent helps companies reinvest capital into their businesses.

"Most of them are technology focused," Weintraub said. Industries include health care, biotech, software, advanced materials and polymers, he said.

Application process

To be eligible to use Bounce's space and services, people need an idea and to determine who will buy the product or service. Then they can apply to Bounce.

"You go through a process to see if you qualify to come into the building," Weintraub said.

Linear Labs and three other software startups got into Bounce by winning the third annual "Shark Tank-like" FUEL Akron competition. Winners got as much as $15,000 apiece and joined the organization's Bit Factory product accelerator for four months.

The Bounce product accelerator is for early-stage businesses that may simply have a good idea or have written just basic software code, said Ed Buchholz, managing director of the accelerator.

"They really need to refine and develop that," he said.

The four winning software startups get free mentoring and other services. Exercises include having the business owners develop and refine their "elevator pitch" — how to quickly explain their business or product to someone as if they were riding an elevator together, Buchholz said.

With the FUEL Akron winners two months into this year's program, the focus now is pretty much on finishing their products, Buchholz said.

It's been a lot of hard work, said Linear Lab's Troxell, whose background includes experience in machine learning and data. He and Adam Miclot created Linear Labs on Aug. 23, 2018.

"This is the first company I've ever started," Troxell said. "I knew I was going to work hard. I didn't know I was going to work 90 hours a week. ... I enjoy what I do. I like doing this kind of stuff."

©2019 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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