5 Entrepreneurs Disrupt, Create, Thrive in Northeast Ohio
Source: The Plain Dealer Tech Column
By Michael C. DeAloia, special to The Plain Dealer
CLEVELAND, OH — Cleveland was once the capital of disruption. At its zenith, this city dominated energy, printing, manufacturing, steel, retail, fashion and chemicals. Now, Cleveland is at a another resurgence. The city is rightfully taking its seat in the global economy, with the help of a new set of disruptors who are making their presence felt in a profound way.
Below are five emerging disruptors who represent the music, comedy, wine, social and tech industries in Cleveland. These young, brave souls are rewriting the tenets on what can happen here. The major takeaway? Entrepreneurs don't have to play by the "Rust Belt rules" anymore. These five are going to change the world; and they are just the beginning of a long line of brilliant, spirited entrepreneurs disrupting the game in Cleveland for good.
Brandyn Armstrong - Studio Stick. Bandyn Armstrong is the founder and CEO of Studio Stick, the world's first portable recording studio for smartphones. He is a musician and has been recording music professionally for more than 10 years.
Armstrong's outlook on education and life was not always so optimistic, which is why he dropped out of high school. Knowing he wanted better in life, he obtained his GED and then graduated from Cuyahoga Community College with two associate's degrees. Previously owning a record label allowed Armstrong to pursue his passion for music and hone his entrepreneurial skills.
Accomplishments: In 2015, as a student at Cleveland State University, Armstrong successfully competed in Startup Vikes, a student entrepreneurship competition and earned his first round of business capital. He most recently participated in the JumpStart Core City Cleveland Impact program and has been featured on Steve Harvey's Funderdome, Cleveland Hustles, and Black Enterprise.
Why Cleveland and Northeast Ohio? "In Cleveland, there's limitless opportunities," Armstrong said.
Matt Buder Shapiro - MedPilot. Matt Buder Shapiro is a co-founder and chief marketing officer of venture-backed startup MedPilot Inc. He is responsible for developing MedPilot's brand and patient engagement strategy. Prior to MedPilot, Shapiro led the New York media team at Bully Pulpit Interactive, a political strategy firm created by the digital marketers of President Barack Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaign.
Accomplishments: MedPilot is a leading patient engagement and relationship management solution. The company is transforming the nature of patients' interactions with their healthcare providers. Currently, healthcare providers are forced to juggle separate vendors for marketing, booking, pre-service, patient engagement, online bill pay, and surveys. MedPilot disrupts this complicated process by providing a streamlined experience across all of these services, reducing cost and confusion.
Why Cleveland and Northeast Ohio? "Between the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, MetroHealth, and the robust healthcare tech community, there's no place better to grow a thriving technology company in the industry," Shapiro said.
Josh Womack - Laugh Staff. Josh Womack is the co-founder and lead writer of Laugh Staff, where he and his team of comedians write hilarious wedding speeches. A former stand-up comedian, Womack now writes sets for best men and maids of honor looking to live their stand-up dreams. He's also a frequent contributor to Crain's Cleveland Business, LaunchHouse & FHM.
Josh WomackLaunched in 2013, Womack has built the Laugh Staff into a national platform of humor for the masses. The company is a responsive service company that takes seriously the humor, fun and comedy of others. As Womack noted, "People buy speeches from our website and then cross their fingers we'll write them a good speech. They don't know us personally, and comedy is subjective, so we have to walk a fine line."
Accomplishments: In five years of writing wedding toasts, Womack said he has learned that responsiveness is valued just as much, or more than, the humor aspect. One of the key reasons Womack launched Laugh Staff was so comedians could make money during the day while grinding out their careers at night. This past year, one of the company's writers, Bri Pruett, moved from Portland to Los Angeles and told Womack that Laugh Staff checks kept her afloat during the transition.
Why Cleveland and Northeast Ohio? "Cleveland is a great place for your idea to take off. Whether it's doing stand-up or building a startup, all the resources are within an arm's length," Womack said.
Marisa Sergi - RedHead Wine. Redhead Wine was created by Marisa Sergi to innovate within the wine industry. The brand focuses on the millennial consumer who desires an engaging price point, but a sophisticated bottle of wine. The label on the bottle emphasizes a whimsical, provocative brand. Sergi, from Youngstown, is a third-generation winemaker.
Brash and smart, she's forging a new trail to be a disruptor in the established wine industry. The genesis of RedHead came to life while Sergi was studying oenology (the science that deals with wine/wine making) at Cornell University. But she learned how to make it into a reality while in California working for E & J Gallo Winery.
The secret template to RedHead wine? It is crafted from premium grapes. The flagship RedHead wine has a California appellation, but is vinted and bottled in the Midwest.
Accomplishments: In 2017, RedHead earned a place in the national Walmart #MadeInUSA campaign. RedHead was picked up by Kroger in select markets and Sergi has secured 300 other smaller accounts. Revenue of the company has increased by 100 percent over 2016. Sergi has won numerous business plan competitions, as well.
Why Cleveland and Northeast Ohio? "My roots are in Ohio. Moving back from sunny California to jump-start RedHead Wine was a tough decision. The Midwest is an up-and-coming area for the startup community and I wanted to be part of it," - Sergi said.
Justin Bastian - Socent Studios. The slightly enigmatic and dynamic leader of Socent Studios was once a highly disruptive student sent to Positive Education Program (P.E.P.) to get his academic affairs in order. Justin Bastian is the "30-something founder" of Socent. The company is currently raising capital to fulfill Bastian's vision of a social-enterprise-based video game titled "World Game for Peace."
It was his time spent at P.E.P. that helped foster Bastian's belief in hope and imagination. Many years after graduating P.E.P., Bastian traveled the world. After exiting his first game studio, Bastian had a grand epiphany. It was time to start building a video game that focuses on peace and not just the next first-person shooter. The game engages the player in a creative telling of Congo's story. Congo's vast supply of mineral wealth has brought forth multinational exploitation especially in the global electronics sector. He said he will not rest until this game is finished.
Accomplishments: In 2016, Bastian journeyed thousands of miles from Cleveland through eastern Congo to listen and learn from prominent leaders of Congo, its peace movement, and wildlife conservation issues. As he would learn first-hand, the profitable demand for pop culture tech is fueling unspeakable exploitation of the Congolese and their sovereign mineral wealth.
Bastian has now united an improbable team of prominent Congo peace leaders and conservationists, top-tier game developers and legendary comic illustrators, famous storytellers and award-winning documentary filmmakers to create disruptive post-tech products for peace, progress, and prosperity.
Why Cleveland and Northeast Ohio? "I'm dedicated to Cleveland and P.E.P. because they saved my life and are the core reasons I am a social entrepreneur today. P.E.P.'s hope and Cleveland's passion seeded my spirit and today I get to animate my gratitude through Socent," Bastian said.