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Beyond the Pitch

An Interview with TechColumbus Board Chair Harry H. Hallowell

Nationwide_2014_newAs senior vice president and chief investment officer of Nationwide Insurance, Harry Hallowell witnesses how investing in innovation can lead to excellent outcomes.

TC: As an executive with Nationwide, an innovative company, please talk about the importance of a region having all the “pieces” that make innovation possible—access to capital, commercialization services, early adopters, supportive legislation—etcetera. 

HH: Bringing great ideas to life requires an ecosystem that helps entrepreneurs validate their ideas, develop business plans, find customers, and obtain capital. It also requires support from the public and private sectors to make it easier for entrepreneurs to succeed.

Central Ohio has all the pieces in place to create economic growth—TechColumbus to help advise, accelerate, and fund startups; community support from an advisor network and potential “first customers,” and an abundance of exciting opportunities coming from entrepreneurs and research institutions. By increasing awareness and growing the ecosystem, there will be even more success for the region.

TC: VentureNEXT is designed to be a relaxed and fun evening that encourages connections in and to Central Ohio’s entrepreneurial community. Established businesses are so important to the growth of entrepreneurship—perhaps more than they realize.

HH: Established businesses have an excellent opportunity to help the community and help themselves.  Businesses can provide startups with expertise, financial resources, mentoring, and product feedback.  Startups can also help businesses solve their own problems by having different approaches or solutions to offer.  The key is to create a network where startups and established businesses can get together to create win-win scenarios.

Business leaders who come to VentureNEXT will meet some of our region’s most outstanding entrepreneurs. You might even find a young company that’s working on a solution to the very problem that you are trying to solve.

TC: In your role at Nationwide and as chair of TechColumbus’ board of directors, you see invention and commercialization up close. Do you have suggestions for leaders of other large companies about ways to foster innovation and entrepreneurship? 

HH: Growing innovation in the shadows of a large business unit can be challenging.  Big companies manage innovation differently.  Some use the separate “skunkworks” approach while others work very hard for innovation to get enough “sunlight” to grow.

At Nationwide, we keep our innovation within the businesses and drive innovation from the customer point of view.  Initiatives get prioritized and sponsored by the business with the recognition that it takes time for seeds to grow.

TC: From your perspective, how is innovation progressing in Central Ohio? Where’s the progress? What’s still on the “to do” list?

HH: Innovation and economic development in Central Ohio has tremendous upside. The nine finalists in the 2014 VentureNEXT Startup Awards showcase that. There is a wealth of knowledge and expertise in the community that can help entrepreneurs and research institutions commercialize their ideas.  Capital is always important as well.  In order to accomplish even more, we need to increase community awareness  (VentureNEXT is a great step) and support for  entrepreneurship; grow the “ecosystem” that helps startups become successful, and make sure there is sufficient capital in Central Ohio to invest in potentially great companies.

HH: At TechColumbus we see the ecosystem in action.  You can hear entrepreneurs speak with passion, see product demos and business plans come together; learn how the Advisor, First Connect, and Expert Networks have provided value added services at no cost, and review progress as sales and capital raising activities are completed.  These are great examples of people coming together to create something innovative or solve a complex problem that has economic and social benefits.

TC: Has there been something that surprised you about entrepreneurship in Ohio—something, perhaps, that you didn’t expect?

HH: I have been pleasantly surprised with the variety of products and services being pursued by local startups.  I think the Silicon Valley stereotype would be the “young guy writing the killer app.” Our entrepreneurs have varied backgrounds and their businesses span life sciences, advanced materials, and energy, as well as information technology.  Great ideas and great companies can exist anywhere, especially in Central Ohio

TC: Thanks for your time and especially for your many contributions to the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Central Ohio. Any final words?

HH: If you really want to see for yourself the exciting new businesses that are coming about in Central Ohio, register for VentureNEXT. It’s a great way to see what’s going on in entrepreneurship, learn how you can get involved, and help spread the word about economic development in Central Ohio. You will meet some very interesting people and have a lot of fun.

Nationwide Insurance has been helping members protect what’s important since 1925.

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