By Brit Fitzpatrick
Managing Director, Blue North
Prepare to take off.
As the Executive Director of Blue North, an organization that empowers and services startups and small businesses in the eight counties of northern Kentucky, I look forward to sharing our region’s entrepreneurial spirit with you.
Northern Kentucky is full of ideas, as well as tech accelerators, incubators, and venture capital funding opportunities – and that’s where Blue North comes in.
We love connecting innovators and change makers with resources that will help our region grow and reach heights – and this column, which appears regularly at NKyTribune, will celebrate just that.
The launch is inspired by the importance of the Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) to our region and how the region will subsequently develop with new, innovative companies. Here you can look forward to researching the creative ideas that give NKY its character, on individuals and companies, on the impact of national news and trends on us locally, and much more.
Telling a little about my personal journey might help understand why I am so honored that the Northern Kentucky Tribune offers us this opportunity.
I was a native of Louisville and attended Howard University, a historically black college (HCBU) in Washington, DC. I like to tell people that Howard breeds ambition and hectic. My experience there gave me a sense of which community can be best because each person takes pride in exactly what is required for a startup ecosystem. After graduating with a degree in Journalism and Public Relations in 2009, I moved to Tennessee to do my Masters in Digital Marketing from the University of Memphis.
My time in Memphis enabled me to see an entrepreneurial ecosystem downstairs. The city had a lot in common that I’m seeing in northern Kentucky right now. In a short time, I saw Memphis grow from a few tech startups to dozens. This includes companies in the healthcare, logistics and other sectors, just like the ones we see now starting to build our region. Diversity, Justice, and Inclusion (DEI) issues were new when I was inducted into a Memphis Tech Accelerator program as the first female CEO for women and black women. Now that I am in Northern Kentucky, I hope to help our local visionaries connect with resources that will enable them to reach their full potential.
Of course, being an entrepreneur is not easy. No matter how great your idea is or how much money you start out with, helping others – be it just for help or networking, if not both – is critical to your success. I know this from my own experience when I became CEO of my own startup company.
I founded MentorMe in 2013, I am thinking of eHarmony, but for people who want to connect with mentors. The idea came from my own experience of volunteering in youth mentoring programs and from administrative inefficiencies in data collection and the way matches were made. In my research, I found that half of all mentoring games ended within the first three months, and I thought to myself, “I can do better.” Not long after that, MentorMe was born.
While initially facing some obstacles that got people excited about my idea, I also discovered some challenges that I hadn’t anticipated. For starters, some people had trouble understanding how the software behind my idea as a startup or beyond a non-profit capacity might work. Next, I not only had to educate people about my idea, but I wasn’t a software developer either. While I was able to do front-end development and visual design, building data models and databases was not one of my skills at this point – and finding consistent help with software development was challenging to say the least. As I am both female and colored, I did not fit in with what many people visualized back then for the head of a technology company. The challenges were constant.
However, I am resilient if nothing else. I built my network, took advantage of all the resources available to me, and was able to expand MentorMe to over 100 programs, including New York State and the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation, which used our software. Realizing the difficulties ahead of me to move forward – finding customers wasn’t difficult, but I couldn’t ship my product as fast as I could sell it – I decided to run MentorMe in 2018.
While I might venture out with another startup in the future, my focus is now entirely on Blue North and I use my experience to help others who, like my younger self, could thrive with the right help. Because of this, I have a very simple goal for The Takeoff: Just as a thoroughbred horse needs a good, skilled jockey to lead to victory, I hope the content posted here provides inspiration and encouragement to help our region win.
Perhaps you read about a local company and find inspiration to support it. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to venture into entrepreneurship but didn’t know where to start. Let this be the space to find answers to your questions, to give the impetus to turn your dream into reality, to support others and to be inspired by one another.
Cant wait for you to join us in promoting and empowering Northern Kentucky’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.