#OpenCoffeeLou 19

Today’s #OpenCoffeeLou was likely one of the best that we’ve had so far. Interesting new people. Lively, focused discussion. All despite the rainy, dreary 8 a.m start time and the “it’s raining, so we have to drive like crazy people” commutes.

Maybe we have Heine Brothers to thank for that. This was the first #OpenCoffeeLou to be sponsored by Heine Brothers, and for the first time in recent memory, the coffee outlasted the meeting. Heine Brothers has been a great partner to the startup community here in Louisville. We tip our hats to them for sponsoring events like #OpenCoffeeLou and both Startup Weekends.

Will Bogel of Composable Systems and Where The Trucks At? moderated this morning’s meeting. As we introduced ourselves, Bogel also asked us to answer this question: “If you weren’t here [in Louisville], where would you be?”

This prompted a lot of interesting answers: Turkey, in an RV, NYC, Dallas, New Orleans, Austin, Utah, Indianapolis, Nashua NH, in a holler in Southern Kentucky, on a beach somewhere.

Newcomer to the group, Barry Khan, who relocated Dharma Construction from Costa Mesa, Calif., to Louisville back in 2011 and now has disbanded the company, said:  “I have no desire to be anywhere else.” Khan is now starting a healthcare-related manufacturing company in the city.

Chris Vermilion Skyping in from SF. Photo by Cheryl Boyd.

One attendee who didn’t have to stretch too far to answer that question was Chris Vermilion of Roobiq who was skyping in from SF at 5 a.m. PST (which will teach me to grumble about the new 8 a.m. start time for #OpenCoffeeLou).

The topic of the day was “brain drain.” This topic was sparked in part by the Insider Louisville article that mourned the loss of Roobiq and furthered concern over Louisville’s talent pool.

Not everyone is in agreement with this concern, however. Some attendees suggested that the idea of “brain drain” is inflammatory and perhaps even a myth. Others suggested a third possibility: that what we call “brain drain” does exist, but that it’s not a bad thing and can even benefit the community.

When we talk about startup companies leaving Louisville, we’re almost always talking about two examples (joined now by Roobiq as a potential third): Backupify and Impulcity. Backupify left Louisville for Boston in 2008. Impulcity stayed in Cincinnati last year after a stint at the Brandery accelerator.

Vermilion offered a couple of insights that seemed especially pertinent: None of the startup companies that have left Louisville have anything to do with Louisville. They’re not healthcare businesses or businesses having to do with agriculture or elder care (or basketball, horses or bourbon), or any of the industries that have a new or historic hold on the city. And among the men and women (have there been women?) associated with these companies, not many of them are local to Louisville.

To that last point, Stacey Servo of New2Lou, who knows a thing or two about moving around, suggested: When you’re a transient person, you’re a serial transient person until you find something that grounds you in a place.

Suzanne Bergmeister called for a show of hands; it turned out less than half of the room was native to Louisville. Bergmeister admitted that she came to Louisville from Cincinnati (and lots of elsewheres) “kicking and screaming.”

Many attendees echoed Bergmeister’s experience (including this attendee) — that they were skeptical at best about relocating to Louisville, unhappy at worst. But that once they were here for a while, they fell in love.

Louisville, almost everyone agreed, still has a branding problem. Few people immediately think of the negative stereotypes of Georgia when Atlanta is mentioned. But people outside of the region immediately default to negative Kentucky stereotypes (or even historic but inaccurate stereotypes) when people bring up Louisville.

Kelby Price noted that Louisville has been cited as being a top city in the nation for attracting and retaining young professionals.

Bergmeister pointed out that two (or three) companies (that we know of) leaving Louisville isn’t really a big number. She said, “Maybe this isn’t a problem. Maybe they’ll come back. Maybe they won’t and we’ll just end up having those connections in Boston or SF.”

When someone questioned whether or not startups were moving to Louisville, Vik Chadha, of iHub, Nucleus, Backupify and more, squashed that speculation with the name of a single company: “Café Press came here—that’s a big deal. $200 million in revenue.” He also cited several early stage development startups that have moved into iHub recently from  from Maine and from upstate New York to take advantage of the low cost of living and incentives like SBIR matching programs.

Chadha agreed with Bergmeister that these companies leaving could have benefits for Louisville’s startup community. He called it the “brain bridge.” When Todd Earwood, CEO and founder of Try it Local, was trying to raise money, Rob May of Backupify helped him raise money from both Boston and SF.

“You know what the biggest complaint people have in Boston, according to Rob May?” asked Chadha, “Brain Drain.”

Crowdfunding investing will allow global investors to bring money to Louisville, explained Chadha, allowing more people to become aware of what’s going on in Louisville.

“We’re becoming more cosmopolitan,” said Nick Roberts of Speed Demon 2 Photography.

Elizabeth Rounsavall said that she lived in New York for more than 10 years, and she “didn’t have half the network in New York that [she] had just coming for Derby Weekend.”

Barry Khan added one of the things he likes best about Louisville is the “accessibility on the business side of things. Everyone’s friendly, and that goes a little below the skin level.”

One problem that everyone recognized as a black mark against Louisville where big investors and startups are concerned, a problem cited by Backupify when it left   —  poor accessibility to Louisville via air travel.

Events and News:

Haleh Karimi will be next week’s moderator. The event will once again be held at the iHub, 204 S. Floyd Street, at 8 a.m. Heine Brothers will sponsor.