A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

The Takeoff: Exploring entrepreneurship and startups throughout Northern Kentucky; hold on for the ride

By Brit Fitzpatrick
Executive Director, Blue North

Prepare for The Takeoff.

As the Executive Director of Blue North, an organization that empowers and serves startups and small businesses throughout the eight counties of Northern Kentucky, I’m excited to share the entrepreneurial spirit of our region with you.

Northern Kentucky is home to a wealth of ideas as well as tech accelerators, incubators and venture capital funding opportunities – and that’s where Blue North comes in.

Brit Fitzpatrick

We love to connect innovators and change-makers with resources that will help our region grow and reach the heights – and this column, which will be regular feature at NKyTribune, will celebrate just that.

The Takeoff is inspired by both the importance of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) to our area and how the region is subsequently taking off with new, innovative companies. Here, you can look forward to the exploration of creative ideas that give NKY its character, spotlights on individuals and businesses, how national news and trends impact us locally, and more.

Sharing a little bit about my own personal journey might help in understanding why I am so honored the Northern Kentucky Tribune is providing us with this opportunity.

I’m a native of Louisville who attended Howard University, a historically black college (HCBU), in Washington, D.C. I like to tell people Howard breeds ambition and hustle. My experience there gave me a sense of what community can be at its best because of the pride shared among the individuals there, which is exactly what’s needed for a startup ecosystem. After graduating with my degree in journalism and public relations in 2009, I moved to Tennessee to obtain my master’s degree in digital marketing from the University of Memphis.

My time in Memphis allowed me to see an entrepreneurial ecosystem at the ground floor. The city shared many similarities I see in Northern Kentucky right now. In a short period of time I saw Memphis grow from having few tech startups to dozens. This includes companies in the healthcare space, logistics and others just like the ones we see now starting to build up our region. Issues of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) were new when I became the first woman and black woman CEO accepted into a Memphis tech accelerator program. Now that I am in Northern Kentucky, I hope to help our local visionaries connect to resources that will enable them to reach full potential.

Being an entrepreneur, of course, is not easy. No matter how great your idea is or how much money you have starting out, the support of others – be it just in terms of helping out or networking if not both – is critical to your success. I know this based on my own firsthand experience when I became the CEO of my own startup company.

I founded MentorMe, think of it as eHarmony, but for people that want to connect with mentors, in 2013. The idea grew out of my own experiences volunteering in youth mentoring programs and seeing administrative inefficiencies regarding data collection and how matches were made. In my research, I learned that half of all mentoring matches were ending within the first three months and I thought to myself “I can do better.” Shortly thereafter, MentorMe was born.

While I faced some initial barriers getting people excited about my idea, I also discovered several challenges I hadn’t anticipated. For starters, some people had trouble understanding how the software behind my idea could function as a startup or beyond a nonprofit capacity. Next, in addition to needing to educate people on my idea, I also was not a software developer. While I could do front-end development and visual design, building data models and databases wasn’t in my skill set at that time – and finding consistent software development help was a challenge to say the least. Also, being both female and a person of color, I didn’t fit what many people visualized for the head of a tech company at the time. The challenges were constant.

I’m resilient, however, if nothing else. I built my network, used all the resources available to me and was able to grow MentorMe to where 100+ programs including the state of New York and the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation used our software. Realizing the difficulties ahead to advance – finding customers wasn’t hard but I couldn’t ship my product as fast as I could sell it – I decided to wind MentorMe down in 2018.

While I may venture out with another startup in the future, now my focus is squarely on Blue North and using my experience to help others that, like my younger self, could thrive with the right help. This is why I have a very simple goal for The Takeoff moving forward: In much the same way a thoroughbred horse requires a good, experienced jockey to lead them to victory, I hope the content shared here will provide inspiration and encouragement to help our region win.

Perhaps you’ll read about a local business and be inspired to support them. Or, maybe you’ve always wanted to venture into entrepreneurship but didn’t know where to begin. Let this be the space to find answers to your questions, to be the impetus to start turning your dream to reality, to support others and to be inspired by one another.

I can’t wait for you to join us on the journey of championing and strengthening Northern Kentucky’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

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