Falon Donohue

Crestview graduate Falon Donohue is CEO of VentureOhio.

COLUMBUS – Falon Donohue believes entrepreneurship is key to Ohio’s future.

A 2001 Crestview graduate, Donohue works as the CEO of VentureOhio to increase access to venture capital for Ohio entrepreneurs through the Columbus-based organization.

To get Ohio “back in the driver’s seat” in innovation and job creation, she sees entrepreneurship playing a significant factor. Donohue compares bringing existing companies to Ohio with “moving a tree,” but sees fostering a startup culture as “planting seeds” with the potential to grow into trees.

To explain this, she used Amazon, which recently named Columbus as one of the possible locations for its second headquarters, as an example.

“I would love for Amazon to come here, but it would be a lot cooler if someone from Ohio created the next Amazon,” Donohue said. “When what we’re doing is planting seeds, it takes longer to see those sprout and grow. But when they do they are homegrown and ours to keep.”

Rather than awaiting a savior, she wants to see Ohioans determine their own fate. In her role as CEO at VentureOhio, Donohue encourages venture capitalists – people who fund startups with high growth potential – to see Ohio as their “backyard” by connecting with and financially backing startups throughout the state.

If they don’t there may not be someone else who will, she notes.

“There’s a lot of jobs that are going to continue to go away in Mansfield … so growing these companies in Ohio cities is critical to Ohio,” Donohue said. “As these jobs continue to go away, we need to support the local venture capitalists, who can support local entrepreneurs.”

In 2016, three states – California, Massachusetts and New York – drew 75 percent of venture capital in the United States, leaving the 47 others to compete for the remaining quarter, according to Steve Case, notably one of the founders of America Online. Case’s belief that high-growth companies can start and grow anywhere in the county is conveyed in his Rise of the Rest Tour.

This left Ohio with less than half a percent of the venture capital.

In 2016, the Kaufman Foundation recognized Columbus as a city that’s scaling startups and, in 2017,Ohio as one of the top 20 states in growth entrepreneurship, or rate of startup growth. Further, Donohue believes Ohio is ideally located, positioned within a day’s drive from most of the United States market -- as being near customers becomes more important, she sees Ohio as a potential leader.

But venture capital is needed to push forward. VentureOhio’s annual report cites that “43 percent of companies that have gone public since 1974 were venture backed.”

“We’re already making some great progress there, but the idea only gets you so far if you don’t have the money behind it,” she said.

When the majority of venture capital going to California, New York and Massachusetts, Donohue isn’t surprised that brain drain exists in places like Ohio. However, if more venture capital was available locally, she sees the potential to attract talent and to build world-renowned businesses from the ground up in this state.

“All the talent and capital was in Silicon Valley ... We’re not being able to grow Facebooks in Ohio until we have that venture capital,” she said.

Donohue believes the United States is entering a “third wave,” where entrepreneurs will be key to transforming markets like healthcare, education and energy. The concept is outlined in “The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur's Vision of the Future” by Steve Case.

Firm in her belief that the Midwest will “emerge as a leader in the next phase of innovation,” she asks, “Why not us? Why not Ohio?”

“We need to get back to our roots. We just kind of lost our way over the past few decades. We used to be entrepreneurial,” Donohue said.

She predicts “being entrepreneurial” will be one of the most important skills someone can have by the year 2025 and advocates that children as young as preschool are introduced to entrepreneurship.

“We need to be planting seeds and preparing the workforce,” Donohue said.

To address the immediate skills gap, she’s seen programs like Tech Elevator and i.c.stars offer classes on business and technology training.

After graduating from Crestview in 2001, Donohue served in the Ohio Air National Guard and began a career in business development. Ultimately she found her way to VentureOhio and developed an interest in startups.

Last year, she testified on behalf of United States entrepreneurs in front of Congress and identified Mansfield as a key focus area in need of support. She also served on the steering committee for the Invest in Opportunity Act, which is meant to encourage venture capitalists to support entrepreneurship.

Author’s Note: More stories about how startups are and could potentially impact Ohio, specifically Richland County, Ohio will follow this story. This is part of the Richland Source's Rising from Rust project. 

Support Our Journalism

Our reporting empowers people to individually and collectively achieve progress in our region. Help make free, local, independent journalism sustainable by becoming a Source Member.

This Solutions Journalism story is brought to you in part by the generous support of our Newsroom Partners: Spherion, Visiting Nurses Association, PR Machine Works, Nanogate/Jay Systems, DRM Productions, OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital, Richland Bank, Mechanics Bank, Area Agency on Aging, and many others. To learn more about Solutions Journalism at Richland Source click the "About Solutions Journalism."