Entrepreneurship in Akron: Meet Elyse Ball of the University of Akron Research Foundation

Akron, Ohio, USA downtown skyline at dusk.

Image: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Being the Rubber Capital of the World, Akron, Ohio, isn’t normally the place you’d look to for innovation in entrepreneurship. But being the home of Goodyear, Goodrich, Firestone and General Tire, the city certainly knew something about manufacturing, which lends itself to innovation.

Tom Cottingham recently spoke with Elyse Ball, executive director of the University of Akron Research Foundation, about the exciting things the foundation is doing for entrepreneurs. The UARF has programs to help entrepreneurs through all stages of the journey, including Starting Line, a pre-accelerator for beginning entrepreneurs; I-Corps, a seven-week program that focuses on direct customer interactions; and ArchAngels, which brings together entrepreneurs, investors, service providers and students at quarterly events. 

UARF was originally founded to develop ideas coming out of the university into businesses. “And we thought, ‘Why not open this up to the broader community?’ And that’s been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made because it helps expand our impact,” Ball said. 

But the town and gown aspect of a university setting was adding a barrier to getting these ideas into the world. 

“We found it helps people to network to others and other universities, as well as just out there in the broader community, and just become aware of more resources, more perspectives, and in a lot of cases, forming some really meaningful relationships, that also we know are just critical, especially if you’re an entrepreneur,” Ball said.  “one of the critical things is being supported and having a network of people that can give you advice when you need that, but also to kind of commiserate with you, or the challenges that you’re facing, in a positive way.”

Ball said one of the most important aspects of creating a business is knowing your customer, and UARF really focuses on that in its programs. “We all know that we need to be accountable, and customer discovery – especially if you’re new to it – really can feel very intimidating, or very awkward. And that’s why we try to get people to a point where they’re much more comfortable conducting the customer interviews,” Ball said. 

The two discussed the work being done by the UARF, the challenges of entrepreneurship and more. Check it out below: