Ready to Launch
Photo by Jon Keeling
The buzz of Cincinnati’s booming startup community called attorney Paige Connelly to Thompson Hine’s Emerging Companies practice after starting her legal career following a decade away from the Queen City. Now she’s helping entrepreneurs navigate the legal framework that girds the region’s thriving innovation ecosystem.
When Paige Connelly returned home to visit family and friends in Cincinnati while pursuing her education elsewhere during the first decade of the 2000s, she began sensing a palpable buzz in the city’s business sector she hadn’t noticed in earlier years.
Young entrepreneurs were setting up shop in Cincinnati, choosing the area over other locations as the headquarters for their tech and health care startups. And rather than moving away after finishing school, they were eager to put down roots here, selecting Cincinnati as a place to not only work, but live and raise families.
Innovation was percolating in Southwest Ohio, and Connelly wanted to be a part of it.
“There’s definitely been a change in the business landscape here in Cincinnati with the increase in emerging company activity,” Connelly said. “I can see such a difference from when I was growing up here.”
As an attorney, Connelly understood the significant legal work entrepreneurs and startup companies require throughout the cycle of their businesses, from organization and various forms of capital raising and growth challenges until exit.
In 2012, Connelly joined the Cincinnati office of Thompson Hine, a full-service business law firm with more than 100 lawyers in the region. Now boasting seven locations and more than 400 lawyers nationwide, Thompson Hine is an institution in the Ohio legal community with more than a century of service in the state. When she joined Thompson Hine, she knew she was joining a firm with a strong reputation in the startup community and that she had the opportunity to help grow the practice.
Connelly is a Senior Associate in the firm’s Early Stage and Emerging Companies practice, which is led by David J. Willbrand, within the firm’s Corporate Transactions and Securities group. She focuses on the transactional and corporate governance needs of early stage companies and investors in the startup ecosystem.
On a given day, she helps entrepreneurs bring their big ideas to fruition by working with them on business entity formation, contract negotiation and preparation, and investment financing transactions to enable them to meet their business goals. She also helps the firm’s clients with general corporate and transactional matters, including reorganizations, mergers and acquisitions.
“We provide corporate counseling services for many early stage companies, and we assist startups, early-stage investors, and venture capital funds with investment financing transactions,” Connelly said.
Thompson Hine’s work in this area involves advising emerging companies and investors on venture financing transactions, including preferred equity issuances and convertible debt transactions.
From start to finish, incorporation to exit and all stages in between, Connelly and Thompson Hine can help entrepreneurs, startup companies and early stage investors navigate the legal maze that can stymie even the best business ideas before they launch.
Connelly grew up in Cincinnati as Paige Schweitzer, and graduated from The Seven Hills School in 2000.
After graduation, she left the state to attend Duke University in Durham, N.C., and earned a bachelor’s degree in public policy studies and economics in 2004. During her time at Duke, Connelly began considering a legal career and moved to Washington, D.C., after graduation to work as a paralegal.
She said the experience helped her determine that law school was the next step, and a year later, she returned to Ohio to attend The Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law. She graduated cum laude in 2008 and was chief managing editor of the Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution in her third year.
From Columbus, Connelly was able to see the growth taking place in her hometown a little over an hour away. She returned to Cincinnati after graduation and joined the legal community, quickly earning acclaim and recognition as one of the area’s bright young minds in business law. In 2011, the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati’s Academy of Career Women of Achievement named her a Rising Star.
In October 2012, Thompson Hine’s Cincinnati office hired her to join its growing Corporate Transactions and Securities group.
“It’s a very exciting time here,” Connelly said. “The research institutions as well as the incubators and accelerators in this community are helping the startup community to thrive. There’s a lot of opportunity here.”
The nation has taken notice. In a 2013 article in Entrepreneur, “How One U.S. City Became an Unexpected Hub for Tech Startups,” Cincinnati was featured for its under-the-radar, yet thriving startup community. That ecosystem of startups, incubators, accelerators and more includes nationally ranked accelerators like The Brandery, public-private tech investors like CincyTech and Cintrifuse, a public-private startup catalyst with support from large corporations like Procter & Gamble and Duke Energy.
And, a June 2016 Cincinnati Enquirer article noted that Cincinnati’s startup ecosystem saw the nation’s biggest growth in 2016. In the article, a quote from CincyTech stated that the area boasted 200-plus startup companies, which raised about $140 million in venture capital in the 18 months between January 2015 and June 2016.
Their work keeps Connelly busy, both with her duties at Thompson Hine and with another initiative specifically geared toward helping female entrepreneurs build and sustain businesses in Cincinnati’s startup community.
Connelly’s work supporting the startup ecosystem in Cincinnati made her a perfect fit at BGV, Inc., an educational nonprofit organization committed to encouraging and supporting women entrepreneurs as they navigate the business world. Founded in 2010 as Bad Girl Ventures, BGV, Inc. has offices in Cincinnati and Cleveland. On its website, BGV, Inc. touts its record of serving more than 600 women across Ohio, and securing close to $500,000 in loans for their businesses. Currently in the midst of a rebranding process, BGV, Inc. hopes to expand opportunities for female entrepreneurs to gain access to investments and other funding sources for their businesses.
BGV, Inc. offers business education courses, coaching and mentorship, and includes a micro-finance component to help women secure the funds needed to start businesses or move their existing businesses forward. Connelly has joined the Board of BGV, Inc., and she provides legal expertise as an instructor in BGV’s “Launch” phase, the second of a three-phase program to help move a business from the idea stage to launch and finally, to growth. In the Launch phase, BGV, Inc. helps entrepreneurs and current business owners who’ve already established the basic foundation of their businesses, which can include revenue generation and the establishment of a client base, but who need more capital and guidance to move forward.
For entry-level entrepreneurs, the “Explore” phase of the program helps with the development of a written business plan and exploration of the feasibility of business ideas. Participants also gain access to close to 1,000 BGV, Inc. graduates, mentors and other connections. Those 3-hour courses take place weekly for nine weeks at the Hamilton County Development Center in the spring and fall, with a class starting this month.
Graduates of Explore or those with businesses in the early stages of operation are the target audience for Launch, which also consists of weekly 3-hour evening classes on business essentials during a nine-week period, followed by one-on-one, hour-long coaching sessions featuring industry experts. Participants can compete for a $25,000 loan for their business at the end of the course.
The next Launch session begins this month at the BGV, Inc. office in Covington, Kentucky. A third phase for established business owners, “Grow,” is scheduled to be introduced later this year.
In Launch, Connelly helps budding entrepreneurs understand the legal considerations of their business plan and basic concerns many startups face.
“Choice of business entity, early stage funding alternatives, intellectual property protection and employment issues are all things for entrepreneurs to consider when they start their businesses,” Connelly said. “Early-stage funding and investment can take many forms. Part of BGV’s mission is to familiarize and socialize entrepreneurs with these possibilities.”
By working with both the startup and the investment communities in Cincinnati and beyond, Connelly understands both sides of the process, and can work to help entrepreneurs make their startups more competitive for funding.
“There’s a lot that goes into it,” Connelly said. “We can flag key indicators that investors are looking for in a business plan and with respect to capitalization of a company when considering which businesses to fund. There are certain criteria that many early-stage investors want to see when making their decision.”
The Ohio Third Frontier initiative is an example of one of those resources. Initiated by the state in 2006, Ohio Third Frontier had provided services and investment capital to more than 1,400 companies by mid-2016, according to an information sheet on its website. From that larger group, 315 companies had received more than $100,000 in funding, with biomedical and software/information technology sectors leading the way with the strongest returns.
Among those 315 companies that received six figures, 2,584 jobs were created, $1.5 billion in follow-up equity was achieved and $1.2 billion in product sales and revenue were generated to boost Ohio’s economy.
“We want to help entrepreneurs establish a solid legal foundation from the ground up, which starts with preparing organizational and governing documents to fit the entity’s structure and helping with the Company’s contractual needs,” she said. “Thompson Hine is very supportive of my role with BGV, Inc. and my work in the startup ecosystem here.”
Thompson Hine is a sponsor of BGV, Inc.’s programs in Cincinnati.
A Place to Thrive
A strong business community and thriving economy contributes to making an area an attractive place to live and raise families. Connelly made that choice after moving back to Cincinnati, and lives here with her husband Brett, whom she married in 2010, and their two young sons.
She finds the area just as welcoming to families as when she grew up here, a feeling shared by the growing number of young professionals returning to the area after college or after living in larger locales.
From Bengals and Reds games to University of Cincinnati sports, Connelly finds plenty of opportunities nearby for recreation and exposure to the arts. She serves on the Associate Junior board for the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company and regularly frequents local music and theater productions.
“Cincinnati is unique in its variety of arts organizations and the accessibility to the arts here,” she said. “I enjoy theater and the arts community – from the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the Cincinnati Opera – they’re all accessible and part of a growing community here. It’s great to have these arts organizations in our backyard.”
And that’s enhanced by thriving partnerships with the innovation community, from the life sciences sector and health care institutions to the software and tech community, startup businesses are providing valuable products and services and benefiting from the resources in the Cincinnati area. Connelly and Thompson Hine enjoy doing their part to keep it running.
“The entrepreneurial startup community here spurs innovation which in turn creates a certain vitality in Cincinnati and the region,” Connelly said.
Thompson Hine LLP is located at 312 Walnut Street, 14th Floor, Cincinnati, OH 45202. For more information, call 513.352.6700 or visit thompsonhine.com.