When you hear the word "startup", do you think Silicon Valley? Astronomer is setting its sights on changing that.
When you hear the word “startup,” what comes to mind? Most likely, Silicon Valley is one of the first things that pops into your head. After all, that’s where all the startups go to succeed, right? Even if you gain initial traction in a different city, you can’t really find huge success unless you move to the Valley where the investors, the talent, the community, and the resources are… right?
Turning Down Every Startup’s Dream: Acquisition
A few years ago, a company in California was looking to acquire Astronomer. They flew Founder Ry Walker and his team out to Los Angeles to wine and dine them in the hopes of acquiring the company, which was started in Cincinnati. This is the dream of nearly every startup! But not for Ry. He knew his vision for the company could not be achieved by merging with another.
Not only that, but a big part of Astronomer’s vision is very specific to Cincinnati and the Midwest region. He says, “There was a time when people would say, ‘Cincinnati is always 10 to 15 years behind,’ but it doesn’t have to be like that.”
And in large part because of Ry and his team at Astronomer, it no longer is. They are on a mission to build a big tech company right here in Cincinnati that could compete with those in the Bay Area.
The Roots Of #StartupCincy
Technological innovation has always existed in Cincinnati, and Ry has been at the forefront as an early adopter of technology. He’s been an entrepreneur since 1995 when he built one of the first web development companies, creating the first websites for companies like UDF and Paycor. He tells of his experience being a part of “The Digital Rhine,” the beginning stages of the now vibrant and expansive #StartupCincy community.
Fast forward to 2015 when Astronomer was officially founded. In the beginning, the company was formed to help managers track products and connect user data. As they started to gain momentum and generate interest, however, they found that most businesses needed a much broader solution. People were looking to Astronomer to help track not just user data, but all of their data. Astronomer provides provides businesses a data engineering platform that collects, processes and unifies enterprise data so you can get straight to analytics, data science and insights.
Addressing The Data Problem
Every company that exists needs data in order to function, improve, grow, and meet the needs of their consumers. These companies and the data scientists who work for them spend massive amounts of time just finding that data, much less analyzing it. Astronomer’s platform solves that problem with the ability to not only gather huge amounts of data from one source and then organize and transfer it to another, but also the capability to run insights, perform predictive analytics, analyze marketing data, and more. Users are able to quickly turn on and off integrations so they can get exactly what they need, saving a ton of time and money.
Take smart refrigerators, for example. These appliances hold within them an incredible amount of consumer data that could be of great use to companies like Kroger… if they only had access to it and the ability to analyze it!
Or think about the rise of smart cars. Every piece of technology on a self-driving car is producing massive amounts of data in real time. Car companies are currently facing the obstacle of how to actually gather and organize that data to share with insurance companies.
This is where Astronomer comes in.
But it’s not just emerging ‘smart’ technology companies who can benefit from Astronomer’s platform. The classic factory line, for example, budgets a certain number of hours for downtime. They may estimate $1.5 million needed for eight hours of downtime per month. With the help of Astronomer, the factory would be able to look at the actual data and discover they don’t need to shut down for that long each month, thus saving thousands, or even millions of dollars.
It’s easy to see the incredible value Astronomer brings to Cincinnati and the Midwest. But in a world where some investors would go as far as to say that it’s a requirement to operate in Silicon Valley, can they really create a big tech company in middle America?
Changing the Midwest Perception
Dave Paprocki, who heads up marketing at Astronomer, says that it’s no longer a lack of talent or resources that keep startups and investors out of the Midwest region or encourages them to leave. So, what is it?
He says: perception. These days, “the midwest is being overlooked for no good reason.” Which is why the Astronomer team is determined to change this impression that middle-America doesn’t have what it takes to play the game with the Valley.
If you spend any amount of time in Over-the-Rhine, it doesn’t take long to see the evidence of this. “Some of the VCs have told us they’re surprised by our entire culture,” Dave says. “We are starting to see this ecosystem, this momentum of entrepreneurial spirit. People want to see the startup community thrive and they want to have a hand in that. There is this ‘city rising’ mentality, where the community recognizes success, and everyone - the big shots and the little guys - want to rally around and ensure success.” This is something that’s rare in the dog-eat-dog culture of Silicon Valley, where it can be terribly difficult to make a splash.
It’s Not Just Startups Who Benefit
Cincinnati also has a way of bringing together the small startups and the humongous companies, a characteristic of the city that Ry, Dave, and the rest of the Astronomer team have taken full advantage of. “We have an open door for Fortune 500 companies all the way down to startups,” Dave says. Companies like P&G and Kroger are interested in learning how they can operate like a startup, even though their leaders are working with teams of 2,500 people. This can be done by using data, by implementing the attitude of a startup, and by continuing to have conversations and build community in which all companies, big and small, can thrive.
“Come and feel the energy.”
For businesses or individuals who may be considering Cincinnati as a home to grow in, Dave wants to challenge those people to come to Cincinnati for a couple days and just walk around. “You can FEEL the energy!” he says. When it comes to setting up a business for long-term success, this city has everything you need: talent, resources, technological education, transportation, logistics, and mentorship. It’s walkable and easy to commute. Not to mention, Cincinnati’s economy seemed completely unphased by the 2008 Great Recession.
“We’re on a mission to spread this startup culture throughout the country. We have access to all of these major areas that are essentially untapped because everyone is focusing on the coast,” says Dave.
Astronomer is based in the Midwest strategically and intentionally, and it is here they plan to stay. There is a lot of new technology that comes out of the Valley, but there is potential for a gap in information and accessibility between the coast and the rest of the country. The team at Astronomer is on a mission to close that gap by providing the education and tools companies need in order to compete on the same playing field as the big guns on the Bay.
“We have the people, the talent, the resources,” Ry says. “We can build anything we want here.” And Astronomer is proving just how true that is.