Connecting entrepreneurs and growing startups across the pond

If I ask someone to cite an example of how Ohio businesses create partnerships with foreign companies, usually I hear how our state enticed Honda to open a new manufacturing plant in 1982.

Yes, that’s a high-profile example. But it overlooks the significant number of international business-development deals involving small-business owners. The Aer Lingus direct flight between Cleveland and Ireland, which launched in May 2023, has and will continue to expand many small-business connections and open doors for entrepreneurs in both communities.

I find one of the best ways to teach my Case Western Reserve University students about entrepreneurship is through studying and working with international startups. And we don’t just read about them or meet on Zoom. We take a cohort of CWRU business students to a foreign country, introduce them to a startup ecosystem, and learn directly from local entrepreneurs how a new company can raise money, produce and sell a product or service, partner with government agencies and scale. We’ve been to places such as Argentina, Portugal, Spain, Morocco and Tanzania.

In March 2024, a group of MBA students traveled to Ireland, in no small part because of the new direct flight. Ireland has a robust startup ecosystem, highly supported by the government, industry, and venture capitalists. We visited an incubator and several startups and scale-ups in Galway and Dublin.

Working in small groups, students were assigned to work with a local startup based at Galway’s Platform 94 to identify and provide advice for a business challenge the company was facing. Among the students was Mark Jackson, a professor in CWRU’s Department of Pathology and breast-cancer researcher pursuing an MBA — in part, to spin out a company from his research. He co-founded Lumos Scientific, a consulting company to help early career researchers learn to write compelling grants.

While there, Jackson and his cohorts met Jim Kernan, CEO of PRONAV Clinical, which provides support for companies engaged in clinical trials. For their consulting project with PRONAV, they were tasked with identifying potential therapeutics startups or scale-ups preparing for clinical trials who might find PRONAV Clinical’s supply chain and logistics services valuable.

The project was closely aligned with Jackson’s experience as a cancer researcher, and his team produced a valuable report and ideas for PRONAV. As a result, Kernan expressed interest in possibly setting up a hub in Cleveland for his Irish startup, noting the direct flight, reasonable cost of living and increased availability of space in Cleveland compared to the East Coast.

Jackson said working with PRONAV taught him how an academic lab can spin off a company, raise capital and eventually advance its product from a pre-clinical stage to patient care.

“Working with Jim taught me the importance of the clinical-trials supply chain for small companies that have historically had a difficult time bridging their research into patients,” he said.

The direct flight has been recognized by many for its promise to increase business between our communities; many Cleveland business and political leaders, including Mayor Justin Bibb, Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne and Greater Cleveland Partnership CEO Baiju Shah, took the inaugural flight to highlight the importance of this historic moment.

I can vouch that the connectivity between entrepreneurs in Ireland and Cleveland has grown because of the flight, creating worthwhile opportunities to exchange ideas, create jobs and open new markets on both sides of the pond.

Michael Goldberg is associate professor, Department of Design and Innovation, Case Western Reserve University Weatherhead School of Management and executive director, Veale Institute for Entrepreneurship, Case Western Reserve University

Michael Goldberg

Associate professor, Department of Design and Innovation; Executive director, Veale Institute for Entrepreneurship
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