The Columbus Technology Council Discusses the Collaborative Nature of the Central Ohio IT Community and the Need for Both Local and State Support
Frank Henson - Central Ohio Tech Power Player Honoree
President Emeritus (Retired)
Columbus Technology Council
Founder and President
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President Emeritus of the Columbus Technology Council, Frank Henson, discusses the collaborative nature of the Central Ohio IT community and the need for both local and state support.
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BK: We are here today with Frank Henson, who is the retired President Emeritus of the Columbus Technology Council. My name is Bryan Kaiser, and I'm with Vernovis. I'm the President and Founder of that organization, and also part of the executive host committee for comSpark. I will be your guest moderator today. So, let's get started. Thanks for joining me, Frank.
FH: Thank you.
BK: So, Frank, what was the best part of working in Central Ohio?
FH: It's a very collaborative community. People want to help each other, especially in the technology related businesses.
BK: So, why do you think that is?
FH: I think it's the nature of the Midwest culture.
BK: So it's, it seems interesting, because, in the technology space, you are competing for talent and people and trying to convince them to work for you. But yet the community is also very collaborative. It's, it's kind of an interesting dynamic. What are your thoughts on that?
FH: Uh, the community is very collaborative because an awful lot of the companies that we're talking about are not well-known, number one. Number two, they're not, uh, selling to or from peers in the community. Their business is done outside this geographical area, which also contributes to the fact that they're not well-known. Uh, this organization was created in the early days as a result of five CEOs of companies who knew they had a lot of peers that, if they knew them, they could help each other, and they wanted collaboration. And we were able to establish an organization of over 300 companies that found that to be of value.
BK: That's wonderful. So what, in your opinion, are the biggest challenges of working in this region?
FH: Right now, it is, as you say, finding qualified people. However, having said that, the community knows itself quite well, and a good example is, I have one company that I'm currently familiar with that became aware of a company that was being closed in Mount Vernon, Ohio. A number of their employees worked here in town, and they were able to hire a dozen very specialized laser-based technology people and keep them within Central Ohio, which is an asset in this process of collaboration. While there was, they were not competitors, they were in a similar field with the fundamental science background.
BK: That's really good. So, you have been exceptionally involved in the Central Ohio IT community. Why do you invest your time?
FH: Uh, for the fact that one, they came, uh, the CIOs, came to me and expressed an interest in having a vertical association within the broader technology-based community. Our organization, by definition of technology, was a new and better way of doing things, not just limited to IT. We started before the internet was real robust and, out of that, we grew, uh, starting fundamentally with manufacturing-based companies. Which may sound unusual in today's times, but in 1993, that was the beginning roots of the organization. They, then, knew that they needed to be aware of the IT world; the IT world needed access to these people because there could be then a synergy.
BK: So, what kind of things do you feel the local market needs to take it to the next level in becoming a larger tech hub?
FH: Uh, as the organization, as our organization that I created started, we were strictly in this facilitated networking of people. And, in that process, we had a lot of synergy growing and developing, and a lot of the fruit is continuing to be born from that. However, as this community has evolved, and as I know to be the case in Cincinnati and Cleveland and the Dayton area, it was difficult to get the support of the state in these efforts to continue this part of it. Therefore, they have narrowed the efforts that the state has supported, in particular, through the Edison program and the other, uh, areas that they encourage. But they did not and still do not, shall I say, get it, about the need to cause events to bring people together.
BK: Yeah, that's a good point. So, what do you see as the next big success for the Central Ohio IT community?
FH: Well, I think it's a continued evolution of the incubation of businesses. Uh, another area that still needs a lot more work, although there has been good progress, has been the transfer of technology out of the research at Ohio State, in particular. There's tremendous opportunities there. However, Ohio State, I'm sorry to say as an alumnus, still has a lot of work to do in collaborating more with people in the community and making that easier.
BK: So, professionally, Frank, what makes you the most happy?
FH: Seeing people grow with their businesses and their businesses grow.
BK: And who do you typically rely on for advice these days?
FH: Well, I have, I have a small group that evolved out of this after my retirement that continues to meet monthly. And these are six people that have continued with their businesses, and we meet over dinner once a month. It's not as much for my benefit as, as it is to help them continue to collaborate. They have encouraged me to continue that, for their benefit.
BK: That's fantastic. One last question before we wrap up. What keeps you up at night in regards to technology?
FH: Uh, the frustration of user friendliness and, in particular, some of the larger companies, of which I won't name any here, but some of the companies that we are dependent upon as individuals every day not being as customer oriented as they should be. They need to…and there's been some mergers and some acquisitions take place, and we have lost, in one particular area I have in mind – again, I'm not going to name them – uh, a lot of the service orientation in this company had its early roots in this area.
BK: Thank you for your time today, Frank. This is Bryan Kaiser with Vernovis. I'm here with Frank Henson. To learn more about us, please visit comspark.tech. And until next time – we'll see you soon. Thanks, Frank.
FH: Thank you, Bryan.
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