Blue North: The entrepreneur’s open door to success in NKY

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New Blue North Executive Director Dave Knox hopes that entrepreneurs across the country will take notice that the grass is bluer (well sort of. Hypothetically speaking, anyway) in Northern Kentucky.

“Our name Blue North is inspired by what we’re known for in Kentucky; being the Bluegrass state and where we’re located, the North,” Knox said. “So, put the two together and there you have it, Blue North.”

The operation of Blue North is inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit and has made itself a sustainable hub for entrepreneurs and small businesses since its launch in 2019 under Northern Kentucky Tri-ED. The Covington-headquartered nonprofit became its own entity in July 2020.

Blue North offers an array of services and programs, including one-on-one counseling for entrepreneurs, in 11 counties – Boone, Bracken, Campbell, Carroll, Gallatin, Grant, Kenton Mason, Owen, Pendleton and Harrison.

“Entrepreneurship is the heartbeat of all communities,” Knox, 42, of Cold Spring, who joined Blue North in June, said. “Without new things being created and birthed there’s no future. Entrepreneurs ensure our future growth as a region, our quality of life as individuals.

“They empower those things we enjoy doing or having every single day; like visiting that cool coffee shop, or that heating and cooling company that help keep our homes warm in the winters; cool in the summers. If we don’t have entrepreneurs, we lose these things and we lose the heart and soul of our community.”

In a post COVID world, where you can base your business and work anywhere you want, according to Knox, the competition is heated when it comes to attracting and keeping innovative minds.

There are several areas in which the region is excelling, Knox said, poising it to be one of the Midwest’s top destinations for entrepreneurs.

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One area he is most impressed with is life science innovation. He credits companies like CTI Clinical Trial and Consulting Services, a global, privately held, full-service contract research organization headquartered in Covington. CTI was recently named the No. 1 contract research organization in the world and is managing more than 49 active Covid-19 trials for treatment and prevention.

There’s also St. Elizabeth Healthcare, which recently announced the launching of the Innovation Center to bolster the healthcare industry. According to a previous report from LINK, the center will use a venture fund to invest in emerging healthcare companies “that focus on improving the lives of patients through faster, more accurate diagnoses, state-of-the-art treatment options and increased cost efficiency of care.”

“There’s also Northern Kentucky University’s Health Innovation Center,” Knox said. “There’s just an amazing energy there.”

The center is the university’s newest facility and houses simulation spaces, clinical and nursing skill suites and imaging suites in addition to classrooms for external use.

“Next there’s the digital commerce experts who are clearly naming Northern Kentucky as the best place for digital commerce,” Knox said, giving examples such as Amazon.com and eGateway Capital.

“We also have a pipeline for entrepreneurial talent like we have never seen before,” Knox said. “We have the Governor’s School of Entrepreneurship that’s contracting high school students to come to Northern Kentucky and encouraging them to build their careers here. And the Department of American Veterans’ Patriot Boot Camp, which in July and will again in October, bring 50 veteran entrepreneurs to the region.”

Knox is certain that Blue North is playing an essential role in molding the region into an entrepreneurial hotspot.

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“Blue North is meant to be a front door for entrepreneurs,” he said. “We want, as much as possible, to help them reach success. We help connect them with people and resources that will move them forward. Our success is determined upon their success.”

Community partner Incubator Kitchen Collective founder Rachel DesRochers calls Blue North and Knox godsends.

“We were recently awarded a grant from Blue North that is very impactful to our work and mission,” DesRochers said. “But more so than money, I feel like I’ve reconnected with a friend and mentor. I feel like I have a friend, mentor and champion all rolled into one with Dave. That is invaluable for us and the work we are doing here regionally.”

The Incubator Kitchen Collective is a non-profit that provides a hand up and a push forward for food entrepreneurs in the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. It was started in September 2013 by DesRochers, owner of Grateful Grahams.

Knox said he’s proud to have a community partner like Incubator Kitchen Collective and he loves working for Blue North.

“I find it enjoyable discovering amazing entrepreneurs,” he said. “I want to help them on their journey. The entrepreneurial mindset is refreshing because it’s about looking for a reason why something will work rather than why something doesn’t work. That matters so much. Next, is the willingness to take the leap. They put in all the effort to make sure their idea lives in this world. Helping them do that is my passion.”

Knox knows this from his own experience.

He is a leading startup advisor, investor, speaker and marketer. He served as chief marketing officer of Rockfish, helping the company become one of the fastest-growing agencies in the country, going form $8 million in 2010 to $70 plus million in revenue in 2015. At the same time, he co-founded The Brandery, one of the top 10 startup accelerators in the U.S. His latest endeavor includes the acquisition and relaunch of the natural wellness brand Nature’s Willow. He is also a Procter & Gamble alum where he worked in brand management.

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DesRochers said that working with Knox these last few months as “reignited a fire” in her.

“He’s made it fun to ask for help and to think outside the of the box again,” she said. “Dave is a go-getter, motivated for impact and change, willing to see the little guys and invite them into the room.”

Knox is motivated by several things. One his family – wife Cindy, their 10-year-old twins, and their Labrador Retriever, Wally.

“I want a secure future for them, and I want to be a role model for my kids, I want to show them what work hustle can accomplish,” Knox said. “I grew up in a family where I learned the power of hard work. My uncle had his own business, my grandfather started several blue-collar businesses, but that’s entrepreneurship too. They taught me the value of putting your mind to something and working hard for it.”

The other thing that motivates Knox is making a mark on the community.

“All of us need a give first mindset,” he said. “We have to all want to make our community a better place. I’m working hard here for Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati for a better community,” Knox said.

Dave Knox is the executive director of Blue North. The nonprofit offers an array of services and programs, including one-on-one counseling for entrepreneurs, in 11 counties. Photo provided | Dave Knox

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