Collaboration is putting more muscle behind efforts to grow the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky entrepreneurial eco-system.

That was one of the main takeaways from the first Entrepreneurship Forum at the annual Power 100 breakfast. The event, held for the first time in downtown Cincinnati, drew more than 200 business leaders to the Hilton Netherland Plaza despite an early morning March snowstorm.

"Cincinnati has a lot of great assets. We don't need to replicate them. We need to amplify them," says Tim Schigel, venture fund manager at Cintrifuse, the regional innovation effort underwritten by some of the region's largest employers. "We"¢re not talking about boundaries. There are a lot of great venues here. We want to stretch that. The only way you succeed is through collaboration."

For example, Schigel said Cincinnati's branding and marketing expertise play directly into the next big thing in health care: Consumerization.

"Empowering people to make decisions and take care of their own health. Give them more tools to make decisions on care and cost. There's no better place to do that than Cincinnati," he says.

Schigel, sitting in for Cintrifuse CEO Jeff Weedman, was joined on the Power 100 panel by Bill Butler, founder of Corporex real estate company and founder and past co-chair of the Metropolitan Growth Alliance; Ohio Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney, founder of Sesh Communications; and Maribeth Rahe, president and CEO of Fort Washington Investment Advisors, a unit of Western & Southern Financial Group. David M. Szymanski, dean of the University of Cincinnati Carl H. Lindner College of Business, was the moderator.

Rahe says there are a plenty of resources in the region to support entrepreneurs, ranging from university programs, to business incubators and accelerator initiatives.

"It's fun seeing the city take hold of this," she says, advising budding entrepreneurs to reach out for help. "Pick up the phone. Don't be afraid to ask."

Kearney says when he started Sesh Communications, which publishes the Cincinnati Herald, the Northern Kentucky Herald and the Dayton Defender, he created a spreadsheet of all the relationships he needed to develop the company. Then every day, he methodically worked at making at least one of those connections.

Kearney has seen how Cincinnati's entrepreneurial economy has changed in the last few years.

"When my wife and I tried to grow our business, we had to travel to Chicago to meet with venture capitalists," he says. "Now most entrepreneurs don't have to leave the city to get those opportunities."

Butler, who started his real estate company in Covington at the age of 22, says funding for entrepreneurs was practically nonexistent then. "The biggest bank in Northern Kentucky had $25 million in assets."

He echoes Rahe's call to ask for help. "One of the best things I did was establish a board of directors, even though Corporex was a private company. Everybody needs somebody to report to."

A board can help develop business plans, access capital and offer advice.

Another tip: Don't be afraid of forming partnerships.

"A business partnership is no different than a partnership in a marriage. You have to work at it. I like partnerships. I'm a better partner than a boss. It's fun to do things together."

Schigel, who launched Share This, a web sharing platform, and spent nearly a decade funding other startups at Blue Chip Venture Co., said Cintrifuse has three aspects: Provide incubator space for startups, help develop access for entrepreneurs with major corporations and develop venture funding for startups here.

Cintrifuse, which has raised more than $40 million in early stage capital from some of the area's largest employers such as Procter & Gamble and the University of Cincinnati, doesn't invest directly in startups. Rather, it invests in a network of venture capital funds in other parts of the country to stimulate investments by those funds here. This "fund of funds" concept has been used successfully by Renaissance Venture Capital Fund to generate new investment in Michigan.

That connection will have a multiplier effect on the funds available locally.

"You need to locate 10-20-30 sources of capital. Most will say no. Only need one to say yes," Schigel says.

Rejection isn't necessarily a bad thing, Schigel says. Explaining your business to a lot of different investors can give you a lot of good feedback.

It's important for entrepreneurs to refine their business plan when they're looking for investors, Rahe says. "Know how to tell your story. Develop a storyboard to outline what your venture is and how you plan to go to market. That's key."