This weekend I attended an exceptional performance of musicians and composers from all over the country entitled “Art of the Piano.” Organized by famed pianist Awadagin Pratt, the jaw-dropping program at Memorial Hall in Cincinnati’s historic Over-the-Rhine (OTR) district was a powerful reminder of our region’s outsize arts and culture footprint.
Today such content is primarily packaged for local audiences and delivered in “physical” places. And yet we’re now in the third disruptive wave of the internet known as Web3, beckoning bolder, more sophisticated, and intensively immersed possibilities for content.
You may be asking what this has to do with startups. The answer is EVERYTHING. According to Pitchbook’s latest Emerging Spaces analysis, Web3 and the metaverse are at the forefront of startup growth: NFTs (1,425 startups), Decentralized Finance (726 startups), Blockchain Gaming (412 startups), and Digital Twins (235 startups).
We will explore this exciting new frontier as part of P&G Signal at Union Hall powered by Cintrifuse and Altafiber. Over 400 registered attendees are expected, representing our region’s entrepreneurs, innovators, students, and civic and business leaders, and some of our most influential arts organizations will be here to demonstrate how they reinvent storytelling in the metaverse.
Defining the Metaverse
The metaverse is a broad, rapidly growing category of content encompassing fully digital, immersive environments powered by the blockchain, virtual reality, augmented reality, immersive gamification, and millions of decentralized creators.
A recent McKinsey study suggests that annual business and consumer spending related to the metaverse could reach $5 trillion by 2030 and that corporations, venture capital, and private equity firms have already invested more than $120 billion in the metaverse in the first five months of 2022 alone.
“This is one of the most significant changes to our tech society since the invention of the Web itself. The inevitable reinvention of the BigCos as networked organizations will impact our region dramatically,” explained Miami University Professor Glenn Platt, one of the world’s foremost experts in gamification/esports and digital design.
A recent McKinsey study suggests that annual business and consumer spending related to the metaverse could reach $5 trillion by 2030
Michael Stich, CEO of Court Avenue, the Union Hall-based digital transformation consultancy that designed a “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Metaverse” to be unveiled at Signal, notes that “Web3 and the metaverse will transform how we engage and tell stories online.” “Now is the time for brands to consider their future in Web3 and the Metaverse and work on developing a pipeline of test and learn initiatives to seek what resonates.”
Can Cincinnati “Win” in this Area?
As the birthplace of advertising and branding, Cincinnati has a rich history of consumer insights and nationally recognized arts. Combined with a fast-growing eCommerce hub, tech corridors, and innovation districts, we have a solid right to win as regions outside of Silicon Valley are drawing growing attention.
“New technologies, many emerging from what remains the innovation hothouse of California, are creating the basis for…revivals in places like Ohio,” writes author and California historian Joel Kotkin who refers to the Midwest as “Silicon Heartland.”
We have startups that are diving right in. Here are just a few examples:
- Contact CI: A metaverse player that develops hardware and software solutions for augmented and virtual reality. The OTR-based startup is set to begin the first-in-market use of its haptic glove technology for businesses this summer.
- Hearty: A talent marketplace that recommends members to leaderboards by skill and offers “award” NFTs. Soon they are launching a DAO-like “Collective” to evolve our talent marketplace.
- AKRU: A platform that “tokenizes” real estate, creating a lower barrier of entry by enabling investors to purchase a small piece of a property. They recently received new funding and are building an impressive team.
In addition, many of our top corporations are already pushing into this space:
- Kroger: as the world’s #3 grocery retailer, Kroger is constantly innovating and identifying new ways to improve the customer buying experience. They recently announced a partnership with computer chip giant Nvidia to pilot the usage of digital twins in a new AI lab and demonstration center (to be located in Cincinnati).
- Procter and Gamble: P&G is known worldwide for its continuous influence on the branding and advertising space, so it’s no wonder they’ve placed a central focus on metaverse technology and storytelling. The P&G LifeLab at CES 2022 showcased virtual products and experiences, ranging from Gillette razors to sustainable packaging.
“The metaverse enables us to deliver those experiences, often with storytelling that is richer and that delves deeper than anything we can achieve in the physical world”
- Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC): Nationally ranked, CCHMC has established a digital experience lab leveraging AR/VR, haptic technology, AI and interactive avatars, and 360 video capabilities to develop new devices, innovations, and thought leadership that is changing the world of medicine.
Arts & Culture as Catalyst
Our rich heritage of arts, culture, music, and branding primes us for excellence as content shifts toward digital and immersive experiences. Our diverse OTR district is quickly becoming an innovation trifecta of food, design, and technology. We’re turning heads across the globe through unique experiential programs like BLINK – billed as the nation’s largest light, art, and projection mapping experience.
And the Children’s Theater is working on one of the nation’s most immersive, digital-first theaters, just a few blocks away from Cintrifuse’s home base at Union Hall.
This begs the question — and the proposition we will explore in our exhibition— that our leading arts organizations could be our region’s competitive advantage in grabbing a disproportionate share of metaverse investment. Could we, for instance, develop a consortia approach that could amount to a de facto acceleration lab for figuring out the metaverse faster than other regions? Could local partners like P&G, Kroger, Fifth Third, Fis-Global, and even the City of Cincinnati learn faster, smarter under this approach?
Our P&G Signal exhibition will feature a number of exhibitors bringing this to life including the University of Cincinnati DAAP school’s new NFT Lab as well as DisruptArt.
Metaverse & Strategic Pillars
Cintrifuse’s strategic pillars build upon our region’s areas of strength and potential growth: branding and retailing, connected health, FinTech, and supply chain with a strong focus on sustainability.
Last December, a handful of Cintrifuse executives sat down with executives from FisGlobal — billed as the “world’s largest FinTech” — to discuss our FinTech Frontier initiative. They encouraged us to push much harder into the metaverse and Web3 to move where financial transactions are headed, citing the transactional nature of gaming as an example.
The gaming example is a reminder that the metaverse and Web3 are not merely stand-alone focus areas but enablers of everything — the tech vitamins of the future. Take sustainability, for example. In the developed world, do we really know what it is like to live in regions where climate change is an immediate existential threat? Augmented and Virtual Reality and Blockchain technology opens a bold green door on this front. At our recent “Litter Hack,” a 13-year-old representing #InnovationGirls, pitched a crypto-powered “Neighborhood DAO” for litter management and NFT program. This is the tip of the iceberg.
As we enter the brave new world of the metaverse and Web3, our strategic pillars can help us to drive quick and focused action. Potential ideas include:
- Establish a “Digital Rhine” task force of large corporations, city government, academic universities, and startups who can bring our region’s metaverse/Web3 capabilities to life and formalize our right to win.
- Build momentum through signature events such as P&G Signal, Black Tech Week, and #StartupCincyWeek. Leverage these as opportunities to showcase Cincinnati’s ability to harness metaverse technology on a world stage.
- Prioritize the direct funding of startups innovating in the City and strengthen our focus on attracting and retaining top talent in the region.
Our Opportunity Ahead
The center of gravity is shifting. Capital and talent are looking for new places to land and to plant seeds. The most significant opportunity for Cincinnati is moving urgently to capture the momentum that cities and regions like LA, Miami, and others are building beyond Silicon Valley.
BSB Sports Founder and CEO Kash Shaikh believes Web3 allows Cincinnati to leverage expertise and assets that few cities in the world can claim,
“The future of connection and community is merging with the future of marketing and storytelling, and we have the right people, brands, businesses, and ecosystem to lead this transformation. ”
The question we must ask is: how do we make the most of this moment together? How can we be collectively intentional, opportunistic, and urgent — and make Cincinnati the unexpected epicenter of the emerging metaverse, Web 3.0., immersive storytelling, and startup growth?
I am more confident than ever that we have what it takes. Join our movement!