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Toledo Legal News - News Report ranks Columbus third in entrepreneurship growth


In 2006, Joel Furno was the only employee at his hospitality-focused parking company.

In 2016, he had 800 workers.

"For us, our workforce is our company," said the president of Citrin.

When he was a sophomore at The Ohio State University, Furno used $250 to create the company, formerly known as ParkOps Columbus, from his dorm room.

He continued running the company through The Great Recession and built up a workforce of 65 employees by his senior year.

"It was our goal from day one to someday have thousands of employees and create a place where, no matter your position, everyone, especially the folks on the front line who widely go unappreciated in the workforce, would be valued and receive value beyond a paycheck," Furno said.

Furno's company is among the number of scale-ups in the Columbus metropolitan area that started small but grew to have 50 employees or more over a decade.

Such businesses make up 2.5 percent of all employer firms in the Columbus area, according to the 2017 Kauffman Index of Startup Activity the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation released this year.

The index ranks Columbus third in entrepreneurship growth, up a position from last year's index.

The top metro area was the Washington D.C. area, followed by Austin. Nashville and Atlanta rounded out the top five. The San Jose area was ranked third last year but dropped sixth in the rankings this year.

Statewide, Ohio moved up several positions to seventh in entrepreneurship growth from No. 13 last year with about 1.65 percent of its businesses are scale-ups.

When growing his company, Furno said he pursued three areas: Traditional valet parking services at restaurants, hotels and malls; management of parking lots and garages; and out-sourced management services for auto dealerships.

In 2011, he formed a partnership with another parking entrepreneur in Philadelphia, where he launched second office and raised a round of funding from angel investors.

"Between 2012 and 2016 we grew from several hundred employees to nearly 1,000 in five states," he said.

Furno said he had to overcome hurdles "literally at every step along the way" to reach that number of employees.

"I often get asked how stressful it is to run a company with this high of a head count and my response every time is that nothing is more stressful as an entrepreneur than the early days when you're not really paying yourself and you don't know if the business will make it," Furno said. "After you get over the first few large hurdles, establish a brand, and gain traction, day to day challenges with clients or personnel issues are solvable."

"Establishing company values early on allows us to use that as a compass whenever we are faced with a difficult decision and have worked to ingrain this into everyone," he added.

This year, Furno and his partner dissolved into two independent companies.

Citrin now employs more than 300 individuals and serves the Columbus and Cincinnati markets, with the goal of expanding throughout the Midwest and beyond.

"We're laser focused on building a large workforce on a national scale over the next five years. From there, we foresee drastic changes on a macro level impacting the transportation and automotive industries in the next 10 years and will need to evolve in lockstep to remain relevant," he said.

The Kauffman Index ranked Columbus No. 23 in startup activity, down from its previous ranking at No. 13.

The metro area has a new entrepreneurs-rate of 0.28 percent and has 84.43 percent of entrepreneurs starting a business because they saw a market opportunity.

Furno said Columbus' startup scene was almost nonexistent in 2006 and has enjoyed witnessing its evolution over the last decade.

"It's a great sized city that's not too small but small enough to where it wasn't difficult to meet other entrepreneurs and business leaders. People here seem open to giving opportunities to small businesses. Local government has always been very supportive of initiatives around valet parking and are open to outside of the box thinking," he said. "I couldn't think of a better city to start a business in."

BRANDON KLEIN, Daily Reporter Staff Writer

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