As seen on Crain's Cleveland, published April 2019, Ari Lewis, 'BS 17, pens an op-ed piece on why he attended Weatherhead and eventually moved back to Cleveland.
I am a millennial born in Manhattan and raised in Long Island. I'm told I speak too quickly and sound like a New Yorker. I am slowly trying to fix those problems. Some of my favorite childhood memories were at Madison Square Garden watching New York Knicks games with my family. We occasionally saw Broadway shows, and becasue my father was in the restaurant supply business, we got to eat at some of the city's trendiest restaurants. They were my dad's customers.
Growing up, family and friends fully expected me to live, work and raise my own family there. It came as a surprise when I told people I was moving to Cleveland. Friends and family looked puzzled. One asked if I meant Cleveland, Ohio, before asking if I was feeling OK. Another wondered if I had "really thought about what it means to live in Cleveland," as if to suggest there was no place for me other than New York City.
Cleveland — yes — Cleveland, Ohio, may not have been the expected choice, but it is the right one. I went to school at Case Western Reserve University, where I first experienced Cleveland. I loved it. The people, the culture, the sports teams, restaurants and world-class aspects like Playhouse Square and the Cleveland Clinic.
After college my friends scattered all over the country and globe and I returned to New York to start a cryptocurrency hedge fund, which was acquired last year. Before I started my current ventures, I asked a basic question: "Do I really need or even want to be in New York?"
Many people think that to build the next billion-dollar business, you must be in a city like New York, L.A. or San Francisco. But there are so many problems with that line of thinking. The cost of living is extremely high, traffic is awful and the quality of daily life is relatively poor. For entrepreneurs, New York's business climate is burdened by lots of red tape and higher taxes.
I crunched numbers and analyzed my options in a fashion that would have made my Case Western professors proud. When I added everything up, the answer was Cleveland.
It's an ideal place for the two businesses I am building. The first is Grasshopper Capital. Grasshopper is a venture capital fund focused on investing in the equity of blockchain companies. Since the rise of Blockland, Cleveland has become a great choice to start a blockchain company and there is no reason why the next Coinbase can't emerge from right here. My second company, Green Block Group, is a strategic communications and innovation consultancy firm. Cleveland provides a great labor market and a potential client based with a variety of newer companies and well-established brands.
Even though I don't have family ties to Cleveland, there are many personal reasons Cleveland is the right place for me. Cleveland's real estate is great. I just purchased a four-bedroom, two-bathroom duplex with a mortgage of only $1,300 a month. In Manhattan, a two-bedroom apartment would have cost me rent of $5,000 a month. Our sports teams are awesome. (Apologies to my relatives in New York — I am now a Cavaliers, Indians and Browns fan.) There are so many great restaurants. But the thing I like best about Cleveland is definitely the people: hardworking, fun-loving and welcoming, even to someone who speaks a little too fast. Cleveland is big enough so I will never get bored and small enough to feel like home.
Somehow, I suspect more millennials, entrepreneurs and people in general who are searching for a place to call home will soon find the advantages of Cleveland. It's inevitable. Cleveland has all the resources to successfully compete against cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. What I am looking forward to most is playing a small part in contributing to Cleveland's future success.
Lewis is a co-founder and partner at Green Block Group and a partner at Grasshopper Capital.