Meet Jennifer Coleman, founder of CityProwl
, which produces urban walking tours that can be downloaded from the Internet to digital media players for self-led tours. CityProwl has one full-time employee and works with writing, producing and research consultants.
How did you come to be an entrepreneur?
I had been working as an architect for 15 years but always had ideas for projects and businesses. Those ideas had to take a backseat due to my time-consuming job. I finally decided to become a sole practitioner in 2005 and at the same time see if some of those ideas could become a reality since I was setting my own rules in my practice. CityProwl was the first idea that I decided to test out.
How did you come up with the idea for CityProwl?
As an architect working on the restorations of many Cleveland landmarks, I had access to some great stories on how the buildings came to be built. I thought that if people learned these stories about why Cleveland had these beautiful treasures, the residents who lived here would be more apt to be proud of their city.
I did not have an interest in conducting live walking tours around the city on a regular basis, but in the mid-00s, creating podcasts was becoming more accessible to the public. I thought that producing an audio tour that people could download to their mp3 players would allow them to take the tour on their own schedule, at their convenience. The Civic Innovation Lab, an offshoot of the Cleveland Foundation
, agreed and gave me a grant to launch the business.
What is your favorite era in Cleveland history?
I am enamored by the period between 1870 and 1912, when Cleveland was filled with Industrial Age entrepreneurs making fortunes by starting local businesses that took advantage of Cleveland’s location and natural resources. We really were the Silicon Valley of that time. The city benefitted from the wealth generated by building beautiful, world-class buildings and establishing cultural and social organizations and institutions that last to this day.
How did you gather the information on each neighborhood?
The research for neighborhoods is the most fun part of the audio tour production. Going to libraries and museums, and doing online research (and the information available online is expanding) is the core work. Also, talking to and recording individuals who are historians, or who work and live in the neighborhoods is important.
Soon after I created CityProwl, high school students started to contact me to ask if they could help in some fashion. I started to use them to do Cleveland research and that developed into a project I call the CityProwl Fellowship, where they can get independent study or volunteer credit for their work.
Do you have plans to add neighborhoods?
I have three tours that are in production: Northern University Circle, Little Italy and Tremont. Tremont is partially funded. The five tours of downtown cover about 70 percent of the area, but with the renovations to Public Square and the Mall and other changes due to downtown growth, there will be some updates in a few years!
Also, I am working with a young startup called Lufthouse
on creating a location-based mobile application that uses beacons to push information to smartphones, including audio from the tours as well as other information users may find valuable.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs trying to start a business in Cleveland?
Cleveland is a great city in which to start a business because of the collective desire of fellow entrepreneurs to help each other. That helpfulness is baked into the DNA of the city, I believe. Also, the amount of local incubators like Flashstarts
, Bad Girl Ventures
is growing steadily. Even the diversity of funders is steadily increasing.