Nestle's top global digital executive, Pete Blackshaw, is leaving to become CEO of Cintrifuse, a startup hub based in Cincinnati. The aim is to make his old hometown a bigger tech hub and possibly a center for more startups geared toward improving consumer trust.
The move, effective in November, is a return for Blackshaw, a longtime Procter & Gamble Co. marketing executive who in 2000 led Cincinnati startup Planetfeedback. That ultimately became part of Nielsen, where Blackshaw was a Cincinnati-based executive until he joined Nestle in 2011. Based in Vevey, Switzerland, he was Nestle's VP for digital innovation and service models. Among other things, Blackshaw led Nestle's Digital Acceleration Team and established a Silicon Valley Innovation Outpost and [email protected] open-innovation platform.
Cintrifuse is part startup accelerator and part venture capital fund of funds, using investments in other venture funds in efforts to get them involved with Cincinnati's startups. It also provides facilities from which member startups can operate. P&G and Cincinnati-based Kroger Co. are among Cintrifuse's backers.
Current CEO Wendy Lea, who in 2014 replaced P&G executive-on-loan Jeff Weedman in that role, announced her plans to leave in March to pursue her own startup ambitions. Blackshaw says he heard about that just after a visit to Cincinnati, where he visited Cintrifuse in his Nestle role and talked to friends about his interest in returning.
Blackshaw's goal is to make Cincinnati the top startup and entrepreneurial hub in the Midwest. Part of that effort will be trying to convince big digital players Google, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest – already frequent visitors, thanks largely to P&G – to establish permanent outposts in the city.
"I feel there's a huge under-leveraged competitive advantage here, great talent, low burn rate, superb consumer marketing foundation, great civic culture, and really willing customers – in fact much more so I think than when I did my first startup here," Blackshaw says.
Health care and consumer marketing startups probably have been the strength of local tech development, and "Wendy laid a superb foundation," Blackshaw says.
He sees potential for Cincinnati to lead the way with marketing-tech startups in consumer trust, among other things.
"There are probably another dozen or so companies that will emerge to clean up the ad space," Blackshaw says. "We are in a big trust crisis. You've heard that a lot in speeches from [P&G Chief Brand Officer] Mark Pritchard and [Unilever Chief Marketing and Communications Officer] Keith Weed and I think they're spot on. I'm not sure all the solutions are going to be coming from the big players, or everyone will accept them coming from the big players."
He'd also like to do more to convince P&G managers who want to launch startups that they can stay in Cincinnati rather than go to the coasts, and convince others, like him, "to boomerang back."