By: James F. Sweeney
June 11, 2015
The giant banner hangs on the side of the brick building, partially obscuring the faded white lettering left over from when the structure housed a furniture store, back when the city imagined a different kind of future. The banner reads “Ranked #1 Best Incubator in the World – Youngstown Business Incubator.”
The three-stories-high brag can be forgiven — Youngstown has been singled out for a lot of things in the past few decades, almost all of them negative, so the rare piece of good news deserves some real estate.
But how does a nonprofit tech incubator in Youngstown, the very epicenter of the Rust Belt, a city best known for urban decay, organized crime and an unprecedented collapse in jobs and population, come to be ranked No. 1 in the world, ahead of all the other better-known and better-financed counterparts?
Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI) has never housed a billion-dollar company or spawned a startup that’s become a household name, the way Y Combinator did for Airbnb, Dropbox and Reddit. It doesn’t have famous mentors, multiple locations or millions to invest.