Charu Ramanathan Charu Ramanathan
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THE ENTREPRENEUR

Charu Ramanathan, 43

Charu Ramanathan knows the electrocardiogram ups and downs of entrepreneurship in Cleveland. As a Case Western Reserve University graduate student, she helped develop technology that creates a 3-D map of the heart. After raising more than $33 million in venture funding, Ramanathan sold CardioInsight to medical device giant Medtronic in 2015 for $93 million. Considered a pioneer in the burgeoning biotechnology field, Ramanathan serves as Medtronic’s business unit leader in cardiac mapping.

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In the middle part of my Ph.D. at Case Western, I really started to feel that the technology had a lot of potential — that it could evolve into a clinical tool.

But follow-up funding was challenging. Things have changed, but at the time we faced a real conservative funding situation here. We pitched investors in the Menlo Park, [California], region and the Boston region. Although a lot of people expressed interest in the technology, they didn’t want to invest in companies that were not in their backyard. Meanwhile, in Cleveland the local funds were not giving us any specific attention because we were based here. It was frustrating. 

But I never felt like things were going to fall apart. The acquisition by Medtronic was truly a validation of our vision. [Today] we have a Medtronic facility in Independence. I hope it puts Cleveland on the map. 

These days, I speak at a lot of conferences. Always, from the podium, I share that I am a mother. I don’t want people to feel like they have to choose between having a career and having a family.

Talent and capital are still open questions in Cleveland. There’s a lot of early stage support to get you out of the starting gate. But for sustained capital — does Cleveland have what it takes? I just don’t know. We’re still talking about this region as having a people problem. We think: Hey we need critical mass.

But if you look at Silicon Valley, people are not staying at a company for more than 22 months. Gone are the days you work 25 years in one job. Let’s accept the fact that entrepreneurial types are not going to last for more than two years in a company. Why don’t we structure a package for high-performing potential talent to come in and contribute to our region for two years, and accept that they will move on after that?   — as told to Rebecca Meiser

THE FOODIE

Trevor Clatterbuck, 31

Trevor Clatterbuck is eating a simple salad — spring greens, strawberries and house-made dressing. As the co-owner of Fresh Fork Market, a 9-year-old farm subscription service, and Ohio City Provisions market, he’s spent a long morning butchering in the back of the Ohio City storefront. The six hogs, weighing in at more than 240 pounds each, were raised on his Wholesome Valley Farm in Holmes County. “We do another thousand pounds in beef and couple hundred pounds of chicken each week,” he says. The West Virginia native attended Case Western Reserve University and believes the city’s relationship to its food and the land is one of its biggest selling points, but it still has a ways to go.

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I grew up in an average, blue-collar American household. For us it was a pretty standard home, a price-conscious family of four on a limited budget. So we had simple food — roast chicken dinners, meatloaf, spaghetti and meatballs, pizza on Sunday. 

If you’d asked me 10 years ago if I would be in the food industry, I would have said no. I was going to be in the tech industry. But I fell in love with farming and cooking and this whole experience around food. I started thinking about food and where food comes from. 

I didn’t shop Fresh Fork around in any other city, but we did the strategic analysis for Northeast Ohio, and one of its strengths was access to land and agricultural land. Cleveland is perfectly situated for a strong, local food community.

In Northeast Ohio, from the city in 30, 40, 50 miles, immediately you’re in farm country — fertile, open and affordable for agricultural producers. We’re not that far removed from a farm culture. It’s part of our identity and should be part of our identity moving forward. 

Initially, I saw Fresh Fork as a business opportunity. Now it’s a social opportunity — it’s my social connection. I was talking to farmers daily. If you immerse yourself completely in it, you understand both sides of the equation. It became not just a business but a lifestyle. 

If I was a banker, it would be hard to say everything I did all day was for the good of the community. It’s social work — I’m able to serve the community. Everyone needs to eat. I’m providing clean, healthy food at a reasonable cost. You can’t pay your mortgage with smiles, but our customers come in smiling and leave smiling. From a social standpoint, happiness is what our nation pursues. Good food can make people happy.   — as told to Chuck Bowen

THE ORGANIZER

Fred Ward, 49

Fred Ward draws inspiration from Khnemu, an Egyptian god who dried up the Nile River because people lost their spiritual connection. An ex-offender who served more than a decade in prison, Ward started the Khnemu Foundation Lighthouse Center in 2012 to get spiritual waters flowing again. At the East 105th Street storefront, he serves hot meals and offers classes to help other ex-offenders with training and job development skills. Ward, a community organizer, was also key in the campaign to defeat former Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty for his handling of the Tamir Rice police shooting case.

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Trauma drew me to this work. I was ostracized and excluded for having a felony conviction. Years ago, a guy pulled a gun on me. I saw him later, and I shot him. I turned 20 in the county and came home at 31.

When I realized I had limits to function as a human being, it took the wind out of my lungs. I realized I was facing these impediments due to my conviction so long ago. There are people who don’t have access to opportunities. It’s criminal.

You look at the organizational chart for the city of Cleveland. It was the citizens of Cleveland at the top, then it has the mayor, and the chief of staff and everybody else. When you talk to people and they have issues, it never seems like they’re talking about the position at the top. They’re always talking from a position of powerlessness. 

For those underserved in Cleveland, it has been so systematic and so devastating that they have totally went away from even believing in the fact that they can actually be a part of society as a whole, which creates an underworld, a subculture. It’s placed people in a space where they feel hopelessness, like a win ain’t possible. 

Being able to remove Timothy McGinty from office, it was a huge boost. I believe it actually realigned some people who had been disconnected. This is what I’ve been fighting for all my life, to be able to see justice prevail. 

One of the biggest problems is that we become traumatized as a community — as a public — and we never had an opportunity to hear, “I was wrong” or “We didn’t do it right.” 

The police department has been found guilty of excessive force. The double standard is that difference between admission of guilt and confession. Until they get found guilty, it’s like nothing is wrong. For some officer to be called to the oath and the badge and the fraternity that won’t allow you to see wrong is wrong and right is right, that further traumatizes the public.   — as told to Chuck Bowen

THE ACHIEVER

Jaide Talmadge, 18

Classmates had been telling Jaide Talmadge she was destined for Harvard University since middle school. Back then, she laughed it off. Before 2009, when her mom graduated from Cleveland State University, no one in her family had finished college. At St. Martin de Porres High School, Talmadge ran cross-country, played softball, completed work-study at a law firm and served as a student ambassador for prospective pupils. In May, she accepted a full scholarship to Harvard, becoming the first St. Martin’s student to attend the Ivy League and the first in the Cristo Rey network of Catholic schools to go to Harvard.

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It was late at night, I was going through my email on my phone and saw [the Harvard acceptance letter]. At first, I thought they sent it to the wrong person. I didn’t really see that it was tangible for me, coming from where I am from. I applied, because I guess I wanted to see if it was even possible. 

I grew up on 71st and Harvard. We’ve been robbed and things like that, but it hasn’t made me want to leave and never come back. It opened my eyes to see what needs to be changed like violence and gang associations. But I definitely see that there are things in motion to combat those issues like the Boys & Girls Club. 

There is a pride that brings us together [as a city]. I went to the Cavs parade, and it was amazing how we can come together for a common goal of celebrating that victory. My hope is that there will be something a little more powerful to keep the community together. I could see more programs empowering students to see college as an option and value education. It kind of starts — the ideas of selfishness and crime — when you’re young. There are opportunities out there, but you have to look hard for them. It has to be more visible. 

I appreciated the student organizations at Harvard, especially the Black Student Association. To see those students and how they are activists in their community made me want to be that way. For students who come to Harvard from St. Martin’s after me. For my siblings and cousins. For people from similar backgrounds as me. I want them to see that it’s tangible. I want them to feel like they belong there.   — as told to Chealsia Smedley

THE PLACEMAKER

Graham Veysey, 35

It’s in the name: Hingetown. When Graham Veysey and his then-girlfriend, Marika, purchased an abandoned firehouse in a forgotten corner of Ohio City in 2011, they imagined the rundown neighborhood as a connector between Gordon Square Arts District, the Warehouse District and Ohio City’s Market District. They rented former truck bays and stables to businesses such as Rising Star Coffee Roasters and Urban Orchid florists. Now the district bustles with new life: from the 1920s Transformer Station that hosts arts exhibits to the new trail that carries pedestrians and bikers from West 28th Street to Edgewater Park.

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This is not an entertainment district. This is a village within Ohio City. What was once rotted wood storefronts has vibrancy from 5 a.m. when you have the first class at Harness Cycle to 2 a.m. when Jukebox closes. 

You have these pockets of energy [in Cleveland] be it in St. Clair and Superior or Slavic Village, and that’s what success will be in the city — when you have all these different pockets connected. It’s happening. We just need more of it. There’s got to be a rabidness by city officials, by community development organizations, by the people of these neighborhoods. 

When Fred Bidwell announced the Transformer Station, it made us think beyond the firehouse and be more collaborative. That’s when we bought the Striebinger Block [building] and worked with different folks like the Cleveland Museum of Art that puts on Ohio City Stages every July.  

For us, the challenge was being able to bootstrap from vision to reality. Trying to scratch your head and figure out: Why hasn’t someone done this already? 

A lot of times when we give tours we ask folks: “How thick can your imagination goggles get?” 

The biggest obstacle is an attitude that vibrant neighborhoods in Cleveland are a zero-sum game. If it’s happening in one part of the city, it can’t in another. At this moment, if you’re willing to throw the proverbial spaghetti at the wall — there’s going to be more dynamic things that stick. We just need the courage to put those ideas out there.   — as told to Chealsia Smedley