The Power of a Name
I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, nearly a year to be exact. It took a day like today to do so, where I’m nearing two years with BRITE Energy Innovators and am taking a Saturday to reflect on what we’ve accomplished and where we’re going.
I joined this organization because, like the HGTV shows say, it has good bones. Community leaders and the Northeast Ohio economic development network spent significant time having conversations around the desire to have an energy-focused incubator in Northeast Ohio. Warren embraced the concept with open arms. Through a series of decisions and events that are still a blur to me, our organization was officially incorporated. Local leadership led by Congressman Tim Ryan secured funding for an incubator to focus on energy sustainability. This funding complimented a vision and initiative to rename the Rustbelt to the TechBelt. The TechBelt Initiative, housed by Fourth Economy, is a network of technology and innovation stakeholders collaborating to accelerate economic growth within Northeast Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and Northern West Virginia. Key technologies include energy, life sciences and manufacturing innovation. The TechBelt has an economy that rivals many states with it’s richness in manufacturing and research and development capabilities with the likes of Case Western Reserve University, Youngstown State University and Carnegie Mellon University.
Simplifying a significant investment of time, resources d political posturing, the Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center was born. It’s a solid name and makes sense. It is the energy incubator of the Tech Belt. However, with time there were some challenges that made the name less than desirable. As is common in science, academia and government, the long name was shortened in conversation to the acronym TBEIC. As my friends and colleagues know, I despise acronyms. Things of value deserve names. It’s unfair for the public and stakeholders to have to know what the acronym means. More problematic, how does one pronounce TBEIC? When I joined the organization in early 2019 and sat down with each board member to better understand what they wished to accomplish, I noticed that even our board of directors where pronouncing TBEIC differently.
When my colleague Rick Stockburger joined the organization in late 2017 and began to attend regional workshops and energy-tech conferences nationally, he found that by the time he explained the acronym and the concept of the TechBelt, he had lost his audience. It was hard to say what we do, why we’re here, the the value we provide to our clients and community. So, with the support of the board and our first major conference, Energy Storage Building Efficiency (ESBE), on the horizon, we decided to undergo rebranding in the late spring of 2019.
After issuing a request for proposals and designing a rubric, we partnered with +Public. +Public is a firm with Mahoning Valley roots that takes an interdisciplinary approach with storytelling and community engagement with their clients. With +Public leading, we created a three-month engagement process that included over one-hundred stakeholders. In a series of meetings held virtually, in Warren and at our partner JumpStart’s office in Cleveland, we had over sixty people participate in-person in defining our organization. We asked people who we are, what they think we do, words they associate us with and other key questions for collecting datapoints.
+Public also conducted significant background research. For instance, they reviewed the national ecosystem of energy incubators, accelerators and venture firms noting trends such as colors and common words. From feedback and this process, there was agreement that we wanted a color that stood out from the sea of greens and blues and something that wasn’t geographically-tied as we are a statewide organization beyond the TechBelt. We also aspire to serve clients nationally and internationally. From this process, +Public noted that no one nationally had a brand that was a name. Why is that? Why are energy incubators prone to use a limited number of words that describe a small portion of what they do like green and power? +Public suggested using a name, like a human name, to personify our organization. From the exercises, an initial proposal was Elliot. Elliot rolled off the tongue and its letters echoed energy, life, leadership, innovation, opportunity and technology – key words used by our stakeholders.
I fell in love with the idea of personifying our organization. I thought it was truly brilliant in that it would give us character, a voice, and real presence. However, I didn’t like Elliot. I don’t think anyone was sold on Elliot. I admit I starting going down a rabbit hole of baby name websites. I looked for names of people historic to Warren. I looked up names that meant fire – energy – power. Given my time in Eastern Europe, I was heavily prone to Slavic names like Vatra, Sveta, etc. I also was VERY convinced that the perfect name for us was Great Scott. I mean, who wouldn’t find that to be the best name ever? Thankfully, it was vetoed. After significant digging, we came across BRITE.
One may assume that Brite is a misspelling of the word “bright” and is likely an acronym. I’m here to tell you that is not the case. In fact, Brite is a female Celtic name. It was important for us to use a female name because we recognize and work everyday to address the lack of women in energy-tech and venture capital. It’s an easter egg for our stakeholders highlighting our core values. Secondly, it was easy enough for anyone to understand. Brite sounds like bright and energy + power + light bulbs, etc. made it all the more sensical a name that anyone walking by our storefront could grasp and understand what we are.
Upon coming to agreement on BRITE, we worked long and late hours on the logo. Well, +Public did. They gave us four or five templates and from there we determined to move forward with the hexagon like a “press power” symbol. The hexagon is important to us because we’re building an ecosystem, like a hive. The power button means we’re here to enable commercializing technology. For a while, there was a hot debate about keeping the lightbulb. In the end, we decided that the lightbulb was 20th century technology and we wanted to be forward-facing.
Our partner, +Public, did a phenomenal job creating a manual for our brand outlining logo specifics like color and font and how to use it appropriately. My team knows that I try to push the limits of this manual to apply our logo to new things. I’ve put it on a pie, Christmas ornaments, in legos and jack-o-lanterns. I’m still looking for time to start my BRITE logo quilt.
A name is critical for giving life and communicating an organization’s core values. I’ve learned a lot in this process and have hopes that the name BRITE will be with us for more than my lifetime as a meeting place and idea for community, economic development and energy technology innovation.
Special thanks to RJ Thompson and Kent Kerr for putting up with me.