Economic Development

Cossler, Ewing Formalize YBI Leadership Transition

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The “Jim Cossler and Barb Ewing Garage Band,” as Cossler calls it, isn’t breaking up, but its members have new roles.

Ewing, chief operating officer at the Youngstown Business Incubator since February 2011, will assume Cossler’s title of chief executive officer May 1. The transition was announced Monday at a news conference.

The best is yet to come for YBI, Cossler said, and Ewing “will confidently lead us there. She is going to take us to heights we never imagined.”

Discussion of the succession started in conversations that Cossler and Jim Yukech, chairman of the YBI Board of Trustees, began a year ago. Naming Ewing CEO was a “very easy decision … because she was headed down the path we knew we had to go,” Yukech said.

Cossler, who joined YBI in 1998, remains Huntington Bank Entrepreneur in Residence and “chief evangelist,” as Yukech said in his official announcement.

With YBI’s growth from one building to what will soon be a five-building campus and from working with one technology company to dozens, the CEO “needs to run YBI and in all honesty Barb has really been doing that,” Cossler said.

“So to one degree it’s just a change in title for Barb because she has been running this place and running it extremely well,” he said. “And on the other hand, she deserves the recognition because she has done such an incredible job for us.”

Ewing described the transition as “a shift in role” to allow Cossler to focus on building the YBI’s portfolio companies. “The administrative work is really my strong suit so it’s just an evolution of how things have been going and allowing us to do things that we like to do best,” she said.

“What I absolutely love the most is hands-on working with the companies. As long as I had the CEO role, that’s not what I was doing full-time,” Cossler said. “This gives me the opportunity to do what I think I’m best suited for and most skilled at, and that is coaching our startup companies and working hands-on with the entrepreneurs.”

The “Jim Cossler and Barb Ewing garage band” was formed in 1989, when Cossler, then president of the Better Business Bureau, hired Ewing “right out of college when I was a very young, fresh, liberal arts major from Kent State University who had nothing on her resume [or] any practical experience,” she said.

“But he saw something in me and was willing to give me a chance,” she continued. “His belief in me has made all of the difference in my life.”

The two subsequently worked together at the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber. Before Cossler hired Ewing for YBI, she “very foolishly left me for a while to go work for her favorite boss ever,” U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13, Ohio, Cossler joked.

“Much of what we have accomplished in these last six years has been under Barb’s leadership,” he continued. That includes the successful effort to land a federal additive manufacturing innovation center, today known as America Makes; the creation of the Valley Growth Ventures venture capital fund; earning the designation as the No. 1 university-affiliated incubator in the world; and expansion of the YBI campus.

“Barb’s fingerprints are all over YBI’s organizational growth,” Yukech said. “Now it’s her turn to take the incubator to the next level.”

YBI will continue to build “world-class programs” to support entrepreneurship, find more ways to develop the region’s additive manufacturing cluster, implement the new investment fund to attract and increase the number of new technology companies in the Valley and develop new programs to leverage YBI’s relationship with America Makes and promote economic development, Cossler, Ewing and Yukech agreed.

Ewing credited Cossler’s leadership of the incubator with dispelling the sense of disbelief in the Mahoning Valley that world-class-software could be developed here, that the area could host a manufacturing institute or be recognized as the top university affiliated incubator in the world.

“Jim believed when others did not, and for that we owe him a debt of gratitude,” she said.

Pictured: Jim Cossler and Barb Ewing.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.