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Roebling Point Books & Coffee in love with Covington, and vice versa


According to Richard Hunt, founder of Roebling Point Books & Coffee, the city of Covington needs a bookstore and coffee shop like a body needs a heart and mind.
 
The “books” part of the Greenup Street establishment came first; Hunt has a background in publishing and a surefire passion for the written word. When a nearby coffee shop closed, he and his team recognized the void and decided to fill it, knowing that coffee and books tend to attract the same crowd.“

In many respects, we’re completely indebted to the Covington community at large,” Hunt says when asked about the store's beginnings. “It is very much a symbiotic relationship.”
 
Roebling Point (or RoPoBoCo, as Hunt deemed it) was chosen as one of eight finalists for ArtWorks Big Pitch, which supports businesses focused on art, culture and creativity. Though some may be skeptical of a bookstore's ability to thrive in an increasingly e-book-centric world, Hunt remains confident.
 
“What’s incredible to witness is how independent bookselling is once again in a growth phase,” he says, “(and) for reasons one might expect: the buy-local movement, a push-back from chain store blandness and because we recognize our customers by name, drink preference, favorite authors/titles. ... We appreciate their individuality.”
 
Hunt tries to set Roebling Point apart by truly engaging with the community around it. The shop is currently a direct supporter of local organizations like Green Umbrella, Keep Covington Beautiful, NKU’s Steely Library and the Center for Great Neighborhoods.
 
“One thing I’ve learned after 30 years in publishing is that readers are both inquisitive and appreciative of creative approaches,” he says. “Our strengths are our community, our steadfast commitment to literacy and our aspiration to always help.”
 
Hunt sees Covington as the perfect backdrop for his mission.
 
“We like to be part of the revitalization of the area but are mindful of how changes ripple through the community,” he says. “Gentrification only gets ghastly when pushing people from their homes — and from all the evidence I’ve seen, Covington is being very careful to repopulate abandoned spaces first while looking to make those folks living here safer, engaged and proud of their town.”
 
If Roebling Point can pull off a win at Big Pitch’s final night competition on Aug. 27, the company intends to use most of the prize money to provide better staff pay and benefits and maintain or even increase its active involvement in the community. Hunt has a passion for fighting childhood illiteracy and would like nothing more than to contribute more to the cause. As a bootstrapped company, any little boost would help.

“Here’s the essence of what we seek at Roebling Point Books & Coffee,” he says. “That every individual, regardless of race, age, gender, income, birthplace, political and religious persuasion, sexual orientation and personal aspiration be granted a chance to succeed. And we’ll do our share by putting books in people’s hands every time we get the chance.”

Soapbox is profiling each of the eight finalists in the 2015 Artworks Big Pitch, a 10-week mentorship program that offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes and professional services. The program concludes Aug. 27 with the finalists giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges and an audience.
 

Look Here to reveal layers of Over-the-Rhine's past


Historic preservationist Anne Delano Steinert wants people to discover the layers of Over-the-Rhine’s past. Her place-based public history project, Look Here, will mount historic photographs around the neighborhood as close as possible to the vantage point from which they were originally taken, comparing historic views to the view of that location today.
 
“There are layers of the past around us in the built environment all the time,” Steinert says, “and it’s really important to me to give people the skills to read the clues to those layers. This is my way of giving the people in Over-the-Rhine a way to connect to the past.”
 
Steinert’s fascination with the layers of the past actually began in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. As a teenager in the 1980s, she would take the bus downtown from her home in Clifton.
 
“OTR was definitely low-income then and there was a lot of urban decay, but it was also still really rich,” Steinert explains. “There were a lot more (historic) buildings standing in 1982 than there are today. So it’s where I really got a sense of the power of the past to speak through the built environment.”
 
Now she wants to help a wide range of residents and visitors in the neighborhood hear those voices, too. Recipient of a People’s Liberty Project Grant, Steinert is using her own background and several other projects as inspiration to make Look Here into an experience that can reach viewers from all economic classes.
 
A simple design of presenting photographs on street signs with minimal explanatory text will allow people to create their own meaning from the similarities and differences between the historic present landscapes. Brightly colored borders will grab people’s attention and hopefully pull them into the images and into parts of the neighborhood they may not have explored before.
 
The signs are meant to create a “serendipitous, sudden, unexpected experience of connection to space,” Steinert says, by giving people a glimpse of the past from their exact location. She also hopes they’ll help add a dimension of history to the cultural vibrancy already existing in the neighborhood.
 
As Over-the-Rhine goes through a period of intense transition, Steinert observes, “something gets lost in the remaking, so these signs are really an attempt to remind people some of what’s being lost, that we have to be mindful of what came before.”
 
Look Here’s historic photographs will provide people a chance to meditate on what came before and decide for themselves what it means. The People’s Liberty project grant will allow Steinert to make tools providing deeper meaning and engagement.
 
Before receiving the grant, she’d identified more than 320 possible photographs (although only 40-70 will be in the final exhibit) and knew she wanted to display them on aluminum signs similar to “No Parking” signs. The People’s Liberty funding allows her to create programming around the signs — a launch event, resource packet for teachers, curator-led tour of some of the photograph sites and a website with a map of all images and more information about each one. The website will also provide viewers a way to have a dialogue with the curator.
 
“We’re encouraging people to send me their experiences,” Steinert says, “take photos of themselves looking at Look Here and share the stories of how they’re interacting with the signs.”
 
Steinert hopes the interactive elements may even inspire other neighborhoods to set up similar exhibitions. She also hopes that positive feedback on the project might make it easier for those neighborhoods to complete such undertakings.
 
“This project involves coordinating an unfathomable number of small details and particularly small logistical details,” Steinert says, “and many of those are contingent on the city’s policies.”
 
Since Steinert will be using city-owned poles to mount the photographs, she is in the process of obtaining installation permits. Once she does, Look Here will be the first exhibit to obtain permits of this kind in Cincinnati.
 
If these layers of the past prove meaningful, it may make it easier to reveal more layers all around us.
 

Blue Seat Media says "Play ball!" with new Gameball app


Cincinnatians are passionate about baseball, especially Blue Seat Media co-founders Chris Hendrixson and Jeffrey Wyckoff. The long-time friends and business partners are such Reds fans that the name of their company is a tribute to Riverfront Stadium, where the blue seats were closest to the field in the multi-hued stands.
 
In 2012, Hendrixon made a simple app just for fun that showed the Reds lineup a couple of hours before each game. The Cincy Lineup app was released around Opening Day and let users know via push notification when each lineup was available.
 
“The push notifications are fun and different because they feel like they’re written by a Reds fan,” Hendrixon says. “They’re not your standard Major League Baseball push notification.”
 
The positive response to Cincy Lineup, particularly to the on-point push notifications, made Hendrixon aware of an opportunity, he says, “to make a baseball game interactive and fun while creating a deeper engagement with the game.”
 
“In August of 2014 we decided to go all in,” Hendrixon says. “We had both been in and out of full-time jobs and had bootstrapped everything with no outside investment. We realized we had to go full-time and had to find investors.”
 
Blue Seat Media ended up in the first class at Ocean, the faith-based accelerator program at Crossroads Church.
 
“Ocean really changed everything for us,” Hendrixon says. “We came in, just Jeffery and me, and within a week hired an iOS developer, Nathan Sjoquist, and a few weeks later hired Brandon Kraeling, a web developer who also runs the Red Reporter blog.”

During their time with Ocean, Blue Seat Media developed — and is now beta testing — an expanded and improved version of Cincy Lineup called Gameball. The new app is a modern version of the sports tradition of giving a game ball to the player who contributed the most to his team’s win.
 
Gameball users will choose their favorite team and receive their team’s starting lineup before each game. Users vote for which player will get the game ball that game. Making a prediction before the game starts is worth 1,000 points. Users can vote after the game begins or change their prediction, but, just as in pub trivia contests, points decrease with each minute of play.
 
Blue Seat Media uses an algorithm of Gameball user votes to determine which player will be awarded the game ball. Users who predicted the winner are awarded points for voting correctly, and the points are used to create an average for each user, similar to how a baseball batting average works, allowing them to compete with each other for rankings. As in baseball, Gameball users can miss a few games and remain on the leader board.
 
Eventually Blue Seat Media will allow users to select friends and family groups that will work like traditional fantasy leagues. Blue Seat Media currently is focusing on the beta testing of Gameball, with plans to release the full version prior to Opening Day 2016.
 
The Blue Seat Media team has a couple of hurdles to overcome as they work toward the app’s official launch.
 
“One of our biggest challenges is scaling Gameball to all 30 MLB teams,” Hendrixon says. “The technology is hard, but we know what to do. The push notification content will be a challenge. Our hope is that we can find true fans in each market to write notifications.”
 
They’re also hoping to build a relationship with Major League Baseball around Gameball.
 
“Baseball is at an interesting place right now,” Hendrixon says. “A lot of people feel it has been fading and losing younger fans. We’re really trying to make baseball fun again for young people and to move past the steroids era.
 
“Baseball is a great game with a rich tradition that’s woven into the history of our country. What we’re trying to do is help people appreciate the game and its complexities as well as bring optimism and positivity to the game. But it can be a challenge to write positive push notifications when the Reds have lost six in a row.”
 
The Blue Seat Media team has big plans for the still-young company.
 
“We’re really trying to build the next great baseball technology company,” Hendrixon says. “Our focus right now is building Gameball, but the vision is to have a company and product studio building high-quality design-focused products for every level of baseball.”
 
Although their start-up budget doesn’t include tickets to the July 14 All-Star Game, the staff and supporters of Blue Seat Media are planning to watch it together on television and celebrate the progress they’ve made this year.
 

First Batch welcomes new class of manufacturing companies


Cincinnati's only manufacturing accelerator program has selected its 2015 class of companies, and they’re already hard at work.
 
“Our goal with the program is to say that First Batch is your first step, and probably not the final step, for the companies or their manufacturing partners,” says First Batch founder Matt Anthony.
 
After reviewing applications from across the country as well as from Germany and Estonia, four regional candidates were selected:
 
• Laura Koven’s company AVA will be producing a device geared to help hot yoga practitioners with grip as well as reduce the amount of equipment needed for a class.
 
Beluga Razor, created by Zac Wertz, is a high-end straight-blade razor with a linen-impregnated handle providing extra grip when wet. Wertz recently completed a $200,000 Kickstarter campaign and has 2,000 pre-orders.
 
• Ron Gerdes started Mortal Skis to manufacture skis that fit the icy, man-made, often less-than-ideal snow conditions typically found on Midwest slopes. Mortal Skis will also be looking at ski supplies, like wax, that could also be better adapted to Midwestern conditions.
 
Paper Acorn, a six-year-old company run by Jessica Wolf, has been selling folded paper objects through Etsy and Crafty Supermarket and is expanding into producing DIY kits.
 
Each First Batch company is facing a different challenge. Fortunately, First Batch staff and advisers are well networked in the Cincinnati manufacturing and business communities and ready to help their new class.
 
Paper Acorn, the most established company, is looking at diversifying and expanding their product line.
 
“Manufacturing won’t be that difficult,” Anthony says. “The question will be how to transform the business to fit a new model.”
 
Although Beluga Shave Co. has funding and customers lined up, Wertz has struggled with navigating the manufacturing process. Anthony is confident First Batch can help.
 
“There is a lot of metal industry in Cincinnati, especially in machining,” he says. “I don’t think we’ll have an issue finding someone here to do this.”
 
Mortal Skis might have the most daunting challenge — finding a local company to manufacture skis. But after working with Ohio Valley Beard Supply in 2014, First Batch does have connections to companies who could help produce a Midwest-friendly ski wax.
 
First Batch had initially hoped to have six members for its 2015 class and is considering modifying its business model for the two remaining spaces.
 
“Usually we have to pick someone far enough along on the prototype and capable of doing their own production work, where it’s ready to go to manufacturing,” Anthony says. “We’ve had people apply where the idea isn’t far enough along, it still needs a lot of work or more steps than the First Batch timeline can support. We also have people who are too far along for First Batch.
 
“We’re exploring how we can support everyone in this region by supporting start ups that don’t fit our current profile. Are there other ways that we can provide ongoing support, provide connections, create spots that are more of a long-term support?”
 
This year, First Batch and its parent organization Cincinnati Made will conducting more outreach during the accelerator program.
 
“So many times I talk to people about the program and hear, ‘I didn’t know anyone still made anything in Cincinnati’ and it just drives me crazy,” Anthony says. “People drive down Spring Grove Avenue but assume the factories are all abandoned. It’s a big goal for our program to talk about our relationship with the manufacturers.”
 
Cincinnati Made started offering manufacturing tours this spring to showcase local manufacturers, including National Flag Company, New Riff Distilling and Steam Whistle Letterpress. Members of the 2015 First Batch class can take part in the tours. Their program will also include topical presentations as well as speakers who are able to provide one-on-one advice to each company.
 
First Batch participants had orientation last week and are now being matched with mentors. Each company will have two or three mentors to provide advice and guidance throughout the program. Mentors will also help make sure the companies are on track with the manufacturing plan they establish with First Batch staff.
 
At the end of their five-month program, the class of 2015 will have a final Launch Day, “which is not quite the same as a demo day,” Anthony says. “We hope the final production run is done, but in practice that often isn’t how it ends up happening. I hope we have lots of things to show, at least the production-ready prototype. The companies will talk about what they have done through the First Batch process, what they will produce in their first batch and where they want to go after that.”
 
First Batch is supported by Cincinnati Made as well as The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and TSS. It was highlighted by Dwell magazine in May as one of the country’s hottest design incubators.
 

Creative App Project to build community by teaching Android app development

                                     
As a self-described amateur app developer, Mark Mussman wants to make the tools for creating Android apps accessible to as many people as possible. His dream is becoming a reality through the Creative App Project (CAP), which will teach a dozen non-techies how to design, build and market Android apps this summer thanks to a People's Liberty Project Grant.
 
“The thing is that it's not that difficult (to make an app),” Mussman says, “but it's easier when you have someone there helping you along the way.”

He would know. Although he isn’t a professional app developer, Mussman created his own Android app, Cincinnati Hill Challenge, to supplement his experience of using the Map My Fitness apps. Once he created his first app, he started to realize its potential impact by collaborating with users to host events and challenges around Cincinnati. He began to meet new friends at the events.
 
“I thought it was pretty neat,” he says. “We started to build community around this app.”
 
It’s the potential to build community through building apps that Mussman felt made the project a perfect fit with People’s Liberty. The philanthropy organization’s resources, connections and approachability have been instrumental in getting his project off the ground. He especially appreciated getting to meet other grantees.
 
“Part of what was great about it was connecting with the people on other people's projects,” he says. “It was a really collaborative spirit.”
 
The spirit of collaboration will carry over into the first CAP class. As the participants meet on Monday evenings for 12 weeks over the summer, they’ll first create an app together as a group, then proceed to realize their individual app ideas. Along the way they’ll also learn how to manage the apps, use analytics and market their creations, eventually helping develop resources to make future app development accessible to the general public.
 
Mussman wanted to recruit a diverse group of participants to create these apps and to impact a wide swath of Cincinnati’s population.
 
“Really I wanted it to be people who are involved in their community or looking to get more involved in their community and the Cincinnati community,” he says.
 
Recruiting women has been difficult, he says, but in many other respects the class will be very diverse. He’s happy with the racial balance and the variety of neighborhoods represented. There’s also a great diversity of age, with participants going into their senior year of high school as well as those much older and deeply ingrained in their communities. Even the ideas for apps vary greatly, including architecture, nutrition and much more.
 
Accessibility is also why CAP will focus on Android apps. While Apple IOS developers must pay roughly $100 on a yearly basis, an Android app requires only a one-time fee of $25. Android apps also take much less technical equipment to develop — Mussman says they can be created from any computer, tablet or Android mobile device.
 
“This isn't something you necessarily have to have programming skills to do, just basic Word skills,” he says. “If you can use Microsoft Word and the internet, you’ll be good to go.”
 
Mussman isn’t intimidated by the idea of starting with technology basics. He’s been working in adult education for seven years and has seen tech skills become increasingly important in that field — for example, the GED recently became an entirely computer-based test. But a potential skills gap presented extra hurdles for some of Mussman’s students who had been out of school for decades.
 
“I was doing a lot of really heavy technology education, you know, with people who didn’t even know what a mouse was,” Mussman recalls. “You had to start at the beginning.”
 
With this experience, he’s confident the CAP program can start at the beginning to give participants the tools to create apps and bring people together around them.
 
“I hope that we’re able to not only teach people how to make an Android app but also create opportunities for different community events and for people to gather together to strengthen their communities in some way that benefits them and also benefits the Greater Cincinnati area,” Mussman says.
 
The first public CAP event will be a launch and showcase of all the apps in September. Until then, you can follow the project on Facebook and the Creative App Project website.
 

Casamatic creates curated real estate listings for Cincinnati homebuyers


When Alex Bowman returned to Cincinnati after 10 years away, he and fellow Cincinnati native Chris Ridenour found themselves commiserating over the home buying process. As tech-savvy startup veterans, Bowman and Ridenour looked to home buying websites to fine-tune their search.
 
"Sites like Zillow force buyers to pick smaller areas," Bowman says. "People don't understand all the great places to live in their city. They don't have to limit themselves by geography."
 
Bowman, a Mason native and former employee of Blackberry and Amazon, had originally limited his home search to neighborhoods like Oakley and Hyde Park. When he finally looked outside that geographical box, he and his wife found a home in Norwood with which he couldn't be happier. His positive experience is why Cincinnati — and regions nationwide — need Casamatic.
 
Casamatic is a home buying site that curates listings for its users based what's important to them.

Once open for business, the site will ask users for a location as well as questions related to the importance of family, food, commute time or environment. The Casamatic team then parses that data with MLS listings to find the listings that are perfect for the user. The site also pairs the buyer with a Casamatic-approved real estate agent.
 
"We're trying to get a confirmed showing with a realtor in under an hour," Bowman says. "No matter what, you'll get a response from an agent. And quickly."
 
Bowman met Ridenour while Ridenour was organizing Startup Weekends for UP Cincinnati. As co-founder of Lisnr, Ridenour is actively involved in the Cincinnati startup scene. The two decided to move forward with Casamatic when they realized the flaws in the online home search process, and they entered Ocean's accelerator program, graduating in April.
 
"We really liked the founders of Ocean," Bowman says. "Tim, Tim and Chad are great guys, and once we decided to do Casamatic full-time we thought we'd give it a run with them."
 
Though Ocean has been deemed a faith-based accelerator, the Casamatic team was drawn to other aspects of the organization, not necessarily the faith component.
 
"We're open-minded," Bowman says. "We wanted to see what it was all about."
 
Since Demo Day in April, Bowman and Ridenour have collected a team of five individuals to get Casamatic off the ground. They recently brought a Northside real estate agent on board as well as a full-stack engineer and were invited to move with two other local startups into the new 84.51 Center downtown.
 
"The entire team is extremely passionate about Cincinnati and active members of the community," Bowman says. "That's a big thing we look for in bringing on new team members."
 
Casamatic hopes to have a fully-functioning website for Cincinnati homebuyers by August. Once established, the company will look to real estate agents as their primary source of income. 
 
"We're giving them access to the fastest growing segment of homebuyers, millennials," Bowman says. "They'll get regular notifications from their target market."
 
The company also plans to pursue seed funding this fall. Assuming all goes well, Casamatic hopes to expand to other markets in 2016.
 
On a personal level, both Bowman and Ridenour are thrilled to be in Cincinnati.
 
"Chris (Ridenour) is a Cincinnati lifer," Bowman says. "He loves it here. I really wanted to come back to Cincinnati because there is so much activity here."
 
During the rare moments when he's not working, Bowman and his wife enjoy the Cincinnati restaurant scene. While he's a big fan of OTR hotspots like A Tavola and crowd favorite Eli's, one of his favorite places is right in the middle of his newfound neighborhood, Norwood.
 
"The Bluebird Cafe," he says. "You can't beat breakfast for 6 bucks."
 

TEDxCincinnati sells out July 9 event, looking to expand in 2016


Even before the speakers for the sixth annual TEDxCincinnati were announced, the July 9 event, themed “Accelerate,” has sold out. (UPDATE: speakers/performers are now listed here.)
 
“One of the things that’s interesting about TEDxCincinnati is that it’s not one speaker that makes a great event, it’s this combination of all different types of speakers and performers,” says TEDxCincinnati Director/Organizer Jami Edelheit. “It’s not like a demo day. It isn’t a company getting up and promoting what they’re doing. It’s not like a typical conference where there is a keynote speaker, then everybody else.
 
“It’s an event where every single story has some sort of impact or message. And it is the combination of speakers that makes it so fun and compelling.”
 
TEDxCincinnati speakers, still unannounced, will come from an array of disciplines, including technology, education, health, arts and social justice. This interdisciplinary approach encourages people to explore subjects and ideas that may be unfamiliar.
 
“TEDxCincinnati is about storytelling, sharing ideas, innovation, looking at things from a different perspective and opening your mind,” Edelheit says. “I am always amazed at the end of our shows when we ask people, ‘What was your favorite?’ If I ask 10 different people, I get 10 different answers because people are touched by different things. If you come to this and you aren’t touched by something, I would be shocked.”
 
This is the third consecutive sell-out year for TEDxCincinnati in increasingly larger venues. The July 9 event is being hosted at the Cincinnati Masonic Center downtown, next to the Taft Theater, with a capacity of 1,000 attendees. Given the interest, organizers might add seats to the hall and advise those without tickets to join the waiting list.
 
The conference is an off-shoot of the popular TED Conferences, though individual TEDx events are self-organized. Both Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati host student-run chapters.
 
Choosing the speakers and performers is an ongoing part of Edelheit’s work. TEDxCincinnati accepts speaker applications and nominations through its website and hold auditions at a special happy hour.
 
“Last year the (happy hour) event completely filled up,” she says. “We pick some applicants to audition in front of a panel of judges and an audience with a prepared 2.5-minute presentation. It’s not an open mike, it’s like a mini show.”
 
In addition to local applicants and auditions, TEDxCincinnati also brings in outside presenters and performers.
 
“I work with a lot of people in Silicon Valley and around the country,” Edelheit says. “I’m always looking for people we can bring in to share their stories with Cincinnati. We also have advisers in different sectors throughout the community who will refer people. That combination gives us a pretty great pool of presenters and performers.”
 
A new addition this year is TEDxCincinnati Youth, a group of 100 high school students from the region who will help with the program. A few will even present.
 
“We realized that many teachers are using TED Talks in the classroom,” Edelheit says. “The idea is to build a community of thinkers and doers among high school students and expose our youth to TEDxCincinnati, giving them the opportunity to talk with young professionals and other people. For them to see what the future holds — after all, it’s their future.”
 
As part of its 100th anniversary, United Way of Greater Cincinnati is the presenting sponsor of the 2015 TEDxCincinnati.
 
“They were in the audience last year and thought the different ideas and perspectives were amazing and that it would be really fun to expose their audience to TEDx,” Edelheit says.
 
For those lucky July 9 ticket holders, Edelheit recommends arriving by 3 p.m. for check-in. The event will start promptly at 4 p.m. To prevent disruption of the presentations, latecomers will have to wait to be seated.
 
The program starts with 90 minutes of speakers and performances, followed by a break for participants to explore Innovation Alley, where they can purchase food and drinks, network and explore.
 
“The idea is for people to have a bit of interaction,” Edelheit says. “Last year there was virtual reality, Google Glass, some robotics, things like that.”
 
This year’s Innovation Alley will include a Foundation Way to showcase the work of local organizations.
 
“The reality is that the people off the stage are just as important as the people on the stage,” Edelheit says. “There’s a wide range of participants in the audience, from students to CEOs. Innovation Alley is a time when you can just turn and start up a conversation with someone you would never have met before and time to reflect on some of the things you heard on the first half.”
 
The second half of the program will start promptly at 7:15 p.m. and wraps up at 9:30.
 
The entire July 9 event will be recorded and uploaded to the TEDx website in August. Edelheit encourages people to watch and share the videos, as each view raises the profile of Cincinnati speakers and performers and could draw the attention of the larger TED organization.
 
As the event continues to grow — from 300 to 1,000 attendees in three years — Edelheit is already considering options for the future.
 
“We need a full day like other cities have,” she says. “The question is, is Cincinnati ready if we did a full-day event?”
 

Startup to connect online shoppers with "made in Cincinnati" products and creators

                                     
Cincinnatians who want to buy quality locally-made products from the comfort of their own home at any time of day will soon be in luck. Colleen Sullivan and Maija Zummo, with the help of a People’s Liberty Project Grant, will launch Made in Cincinnati this fall as an e-commerce site connecting consumers to local products and the makers’ stories.

Featuring “products as unique as the people who make them,” the concept came from Zummo’s experience as a journalist trying to find local vendors and products to write about in CityBeat and other publications.
 
“One of the main issues was finding locally-made products to feature,” she says, “and the other part was finding where to buy it.”
 
Made in Cincinnati aims to solve that problem for shoppers. Zummo wants to put her storytelling background to work to connect consumers to the stories behind the products they’re buying. Sullivan’s background in marketing and digital media will help makers showcase their products and gain more exposure.
 
The platform builds on two different trends in consumer habits. One is the increase in e-commerce, and the other is the movement toward local, ethical products and the resulting rise of maker culture.
 
“Increasingly people want locally-made products,” Zummo says. “People want to know that it’s ethically sourced, responsibly sourced, there are no sweatshops — just being conscious consumers.”
 
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm around maker culture right now,” Sullivan adds, “and we really want to be able to harness that and put it in the online space to give people another way to reach out.”
 
Made in Cincinnati will combine the convenience of purchasing through a digital device with the social responsibility of knowing the contents of your “shopping cart” were made in your own backyard. Zummo and Sullivan see Made in Cincinnati as the logical next step for both practices.

There are a variety of short-term venues for Greater Cincinnati makers to sell their wares in person, like City Flea and Crafty Supermarket, in addition to getting picked up by a brick-and-mortar store. There are also national and international e-commerce options like Etsy. A platform focusing on local makers will be one of the first of its kind.
 
Zummo and Sullivan say they’ve been re-energized by the passion of People’s Liberty staff and their fellow project grantees. The connections and support provided by the program has also made an impact, with design assistance and the People’s Liberty launch weekend helping flesh out the idea of what the site will look like.
 
Zummo and Sullivan hope to use their own skills in digital marketing and storytelling to help make connections between consumers and makers. They want Made in Cincinnati to streamline the process for makers who might want to sell online but don’t have the time or skill set to create and manage their own web page. They also want to make it easier for buyers to find makers who may otherwise be difficult to track down at specialty brick-and-mortar stores.
 
“There are certain hurdles that consumers have to be willing to jump over to find some of these vendors,” Sullivan says, “and we want to bring it to a very centralized 24/7 location online where they can find whatever they need.”
 
To keep users’ interactions with Made in Cincinnati easy and enjoyable, Zummo and Sullivan are creating a curated online experience featuring vendors who are experts in their fields and restricting the number of makers selling on the site at any time. They don’t want the marketplace to be too overwhelming for shoppers.
 
“If you get to the site and there's 800 ceramics vendors,” Sullivan says, “it’s going to be hard to find exactly what you want.”
 
By creating a platform with quality products and a pleasant user experience, the founders feel they are creating a lasting outlet in the local maker market.
 
“I think this is how people are going to shop from now on,” Zummo says. “The internet’s not going anywhere, people making stuff is not going anywhere, so you can say it’s a trend but it’s more just moving toward a way of life.”
 
Made in Cincinnati plans to officially launch at a physical pop-up event in Over-the-Rhine on Small Business Saturday in November. Until then the founders are available at info@shopmadeincincinnati.com.
 

Magazine & website to highlight art and craftsmanship in historic building renovations

 
With countless renovations going on in Cincinnati's huge stock of historic buildings, two recipients of a People’s Liberty Project Grant hope to become a voice for excellent craftsmanship in remodeling work. Focusing on attention to detail and respect for the heritage and integrity of historic buildings, Kunst: Built Art will tell the stories of people using high-quality practices in historic buildings.
 
The quarterly magazine's creators, John Blatchford and Alyssa McClanahan, want to highlight people “doing renovation right.” They were inspired by their own experience renovating a historic building in Over-the-Rhine. As they strove to do quality work on their own building, they also saw a lot of renovators favoring speed and price over craftsmanship.

“It’s a sign of the times,” Blatchford says. “There’s a lot of emphasis on doing it quick, making it cheap, rolling it over and moving on to the next project.”
 
In contrast, Kunst aims to raise the standard of renovation and design in Cincinnati. Taking their title from the German word for “art,” Blatchford and McClanahan emphasize architecture and remodeling work as a form of built art.
 
“These historic buildings were built artfully, and they really cared about all the details,” Blatchford says. “The idea is we’re trying to highlight people doing that today, building Built Art.”
 
To reinforce that idea, Kunst will be sold at arts events and pre-release parties centered around art communities when the first issue debuts in September.
 
They also see the potential for art in their product.
 
“We want to have a really well-produced, beautiful print magazine that in and of itself is art and is featuring art around Cincinnati,” says McClanahan.
 
The Kunst magazine will run in-depth features on individuals and the buildings they work on as well as advice and “how-to” tips from developers, architects, preservationists, historians, designers, artists and other experts in the building community. McClanahan and Blatchford want the magazine to reflect the same level of craftsmanship and quality highlighted in their content.
 
That level of excellence is made possible by the People’s Liberty grant, which provides up to $10,000 to complete the project over 10 months. It provides much more than finances, though, as grantees get access to mentorship and consultations with experts and are able to use the resources of People’s Liberty's Globe building near Findlay Market.
 
At the projects’ launch weekend at the end of May, Blatchford and McClanahan says they were able to make “invaluable” connections with designers, branding experts and people in the publishing industry. They’re excited about the community created by the grant’s structure and the resources and connections available to grantees.
 
Blatchford bought a brick building in northern Over-the-Rhine built in 1845, and the couple is using Historic Tax Credits to renovate it into three one-bedroom apartments for rent. As part of the historic tax credit process, they discovered the building had been occupied by a tailor in the mid-19th century and named it Tailor Shop OTR. They’re hoping to make the apartments available for rent by August.

Blatchford has degrees in industrial engineering and business, while McClanahan is a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Cincinnati. Both are active in the Cincinnati Preservation Collective and Cincinnati Preservation Association.
 
While they value artistry, they reject the idea that quality craftsmanship has to be elegant or elevated.
 
“We don’t want to be chic,” says McClanahan in the middle of working on the Tailor Shop. “These projects are kind of down and dirty. John and I are covered in dirt right now. This is not glamorous work, and I think that’s the point of it.”
 
They want to make Kunst accessible to encourage a wide audience to embrace excellence in remodeling. The website, which is live now, will expand on the “how-to” sections of the magazine, offering advice on sound renovation techniques and resources for historic preservation.
 

Milford company's new technology improving communication for ALS, paralysis patients


A new device being built in Milford by Control Bionics can give voices back to people struggling with ALS, locked-in-syndrome and paralysis.

The NeuroSwitch transforms electromyography (EMG) technology used for diagnostic purposes into a powerful communication system. EMG has been used for decades to test the health of muscles and the nerves that control them. The brain uses the body's electrical systems to send messages to the nerves that make the muscles move, but in patients with ALS or paralysis the muscles no longer move, though the electrical signals are still being sent.

To use the NeuroSwitch, a muscle receiving signals is selected to become the “switch” for the system. EMG sensors are applied to the user's skin over that muscle. The user tenses the muscle, and whether the movement is visible or not the sensor picks up the electrical signal sent from the brain.

The NeuroSwitch device then amplifies it and sends it to a computer, allowing the user to control the computer through AssistiveWare's virtual keyboard and mouse control software. The user can write emails, use the internet or a text-to-speech program allowing them to talk through the computer.

The quality of life for patients using NeuroSwitch is improved not only by more fluent communication between patients and their family, friends and caregivers, but also by increasing their independence and ability to control their immediate environment. The NeuroSwitch operates with Bluetooth, so the user could also adjust lighting, temperature and the television with the right technology as well as answer the phone and send text messages.

“NeuroSwitch users can communicate with people in the same room, surf the web, send and receive emails and go online to play games in realtime,” says Peter Ford, founder and CEO of Control Bionics and creator of NeuroSwitch. “But as importantly, they can send and receive text messages with anyone's smartphone. This doesn't just expand their communication network, it means families and caregivers know if they are needed a client can text them and they can text back any time. We have received unsolicited testimonials from spouses who say, 'I feel I've been freed up by NeuroSwitch because I can leave the room and know my husband can text me if I'm in the kitchen or the garden. It liberates everyone around my husband, as well as him.'”

The NeuroSwitch is available in the United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Currently, there are just under 50 in use in the U.S., but Control Bionics hopes to increase that number as they develop relationships and accreditation with the FDA, Veterans Administration and GSA.

NeuroSwitch does have a hefty price tag, around $17,000, which includes the laptop, equipment and software as well as 24/7 technology support. The VA will now fully cover the cost of the system, as will some insurance carriers. Control Bionics works with other potential clients to help with crowdfunding to cover the cost of the system.

In his early career, Ford worked as a radio and news anchor, including at CNN Headline News, and that's when he got involved with medical technology.

“I began coding while I was anchoring at CNN in 1981 in Atlanta and developed a virtual robotics program for fun,” Ford says. “Dr. Lynn Drake heard about it and told some colleagues at Georgia Tech who invited me to join a new Rehabilitation R&D Laboratory as a programmer. It was one of the first such labs in the country, funded by the Veterans Administration. My first patient was completely disabled by cerebral palsy, and we wrote a program for them to control everything on what was then a brand new Apple 2e just by tapping a joystick. My interest in coding for rehabilitation began there.”

Ford is Australian and based in Sydney, but Control Bionics and NeuroSwitch production are located just outside Cincinnati.

“Milford is an ideal city to establish a high-tech, zero-pollution company such as Control Bionics,” he says. “It has a great quality of life, is close to Cincinnati's international airport and has a great medical and educational community at the University of Cincinnati and the Veterans Administration Medical Center (VAMC) as well as Children's Hospital Medical Center, among others. We have formed a great relationship with the City of Milford, and our technology comes out now with a 'Made in Milford' logo.”
 

ArtWorks summer murals to feature Ezzard Charles, James Brown, breweries, high-profile restoration


ArtWorks has lots of exciting projects planned for this summer's mural program.

Work is already underway to restore the Homage to Cincinnatius mural on the Kroger headquarters at Vine Street and Central Parkway. ArtWorks is coordinating the restoration with the mural's original artist, Richard Haas, and the Thomas Melvin Studio.

Because of the swing-scaffolding that will be used on the seven-story mural, professional local artists have been hired to complete the project. ArtWorks apprentices, who usually paint the summer murals, will instead work with local filmmaker Lauren Pray on a documentary about the restoration project.

In the 30 years since Homage to Cincinnatius was completed, the mural-making process has remained largely the same in terms of execution, according to Christine Carli, director of communications at ArtWorks.

“The paint we use is a specific kind, NovaColor, which is a very durable paint for outdoor use,” she says. “After the mural is painted, we put on several clear coats to protect it from sun and rain damage. We expect the murals to last for at least 20 years.”

Preparation work is also underway for the Ezzard Charles mural at Republic and West Liberty streets in Over-the-Rhine. Once the wall is ready to go, ArtWorks apprentices will work with artist Jason Snell to transform the wall into an homage to the “Cincinnati Cobra,” as Charles was known to boxing fans.

This mural is part of the Cincinnati Legends series, which includes Snell's design of the Henry Holtgrewe mural on Vine between 13th and 14th streets. The Charles mural will be “more figurative and less illustrative” than the Holtgrewe design, Carli says.

“ArtWorks is really excited about the Ezzard Charles mural,” she says. “It will officially be our 100th mural, and we will be doing a lot of programming about that, including a celebration at the end of the project when we dedicate the mural.”

Charles was chosen for the 100th mural subject because of his “rich history in sports and Cincinnati and because he has so many ties to so many famous Cincinnatians, including Theodore Berry, who was his mentor,” Carli says. “We are excited to celebrate Ezzard Charles with this really beautiful image.”

A mural at Main and East Liberty streets will honor Cincinnati's musical heritage and the individuals who shaped the “Cincinnati Sound.”

“The image will be a really cool graphic portrayal of James Brown,” Carli says. “This is a part of Liberty where not a lot of people walk but where a lot of people drive by, so we wanted to choose one really stunning image.”

Cincinnati's brewing heritage will be showcased in two murals. The Over-the-Rhine Brewery District Community Redevelopment Corporation is sponsoring its second mural, this one located on the north side of the new Christian Moerlein brewery housed in the historic Kauffman malt house. The second mural will be located on the historic Schoenling brewery at Liberty Street and Central Parkway, now home to the Samuel Adams brewery.

“In the next three to five years there will be a nice cluster of public art in the Northern Liberties,” Carli says of the area north of Liberty Street.

In the fall, ArtWorks will add another mural to the Cincinnati Masters Series, the first female depicted is the series. A painting of artist Elizabeth Nourse will be done in collaboration with the Mercantile Library.

As ArtWorks completes its 100th mural this summer, are they struggling to find subjects? Carli says no.

“We never run out of ideas because a lot of them come out of the community and Cincinnati history,” she says. “Our work with communities and neighborhoods keeps everything fresh and evolving.”

The public and communities are able to get directly involved with ArtWorks mural projects by helping support a $25,000 matching grant given by The George and Margaret McLane Foundation. Five ArtWorks projects, including the Ezzard Charles, Cincinnati Sound and the Brewery District murals, are featured on Power2Give. Donors can choose which of the five projects they want to support with a donation.

“Depending on where you live or work or the type of art you're interested in, you can pick your favorite mural to support,” Carli says. “This matching gift and Power2Give gives us a conduit to empower communities to raise funds for the projects they're supporting. The matching grant gives people an immediate way to click and donate.”

ArtWorks and its community partners will be promoting the grant and matching opportunity through community council meetings, newsletters and social media.

People are also encouraged to engage with ArtWorks apprentices through social media and the ArtWorks walking tours.

“Last year we started using #ArtWorksHere for apprentices to document their experiences on the worksite,” Carli says. “We encouraged apprentices to share positive experiences, friends they've made, progress on the mural, something new they learned that day and to say thank you.”

Carli advises those interested in following the 2015 and hashtag that many of the apprentices use Instagram rather than Twitter or Facebook.

Apprentices also conduct two Saturday walking tours each weekend showcasing ArtWorks murals in Downtown (Cincinnati Genius Tour) and Over-the-Rhine (Spirit of OTR Tour). The ArtWorks apprentice program is “not just learning how to paint,” Carli says. “We provide training for public speaking, and by the end of the experience they grow up and become more poised and confident.”

As ArtWorks apprentices are busy with murals and media projects, the staff will be planning for next summer, their 20th year bringing art to Cincinnati neighborhoods.
 

The Brandery's new OTR housing development welcomes first residents


Last week, the new Brandery housing development at 12th and Walnut Streets opened its doors to several entrepreneurs.
 
Connor Bowlan of Cintric, a member of the Brandery class of 2014, is one of the building’s first residents.
 
“I haven't heard of another accelerator solving one of the biggest headaches when moving 10 companies to a new city,” Bowlan says. “When you're an entrepreneur, the last thing you want to do is worry about where you're going to live.”
 
As we patiently await The Brandery's announcement of its new class of startups, the accelerator will hold a Grand Opening BBQ for the apartments on July 9. Once chosen, the new Brandery recruits will start moving in to begin their journey at the accelerator.
 
“The Brandery Housing provides a space for entrepreneurs to collaborate even outside of the office,” Bowlan adds. “This is a big step for the Cincinnati startup ecosystem.”
 
As for the apartments themselves, the development falls in line with the general renovation trend in OTR; the combination of exposed brick, large windows and modern fixtures provides residents with an updated historical living space.
 
"The apartments are gorgeous ... and in the heart of OTR," Bowlan says. "I am a huge fan." 
 
The Brandery has also announced an official move-in date for its new office building on Vine Street. Dubbed Union Hall, the space is currently undergoing extensive renovations and should be ready by the end of the summer. Union Hall will house Cintrifuse on the first floor, The Brandery on the second and CincyTech on the third.
 
The Brandery will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for their new offices on Aug. 24 at 4:45 p.m. If all goes according to plan, the Brandery staff and the new class of startups will movie into their new space around that date.
 

Vora Ventures connects to local technology ecosystem with first Demo Day


Blue Ash-based private equity group Vora Ventures held its first Demo Day May 28 to showcase companies at various stages of growth and maturity receiving its research and development dollars.
 
“Vora Demo Day was different than a typical accelerator program,” says John Hutchinson, head of corporate development for Vora Ventures. “We presented exciting companies that are well-established and have a record of growth and innovation as well as some of our cutting-edge newer technologies. Our goal for this event was to connect with the local technology community and share the interesting work that we are doing at Vora. ... We have been focused on building our companies and are increasing our focus (now) on contributing to the great Cincinnati technology ecosystem.”
 
Vora Ventures was founded in 2006 by serial entrepreneur Mahendra Vora to acquire and support innovative technology companies. Vora himself is no stranger to the high-tech industry as the co-founder of Intelliseek (now merged with Nielsen Buzzmetrics), SecureIT (now part of VeriSign) and Pioneer Systems (now part of Unisys).
 
Vora came to Cincinnati in 1988 to join Intercomputer Communication Corporation, a firm established by his University of Michigan classmate Kevin O’Connor. After the sale of that firm, Vora launched his own effort to encourage technology innovation in the Greater Cincinnati area.
 
In 2005, Vora and attorney Tim Matthews transformed the 366,000-square-foot Champion Paper plant in Hamilton, Ohio into one of the most advanced technology parks in the country. Vora Ventures was established the following year with 10 employees.
 
As Vora Ventures grew, the company acquired the U.S. Financial Life Center in Blue Ash and developed the 43,000-square-foot facility into the Vora Innovation Center, providing a home to five of its own companies.
 
Vora Ventures now employes 2,000 people with offices in Cincinnati, Dayton and Hamilton, Ohio; New York; California; and Bangalore and Ahmadabad, India. The company was named “2015 Tech Company of the Year” at the Cincinnati Business Courier’s Innovation and Technology Awards.
 
“We are unique within the Cincinnati (entrepreneurial) ecosystem in that we have technology infrastructure, software and services companies and as a group we are equal parts innovator, investor and high-growth technology company,” Hutchinson says. “Cincinnati is a fantastic place to live and work, with a very manageable cost of living. We have many Fortune 500 companies (here), and there is a much richer pool of talent than people recognize. This allows us to attract and retain talent at a cost advantage to some of the more traditional startup communities.”
 
He points out that, despite the national perception that Cincinnati companies can’t compete in the broader technology market, several Vora companies are doing quite well. Vinimaya, for instance, facilitates procurement across 80 countries and boasts a blue-chip customer list featuring GE, Alcoa, Siemens, Visa and the U.S. Department of Energy. AssureCare has contracts to provide managed healthcare software for tens of millions of patients.
 
Vora Ventures currently has a portfolio of 12 companies providing software, services and infrastructure solutions. Six of the companies offered presentations and demonstrations of their products May 28 Demo Day, including:
 
Ascendum, a provider of global IT business solutions that recently acquired FMS, a subsidiary of Turner Construction Co. offering construction and facility management software
 
AssureCare, working with the medical community to help healthcare plans and providers coordinate data and patient care using its MedCompass software
 
CenterGrid, offering businesses IT solutions such as data storage and private cloud-based services
 
Vinimaya, a business-to-business cloud-based procurement system
 
Zakta, a platform promoting social intelligence and collaborative solutions
 
Zingo, an app and in-store experience that allows retailers to customize offers and interaction with their customers. When it opens, Clifton Market will be the first store in the country to use the full Zingo system
 
Other companies held by Vora Ventures include Blue Spring, cFIRST Be Sure, Koncert, Open Commerce and Talent Now.
 
“The response during and after the (Demo Day) was tremendous,” Hutchinson says. “The attendance far exceeded our goals, and the energy and excitement amongst the crowd was inspirational to our team. Many of those who attended were surprised to learn the breadth of technologies currently in the Vora Ventures portfolio as well as the growth and depth of some of our leading companies.”
 
Hutchinson credits community and business leaders for their efforts to promote Cincinnati’s startup, entrepreneurial and technology resources to national and international audiences.
 
“There are so many exciting things happening in the Cincinnati technology community,” he says. “We are enthusiastic about getting more involved and know that we can contribute, lead and benefit from an even stronger connection to the local community. We expect to produce several great technology companies here in Cincinnati in which the entire community can take pride.”
 

Xavier announces winners of first-ever University of the Future Design Challenge


Xavier University announced winners of its first-ever University of the Future Design Challenge last week, selected from over 75 participants by Center for Innovation staff members, including its brand new director, Dave Zlatic. Using Xavier’s state-of-the-art MakerBot 3D printing facility, the challenge drew participants from across campus — including faculty and alumni — to learn how to use a 3D printer, scan a 3D image and design a 3D-printable piece.
 
Participants were attracted to the Challenge when Xavier held a week-long 3D printing training session in mid-May. 3D printing expert Poppy Lyttle joined the ranks at the Center for Innovation from MakerBot Industries in Brooklyn to teach the course. She hopes that the seminar and subsequent competition encourages even the least “artsy” students to give it a try.
 
“There is just so much you can do,” Lyttle says. “Knowing about 3D printing can expand your career options — research, product design and development, engineering, industrial application, architecture, hospital simulation labs. There are uses we can’t even imagine.”
 
With the course completed, participants were asked to submit their 3D designs for judging. Winners of the Challenge were selected from three different categories: “University Structures of the Future,” “Learning and Teaching in the Future” and “New Technologies.”
 
The first category asked participants to envision a college campus in the year 2025. The winning submission, created by Megan Bowling, is called the “Releaf Station,” a structure that uses solar energy panels to power a sensory deprivation chamber that will allow students total relaxation between classes.
 
The second category looked for teaching aids and classroom components that students might see in 2025. The winning design belonged to Xavier Assistant Professor in Chemistry Stephen Mills, who created 3D versions of Acetylene and Allene chemicals to better explain chemical bonding to chemistry students.
 
The winner in the “New Technologies” category was Leonard Rich, who created a cinder block connector that could be used to prevent soil runoff in raised garden beds.
 
The first place winners received $150 and 100 grams of free printing for their efforts. Runners-up received 50 grams of free printing at the Innovation Center.
 
For the full list and photos of the first- and second-place winners, click here.
 

ArtWorks chooses Big Pitch finalists to enter mentoring program


ArtWorks has chosen eight local companies to compete for up to $20,000 in grants in August. The Big Pitch finalists are now a part of ArtWorks' 10-week mentorship program and will receive help from a business mentor and a U.S. Bank small business specialist to get their companies off the ground.
 
The eight finalists include two food-related companies, Grateful Grahams and Butcher Betties Meats and Sweets. Grateful Grahams is a nationally-recognized bakery specializing in handmade vegan treats. The founder, Rachel DesRochers, has already sold her products to Whole Foods locations nationwide as well as smaller specialty stores in Cincinnati and elsewhere. Butcher Betties Meats and Sweets is a female veteran-owned butcher shop providing local, grass-fed meats. The owner, Allison Hines, can be found serving up fine meats behind the counter at her Florence location.
 
Three finalists focus on design. Brush Factory, owned by Hayes Shanesy and Rosie Kovacs, uses regionally sourced hardwood to craft custom furniture. Jason Snell of We Have Become Vikings offers creative strategy and design help to small companies and community voices. Cut and Sewn, the brainchild of Jenifer Sult, hopes to help fellow entrepreneurs with their design, sewing and pattern-making needs.
 
The 2015 Big Pitch competition will also feature Hazel Brown Photography, offering photography and product development services. Founded by Jess Sheldon, it will also sell functional fine art pieces as retail.
 
Finally, two finalists have brick-and-mortar locations already established. Original Thought Required, a streetwear and fashion boutique opened by James Marable, features limited edition apparel from independent designers on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. Roebling Point Books and Coffee, located on Greenup Street in Covington, seeks to bring the neighborhood together under owner Richard Hunt's support of local authors and artists.
 
“This is an amazing group,” says Caroline Creaghead, ArtWorks' director of creative enterprise, “and the diversity of businesses that applied attests to Cincinnati’s growing need for small business support for working creatives. This is the type of creative talent that we want to retain and support.” 
 
Each of the eight finalists will present a five-minute pitch on Aug. 27 in the hopes of receiving the $15,000 grand prize and/or $5,000 “audience choice” prize. Previous grant-winners Noble Denim and Madisono's Gelato have used the money and the mentorship opportunities to expand their businesses dramatically over the last year.

The August Big Pitch event will be open to the public.
 
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