Waterfields LLC is a collection of improbable partners brought together by CoreChange, which is led by Dr. Victor Garcia, who has long advocated for changes to systemic poverty and its effects on many of the negative statistics in our city.
Five bright minds who shared a passion for social causes held early morning meetings at Xavier University and grew a seed of an idea into Waterfields, a specialty produce grower that employs neighborhood residents with meaningful, living-wage work. Today, chefs all across the Midwest use their products, including more than 135 in Cincinnati alone.
The emerging company is one of eight finalists in the fourth annual ArtWorks “Big Pitch” presented by U.S. Bank, where they will compete for a $15,000 Judge’s Choice Award and a $5,000 Audience Choice Award during a live five-minute pitch on Sept. 28 at Memorial Hall.
During the Big Pitch process, Waterfields will be mentored by Victor Hernandez, a U.S. Bank Small Business Specialist, and Paul Picton of Maverick Chocolate Co.
The collection of partners — or growers — of the business are an impressive bunch. Each had a full plate as they built the plan for Waterfields: Dan Divelbiss was working on his doctorate and as a student contractor for the U.S. EPA; Ben Matthews was getting his MBA and working as a regulatory affairs manager for P&G; Paul Leffler is a retired IT guy; Sam Dunlap was working at the Civic Garden Center; and Dan Klemens was getting his MBA and working for the India U.S. Business Network on the marketing/sales side.
Klemens admits that on paper, the group didn't really belong together, but Dunlap and Divelbiss had worked on various projects, including an aquaponics setup in Norwood, and they were all 110 percent committed to doing something in urban agriculture to create meaningful, living-wage jobs as a means to positively affect poverty in our city.
The ideal customers for Waterfields are creatives in the food/beverage space. They sell their products to everyone from restaurant chefs to bartenders to food stylists/photographers.
The client base of chefs is one part inspirational and another part demanding.
“I'm inspired by our customers,” says Klemens. “Restaurant kitchens demand folks who are 10 percent artist, 90 percent machine. It's a tough industry to work in. But when that 10 percent can really shine, the food is life-changing. I've had multiple life-changing meals in Cincinnati and I'm damn proud to be able to supply those folks with whatever plants they want.”
And the growth strategy that Klemens and crew will work on during their Big Pitch mentorship is to take market share from California products that are often grown for shelf life and flown in overnight for logistics.
“If a Nashville chef is buying California products and we can offer higher quality, year-round and more local alternatives, that's a home run for us, and that’s our growth strategy,” Klemens says.
The Big Pitch prize of $20,000 would help the company with an expansion plan.
“That $20,000 cash prize means more grow rigs, which means more living wage jobs, which means more lives changed,” says Klemens. “It would be huge. We've proven the ability to sell and execute, we just need cash to do it quicker and bigger. “
Specifically, Waterfields is adding about 10,000 square feet of additional indoor growing space in October, and they’re working to double their capacity to meet projected sales demand and have some large relationships in the hopper. That's where they need the extra cash.
Handzy Shop + Studio
Suzy King and Brittney Braemer want you to never underestimate the power of a nice card and a handwritten note.
The design duo started Handzy Shop + Studio in 2015 after meeting at UC’s DAAP when they were sophomores. After graduation, they parted ways — Braemer was working as a corporate graphic designer and King as a canoeing instructor. Braemer soon realized the corporate world wasn’t for her and King couldn’t work a seasonal job forever, so they joined forces.
Their growing design and retail outfit is another of eight finalists in the fourth annual ArtWorks “Big Pitch” presented by U.S. Bank, competing for a $15,000 Judge’s Choice Award and a $5,000 Audience Choice Award during a live five-minute pitch on Sept. 28 at Memorial Hall. King and Braemer will be mentored by Keith Jackson, a U.S. Bank Small Business Specialist and Emily Merkle of Blue & Co.Brittney Braemer, Handzy Shop Studio
The duo started Handzy in a dingy warehouse studio doing freelance graphic design and making stationery to sell on Etsy and at the City Flea. They share a love for paper and the tangible — especially greeting cards and the sentiments they hold — so developing their own stationery line only made sense.
King and Braemer soon learned that only selling greeting cards at craft fairs wouldn’t keep them afloat, so the pair focused primarily on graphic design work to make money and grow the business. This approach allowed them to open a retail shop last July in a sweet little spot in historic downtown Covington, and is focused on three key areas: retail, custom design and the Handzy stationery line.
Retail sales are consistently increasing as foot traffic in Covington picks up and Handzy's social media presence grows. Their custom design projects are steady and recurring. With both of those segments in a good place, King and Braemer have identified wholesaling of their in-house stationery line as the most lucrative opportunity.
If they win the $20,000 grant, Handzy will exhibit at the 2018 National Stationery Show in NYC.
“NSS is hands down the best way to get our personal stationery line in front of 10,000-plus industry professionals and buyers,” says King. “This show will set the stage for Handzy’s long-term growth — landing our cards on the shelves of shops around the United States.”
How to Attend the ArtWorks “Big Pitch” presented by U.S. Bank:
ArtWorks “Big Pitch” presented by U.S. Bank returns for a fourth year at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 28, at Memorial Hall. Eight of Greater Cincinnati's up-and-coming creative entrepreneurs will each deliver a five-minute pitch in front of a panel of judges and a live audience to compete for a $15,000 Judge’s Choice Award and a $5,000 Audience Choice Award.
Tickets start at $10 and are available at here.