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Accelerator alum, KiwiLive founder forms partnership with Fern to take app to the next level

Live-event interaction technology KiwiLive is expanding into the convention industry through a new relationship with Fern Exposition & Event Services.
“I’ve been interested in the tradeshow market for awhile,” said Jeff Mason, KiwiLive founder and CEO. “Fern has such an extensive network and experience, and it’s exciting to be working together.”
KiwiLive started two years ago as a quick and easy solution to exchanging contact information and presentations at meetings. The application allows users to connect with other attendees and access speaker information by entering a keyword on the KiwiLive website. There is no app to download or software to install.
“The name came from a simple idea: through a keyword we connect, key-we became Kiwi,” Mason said.
Recruited to Cincinnati after college by an engineering firm, Mason eventually left his job to work on KiwiLive full-time, quickly plugging into the entrepreneurial community here.
“I went to a Startup Weekend at UpTech, which was my first experience at what it’s like to really run a startup,” he said. “I started to meet people involved in the startup scene, joined Cintrifuse, and plugged into the UnPolished movement at Crossroads.”
KiwiLive debuted at UnPolished's first Demo Day. Mason continued to work with other events, particularly in the startup community, to refine and develop the KiwiLive platform. Based on responses from speakers and organizers, new features like live polling and feedback were added. Ready to grow KiwiLive further, Mason joined UpTech's fourth cohort last fall.
“Accelerator programs often focus on ideas or early stages of a product, so I was a little worried about being pushed to totally rebrand and create something new,” Mason said. “But UpTech adapted to the level of each participant. Their ability to provide support and infrastructure, to push me forward, was critical.”
UpTech’s Demo Day is where KiwiLive connected with Fern. It took several months of discussions before last week’s announcement that, in addition to their financial commitment to KiwiLive, Mason will take on the role of director of customer technology innovation for Fern.
“This partnership is a lot deeper than just an investment,” Mason said. “Fern wants to be an innovation and technology leader in the tradeshow industry. KiwiLive services fit really well with their existing platforms and will work alongside them as another offering for their clients.”
KiwiLive will continue to serve its existing clients and core audience of seminars, speakers and presenters while working with Fern on the tradeshow marketplace, including developing tools for multi-tracked events where participants change sessions and speakers. Mason also plans to refine the look and feel of the application, creating an ease of use to make KiwiLive accessible and easy for meeting and event planners to set up, even at the last minute.
“This is a great opportunity to leverage Fern’s expertise at large events and my startup experience,” Mason said. “We’ll offer a unique experience that maximizes the value for both event organizers and attendees.”

Next Lives Here Innovation Summit brings together big business and Cincinnati's startup scene

Next Lives Here Innovation Summit is a new entrepreneurship event hosted by the University of Cincinnati that will take place on Thursday. It's organized with help from UC Innovate, a student group that encourages the development of campus leaders.
The event will kick off at noon with a networking lunch on McMicken Commons. It will then move inside to the Tangeman University Center where 12 teams of UC students will test out their ideas with representatives from big business and the Cincinnati startup scene.
Spark UC, now in its second year, is partnering with MORTAR to match interdisciplinary student teams with the entrepreneurs and businesses that are part of MORTAR, an organization that works with underserved, non-traditional entrepreneurs in communities experiencing redevelopment. The collaboration launched on Oct. 3 at the Social Enterprise Cincy Summit, and was followed by two weeks of workshops and project development.

At the Innovation Summit, the top three teams will make their final pitches.
Alternating with the pitch sessions will be speakers from the local startup scene, as well as leaders from the creative and engineering sectors. The first panel will discuss encouraging innovation and partnerships between the academic sector and industry, and the second panel will focus on disruption and the types of people and projects that challenge the status quo.
There will be a number of speakers from local, regional and national startup and bigco organizations, including Austin Allison, co-founder and CEO of dotloop, Wendy Lea, CEO of Cintrifuse and Rodney Williams, CEO and co-founder of LISNR, as well as a handful of representatives from UC. A full list of speakers and the day's agenda can be found here.
Throughout the day, the Innovation Showcase will feature displays that explore the resources and research activities taking place at UC. The exhibits will be organized around themes of social innovation, consumer engagement, local impacts, expectant futurology/fresh tech, student entrepreneurship, inspiring design, and health and wellness. The event will wrap up at 7 p.m.
Registration is required to attend the free conference, and spaces are still available.

Artrageous cultivates next gen innovation where science, art, history, engineering meet

Innovation and creativity are sought after traits in the startup community, but nurturing and encouraging those qualities in the next generation in an era focused on STEM and standardized testing can be difficult. Nathan Heck addresses that challenge through his web series Artrageous with Nate.
“Creativity happens everywhere,” Heck said. “You don't have to be a painter to be creative. I want to change the conversation about innovation and look at it in the world, outside of siloed school subjects.”
The web series, available on YouTube and PBS Digital, takes a multi-disciplinary approach, exploring a different artist, style, or subject in each episode. The art historical cannon is well represented, but with a twist.
“Our episode on Michelangelo looked at his art, but also pulled back the curtain on what was happening at the time that allowed (artists) to be so creative and innovative,” Heck said.
Artrageous with Nate also tackles subjects that might not be considered art, including episodes on design and engineering at Delta Faucet, microscopic views of kidney cells, and the process of developing a roller coaster at an amusement park. Heck explores the intersection of science, engineering, history, and art.
For historical figures, episodes focus on little known biographic facts, like the name of their dog, to make them relatable as people.
“These artists were rebels who made their own path,” Heck said. “Some died in poverty. Some never sold anything. Yet today they’re world famous.”
Heck also interviews contemporary artists to talk about their process, and for those working in non-traditional art environments, how their creativity fits in with their colleagues who are scientists and engineers. Each episode ends with a hands-on activity inspired by the subject.
“I am all about the process, not the finished product,” Heck said. “Art materials are expensive, so I try to come up with things people can make with what they have handy.”
Heck collaborates with museums, including the Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM) , on his program. He has filmed three episodes at CAM featuring the Damascus Room, a dress by Issey Miyake, and a portrait by Gainsborough.
His most recent partnership, with the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City, will create an app for museum users. Heck is also working to bring Artrageous to the Curiosity network, a spinoff of the Discovery Channel.
Heck will talk about his methods for encouraging creativity at the 2016 Day of Innovation conference at Butler University on Oct. 13.
“I love talking to business people about art and creativity,” Heck said. “It's important they understand creativity, what happens in the brain when you're being creative, and how broad creativity is. I want everyone to walk out thinking about how they are creative and innovative.”
The event is familiar to Heck. Artrageous with Nate won an Indiana Innovation Award at the 2014 conference.
“Nate's program impressed our judges with its very unique and fun approach and the show's combination of art, history and creativity,” said Jason Williams, executive director of Centric. “Nate is taking a lot of interesting material and making it more approachable. Artrageous is passionate about inspiring creativity inside and outside of the art studio.”
“We focus so much on measurable results,” Heck said. “But the things you can’t measure are what makes people unique and creative. If we lose creativity, we lose innovation.”
Those attending his session at the Day of Innovation should be ready to explore their creative side.
“I love to have fun with big, massive art projects,” said Heck. “So I’m planning something that everyone can do, but it won’t be too messy since it’s a conference after all.”

Artworks awards $15,000 to Obsessive Cakes in The Big Pitch

A sold out, standing room only crowd of over 500 cheered on a baker who struggles with OCD and anxiety to win The Big Pitch at Rhinegeist Brewery. On Oct. 7James Avant sailed through his pitch to win $15,000 to seed his budding business Obsessive Cake Disorder. The audience choice award of $5,000 went to Scott Beseler of The Lodge in Northern Kentucky.

The Big Pitch is a 10-week program open to creative small business owners who have been in business for at least two years. The entrepreneurs who are selected for the program receive training and mentoring from both a small business mentor and a U.S. Bank banking advisor.

A recent University of Cincinnati grad, Avant saw his ticks and quirks increase significantly with the increased stress of the first few years of college, which prompted him to seek treatment and led him to his calling.

Beseler designed The Lodge as a “one-stop-shop” for bands, including digital and analog audio recording, screen printing studio, photography, event and performance center and even spaces for traveling and hardworking musicians and artists to sleep.

The 2015 winner, Hayes Shanesy, opened by detailing the ways in which his businesses had grown with the win. The woodworker and furniture maker of the Brush Factory opened a new store on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine, and will be featured in Dwell magazine in an upcoming issue.

The pitchers delivered a wealth of anecdotes about inspirational ancestors and the local importance of makers and craftsmen. Jonathan Fox of Fox Aprons recalled his grandfather inviting, "You ready to cook kid?", coaching him to cook and inspiring him to design a sturdy apron where every tool had a place. He wrapped up with a photo of a nearly empty American manufacturing facility, underscoring that his business employed American workers to manufacture the aprons.

An organic line of beauty and self-care products was pitched by Tempal Hitt, who discovered her business calling while struggling to treat a small son with eczema. "I became a mad scientist," she laughed.

The eight pitches were varied and entertaining -- a framer, a screen printer who employed recovering addicts to teach a trade, a furniture maker, a graphic clothing line designer. The shared anecdotes of struggling to fill orders, install central heating, finding manufacturing and studio space.

Over the course of the program, the eight finalists prepared their business plan and their pitches. The $15,000 cash prize presented by U.S. Bank was based on equal parts of the finalists’ business plan and on their pitch.

FEASTY app joins Startups in Residence program at 84.51

FEASTY, which is the first app to connect people with restaurants in real-time, recently moved offices to the 84.51° building to be part of the company’s Startup in Residence program. The program launched in June 2015, and provides co-working space and mentorship opportunities to four companies at a time, all of which are graduates of regional accelerator programs.
Startups in Residence is part of 84.51°’s Innovation initiative, which focuses on connecting, empowering and transforming associates, the community and customers.
FEASTY — a 2016 graduate of OCEAN acceleratorlaunched in March with two full-time employees, and has since added four more full-time employees. The app aims to connect those who love to eat food with those who create it.
“There are two problems when it comes to dining out: people can’t make decisions about where to eat, and the second is that restaurants don’t know how to drive customers into their restaurants in real-time,” says FEASTY founder Anthony Breen.  
FEASTY allows restaurants to post offers or incentives in real-time based on how they’re doing at that moment and drive traffic during slow periods. Those offers go out to users, and they can swipe and search deals, choosing one that will work for them.
Since March, FEASTY has evolved. It now tailors offers to each individual user.
“We started gathering and collecting data about what users like to eat, what types of deals they like and any dietary restrictions they might have,” Breen says. “FEASTY can then post intelligent offers for customers, and make sure they’re seeing customized deals.”
Tony Blankemeyer, startup liaison at 84.51°, sought out Breen because FEASTY fits well into the Startups in Residence program, as it is interested in companies that are leading in the field of data. 84.51°, a.k.a. Kroger, has significant data around in-home grocery purchases and is interested in learning more about the patterns and behaviors of people when they’re looking for somewhere to dine out.
“84.51° is home to some of the best data scientists in the world, and being in that community, engaging and connecting with those scientists will be an awesome opportunity,” Breen says.
Although no formal partnerships have been announced, FEASTY hopes to incorporate some of the data 84.51° has and make the app experience better for users.
FEASTY currently serves over 200 restaurants in the Greater Cincinnati area, including new partners like Q’Doba, The Rook and ZBGB. A 2.0 version of FEASTY will come out later this year, which includes a total revamp of the app. After the relaunch, Breen plans to begin scaling into other cities as quickly as possible.
“We’re excited to get as much knowledge from the Startups in Residence program as possible,” he says. “It will really help us make the right scaling decisions and moves, as well as help us establish the right contacts and networks.”
FEASTY is free and available for download on iOS, Android and the Apple Watch.

Big Pitch Finalist, Scott Beseler

For about five years, Scott Beseler has been working on making the studio collective The Lodge a reality. The space is designed as a “one-stop-shop” for bands, including digital and analog audio recording, screen printing studio, photography, event and performance center and even spaces for traveling and hardworking musicians and artists to sleep.

All of this is housed in a former Masonic Lodge in Dayton. Beseler, who also serves as Soapbox's managing photographer, purchased the 1922 brick building in 2011 and quickly learned just how much time, money and work would be required to turn the place into his vision of a rock ’n’ roll bed and breakfast/art studio.
“It was a long process to get where we are today,” he says. “Immediately when I bought the place, the roof failed, the boiler failed, so I had to put a new roof on it, and do up the HVAC and all that kind of stuff.”
The trials and tribulations of the past five years have also included getting the building re-zoned, bringing it up to compliance with fire and building codes and installing adequate HVAC systems for the historic building’s large open spaces. Much of this work was financed by Beseler himself and a single private investor.
Despite these challenges and setbacks, The Lodge has moved forward and has started to make a name for itself. The building officially opened to the public in August. It has hosted art exhibits like the recent “The Magic of the Polaroid,” produced posters for MidPoint Music Festival and other merchandise for bands and served as a recording studio.

Perhaps its biggest claim to fame so far is that the band Walk the Moon wrote their 2014 album “Talking Is Hard,” including hits “Shut Up and Dance” and “Different Colors” at The Lodge. The Lodge studio photographers and filmmakers have even produced some of their music videos.
But for Beseler, the work is still not done. Although progress has been made on the space, there are still finishing touches to be resolved. That’s why he applied for ArtWorks’ Big Pitch presented by U.S. Bank, and will present with the other seven finalists on Thursday for up to $20,000 in business grants.
“Up until now, it’s been privately funded, but we need an extra push of money to get us over to the edge,” Beseler says. “So I’m officially open but our bathrooms are in disrepair, we need HVAC for the middle floor, which is now being utilized as a photography studio and event space and we also need to do a big marketing push because right now, no one knows who we are and what we are, so the funds from the Big Pitch would be greatly, greatly appreciated.”
The grants available through the Big Pitch would set Beseler up to be able to finish the building itself, and then even look toward expansion. Next steps would include putting in a commercial kitchen for catering events and feeding artists working long hours in the recording studio, hiring an employee to run the place and maybe someday even putting in a coffee shop open to the public. It seems that for The Lodge, the possibilities are endless and the work is never done.
Beseler will be going last at the event, and says his pitch may even end with a surprise — but you’ll have to be there to find out.
“We’re going to end with a big bang,” he says.

ArtWorks Big Pitch Presented by U.S. Bank is a 10-week mentorship program that culminates in a pitch competition Oct. 6 at Rhinegeist. You can purchase tickets here.


ArtWorks' Big Pitch to provide two finalists with up to $20,000 in business grants

On Thursday, eight finalists will compete for $20,000 in small business grants at the third annual ArtWorks' Big Pitch presented by U.S. Bank at Rhinegeist.
The Big Pitch is a 10-week program open to creative small business owners who have been in business for at least two years. The entrepreneurs who are selected for the program receive training and mentoring from both a small business mentor and a U.S. Bank banking advisor.
Over the course of the program, the eight finalists prepare their business plan and their pitches. Each one has an idea for how the grant money will take their business to the next stage of growth in a tangible way.
There are two grant prizes available through the Big Pitch. A $15,000 cash prize presented by U.S. Bank is based on equal parts of the finalists’ business plan and on their pitch. There is also an audience choice prize for $5,000.
For many of the creatives, however, the value of the competition goes far beyond the prize money. The work they’ve done with their mentors will certainly make an impact on their business, and the connections they’ve made with each other and through the Big Pitch community will likely pay off in unexpected ways.
“All of the businesses, all eight of us, are worthy of winning,” says finalist Thane Lorbach. “It’s almost a shame that there’s just one or two awards, because they’re all very cool businesses and good people. I’ve gotten to know these people over the past several weeks. There is no wrong answer on Oct. 6.”
At this time, tickets for the event at 6:30 p.m. at Rhinegeist are sold out.
You can learn more about each of the finalists through our Soapbox Innovation profiles:
  • Jake Gerth, frameshop is becoming Cincinnati’s go-to place for custom framing in both home and business.
  • James Avant, OCD Cakes takes a bite out of stigma with beautiful custom baked goods and mental health awareness.
  • Jonathan Fox, Fox Aprons makes a kitchen-tested chef's apron like no other out of raw denim produced in the United States.

Innovation Alley to connect startup orgs in downtown Covington

The City of Covington will officially dedicate Innovation Alley at the Oct. 6 UpStart Celebration of Entrepreneurship.

“The Innovation District, Hub and Alley is the future of Covington,” says Casey Barach, director of the Kentucky Innovation Network’s Northern Kentucky office. “And the future is now. Covington is building a knowledge economy that we can celebrate.”
Innovation Alley connects Russell and Washington streets, between Sixth and Pike streets, in downtown Covington. The all-volunteer group behind the project is currently working on the beautification of the alley, but they have much bigger plans.
MKSK, a Covington-based landscape architecture, urban design and planning firm, has developed a three-phase strategy for redeveloping and activating the alley.
The current beautification work is part of the first phase, which will also include signage and murals that feature the themes of creativity and innovation. The second part of the project will restore some of the alley surfaces and improve lighting. The project will be completed with the installation of solar covered parking, flexible public spaces and awning installation.
“Young entrepreneurs want to be in cool spaces,” Barach says. “The density of the Innovation District is perfect for that; within a couple blocks there are entrepreneurs, accelerator programs and places to get beer and coffee. It’s the kind of place that attracts creative people who want to be around other creative people.”
Bad Girl Ventures recently opened a second location in the Innovation District, joining neighbors like Tier1 Performance Services, bioLOGIC and UpTECH. They are all supporting the alley improvements along with partners Keep Covington Beautiful, BLDG, Duke Energy Foundation, Graydon Head, Renaissance Covington, Republic Bank and U.S. Bank.
The alley dedication will be part of Covington’s annual innovation celebration, UpStart. The free ticketed event, running from 4:30 to 8 p.m., will feature music, food, beer and a showcase of the region's entrepreneurial community.
“It’s a non-structured event for people to get together, celebrate the innovation community, bump into entrepreneurs and just meet each other,” Barach says.
Representatives from the regional StartupCincy scene will be on hand, including Cintrifuse and the Hamilton County Business Development Center, as well as co-working spaces and the StartUp Weekend team. The Kentucky Innovation Network’s Northern Kentucky Office, which recently opened in the Innovation District, will also be open for attendees to check out.
UpStart will be Innovation Alley’s trial run as an event space.
“One of the fun things about activating the alley is that we can try some cool lighting effects,” Barach says. “For UpStart, we will light up the alley for the first time and see how it looks.”
The official renderings and plans for the alley will be displayed at UpStart as well.
The volunteer committee has raised about $12,000 for the project so far, and they are out every weekend pulling weeds and picking up trash.
“We’ve reached the critical mass to really launch this project,” Barach says. “We’ve got good momentum going forward, and I expect things will really take off this spring."

Big Pitch Finalist, Sara Swinehart, SRO Prints

SRO Prints is a full-service branding design agency, but its mission goes far beyond graphics and printing. The female-owned business is also a social enterprise, a company that wants to do good — by providing employment and job training to individuals who are recovering from drug addiction.
The company is led by CEO Sara Swinehart, along with her husband and co-founder Brandon Swinehart. For them, the concept is deeply personal.

Brandon’s story combines many of the elements of the business itself: He has a history of addiction, as well as many years of graphic design experience. He has been clean and sober for 11 years, and was involved in starting a similar business in San Francisco. That business, which started out printing posters for bands, is what inspired the acronym in their name — SRO for both “Single Room Occupancy” and “Standing Room Only.”

Brandon left the Bay Area in 2010, and after a three-year journey connecting with Sara and living in Knoxville, Tenn., the couple ended up in Cincinnati, a place with one of the worst heroin epidemics in the country.
“We both thought it was really important with all the stuff going on in the news and everything,” Brandon says. “We agreed that we should do this and get involved and help the community here."
So in 2013, Sara, Brandon and their first “social enterprise” employee, Chase Stein (now five years sober), founded this iteration of SRO Prints.
“We built this business off of one order, where we were able to make $1,000, and we went from there,” Brandon says. “I think we’re set to make $50,000 this year.”
SRO Prints is not the first of its kind in the country or even the only organization in the region to focus on employment for those in recovery. But to the Swineharts, what sets SRO Prints apart is the kind of employment opportunities they offer — they're aiming for true empowerment through career training and quality experience in a high-paying, in-demand industry.
“We were thinking more along the lines of what about longevity?” Sara says. “A lot of times when an addict gets clean, the cycle is they get a crappy minimum-wage production job, and what’s the buy-in? It’s not a career, it’s a job, and people just think that those types of people are not worthy. It’s like they’re damaged goods and that’s it.”
In contract, SRO Prints sees this underserved population as an untapped resource of driven, committed employees.
“What I’ve learned over the years is that people the I’ve seen that really want to give everything they’ve got and really are hungry to learn something new are the recovering heroin addicts,” Brandon says.
In order to reach those people and offer full-time employment, SRO Prints is ready to grow, and they are taking advantage of Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial resources to do so. The company graduated from Bad Girl Ventures’ first LAUNCH class earlier this year, and are now finalists in ArtWorks' Big Pitch presented by U.S. Bank.
Winning the business grants available through the Big Pitch would mean a major step forward for SRO Prints. Currently, they design marketing, branding materials and merchandise, but are not able to make their products in-house. With an infusion of funding, that would change, meaning they could grow their business and hire employees to train in all aspects of the business.

ArtWorks Big Pitch Presented by U.S. Bank is a 10-week mentorship program that culminates in a pitch competition Oct. 6 at Rhinegeist. You can purchase tickets here.

Big Pitch Finalist: Khisha Asubuhi, Originalitees

Khisha Asubuhi’s state, city and neighborhood pride shirts have become so popular in Cincinnati that her company, Originalitees, cannot keep up with the demand.
Originalitees’ popularity shouldn’t be too much of a surprise: Asubuhi has worked hard to make sure her company creates high-quality shirts and offers top-notch customer service, as well as a dose of pride in place and community.
“They’re super comfortable, we try to tell people ‘We’re sorry if it becomes your favorite shirt!’” Asubuhi says. “And a lot of times, people will tell us it’s their favorite shirt. Our shirts are conversation starters. When you wear your shirt, expect people to love it, to comment on it.”
Asubuhi started Originalitees about seven years ago when she was tired of her T-shirts shrinking. Her inspiration comes from other place shirts like “I Love NY.”
“I began thinking, what if Ohio had something like that, but I wanted something that was different,” Asubuhi says. She didn’t want her shirts to be a cliché.

“I remember after hearing about all these amazing people who are from Ohio, and people don’t know where they’re from," she says. "People want shirts that say where they’re from, and seven years ago that wasn’t available, so we did start that movement.”
Originalitees’ designs now go much deeper than the T-shirts themselves. They feature designs like “Born and Raised” in the outline of Ohio; city shirts of Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland; and even neighborhood shirts that list street names from communities like Over-the-Rhine, UC and Walnut Hills. They have featured shirts from as far as Florida and California, but most of their products are designed to display a sense of pride in places close to home — Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.
For Asubuhi and her customers, it goes much deeper than the brand itself. “One of the best parts about the business is seeing that vibe that people have when they wear our apparel, as well as meeting customers. I don’t think that’ll ever get old.”
But the shirts’ popularity and customers’ devotion have outgrown Originalitees’ production capacity. To keep up with demand, Asubuhi entered Artworks' Big Pitch presented by U.S. Bank to take her business to the next level.
The idea is that the business grants available to the winner of the competition will help Originalitees keep up with demand and expand their offerings to more neighborhoods and places. What Asubuhi has found is that the mentorship, business plan and pitch writing aspects of the program have been just as valuable.
“Everyone should have a pitch ready,” she says. “You never know who you’re going to talk to.”
Asubuhi attributes a lot of her success in the business so far — and in her Big Pitch experience — to her sense of  “you can do anything” drive.

“There’ll be plenty of times when things don’t go your way, but are you just going to quit?" she says. "When there’s something that may seem hard, you just need to push yourself, and you can do some pretty amazing things.”

ArtWorks Big Pitch Presented by U.S. Bank is a 10-week mentorship program that culminates in a pitch competition Oct. 6 at Rhinegeist. You can purchase tickets here.


Big Pitch Finalist: Thane Lorbach, Custom Manufacturing

Thane Lorbach started woodworking as a hobby, and in 2003, he turned that hobby into the most fun job he's ever had.
When Lorbach quit his 20-year career in social work to pursue woodworking as a full-time job in 2007, he was primarily making high-quality antique furniture reproductions. Although they were popular and a step up from the handmade boxes he had first started selling, Lorbach knew it was a niche market and that he would have to expand his horizons if he wanted to be successful.
Lorbach visited a friend in Florida who makes boats, and he found what would set him apart as a woodworker. That was the first time he saw a CNC (computer numerical controlled) machine, that could carve intricate 3D objects and designs into wood from a digital design program like CAD.
Lorbach put the piece of equipment on his “dream list” and kept track of those machines, but it wasn’t until 2011 that it made sense for him to buy one.
“It had been on my mind since 2007, but they’re a pricey item,” he says. “But in 2011, I got a call from a beer distributor, a guy who at the time worked there knew I was a woodworker. They were re-branding, trying to get better-looking taps, something locally made. When I got that call and they said ‘can you do it?’ I said ‘well, if you can wait six weeks I can.’”
That order of 1,300 custom-made wooden beer taps for a local brewery helped jumpstart Lorbach's business from antique furniture to high-tech tools. He bought his first CNC machine to fill the order, and by 2013 he had taken a class to learn the design program AutoCAD and purchased an industrial laser for precision cutting of parts.

The high-tech tools expanded what Lorbach could do with woodworking — he can now make anything from eyeglass frames to retail displays, and it opened the door for business clients to truly keep his small business going.
The challenge that prompted Lorbach to enter Artworks' Big Pitch presented by U.S. Bank was no longer a lack of customers, but a lack of space to work and fill orders. Lorbach has been running the business out of his garage and basement since he started, and things have started to feel a little cramped.
“It’s still got concrete walls, it’s still got support beams to hold the house up, so it’s not the most ideal shop setting,” Lorbach says. “Some of my friends call it the sardine can. I’m quite limited in the kinds of jobs that I can take on and the number of jobs that I can take on.”
The $20,000 in business grants available through Big Pitch would allow Lorbach to move to a new space and take on more diverse jobs, and even potentially hire other employees. But Big Pitch has helped in more ways than just the grant possibilities.

“With this Big Pitch program, with my two mentors, my business mentor and my banking mentor, I’m learning so much about running my business, making those contacts and crafting a better business plan," he says. "So that part, long-term, is equally or more important than winning $5,000, $15,000 or $20,000.”
For Thane Lorbach Custom Manufacturing, the Big Pitch really boils down to one thing:
“I’m looking to run my business better,” he says. “So I’m not afraid to ask for help. I’m not afraid of hard work.”
ArtWorks Big Pitch Presented by U.S. Bank is a 10-week mentorship program that culminates in a pitch competition Oct. 6 at Rhinegeist. You can purchase tickets here.


Second Social Enterprise Cincy Summit will feature Demo Day from Elevator grads

The second annual Social Enterprise Cincy Summit will take place on Oct. 3 at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. In addition to keynote speakers and panel discussions, the event will also feature the Demo Day for the first cohort of Elevator graduates.
“We want a broad cross-section of the community to attend the conference and Demo Day,” says Bill Tucker, executive director of Flywheel Social Enterprise Hub, which is hosting the event. “Social enterprise traditionally attracts nonprofits and community stakeholders, but there is opportunity for more involvement from startups, consumers, businesses, banks, technology and government. It’s a chance to shift thinking about how purchases, investments and policy decisions are made, and how those decisions impact the community.”
The Summit includes two keynote presenters, who will be joined by local experts in a post-presentation discussion.
Tamra Ryan, CEO of the Women’s Bean Project, will share the story of the Colorado-based social enterprise that provides employment, job training and soft skills to chronically unemployed and impoverished women. Ryan will focus on the role of social entrepreneurship in supporting and empowering women.
Mike Basher is the vice president of retail operations for Fare & Square, a nonprofit, full-service supermarket that opened in a Pennsylvania food desert. His presentation will discuss food insecurity, as well as how social entrepreneurship can strengthen neighborhoods.
In addition to the keynotes, Summit attendees will also have networking opportunities and several breakout sessions led by local and national presenters. The Calvert Foundation will host a panel on impact investing, leaders from Thrive will discuss how to leverage technology for good and Engage Partners will explore how integrating a “give back bonus” into a brand is good for business.

“We are excited about the marketplace set-up for the event,” Tucker says. “All the coffee, snacks and lunch will be provided by social enterprises. And it’s an opportunity to show off local social enterprises. It will be a busy, interactive day.”
The Summit wraps up with the first Elevator Demo Day. Flywheel launched its accelerator program earlier this summer as a pilot effort supported by the United Way.
“Other cities have done similar programs, but all of those that focused solely on nonprofit participants have not done well,” Tucker says. “Elevator has some nonprofit participants but there are others with for-profit structures. We wanted this accelerator program to meet the needs of our community.”
Elevator participants received the same type of resources as a traditional accelerator program — classes, mentorship, business planning — but through online, evening and weekend activities as all of the participants are also juggling full-time careers.

BGV announces fall 2016 LAUNCH class of entrepreneurs

This fall, Bad Girl Ventures is welcoming five entrepreneurs and business owners to its LAUNCH class. At the end of the class, each business competes for a BGV business loan.
LAUNCH meets every week and provides each business a mentor that offers coaching and instruction. During the eight-week course, participants will learn how to prepare and execute key startup milestones from each business area in order to “launch” their business. While only one business will receive a BGV loan, all five businesses will receive coaching on how to access capital.
  • Chica Sport provides customizable, high-performance athletic accessories for men and women, such as non-slip headbands, cooking neck bandanas and waterproof seat covers. Founder: Meredith Finn
  • Cinfully Sweet offers made-to-order, handcrafted, bite-sized sweets, including cake pops, cupcakes, cookies, chocolate-covered pretzels and dessert bars for birthday parties, wedding receptions, and bridal and baby showers. Owner: Stephanie Mullins
  • Dry Moon Pillowcases offers two-sided pillowcases that solve the problem of night sweats. They highly absorbent, soft terry fabric is engineered to cool you down as you sleep. Founder: Debra Mooney
  • SecondNurture is designed to help people care for those they love. It’s a tool for organizing, communicating and supporting the day-to-day needs of caregivers and care recipients. Founder: Nicole Christopher
  • WEL Enterprise has engineered the first Wastewater Reclamation System that handles wastewater from start to finish. It’s capable of segregating, cleaning and recycling water, solids and other elements. Founder: Katrina Eckard
Each business already has a viable, vetted business with revenue and clients/customers. LAUNCH will help them secure capital in order to take their concepts to the next level.

Big Pitch Finalist: Tempal Grace Hitt, Grace Green Beauty

When Tempal Grace Hitt first started making her own natural lotions and soaps in 2005, she did not intend to start Grace Green Beauty — she was doing so out of necessity. Her first child had skin and health troubles, and nothing seemed to help. Hitt, who has a background in beauty and is a trained cosmetologist, couldn’t find the kind of skin care products she knew would be the most beneficial for him.

“I spent endless amounts of time reading about and trying to find a natural product that would work,” Hitt says. “But I found that it simply did not exist. I was educated in raw ingredients and essential oils and really just what nature can provide, but the reality is it’s not out there in a jar, and here’s why: because most of what’s out there is wax, water and then a little bit of the ingredients that I want.”
So she ordered about $500 worth of the active ingredients and became a mad scientist in her kitchen. Hitt reversed the process and ratios of the industry standard by basing her products on “the good stuff,” and minimizing fillers and stabilizers.
“Instead of using a ton of wax and a ton of water and a little bit of the good stuff, I use a ton of the good stuff, everything specifically sourced, and then I use a little bit of the stuff that actually creates the emulsion, which as a result is a super-duper delicate, nutrient-rich product," she says. "And from that, it works.”
The special creations worked — her son’s eczema cleared up. Soon, Hitt was sharing her products with friends and neighbors while continuing to learn more about the chemistry and processes of creating products. After many years of sharing her products and people asking to buy them, Hitt decided it was time to start an LLC — she realized that she had a business.
By November 2014, Hitt officially launched Grace Green Beauty’s online store as a holistic being beauty and wellness line. She also started selling her products in Whole Foods, Dorothy Lane Market and several salons and spas.
By August 2015, Hitt was a full-time stylist and mother of three, all while trying to grow her business and maintain her own high standards for her organic, food-grade products. That’s when she knew it was time to take the leap into running Grace Green Beauty full-time.
A year later, it was time to make another leap, and Hitt decided to apply for Artworks' Big Pitch presented by U. S. Bank.
“It’s been such a great opportunity for me to meet potential investors, and even to meet potential partners,” Hitt says.
For Grace Green Beauty, the competition and mentorship is not only a way to make sure the business’s plans and financial strategies are on track, but the prizes — up to $20,000 in business grants — would allow for a meaningful expansion of the company’s offerings.

Hitt plans to launch a full natural facial service that would be available at local spas.
“It’s the first ever that I know of that would be a truly holistic and organic facial,” Hitt says.
The facials will be a new direction for the company, but Hitt has branched out beyond the products themselves before. Grace Green Beauty has a community outreach arm, including projects like Grace Gives Back; Grace Grown, which teaches children to germinate acorns while re-using the beauty line’s glass jars; and Giving Grace, which allows people to nominate someone in their life who needs or deserves some grace.
For Hitt, the concept of “grace” guides her business, but goes far beyond that.
“It is a lifestyle for me, it’s how I choose to live,” she says. “It’s about wellness and it’s about grace, and grace means many things. It means showing favor, it means all kinds of different things, but for me it is a lifestyle.”

ArtWorks Big Pitch Presented by U.S. Bank is a 10-week mentorship program that culminates in a pitch competition Oct. 6 at Rhinegeist. You can purchase tickets here.


Big Pitch Finalist: Frameshop

Jake Gerth entered Artworks Big Pitch Presented by U.S. Bank to take his custom framing business to the next level.
Frameshop has been operating in Over-the-Rhine for three years, providing custom picture framing to both individual retail customers and larger clients like restaurants and hotels. According to Gerth, they fill an important niche in the Cincinnati and regional market, which used to be occupied by names like Closson’s, which has since died down and created opportunity for Frameshop.
What makes Frameshop different is that they create their own custom molding.
“We really tell the story of where the tree is from, what kind of species it is — we really do everything so that when you leave Frameshop, you have a final product that you couldn’t get at another framer,” Gerth says.
Gerth has been aware of the Big Pitch for a while, but wanted to wait to apply until the company had a very clear purpose for the grant. This year the timing was right, with a big goal for the company in site: opening a second location in a neighborhood like Hyde Park to become more established and increase their retail sales to individual customers.
“We were really trying to figure out our purpose and where to put the growth, and now we’re at a point where we very literally have an objective that we can accomplish,” Gerth says. “We really wanted to have a set mission.”
Leading up to this decision, Frameshop has spent a great deal of time refining their process, finding the right tools and growing from using contractors to employing a six-person crew.
For Gerth, the Big Pitch process has become just as important as the possibility of the prize. The opportunities for mentorship and connections he's made have provided diverse perspectives on the business that have proven incredibly valuable, refreshing and energizing.
“It’s actually been awesome, shockingly so!” Gerth says. “I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve been thrilled with the mentorship piece of it.”
That new energy has re-invigorated Frameshop’s vision and encouraged them to think big as they work toward becoming a regional brand for both the general public and larger hospitality business projects. Perhaps one day they will even have their own timber farm to source their raw materials.
“I’ve been in Over-the-Rhine for eight years now in the same apartment, and back in the day, you could do anything if you put the work in,” Gerth says. “Even as we’ve grown the company, I still think of it as ‘what is the perfect thing for us to do — what would be the most amazing project or the best scenario?’ and then go pursue that first.”
Gerth isn’t afraid of doing the work to open a second store. So far, Frameshop has grown on its own from an idea to employing Art Academy graduates and skilled craftspeople. Opening a second shop would only be further proof of their sustainability and ability to make an impression on the region.
“We really grew this dollar by dollar, sale by sale,” Gerth says. “If there was a time that we deserved something, this is our time. We really could make an economic impact — that's what I think of the Big Pitch — is that we really would do the money justice.”
ArtWorks Big Pitch Presented by U.S. Bank is a 10-week mentorship program that culminates in a pitch competition Oct. 6 at Rhinegeist. You can purchase tickets here.
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