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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.

Village Capital and The Hamilton Mill partner to bring about new water-tech program

Southwest Ohio has a long history of innovation in water technology — the area leads the country in water technology patents per capita, and is currently home to one of five Environmental Protection Agency offices in the United States.
A partnership between The Hamilton Mill and Village Capital is yielding a new water-tech commercialization program, Pipeline H2O. Its mission is to identify and commercialize the world’s leading water-based startup technologies.
Pipeline is managed by The Hamilton Mill, a business incubator in Hamilton that focuses on clean energy and advanced manufactured technologies. The program plans to utilize The Hamilton Mill’s “City as a Lab” approach, which enables companies to engage with municipal departments to prototype and test their projects. Several water-based startups are on the path to commercialization through The Hamilton Mill.
The Hamilton Mill is part of the Village Capital community network that is dedicated to innovation. Village Capital operates business development programs for early-stage entrepreneurs in agriculture, education, energy, financial inclusion, health and water. Greater Cincinnati is one of five Village Capital communities dedicated to innovation around water technologies.
Village Capital creates space for entrepreneurs to work together across the boundaries of other organizations. Over the past five years, program graduates have reached 6 million customers, created over 7,000 jobs and raised more than $110 million in follow-on capital.
Pipeline is a collaboration among many local organizations — Village Capital, the EPA, Cincinnati Water Works, Confluence, the University of Cincinnati’s water center, Xavier University’s Center for Innovation, the City of Cincinnati, the City of Hamilton, Cintrifuse and The Hamilton Mill.
Pipeline is officially open and accepting applications until Nov. 11.
The program is looking for companies that are working on water technologies that solve various aspects of the world’s water issues, including infrastructure improvements, water reuse, wastewater treatment and monitoring. Pipeline is hoping to attract 8-10 startups for its first class, which will run from February to May 2017.

Day of Innovation to showcase innovation in all sectors of the economy

Centric, an Indianapolis-based think tank and innovation hub, is hosting its fourth annual Day of Innovation on Oct. 13 at Butler University. Day of Innovation is Indiana's only full-day innovation event that brings together leaders and practitioners from all backgrounds and sectors.
This year’s event focuses on the intersection of play and innovation, featuring keynote presentations by Stephanie Chen, research and insights lead at HP; and Brady Gill, director of play at Camp Grounded, among others.
“As the ‘innovation group,’ Centric is always thinking about how to be unique and create events that break a bit from the status quo,” says Jason Williams, Centric's executive director. “Play is a theme that is very relevant to innovation. More and more studies are discussing the importance of play in creativity and innovation.”
The day-long program also includes hands-on workshops for participants, including two led by startup Cincy stalwarts. Tim Metzner, founder and partner at Differential, will talk about leveraging technology to encourage growth, and MORTAR co-founders Derrick Braziel and Allen Woods will discuss their experience reframing community redevelopment.
“I have seen growing connections in the innovation, startup and even faith spaces between Indianapolis and Cincinnati, and I'm increasingly excited about that,” Metzner says. “There is no shortage of amazing, forward-thinking people doing great work in both towns, but combined, I believe there's even greater potential to move both, and the Midwest, forward. I have been looking for any reason to spend more time in Indy, as I believe relationships and connections there will bear significant fruit in the coming years.”
Williams agrees: “There isn’t a sense of competitiveness between the Cincinnati and Indianapolis startup communities, but too often everyone focuses on how to be like Silicon Valley and worrying about brain drain. There is a strength in numbers here in the Midwest, and we will all do a better job if we link arms and share resources.”
Winners of the 2016 Innovation Awards will be announced at the Day of Innovation. Over 60 applications were received and eight winners were chosen. Past winners cross all industries and sectors, and have included Delta Faucet, The Indianapolis Zoo, Octiv (TinderBox), People for Urban Progress, Whirlpool, Brackets for Good and Vortek Surgical.
“We recognize that innovation happens everywhere,” Williams says. “Not all innovation is technology or a product. It could be a business model or a unique partnership.”
The Excellence in Innovation Award, recognizing an Indiana community leader that has demonstrated successful innovation over the course of his or her career, will also be awarded at the event.
“Today more than ever, innovation is the key to survival and long-term success,” Williams says. “Those who have the aptitude for identifying opportunities, creative thinking, problem solving and risk taking will elevate the economic base within our state and lead to global recognition of Indiana as an innovation leader.”
Centric’s Day of Innovation and monthly workshops are open to anyone, and they strive to offer programs that reach across different sectors, from the food industry to intellectual property, and that will draw a mix of attendees.
“We attract many corporate innovators, but also nonprofits, startups, academics and the economic development community," Williams says. “Anyone responsible for their organization’s innovation, business development, product management, leadership or marketing efforts would be a fit for the event.
“Centric strives to produce programming at Day of Innovation that not only inspires, but also that attendees can take back to their office and apply. We want to equip innovators with tangible tools and resources that will make them better at innovating.”

New chapter of the Founder Institute helps cultivate startup ecosystem

Founder Institute, one of the three original Silicon Valley accelerator programs, is coming to Cincinnati with its first class this October.

“Founder Institute targets people at the ideation stage when an individual is deciding whether to take the leap from working or being a full-time entrepreneur,” says Michael Hiles, founder of Intellig8.
Founder Institute was established in 2009 by Adeo Ressi and Jonathan Greechan. There are currently chapters in 135 cities in 60 countries. The new Cincinnati chapter is being co-directed by Hiles; Eric Fulkert, CEO of Campus Suite; Dustin Grutza, CEO of CraftForce; and Bhaskar Majji, director of IT services at Capgemini.
“The Founder Institute is a great example of a group of our local entrepreneurs filling a gap for the good of the broader StartupCincy community,” says Christina Misali, community manager at Cintrifuse. “There needs to be as many 'front doors' to the ecosystem as possible so that it is easy to locate resources to help entrepreneurs get started. We all know it’s a difficult road once you make the decision to build your own scalable business, and StartupCincy is here to help make it a little easier.”
The 14-week Founder Institute starts with the rigorous application process, which includes a screening test to determine if applicants are up to the challenges of being an entrepreneur. Unlike many accelerator programs, Founder Institute is designed for people who are not quite ready to quit their day jobs. Participants meet one evening a week for classes and mentoring, with a significant amount of homework to complete outside of class.
“One of the things that’s unique about Founder Institute is that you don’t have to have an idea to participate,” Hiles says. “Everyone has ideas, but if the market doesn’t think it’s a great idea, who cares. It is more about being able to execute a solution to a problem that the market will support. The program is a gauntlet of idea validating and listening to customers, adapting and pivoting in response to the market.”
Founder Institute not only helps entrepreneurs develop their business ideas, but it also helps entrepreneurs build their leadership team by creating a class of potential co-founders and partners.
“Our graduates will be quality candidates for the StartupCincy ecosystem,” Hiles says. “They finish with a vetted idea, an investor-friendly structure, and they can immediately move forward. They may go into another accelerator program or straight into business.”
Another unique aspect of the Founder Institute is the organization's desire to cultivate entrepreneurship within large, established companies.
“We are actively working to launch more innovation development with big corporations as an intrapreneurship strategy,” Hiles says. “We are able to run an entire program for big corporations who want to be more agile and ‘startuppy’ in their efforts.”
Founder Institute is accepting applications through Sept. 22 for the program that begins Oct. 5. Detailed information on the course, the funding structure, and application can be found online.
Individuals interested in the Founder Institute program, or other opportunities in the StartupCincy ecosystem, are invited to attend a free program at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 7 at Union Hall. Registration is still open for the pre-event.
“We have held a series of lectures and workshops to launch Founder Institute in Cincinnati and help build community around the program,” Hiles says. “We’re starting a startup within this robust ecosystem, so we want to showcase the other accelerators like Mortar, Bad Girl Ventures, Uptech and Ocean that make the Cincinnati startup community so great.”

Cincinnati startup scene growing with addition of Jersey Watch

The Brandery grad Jersey Watch will soon be setting up shop in Over-the-Rhine. The company got its start in 2012 in Athens when two Ohio University graduates — Tim Gusweiler and David Carter — developed the idea to provide free digital services to youth sports teams, leagues and clubs, all by backing brands and businesses that are looking to reach that audience through advertising.

Jersey Watch was accepted into The Brandery in early 2015, and graduated last fall.
“All of the advertising and brand expertise in Cincinnati with national experts in the field drew us here,” Carter says. “Things accelerated tremendously when we entered The Brandery and began to refine our scaling and growth strategy. It was a gamechanger and pushed us into 14 new states.”

Jersey Watch recently secured $1 million in capital funding from CincyTech, TechGROWTH Ohio and angel investors; it is also currently in the midst of a national rollout of its service.

Youth sports leagues often operate on a shoestring budget. The company currently supports 10,000 teams in 16 states with eight full-time staff. The national rollout of Jersey Watch will begin with East Coast metro areas like Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Philadelphia and New York. After establishing itself in those markets, Jersey Watch plans to widen its client base throughout those regions.

Jersey Watch provides free websites and online platforms for player registration and game scheduling, as well as email communication for coaches, parents and players.

“We don’t want this to be just a digital ad buy,” Carter says. “We are always looking for ways to build engagement, particularly for our healthcare clients. They’re interested in sponsored content about nutrition, concussion prevention and other health topics for young athletes.”

To date, Jersey Watch has secured commercial clients like Pizza Hut and UDF, as well as service providers such as Dayton Children’s and Adena Health Systems. Clients can customize their placement by selecting a specific sport, geographic area, demographic or advertising method.

“Over the next year, you are going to see Jersey Watch grow nationwide and cross 25,000 local teams served,” Carter says. “We will continue to increase our team size, as we continue improving how to serve youth sports organizations and help them win. I also expect several new national advertisers to join our client list in the upcoming months, and our aim is to continue delivering targeted sponsorship campaigns for brands that want to align with this attractive audience, at scale.” 

Locally, Jersey Watch works with teams like the Anderson and Harrison youth football leagues, Cincy Classics Volleyball and Seven Hills Lacrosse. Even as it doubles its reach, Jersey Watch plans to maintain its base of operations in Cincinnati.

“The experience here has been tremendous for us, and I can’t say enough good things about the ecosystem,” Carter says. “From a mentorship, recruiting and agency-relationship standpoint, the StartupCincy community has been incredibly supportive. It was a no-brainer to open our office on Sycamore to stay involved in what’s going on in Over-the-Rhine.”

Big Pitch Finalist: Jonathan Fox, Fox Aprons

When chef Jonathan Fox couldn’t find the perfect apron, he decided to make one. Now, after two years of making, refining and selling his unique raw denim aprons, he wants his product to become the best high-end apron on the market and is one of eight finalists in the Artworks Big Pitch program presented by U.S. Bank.
There are thousands of companies that manufacture aprons, but only a few that produce high-quality aprons for professional chefs. When Fox made the decision to invest in one, none of the options had all the elements he was looking for. So he taught himself to sew, and designed his own idea of the perfect apron.
“As a chef, I’ve worn aprons for a long time, and a few of my tools I’ve always been kind of finicky about — cutting boards, knives and aprons,” Fox says.  
The idea only grew, gaining attention as Fox made them for other chefs, who spread the word and even attracted some local media attention. At first, he didn’t intend to become an apron manufacturer, but his aprons were popular enough that he could do just that.
“I decided if I was going to do it, they were going to be the best aprons,” he says.
So the aprons became a business, and Fox partnered with Noble Denim in order to source raw denim for the aprons and he started producing them in a factory in Tennessee. That unique material is what sets Fox Aprons apart from other apron manufacturers.
“Denim is made out of cotton, it’s breathable and it’s a natural material, but it also has a carrying capacity for dirt and grime and oils, so it becomes a second skin,” Fox says. “I just wanted a denim apron because I thought it would look cool, but this really cool side effect is that I didn’t have to look dirty halfway through my shift — denim hides spills very well.”
That feature, along with cross-back straps that take the weight of the apron off the wearer’s neck, have made the aprons popular with chefs and bartenders both locally and beyond. The aprons are sold through an online store, which means the entire world is a market for the product. Fox has sold to customers in Seattle, California, Texas, Mississippi, South Carolina and even Mexico.
All the while, Fox hasn’t spent a cent on marketing. That’s where Artworks’ Big Pitch competition comes in. The prize money — up to $20,000 — would allow Fox to launch a marketing campaign and grow the business beyond the aprons "selling themselves."
“I have not marketed or advertised this business at all at this point,” Fox says.

The two reasons behind this choice: “One, I wanted to prove that it was the best apron to myself, and I thought if it could sell itself, if it caught on and if it spread like wildfire, that meant that it was good and if it didn’t, maybe I needed to improve it. But then the other thing was that I didn’t want to take more money from an investor or someone to fund a marketing campaign.”
But the money for marketing is not the only perk of the competition. The process itself, including guidance from small business owners and financial mentors (the latter provided by Big Pitch sponsors U.S. Bank), and the connections provided through the competition have proven invaluable for Fox.
“I’m doing things I probably wouldn’t have done for another year or two, just being in the program," Fox says. "I’ve already gained so much. The truth is that everybody in the Big Pitch has already won.”

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: James Avant, OCD Cakes

James Avant wants to help start conversations about mental illness with his custom baking business, Obsessive Cake Disorder. He is one of eight finalists in the Artworks Big Pitch program presented by U.S. Bank.
Avant is clear that the name of OCD Cakes is not mean to be poking fun at OCD, but rather making mental illness part of the conversation — the baker himself struggles with OCD and anxiety. 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.
“I told my parents, ‘I’m experiencing a lot of stress and I really can’t concentrate or focus, and these rituals I’m doing are really stopping me from being productive,’” Avant says.
College was also when Avant began to change a longtime interest in pastry arts into a business. Coming from a family of cooks, Avant hadn’t considered cooking as a profession — he followed the pre-med and neuroscience track in high school and college, which ended up leading him back toward baking.
“I really love the scientific element and rigidity of baking, but it can also be creative,” Avant says. “It’s the perfect merger between the two, and I really just found a place where I can be calm, I can be me and I can be in control.”
About two years ago, while watching the show Two Broke Girls with a friend, Avant got the idea to start a cupcake business. He eventually went through Artworks’ CO.STARTERS program for new small businesses, where he refined the concept of his baking business: gourmet cakes and desserts to “take a bite” out of the stigma of mental illness.

The idea is to break the ice around talking about mental illness by combining it with something familiar and celebratory — cake.
OCD Cakes is not a nonprofit undertaking, but it does aim to have a positive community footprint, making it a kind of social enterprise. Avant donates about 5 percent of his profits back to organizations that do work around mental illness, such as Warrior Run, and gives free talks to community organizations and college campuses to raise awareness about mental illness and start conversations.
“I thought as someone who has had a negative experience with OCD, but has also had many positive experiences with it, I think that it’s my job to kind of educate people and get people comfortable talking about it, reaching out and getting help," Avant says.
In March, Avant became a founding member of the Findlay Kitchen, which gives him the space and resources to do his baking. Now, he has brought enough success to his business that he’s looking to branch out through the Big Pitch. With the competition’s prize — up to $20,000 in business grants — Avant hopes to start a sort of sister brand to OCD Cakes.
“Bakeologie” would focus on the experience of baking by offering professional baking classes in an affordable, accessible way. Avant wants to help people think of baking as more than cakes and cookies, but as a medium for food preparation, allowing the oven to become the star of the show.
Avant entered the competition to start a new step, but has found the structure and mentorship offered by the program useful in enhancing the practices of his existing business.
“It gives me the opportunity to kind of get my ducks in a row and do this next piece right from the beginning,” Avant says. “I’m excited for just the opportunity to be on this type of platform and have other people excited about my business and learn about my business for the first time.”

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.

Bad Girl Ventures opening new hub in Covington, announcing second Launch class

Bad Girl Ventures will host a public reception in their new Covington headquarters Sept. 8 as well as announce the members of its second Launch class.
For several years, BGV has been operating out of the HCDC space in Norwood. They will maintain an office and continue holding classes there, with the Covington location offering new opportunities.
“Our Covington space represents an expansion of our programming — a widening of our net, so to speak,” BGV Executive Director Nancy Aichholz says. “We cross industries, we cross the state of Ohio and now we cross the river.”
This has been a big year for BGV, with the rollout of their new curriculum and now moving into their new home — all part of the organization's efforts to become the leading resource for female entrepreneurs in the region.
“Our vision for the Covington space, which is more 'our own,' is to have a very welcoming combination of offices and meeting spaces where Bad Girls and all female entrepreneurs are welcome to stop in for an hour to visit with other women in their same situations, or come and work all day, bring clients for meetings, etc.,” Aichholz says.

BGV’s Covington home will create a new hub of activity within the StartupCincy community.
“We have great relationships on both sides of the river,” Aichholz says. “We look forward to having our women engage in as many programs that the Cincinnati entrepreneurial ecosystem has to offer.”
Details of the new space have, understandably, not been revealed yet, as BGV is saving the first peek for those attending the reception.
The other big announcement will be the businesses joining BGV’s second Launch class. The inaugural class began in February and wrapped up in June. Eight female-led companies participated in classes and a mentorship program, which culminated in a pitch night, with a prize of a loan from BGV that would take the winning company to the next level.

Meaghan Dunklee’s company Wedding Bags won the $25,000 loan, while Melyssa, Michelle and Christine Kirn of Grainwell received a $12,500 loan.
“All of the companies had great media attention,” says Angela Ozar, BGV’s Cincinnati/NKY market manager. “We’re staying in close contact and are excited to have them be part of our BGV network.”
Based on participant feedback, BGV is making a few tweaks and one big change to the program — the second class of Launch will welcome the public to its pitch night.
Two applicants to the round two class are recent graduates from BGV’s Explore program, which is the first class in BGV’s curriculum series.
“Explore is about helping entrepreneurial women find the right direction for them, and helping them be successful in any field,” Ozar says.
BGV is still accepting applications for the next round of Explore, which begins Sept. 14.
“The changes to the BGV curriculum we made last year are working,” Ozar says. “With our approach, we are able to provide continual support to our companies as they grow.”
Grow is the ongoing support plank of the BGV curriculum. Those classes, which will begin in the fall, will be held at the BGV Covington headquarters and other venues in the region. The Grow program is open to BGV graduates as well as any other female-owned businesses.
Click here to register for the Sept. 8 open house. 

AMA rebrands, uniting the national organization and chapters across the country

As one of the leading marketing centers in the country, it should come as no surprise that Cincinnati has one of the largest and most active chapters of the American Marketing Association. Last week, they welcomed AMA CEO Russ Klein to officially launch the organization’s new brand and direction.
“AMA has over 30,000 paid members in a one-size-fits-all model, so we’re blowing that up,” Klein says. “We want to increase engagement and relevancy, and shape the professional development of marketers. So we’re creating benefit bundles with targeted products, services and prices.”

For the first time since 1976, AMA revealed a new logo and brand, “Answers in Action,” to reflect the diversity of its membership. With 11,000 undergraduate students, young professionals, mid-career and C-suite professionals — plus academics and researchers — AMA covers every step in a marketing career.

“AMA is to the individual marketer like Nike is to the individual athlete,” Klein says. “We affirm the power of marketing and the individual marketer. We revere and know the marketer. We are stronger together and bound by common values.”
AMA Cincinnati was one of a handful of AMA chapters selected to participate in the AMA Brand Task Force, and to pilot the roll out of the new brand.

“The Task Force discussed and created ways to ensure that the new brand was communicated with clarity and excitement, that chapters had what they needed to engage and activate the new brand locally, and that “One AMA” intention was front and center,” says Gina Bonar, president of AMA Cincinnati. “The new brand is not just fresh, simple and current, it is now the cornerstone for all of us to build around, and makes us all much stronger and more connected.”

One of the biggest changes to the AMA brand is that previously, individual chapters had separate identities from the national organization. Now, the national office and all the chapters will work within the same brand template. AMA Cincinnati began transitioning their branding in May and completed it August 1 with the move to their new website.
“The early adopter cities, including Cincinnati, helped us understand what it takes to roll out the brand at the chapter level,” Klein says. “Chapters represent the face of the AMA and are the engine of professional development. The new brand is a beacon and a source of energy for the organization and its members.”
AMA Cincinnati currently has 400 members that represent 400 companies from every industry in town, even the nonprofit community. The organization is open to traditional marketers, as well as people working in public relations, graphic design, social media and digital communications. The chapter hosts events throughout the year, including a Signature Speaker Series, the first of which is scheduled for September 23 and will feature a representative from Google.
“AMA Cincinnati has long embraced the diversity of our audience,” Bonar says. “We host evening events that are more accessible for young professionals, featuring activities like Speed Networking and Recruiter Panels. We bring in top national and local speakers and run workshops that are specifically focused on practical, hands-on development. For several years we have run a CMO Roundtable in partnership with the Cincinnati Chamber. Last year we also launched a new annual program, the CMO/CIO summit.”
The rebranding is the visible piece of AMA’s effort to address the intellectual agenda and infrastructure of the association.

“The brand and organizational alignment we now share with our national organization is dramatically improved,” Bonar says. ‘We look like, feel like, and act like one association, with the national driving much of the thought leadership, and chapters driving much of the connectivity. The experience design work that Russ mentioned will help further define the communities, the deliverables and the channels — it’s all coming together to better serve the individual marketer.”

Creative App Project and Future Leaders of OTR partner to create app and community

The new “Treasures of OTR” Android app that leads users on a scavenger hunt to find Over-the-Rhine community landmarks comes with a surprise backstory: It was created by 12 young people in the Future Leaders of Over-the-Rhine program with the assistance of the Creative App Project.

For the students, the experience turned out to be about much more than the technical side of building a smartphone app.
Creative App Project, the People’s Liberty-funded endeavor of Mark Mussman, has been around for over a year now and had some success with its adult class, where individuals created apps ranging from biking calendars to historic preservation platforms to selfie tools.
The class as a group also created Upz in collaboration with the Safe and Supported program to help connect LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness with resources and services. The app was presented at the True Colors Summit in Houston last year, an iOS version is currently in development and more than 100 people have downloaded it to their devices, which pleases Mussman.
“The idea is that as many people have it on their phones as possible so that then if you or someone you know is in a crisis, you have that information readily available,” he says.
The success of Upz and the first class pushed the Creative App Project to expand in new directions, including moving into teen education this summer. Although Mussman originally envisioned CAP as primarily adult education, two 17-year-olds participated in his 2015 class, which opened his eyes to the need for technology skills education for youth.
Mussman points out that just because young “digital natives” grow up using technology doesn’t mean they have the skills to build it.
“Not all kids have technology skills,” he says. “The fact of the matter is they’re going to be consumers rather than producers.”
Mussman saw an opportunity for collaboration between CAP and OTR Future Leaders, the nonprofit program for young people ages 13-17 who either live or go to school in Over-the-Rhine. The program focuses on social and personal development, community engagement and being guided by the interests of the youth participants.
Mussman and CAP facilitator Key Beck took these goals to heart when working with the Future Leaders. The class met just four times but packed a lot into those few sessions, using the process of creating an app as a lens for exploring themselves and their community.
“We asked them ‘What is the make up of their community? What are they grateful for? What are the stories of their community?’” Mussman says. “They responded with ‘We love our neighborhood, we want to show it off in some way.’ In one of the early brainstorms, one of them said ‘What if we did a scavenger hunt?’”
The students were divided into teams based on their strengths and interests to work on different elements of the app: art and design, storytelling and programming.
“Future Leaders are always so excited and enthusiastic about doing stuff, we have to say ‘You can’t do everything,’” Mussman says.
They came up with the concept of using fragments of pictures combined with clues to direct app users to each stop on the scavenger hunt. Once the user gets there, he/she must check in using the GPS on their phone. (Mussman points out that the app was developed before Pokemon Go was released.)
As the students selected the stops that would be featured, more questions about the nature of their community emerged.
“We talked about places in their community and they would say, ‘I’ve never been in there,’” Future Leaders Youth Program Director Renáe Banks says. “When we talk about being inclusive, there are kids who have lived in their community all 12 or 14 years of their life and these new businesses are popping up and they’ve never been inside.”
Once the stops were chosen and the prototype created, the Future Leaders class got the first opportunity to test their own app.
“It was neat to see them play the game and get excited about it, seeing the little circle and saying, ‘I know where that is!’” Mussman says.
Banks agrees, saying, “They had a blast!”
For the students, it was an opportunity to see their ideas come to life.
“I can’t believe it was so easy to put our ideas to real life,” Leonate Moore says.
“The process was easy, all we had to do is put our ideas together to make it for people to download,” Dionne Parker says in agreement.
Banks encourages the public to download “Treasures of OTR,” both to experience Future Leaders’ vision of their community and as inspiration for more technology. She wants to see more apps designed by and for local communities.
“Downloading the app gives them tangible evidence that people care about what they do, that they have an impact on the community,” Banks says. “We need more apps like this! I want people not only to say, ‘Look what the youth did,’ but to see it as a foundation they can build upon.”
“One of the things we saw come out of the first class was that lots of the ideas had something to do with Cincinnati,” says Mussman, who plans to continue building CAP classes. “It’s something we really need in our community. We need to have more technology education accessible to everyone.”
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