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St. X grads design unique language-learning platform, launch Kickstarter campaign

A team of four college students launched a Kickstarter campaign this week for a personalized language-learning platform, Lingohop, that combines cutting-edge technology with the newest discoveries in linguistic research. The new app is the brainchild of three first-year college students from Cincinnati and a PhD candidate in linguistics and promises to allow users to begin conversing in their new language “on day one.”
Three of the co-founders graduated from St. Xavier High School only last year: President and CEO Michael Ashley, Vice President Tsavo Knott and Chief Product Officer DJ Hammett. They first got the idea for an app while in high school together.
Ashley and Hammett were self-proclaimed “language nerds” who committed to learning languages together. They’d practice by learning words and phrases that applied to their lives so they could speak to each other in Spanish, for example, in the hallways. Their friend Knott also had an affinity for language stemming from his dual Dutch citizenship, and he also brought tech expertise into the group.
Using their method, Ashley and Hammett have tested “fluent” in four and five languages, respectively. But it wasn’t until they enrolled in college — Ashley at Ohio State University, Knott at Miami University and Hammett at Washington University — that they learned the technique they stumbled upon in high school aligned with the latest research in linguistics.

Ashley met Ohio State PhD candidate Ramón Padilla-Reyes, who has spent seven years researching how people learn languages. So Padilla-Reyes joined the team and the four started working together on Lingohop, an app and platform that uses those newest research-informed linguistic techniques to teach language with a focus on conversation and personalization.
“You don’t have to spend years studying language,” Ashley says. “We’re deceived that learning a language is this big scary monster. When you come on (Lingohop), we actually ask you what your needs are and we mold everything you experience to be immediately applicable to your needs.”
The app is organized into four-minute lessons organized around questions learners might encounter based on their expressed needs. For example, someone learning for basic tourism might explore “Where is the museum?” while someone who will be traveling for business might learn professional introductions.
In addition to this “language for a specific purpose” methodology, the app integrates visual cues and text to provide an immersive experience that addresses different styles of learning.
The design team has combined the linguistic techniques with software development and startup principles like agile development and lean startup methodology to design a new experience. They’re also using smart technology to help users understand how they learn best, sort of like the way Fitbit tracks activity, goals and successes. The platform will have an embedded intelligence system to give users suggestions for when to take lessons based on their efficiency.
“It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds,” Knott says. “With the technology today, it’s readily available.”
The team is beginning to make the app available now via the Kickstarter campaign, allowing contributors to pre-order it for discounted rates. Lingohop will have a different model than a free app or an expensive CD/DVD set — even its pricing is personalized depending on a user’s needs. Different options will be available for month-long, year-long and lifetime access to the platform.
Kickstarter contributors will have an option to help with the app’s beta testing. The campaign is attempting to raise $25,000 through May 29, and if it’s successful the team will use this summer to refine the platform build-out to anticipate a full launch date in the fall.

Aitken to discuss using data to build strong customer relationships at Goering Center event

The Goering Center for Family & Private Business dives into data at its April 20 Luncheon Series event, “The Data Revolution” with 84.51 CEO Stuart Aitken.
Affiliated with the University of Cincinnati’s Lindner College of Business, the Goering Center provides educational programs and resources to help family-owned and private businesses grow and network. Aitken’s 84.51 collects and mines customer data to inform business decisions and build strong customer relationships, issues important to businesses of all sizes.
“I’ve had the good fortune to work for many great companies and to really understand how basic business principals apply to big companies or brands just as well as they do to small companies,” Aitken says. “From a data and loyalty perspective, focusing on the customer is something that any size business can employ. It’s more a matter of what’s relevant to your customers and how, as a small business owner, you can inspire loyalty through the service you provide.
“The customer should be at the center of everything — knowing your customers as individuals, not based on generalities or demographics.”
The constant collection of data today can raise questions for businesses and customers about how much is enough.
“It’s not really about the quantity of the data as it is about the quality of the data,” Aitken says. “Looking at data over time actually helps us to be more personal with our customer outreach. We can understand what’s changing in their lives and that what may have been relevant a year ago may not necessarily be relevant today. Our customers provide feedback that they appreciate that level of personalization and that we understand how to reach them at the right time with the right message with the right channel.”
Aitken’s customer-centric approach to data has applications not only for product development but also for the marketing community.
“Since Procter & Gamble was established in Cincinnati nearly 150 years ago, Cincinnati has been recognized as a branding hub,” he says. “We have some of the largest and most well-known marketers right here — P&G, Kroger and Macy’s as well as world-class creative firms and academic institutions like UC’s DAAP — that produce creative and technology talents influencing brands and businesses everywhere.”
84.51 is a wholly owned subsidiary of Fortune 500 company Kroger, and the firm is also invested in the Cincinnati entrepreneurial community through its startup-in-residence program. Aitken’s extensive experience working with established and new companies and how both categories collect and use data should generate an interesting and informative presentation.
The Goering Center Luncheon Series is open to the public, though reservations are required. The programs take place monthly with guest speakers on trending business topics. Upcoming events feature discussions on the economic and lending environment, attracting and retaining talent and business risks.

Family and private businesses are also able to join the Goering Center as Core Members for access to additional training, education and development programs.

“The Data Revolution” will be held 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. April 20 at the Sharonville Convention Center. Admission is $39 for Goering Center members and $99 for nonmembers. Register here.

Travel Notes startup acquired by Silicon Valley firm, stays rooted in Cincinnati

Any good business provides a solution to a problem, and that’s exactly what Hudson Chilton wanted to do when he co-founded Travel Notes.
“One of the problems to improve the travel experience for cardholders is making sure their credit cards aren’t declined when traveling, both domestically and internationally,” Chilton says.
He’d learned of this industry-wide problem while working for Fifth Third Bank. He eventually quit his job there in Fall 2013 to work full-time on solving the problem.
He enrolled in UpTech’s third accelerator class to launch a startup business around his solution, which he called Travel Notes. That’s when the idea really began to take flight.
“I give a ton of credit to UpTech for putting together an amazing program,” Chilton says. “If your company needs a connection with someone, someone in the network of UpTech was always willing to make that connection, which really accelerated the growth of Travel Notes.”
Those connections helped take the business to the next level.
In particular, about a year ago, Chilton started collaborating with Germany- and Silicon Valley-based company Refund.me, which helps travelers secure compensation for cancelled flights to and from the European Union. That partnership recently turned into an opportunity for Chilton to become part of the Refund.me team, and the company acquired Travel Notes.
“This acquisition really doesn’t mark the end of Travel Notes,” Chilton says. “It marks the opportunity to accelerate.”
Although the acquisition by a large international company is exciting, Chilton won’t be hopping on a plane to move to Silicon Valley any time soon. He’ll continue to work out of Cincinnati.
“I’m equally likely to be successful in Cincinnati as in Silicon Valley, if not more successful,” he says. “I can put in as much work and get as many connections here as anywhere else in the world. It didn’t make sense to uproot and start over.”

Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired launches re-brand of social enterprise

What do binder clips and services for blind and low-vision individuals have in common? You can find out on April 14 at the re-branding launch event for VIE Ability.
Formerly CincySight, VIE Ability is the social enterprise venture of the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CABVI). It’s an office supplies company that employs blind and severely low-vision individuals and brings in revenue to help fund the rest of CABVI’s services.
Like any company, VIE Ability aims to be the best in its field, focusing on providing excellent customer service like including free shipping and making the company competitive for customers. At the same time, it looks to make a small dent in the 65 percent unemployment rate for blind and low-vision individuals.
Amy Scrivner, Director of Development and Community Relations for CABVI, points out that most of VIE Ability’s five employees lost their vision in adulthood, when they were already well into careers. For many, that event also means losing their jobs.
“While five employees may not seem like a lot, it’s really huge for those individuals,” Scrivner says. “This is a way for us to chip away at that appalling statistic and give people really meaningful work.”
VIE Ability provides an example for other businesses of how easy and effective it can be to employ blind and low-vision people. Scrivner says that accommodations to help people work are often simpler and cheaper than employers realize.
CABVI debuted its social enterprise in 2013 and has been working ever since to grow the business. The organization started providing supplies to a handful of nonprofits and now enjoys more than 100 business customers.
“As we looked at that next stage of growth opportunity, we decided it was time to re-brand,” Scrivner says. “We feel like we’ve achieved that next stage of growth, that we’re ready to make that big splash.”
The new name and look were designed by marketing experts from Brandwright and Brandimage Cincinnati with close ties to CABVI. The new name plays on the idea of offering viable office supplies solutions for customers and the ability of the low-vision employees to provide excellent services.
The rebranding also marks a new phase of development for the social enterprise. VIE Ability plans to continue expanding its customer base in order to increase the number of employees, with hopes of adding paid job training to the permanent employment program.
The 5-8 p.m. event on April 14 at Braxton Brewing in Covington will be a casual, enjoyable way to meet CABVI staff and VIE Ability employees. The event is open to the public with some food provided and a portion of drink sales going to CABVI.

Hamilton Mill workshop offers free tools to help build customer-focused businesses

Hamilton Mill hosts a free two-day workshop, Building Better Business Models, led by UK-based entrepreneur Tom Strodtbeck on April 14-15. The program will offer tools to help new businesses to start out with a strong footing while providing existing organizations methods to identify services and products most valuable to their customers.
Strodtbeck, who grew up in Hamilton and attended Ohio University, worked with the National Business Incubation Association on business development and training before relocating to Liverpool in 2009. Using his experience working with entrepreneurs and startups, Strodtbeck developed a customer-centric business model, synthesizing the work of Steve Blank, Alexander Osterwalder and Eric Reis into a responsive and nimble business tool.
“The basic idea is that products and services, whether you’re a new company or an established one, should be led by customer information and data rather than your own knowledge base and passions,” Strodtbeck says. “The customers, if you approach them correctly, will tell you everything you need to know for your product or service.”
Developing a business, service or product takes a significant allocation of money and time, yet the traditional business plan focuses on assumptions made by the business about customer preferences and desires. Strodtbeck shifts the emphasis to uncovering what the potential customer actually wants.
“These ideas have been out there since Blank’s 2002 book Four Steps to the Epiphany,” Strodtbeck says. “The framework made sense, but what entrepreneurs struggled with was the approach — what questions to ask customers, how to ask them, what to expect and how to get over the fear that people aren’t going to like your idea.”
During the workshops, participants will learn how to use the Business Model Canvas developed by Osterwalder, an agile and useful planning tool that maps out the ways businesses try to create value for their customers.
“The Business Model Canvas is the tool to get the guesses about your product or service on the table,” Strodtbeck says. “Then you can start going to customers and find out if your guesses are actually true.”
Involving the customer earlier in the development of a product or service limits the amount of risk taken on by a business or organization. The idea of pre-testing concepts directly with the consumer is central to the Lean Startup movement championed by Reis. A customer-led development cycle allows organizations to reduce their exposure to failure while focusing on creating viable products.
“With Lean Startup methods, you build just enough of a product to let people use it and tell you what they like, don’t like and what they want to do with it,” Strodtbeck says. “Then you build features into the product that reflect customer feedback. So you build, measure feedback, learn and then start the process over again until you get to the product that you want.”
Strodtbeck emphasizes that the Building Better Business Models workshop will be interactive and hands on, providing resources to any company or organization looking to create new value, including nonprofits.
Hamilton Mill’s free workshop is scheduled for 8:45 a.m.-4 p.m. April 14-15 at the Fitton Center in Hamilton. Space is limited and pre-registration is required.

This weekend's Tidal hackathon could be the start of a beautiful tech/arts relationship

Cincinnati’s tech innovation ecosystem collides this weekend with its robust arts community to devise new solutions for some of the region’s largest arts organizations.
Tidal: Art x Tech Challenge is a problem-solving hackathon that brings together different sectors of the community to innovate with others and come up with solutions to improve how arts organizations connect with their audiences.
The April 8-10 event is organized by ArtsWave, Cintrifuse and Fifth Third Bank with the help of Cincinnati’s startup community.
“This is a great collaboration, the whole thing,” says Hillary Copsey, Director of Communications and Marketing at ArtsWave. “Tidal is a synthesis and a showcase of all the exciting things happening in Greater Cincinnati right now. All the stuff that is good right now in our region, Tidal is connected to it in some way.”
Even the origins of the event come from the crossover between the innovation and arts communities. One of the main organizers, Chris Ostoich, has been active in the Cincinnati startup community as an entrepreneur himself — his company Lisnr in fact was born in a hackathon — and serves on ArtsWave’s Board of Directors.
For Ostoich, Tidal is not only a way to bring together these two worlds but a venue for the tech community to give back to and get involved in arts in Cincinnati. The hackathon allows innovators to participate in a different way from monetary donations, meaning it can engage on a deeper level than simple philanthropy and it can involve individuals who can’t always contribute fiscally.
“It was a question of ‘where do my skills fit in?’” says Ostoich of his time on the ArtsWave board. “I felt like nobody in my circle was hearing about ArtsWave or these arts organizations. I’m of the mindset that if you want to engage people in Generation X and following, you have to give them opportunities to contribute. They want to feel like they had a hand in building something.”
So Tidal does just that by giving technologists, product developers, marketers, designers and anyone with a problem-solving skillset a chance to contribute to building solutions to real challenges Cincinnati arts organizations face.
Hackathon agenda
Beginning Friday night, teams of innovators will come together to solve eight challenges identified by local arts organizations. The challenges include creating digital interactive lobby experiences, connecting theatregoers with each other, allowing people to follow Cincinnati artists around the world and much more.
Tidal is still taking RSVPs for participants. More than 200 individuals have signed up so far, with event capacity set at 300. Once the challenges are presented Friday evening, participants will be able to self-select into teams based on the challenges they want to work on. Teams will work in Cintrifuse’s Union Hall space in Over-the-Rhine on Saturday and Sunday.
On Sunday afternoon, each team will present its solution and one team will be named the winner. Tidal will provide prizes to the winning teams as well as arts performances for participants like the band Multimagic on Friday night.
The teams will also have the help and guidance of volunteers and coaches from Fifth Third Bank throughout the weekend. According to Sid Deloatch, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, the company sees Tidal as a new way to express its longstanding support of the arts and make use of its tech expertise as the bank transitions to a primarily technology-based company.
“This is a unique gathering of interests,” Deloatch says. “We thought we could help, we wanted to help and we felt we could give back to this community.”
Organizers are excited to see what new ideas and solutions come out of this weekend’s work. They hope the hackathon is the debut of an annual event.
“I love being first,” Ostoich says. “I would love if, five years from now, we can say, ‘This is the community where arts and tech collide with one another.’ Nobody else owns that. We absolutely have a right to do that based on our history and our momentum in this space.
“I’m thinking, five years from now, can we expand on the work that’s happened? What I love about these sort of events is that you never know what’s going to come out the other end.”

Xavier University's student-run TEDx to explore unexpected sides of deception

TEDxXavierUniversity will hold its fifth annual TEDx event April 14 on Xavier’s campus.
The event is a TED-licensed, independently organized TEDx event very much like TEDx Cincinnati. The biggest difference is that this event is completely organized and run by Xavier students.
The top challenge for this year’s TEDx group was coming up with its intriguing theme: Decoding Deception.
“We spent about four months working on coming up with the theme,” says member Margaret Rodriguez. “We really wanted to find a theme that would be interesting not only to Xavier students but to the greater Cincinnati community.”
They chose an exploration of how deception might have positive or necessary uses in daily life and then took applications to come up with a diverse, dynamic group of speakers.
“We encouraged the speakers to we chose this year to look at deception from their own perspective,” Rodriguez says.
The speakers will be emceed by Mary Curan-Hackett of Xavier’s Center for Innovation. According to Rodriguez, Curan-Hackett was open-minded about the theme and helped speakers think about deception in positive and unexpected ways.
Speakers include Amber Hunt, Cincinnati Enquirer investigative reporter, who will explore how people can be deceiving without meaning to be and how as a journalist she tries to find objectivity in that subjective or unintentional deception. Other speakers are from Xavier University and the wider Cincinnati community, with diverse backgrounds in corporate, nonprofit and other worlds.
And that’s exactly the point. The event is meant not only to stand alone but to spark dialogue and conversation among audience members.
The TEDx student group has focused on building a large and diverse audience with Xavier students, working to advertise on campus and make the event as accessible and appealing as possible to the student body. Tickets are available online.
“It’s worth coming just to experience the atmosphere,” Rodriguez says. “It’s exciting to watch something like this. Decoding Deception is only two words, but it’s really taken on a life of its own.”

Downtown Cincinnati is on display (and a model) for Midwest Urban District Forum

Downtown Cincinnati Inc. (DCI) hosts the Midwest Urban District Forum April 6-8, the first time the conference been held here. The theme is “Progress 360,” which makes Cincinnati a fitting host city, according to DCI’s Mindy Rosen.
“The idea is to look at the city holistically,” says Rosen, Senior Vice President of Communications and Strategic Initiatives. “We believe what is going on in Cincinnati is relevant. We have had progress on all fronts, including our retail efforts, the arts scene and financing development. We want to share those stories with other cities.”
The conference, part of the International Downtown Association, begins on Wednesday evening with an optional walking tour and a Cincinnati Reds game. Conference sessions run all day Thursday at venues across downtown including the Taft Center, the Contemporary Arts Center, 84.51, Chamber of Commerce offices and the Backstage Event Center above Nicholson’s. Conference attendees are encouraged to walk between sessions.
“We want to have people out and about,” Rosen says. “We really hope they get a wonderful flavor of downtown Cincinnati.”
That flavor will include a progressive dinner with stops at Prime 47, Nicholson’s and the Palm Court as well as a Friday breakfast gathering for attendees to “Goetta Jump Start” on their departure day.
Speakers at the Midwest Urban District Forum represent local and national organizations. The session topics and presenters were selected by the conference steering committee led by DCI and representing downtown management organizations from across Ohio.
The meat of the conference takes place on Thursday with a day-long schedule of “master talks” and breakout sessions. Subjects range from financing development and attracting retail to working with local artists on creative placemaking initiatives in business districts.
The program begins with a presentation by LPK Creative Director Bryan Goodpaster on the future of cities. He is part of LPK’s division that monitors and anticipates consumer trends.
The closing “master talk” will feature Dave Palm, Senior Vice President of Operations at 84.51, and David Brecount of US Digital Partners. Their presentation will consider how data collected by restaurants, retail establishments and businesses can be shared, compared and interpreted to better understand customers and grow audiences.
“We were very deliberate to get a variety of speakers, and at the same time we wanted to tap in to some of our local experts,” Rosen says. “I am really excited about Dave Palm’s presentation. I think it’s going to be a really cool session on using data to determine the health of your downtown.”
The keynote speaker, author David Giffels, might be considered a little outside of the box for a conference on downtown development. But his book, The Hard Way on Purpose: Essays and Dispatches from the Rust Belt, explores the challenges and rebirth of formerly industrial cities like Akron, his hometown.
Cincinnati will be welcoming attendees from Detroit, Pittsburgh, Ft. Wayne, Indianapolis and cities across Ohio as well as from Hamilton and Covington. Although geared for the staff of downtown management organizations, the conference is open to anyone with an interest in urban growth and revitalization.
Conference registration is available online.

Cintrifuse names new Director of Syndicate Fund, looks to increase investment in local startups

Cintrifuse has named long-time team member Sarah Anderson as Director of its Syndicate Fund, the “fund of funds” designed to generate venture capital and resources for the Cincinnati startup ecosystem.
The for-profit fund is one of three major branches of nonprofit Cintrifuse’s work to support the startup and innovation ecosystem in Cincinnati in unique ways. The other two are services provided to entrepreneurs and the Union Hall building that houses Cintrifuse, The Brandery, CincyTech, multiple co-working startups and other related organizations like Flywheel Cincinnati.
The $57-million Syndicate Fund was founded by the Cincinnati Business Committee in 2012 to invest in other funds instead of investing directly in startup ventures and made its first investment in 2013. Cintrifuse searches out funds around the country that believe in Cincinnati’s innovation ecosystem and are likely to invest in it, with the hope that when those funds do invest in local startups they’ll attract other investors into the mix.
This “syndication effect” is where the fund gets its name, Anderson says.
“We’re really looking for that ‘needle in a haystack’ fund that can provide strong returns in the region,” she says. “We are looking at funds that can really be building companies.”
In addition to the financial performance any investor expects, Cintrifuse uses its Syndicate Fund to build regional engagement of funds and a “return on innovation” for its backing limited partners — large local companies like Kroger and Procter & Gamble — that can also benefit from all the innovation coming from small startups and entrepreneurs.
To foster this kind of innovation and growth here, the Syndicate Fund adds a few twists.
Anderson says the best and most effective funds want “no strings attached” to their investments, so the Syndicate Fund chose not to require funds to re-invest in Cincinnati. Instead, she actively works with funds to develop relationships and make sure investors share Cintrifuse’s commitment to innovation across Greater Cincinnati.
Anderson also takes a hands-on approach to fostering and connecting with funds that fit Cintrifuse’s mission. Although the Syndicate Fund has invested in just 13 funds nationally, it has a network of 250 partners with which it actively engages. Cintrifuse has been able to bring a 7:1 return on its investments back to Cincinnati so far, and Anderson is looking to make sure that ratio gets even better going forward.
The Syndicate Fund will be finishing up Fund I around the end of this year and is already looking toward its next second round, Fund II. Anderson says that there will be tweaks and improvements based on what she and her staff learned in the first round, just as the Cincinnati entrepreneurship ecosystem is always learning and growing.
“There’s really not another model that we’ve been able to find like Cintrifuse,” she says.

Flywheel social enterprise hub moves to "startup central" at Union Hall

The region’s social enterprise hub will soon be found in the heart of #StartUpCincy headquarters, Union Hall, when Flywheel Cincinnati completes its long-planned move to Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine.
Although Flywheel focuses on connecting nonprofit, for-profit and faith-based social enterprises to resources and each other, Executive Director Bill Tucker sees an important point of overlap between the city’s social enterprise economy and its startup ecosystem.
“A couple of years ago,” he says, “I started to realize that in order to have a real impact in this community it’s really about job creation.”
Flywheel works to provide the social enterprise community with momentum toward the greatest social impact possible, ranging from the economic development of job creation to the sustainability, scalability and funding opportunities of local social enterprises.
Moving into Cincinnati’s urban core from Covington will allow Flywheel to expand its network in the civic, venture funding and business communities, although Tucker emphasizes that the organization will maintain deep connections in its Northern Kentucky home as well.
“It’s remarkable how being shoulder to shoulder with other individuals in this space has created opportunities for connections that I never could have predicted,” Tucker says.
In addition to the networking connections, the move to Union Hall allows Flywheel to expand its services to social enterprises by providing co-working space. Tucker has wanted to start this program for a long time, but the move makes it possible without Flywheel having to develop its own brick-and-mortar building.
Tucker points out that work spaces new nonprofits are often able to afford come nowhere close to the environment provided by Union Hall.
“For a nonprofit or social enterprise to be able to step into a space like this that has the latest technology, it enables a totally different kind of connection than anything else can,” he says.
To Tucker, the presence of social enterprise at Union Hall provides a crucial link between startups and social enterprise. Flywheel can provide visibility and resources to tech-focused companies that may want to do social good, while the startup ecosystem provides sustainability (and sometimes even “fast failure”) models for organizations focused on social good.
For Flywheel, being an integrated part of the local startup environment highlights the economic legitimacy of social enterprise in Cincinnati. To demonstrate the impact of the “real work, real jobs and real people” involved in Greater Cincinnati social enterprise, Tucker tells the story of Flywheel’s 2016 Social Enterprise Award MASTER Provisions, which finished second in the recent SVP Fast Pitch competition.
This organization began by providing food, clothing and orphan care in Northern Kentucky and grew enough that it was able to purchase refrigerated trucks for food deliveries. When staff members weren’t using the trucks for food deliveries, MASTER began renting them out to partners for expedited food delivery, earning revenue to support the rest of its work. MASTER then added another dimension to this social enterprise — using the trucks for a job training program for drivers, allowing individuals with barriers to employment to learn and grow into full-time employment.
For Tucker, it’s a perfect example of the benefits and sustainable reinvestment social enterprises can achieve.
“This is all about moving a larger community around social enterprise,” he says.
That community will surely grow with Flywheel’s move to Union Hall in addition to the recent expansion of its board and look forward to 2016’s Social Enterprise Cincy week in October.

Kitchen Convos series shines light on local food industry entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship is typically associated with the tech industry. But Northern Kentucky Incubator Kitchen (NKIK) hopes to expand that perception by highlighting “foodpreneurs” in its Kitchen Convos series.
“There is a need for food people to come together,” says Rachel DesRochers, founder of Grateful Grahams, NKIK and The Hatchery. “I was going to all these entrepreneurial programs and always felt like I can’t really relate to any of that.
“One of the things our incubator kitchens do so well is work together, not in competition — no one is better than anybody else and there is a willingness to help each other. So hopefully Kitchen Convos are creating a space for people to meet and connect.”
Kitchen Convos will be available in two formats: a live monthly discussion held at NKIK in Covington and a weekly podcast.
The live discussions will bring together people from across the regional food industry, including branding, packaging, growers, famers, brewers, manufacturers, writers and chefs.
“I put it out on Facebook that I was looking for people who want to share their stories in and around the food industry,” DesRochers says. “Within three days I had three speakers a month booked through September, each month bringing together like-minded people.”
The live Kitchen Convos begin with panelists introducing themselves and talking about their experience in the food industry, followed by a conversation moderated by DesRochers and audience questions.
“At the February and March programs we had people who just love food, as well as manufacturers,” DesRochers says. “For people who are in the small food business industry who want to come and learn or make connections, it’s a great space to connect into this community. But it’s also for people who just love food and want to hear the stories of why people do what they do.
“Everyone loves to eat, but who are the people producing our food and what are we consciously making a choice to support with our dollars? We’re doing cool stuff, we just need to share our stories and tell people that we’re here in your back yard working really hard together as a community of foodies to help each other.”
Unravel Productions is recording the live discussions and editing them into one-hour podcasts. They’re also working with DesRochers on mini Kitchen Convos, a weekly podcast featuring one-on-one interviews with regional food industry professionals. The first mini Convo will be released on March 23.
Live Kitchen Convos are scheduled for the second Wednesday of each month, although the April program will be held on Monday, April 11. They’re held at the Northern Kentucky Incubator Kitchen, 1032 Madison Ave., Covington. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the program begins at 6:30; admission is $5.
The April Kitchen Convo panel features Alice Chalmers, founder of Ohio Valley Food Connection; Kate Cook, Garden Manager of Carriage House Farms; and Amy Paul, Advertising Director of Edible Ohio Valley.
“These people are creating their dreams through food,” DesRochers says. “I want people to listen to it and really be inspired.”

Digital Dialogue conference focuses on consumer conversations in the digital world

What do banking, paper, healthcare and coffee have in common? They’re consumer marketing fields represented by various keynote speakers at this year’s Digital Dialogue conference March 29-30.
The event, begun eight years ago as the “Digital Non-Conference,” is an opportunity to learn about new and emerging trends in digital marketing. This year’s theme, says conference co-chair Nicole Ball, is “How to market in a world where everybody can participate.”
“Digital is so wide that it really opens it up to conversation,” Ball says. “We’re here, and we need to talk to each other.”
The keynote speakers represent a variety of industries, including Deep Focus, Leo Burnett Chicago (gave Fifth Third Bank its “curious bank” brand), MediaVest, Eric Mower & Associates (managed the digital campaign #PaperBecause for the very non-digital paper business) and Death Wish Coffee.
The conference will focus heavily on how to prioritize and engage the consumers that marketers want to reach in a digital environment where they have more and more opportunities for engagement.
That’s where one of the keynote speakers, Mike Brown of Death Wish Coffee, comes in. The small business that produces “the world’s strongest coffee” won Intuit Quickbooks’ Small Business Big Game Competition and had a fully produced commercial air during the 2016 Super Bowl. Death Wish Coffee got the most votes in the competition by effectively leveraging social media and engaging its fan base to vote, even after entering the competition a month late.
“We’ve broadended our horizons because consumer centricity is everywhere,” Ball says. “You might ask ‘why Death Wish Coffee?’ but when you hear his story you start realizing how consumer-focused it was and yet it was all on digital.”
Ball says that she and other Digital Dialogue organizers think these new stories of consumer engagement will be a major draw for the conference. Just because everyone can participate in the digital world doesn’t mean they are yet.
Digital Dialogue will be held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel downtown March 29-30. Registration is available here.

MusicNOW festival keeps experimenting and exploring in 11th year

The annual MusicNOW festival continues to bring musical experimentation and dialogue to Cincinnati, and its 11th version this weekend will once again partner with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. MusicNOW founder and Cincinnati native Bryce Dessner (The National) and CSO Musical Director Louis Langree have planned three nights of new music and classics like you’ve never heard them before.
“It’s truly a unique CSO experience,” says Meghan Berneking, the Symphony’s Director of Communications. “From the flip side, these composers now have at their disposal 90 orchestra musicians excited to play their music.”
For the CSO, the three-day festival — two nights of which center around the CSO and Music Hall — is a chance to live up to one of its core values of being a place for musical experimentation. For Dessner, MusicNOW is an annual return to his home town and an opportunity to compose and play music in a totally different way.
“This is music that people don’t get to hear every day,” Berneking says. “Bryce talks a lot about how Cincinnati is really the only place MusicNOW could happen.”
The experimentation of the festival will begin Friday, March 18, with a night filled with contemporary music by composers who are still writing. The night focuses on the world-renowned Kronos Quartet in conversation with the full orchestra, the music inspired by themes ranging from historical immigration to 9/11. Joining Kronos, CSO and Dessner will be MacArthur Genius Fellow and new host of Prairie Home Companion Chris Thile, performing his own works for mandolin.
The collaborations and conversations continue into the second night of music Saturday, March 19, opening with a piece by 20th-century Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski followed by Dessner's response to it. Adding to the conversation is a piece by composer Terry Riley inspired by the first Gulf War. The night will end on a more uplifting note with Magnus Lindberg’s Feria, or “Festival.”
MusicNOW will continue with the Punch Brothers (one of Thile’s side projects) at Cincinnati Masonic Center downtown on Sunday night, March 20.
Berneking encourages MusicNOW audiences for any of the nights of the festival to come with an open mind, pointing out that even Beethoven’s 5th Symphony was once new to listeners. She also says there might be more surprises in the works for the festival.
“We didn’t even announce what’s on the program until about two months ago,” she says. “That’s how new it is.”

UC team prepares for finals of Space X Hyperloop Pod competition

A team of University of Cincinnati students that’s part of a global effort to build a new Hyperloop transportation system will present its design at the Official Space X Hyperloop Pod competition in June.
Hyperloop is intended to provide high-speed, solar-powered, zero-carbon transportation between cities less than 900 miles apart. Passengers seated in a pod would be propelled through tubes on an air cushion, similar to how air hockey pucks move. Getting from Cincinnati to Chicago currently takes roughly four hours by car; the trip via Hyperloop would be a mere 30 minutes.
Elon Musk, founder of electric car company Tesla and private space craft technology manufacturer Space X, is Hyperloop’s highest-profile backer and advocate. Last year, Space X committed to constructing a test track at its facility in Hawthorne, Calif. and announced an international competition to generate models to test there.
More than 1,000 university, high school and corporate teams from around the world entered the initial competition. Last fall’s first round required a preliminary design briefing to outline a complete Hyperloop transportation system. The field was narrowed to 300 teams, including Hyperloop UC, a team of 60 undergraduate and graduate students representing an array of University of Cincinnati departments and disciplines.
“At first, a few of my friends in engineering made up a core team of five or six people,” says Dhaval Shiyani, Team Captain and Chief Engineer of Hyperloop UC. “Once we came up with a rough plan of what we wanted to do, we launched a recruitment drive to complete the team, interviewing candidates to find people motivated enough to work on something that will very surely change transportation.”
A diverse team was important, as the competition requires not only detailed engineering but also a manufacturing plan to construct and scale the project as well as business plan with funding models.
“We have people not just with an engineering background but also people from business, design and DAAP,” says Shishir Shetty, Hyperloop UC Director of Finance.
Team members traveled to Texas A&M University in January to present their final design, which included not only the passenger pod but also station renderings and a complete system engineering scheme. The event drew an impressive gathering of Hyperloop supporters, including Hyperloop Technologies CEO Rob Loyd and Chairman Shervin Pishevar, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and Musk himself.
Hyperloop UC was selected as one of the final 30 teams to advance to the prototype competition in June. The UC team is now constructing a 14-by-3-foot pod prototype to ship to California for the trials on the track being built on the Space X campus. Although this remains a competition, Space X has encouraged participants to discuss the project with potential community partners so that the winning design will actually be scalable and buildable.
Hyperloop UC team members have been doing that, as well as reaching out to community organizations and schools to build excitement and interest about its project.
“In addition to our full-scale prototype, we are building a small-scale model to take to schools to raise awareness and excite young students to join an effort that will make a better future,” Shiyani says. “We want to ignite their passion not just for engineering but for technology in general.”
Hyperloop UC continues to raise funds and in-kind support for its project, including seeking assistance from local companies on manufacturing and technical issues, with help from their UC advisors and colleagues. Online donations are being accepted by the UC Foundation here (select Hyperloop UC on the Area of Focus pulldown menu).
“We owe a lot to (UC) President Santa Ono,” Shetty says. “He got on board as soon as we made the pitch to him and has been great about spreading the word around town. The UC faculty across campus in engineering, business and DAAP have been making calls, setting up meetings and helping with fundraising — without them this wouldn’t be possible.”

Casamatic plans expansion after receiving $1.1 million in seed funding

Local startup Casamatic has had a whirlwind first year. After starting with just an idea in late 2014, co-founders Alex Bowman and Chris Ridenour have grown their concept into a website and app operating in three cities and currently planning expansion to five more.
Bowman credits much of the organization’s explosive growth to the help they’ve received though the Cincinnati startup ecosystem, including going through accelerator programs at Ocean and The Brandery and serving as a Startup in Residence at 84.51°.
“When we started the Ocean program, we knew we were tackling buying a home,” Bowman says. “We had the name and had a Twitter handle, and that was about it.”
They came out of Ocean with their now signature quiz for matching buyers with homes, and by the time they graduated from The Brandery they had users/customers and were beginning operations in Chicago.
Casamatic currently operates in Cincinnati, Chicago and Dayton and recently added its fourth team member, but those numbers won’t stay the same for long. In January, the company closed its first seed round of investments, garnering $1.1 million to fund further expansion.
The company’s growth matches its audience growth. Everything about Casamatic is designed with Millennials in mind, the fastest growing segment of home-buyers, particularly first-time home-buyers. The company is choosing markets for expansion based on that audience.
“The goal now is really to find where the other cities are where Millennials are buying homes,” Bowman says.
Casamatic is planning expansion to Phoenix, Raleigh, Columbus, Charlotte and Nashville. Bowman says that, once they launch in those markets, they’ll begin to look for the next 10-15 cities to target.
“We want to be in every city in the U.S.,” he says, “but more importantly, we want to be to de facto way for Millennials to buy homes.”
If growth continues at this rate, that goal doesn’t seem too far off.
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