| Follow Us: Facebook Twitter Pinterest RSS Feed

Innovation News

1806 Articles | Page: | Show All

Let's Dance uses ballroom dancing to teach discipline and teamwork to Avondale students

It was dance that first connected Greg Norman and Kathye Lewis two and a half years ago, and dance has been their passion ever since. As the two began dating, they talked about ways they could share and pass on their passion.
Norman previously taught ballroom dance classes in Los Angeles, where they’d grown to include the children of his adult students. The couple was captivated by the idea of dance classes for young people in Cincinnati’s inner city, similar to those held in New York City and many other places and featured in the documentary film Mad Hot Ballroom.
So, at the recommendation of Lewis’ friend, the two applied for a People’s Liberty project grant and were awarded $10,000 to start “Let’s Dance,” a 10-week ballroom dance class for fifth and sixth graders at South Avondale Elementary School.
“We wanted to be able to have an impact in the community,” Lewis says.
The first 10-week class had its graduation ceremony on Feb. 10, when students got to perform two ballroom dances they’d learned — the Waltz and the Cha-Cha-Cha — for their parents and families.
“They loved everything that they learned, and they showed off at graduation,” Lewis says. “It was just wonderful.”
Lewis and Norman say they’ve already been able to see dancing’s impact on the students. Because learning ballroom dance requires discipline and teamwork, the teachers say they’ve even been able to see improvement in the children’s behavior. The experience speaks to the importance of arts education, they believe.
“I think that this program should be in all the schools because the arts have been taken out,” Norman says. “What we have learned is that the arts really do help children. It shows how you can take students that might not feel like they can contribute and expose them to the arts and they discover they may have other unique talents.”
Norman and Lewis started with that mindset of “life lessons through ballroom dance” as well as with the goal of exposing students to different kinds of music and artistic expression as they dance to artists like Nat King Cole and Cuban Pete. They also see themselves as passing on a legacy of black ballroom dance in Cincinnati, particularly in Avondale, recalling how important that artistic exposure has been in both their lives.
“This is an experience they will carry with them for the rest of their lives,” Norman says.
The students from the first class certainly won’t be leaving the experience behind soon — many will return for the second 10-week session to act as mentors for new students. Norman and Lewis are also dedicated to making the program available in more ways and on a long-term basis across the city.
“That’s the good thing about People’s Liberty,” Lewis says. “It gives people the opportunity to try out concepts and build things around them.”

Flywheel Cincinnati to host new round of social enterprise workshops

Social enterprise hub Flywheel will soon start a new round of workshops for Cincinnatians interested in starting social enterprises.
The workshops are one of the ways Flywheel provides training to potential social entrepreneurs, along with educating the public about social enterprise and nurturing a social entrepreneur community.
The workshops, which have been offered since 2011, were recently re-branded from a “Social Enterprise 101” concept to “Exploring Social Entrepreneurship” and “Becoming a Social Entrepreneur.” According to Flywheel Executive Director Bill Tucker, the rebranding was influenced by Flywheel’s Social Enterprise Cincy arm, an effort to bring together the best of different types of social enterprise.
“It goes right back to when we launched the Social Enterprise Cincy brand,” Tucker says. “It was with the idea of bringing best practices from for-profit spaces into the nonprofit space.”
Tucker explains that various sectors of social enterprise do different things exceptionally well. While nonprofit social enterprises are often especially good at delivering services, for-profit social enterprises tend to be better at branding and marketing.
The upcoming workshop series will bring the strengths of both those sectors together for people considering social entrepreneurship as a way to make their ideas a reality. The three workshops build on each other to create a detailed how-to guide for social entrepreneurs.
Exploring Social Enterprise (8:30 a.m.-12 p.m. Feb. 22) will serve as an introduction to the concept of social enterprise, exploring how individuals might be situated to start a business for social good or a business where society profits.
“This is for the beginners,” Tucker says. “Maybe someone who has an idea and wants to see if they’re going down the right path.”
If they are, they could follow up on March 22 by attending Becoming a Social Entrepreneur (8:30 a.m.-12 p.m.). That workshop will get into the details of determining if a social enterprise is a feasible idea, giving attendees the tools “to evaluate their business so they can fail quickly and fail cheaply,” Tucker says. He explains that about one third of people who take Flywheel training actually decide not to start businesses, “and we consider that a successful outcome.”
For those who do decide to start a venture, the third workshop in the series is Business Plans That Stand Out (8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. April 22), providing a longer, more in-depth exploration of the best ways to create a plan for their enterprises. That event is sponsored by Interact for Health — which hosts the meetings at its Roodwood Tower offices in Norwood — and is the only workshop with a fee.
Tucker encourages potential social entrepreneurs considering the workshops to think outside the box, because social enterprise doesn’t have to mean just traditional nonprofits.
“We’ve trained a ton of people in the community around starting businesses that have a social purpose,” he says.
It’s likely that, with the continuation of these classes, they’ll train a ton more.
Register for one, two or all three workshops here.

Greater Cincinnati Venture Association starts 2016 with Breakfast Club at Braxton Brewery

Greater Cincinnati Venture Association kicks off its 2016 educational programming this week with the year’s first Breakfast Club. They’re held every other month to alternate with GCVA’s Joe Thirty gatherings to create a year-long schedule of educational and promotional programming for local tech startups and entrepreneurs.
Each Breakfast Club event features four speakers: three early-stage tech startups, who each give an eight-minute pitch about their venture, plus a “keynote” speaker talking about his/her entrepreneurship experience. They’re typically attended by between 100 and 150 entrepreneurs, investors and fans of the Greater Cincinnati startup ecosystem. The year’s first event is at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 10 at Braxton Brewery in Covington.
Entrepreneurs presenting at the event will include Atumsoft, a pair of chemists who launched a business to commercialize their technology allowing lab equipment to transfer data directly to the cloud. Their technology has the potential to be a major disruptor in product manufacturing and distribution.
Also presenting is SowOrganic, “the Turbo Tax for organic certification,” says Kevin Mackey, President of GCVA since December. The company designed software to streamline the process for growers and farmers to be certified as “organic” and for agricultural inspectors becoming certified as organic inspectors.
The third pitch will be given by Fanbloom, which targets social media “influencers” in specific geographic locations. The technology helps marketers effectively reach targeted audiences while still feeling very organic to audiences.
“We always try to curate companies who are prepared to pitch,” Mackey says. “So we ended up with all three of those because we wanted a good mix of tech startups.”
After the three pitches, the keynote will be given by Braxton Brewery founder Jake Rouse. His talk is designed as the morning’s educational section, a chance for early-stage startups to hear from someone else’s experiences.
“His story combines entrepreneurship with a specific focus on the trials and tribulations of being an entrepreneur,” Mackey says.
Rouse is himself a former tech entrepreneur and hasn’t entirely left that world behind in his brewing venture, since Braxton provides resources like open co-working space in its taproom to local startup entrepreneurs.
“One thing we’re going to be doing this year is trying some mixed-up locations,” Mackey says. “We want to highlight some more spaces that are a little more native to tech startups.”
Elaborating on Braxton’s involvement with and support of the tech startup scene, he adds, “People won’t usually associate a brewery with a place you might want to go in the morning, but startups work out of there every day.”
Despite the location, there will be no beer at the Breakfast Club event. Instead, coffee and light breakfast will be provided for those who register here.

The Brandery opens applications for its seventh accelerator class

The Brandery has begun taking applications for its seventh annual startup accelerator class focusing on branding, design and marketing. Each of the selected 10-12 teams will receive $50,000 in seed funding and a year of free office space and mentorship in exchange for a 6 percent equity stake in their company.
The application deadline is April 15.
The Brandery is looking for the best and brightest startups inside Greater Cincinnati as well as from across the country and the world, says Program Manager Justin Rumao.
“We talk about how we have a marketing and branding bend,” he says, “but we encourage anyone with an idea to apply.”
In other words, applicants don’t have to have a completely fleshed out business plan to be considered for a slot in the four-month class. In fact, Rumao states that having a strong team is often just as important, if not more so, than the idea itself — ideas often transform in the startup world, but a strong team can carry a company through that type of transition.
For prospective applicants who aren’t quite sure yet or want to learn more, The Brandery has scheduled four sessions of “Open Office Hours” before applications are due as a chance for startups to meet its staff.
“The goal is not only to share their idea through the application but to bounce it off other people and really start building that network,” Rumao says, emphasizing that those networks are crucial to the Brandery program.
The class isn’t just about accelerating startup ideas through branding and design, it also helps entrepreneurial teams leverage the resources of Cincinnati’s startup ecosystem — access to big companies like Procter & Gamble and Kroger and a spirit of collaboration found throughout the region’s innovation scene. In fact, Rumao jests that the city’s environment is almost an “unfair advantage.”
“We’ve got something special brewing here,” he says. “There is no reason The Brandery can’t become a top-5 accelerator in the country.”
The program doesn’t want to just use the city’s and region’s resources, Rumao says — The Brandery wants to build them up as well, encouraging the entrepreneurs who go through their accelerator to stay here and invest in the area. They even provide opportunities for out-of-town startups to live in Branderyhaus three blocks from the accelerator’s Over-the-Rhine offices, helping newcomers get to know the local community while in the accelerator program.
“We want to make sure that as many people as possible who come through here stay here,” Rumao says.
Considering the stories of graduates like Natasia Malaihollo, founder and CEO of Wyzerr, it seems like The Brandery is succeeding on that front. Malaihollo recently told Soapbox that, after relocating from New York and California for a Brandery class last year, she’s hoping her startup can become the Google of Covington and help improve her new Northern Kentucky community.
If the past six years are any indication, The Brandery’s 2016 class will add plenty of valuable assets to Startup Cincinnati.

The Women's Fund rallies allies to promote economic empowerment for women

The Women’s Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation has been working to ensure women’s economic self-sufficiency for more than 20 years, supporting programs and conducting research around economic empowerment of women.
The fund looks at how gender affects a variety of issues in the community, and that gendered lens often helps reveal solutions to those issues. Women’s Fund Executive Director Meghan Cummings uses the example of child poverty to illustrate the approach.
Cincinnati has the second highest rate of child poverty in the country, and the majority of those children in poverty are living in single-parent, female-headed households. Cummings points out that when those facts are combined with Women’s Fund research like the PULSE: 2020 Jobs and Gender Outlook study conducted in 2014, it helps to illuminate the problem’s roots.
That study found vast differences in women’s and men’s economic opportunity as different job markets grow at different rates. Even though many job fields in Cincinnati are predicted to grow in the next five years, Cummings and the Women’s Fund looks more critically at those numbers.
“When we take a closer look at what kind of jobs are growing and who traditionally holds those jobs, it’s a much bleaker picture,” she says.
According to research, some of the biggest growth might happen in some of the lowest-paying sectors and subfields, like medical assistance and home health aides — jobs held overwhelmingly by women.
The Fund takes a comprehensive approach to addressing the economic well-being of women and girls along with issues like the high childhood poverty rate. It helps facilitate and connect the dots across the community from groups like the mayor’s Poverty Task Force to initiatives like Preschool Promise.
“These issues of women’s self-sufficiency, we think they affect our entire community,” Cummings says. “Our issues aren’t red or blue, they’re purple. These aren’t partisan issues, they’re community issues.”
Cummings explains that because the issues she looks at affect the entire community, the Women’s Fund tries to include as many community stakeholders and partner organizations as possible to help solve them. The inclusivity is reflected in the Fund’s events as well as in its board room — the Cincinnati Women’s Fund is one of the few women’s funds around the country with men in leadership positions.
Aftab Pureval, one of the first three men to join the Fund’s board roughly three years ago, is passionate about the work the fund does.
“If we’re going to address the issues and challenges we face, it’s going to be through the leadership of women,” Pureval says.
The Fund even hosts a yearly “Guys Who Get It” happy hour event to raise money and engage men in the community in these issues.
“Who knew if it would be successful or not,” Cummings says, remembering the first event three years ago. “We took a risk, and it was really successful. It was an unusual angle that, being a Women’s Fund, we were engaging men’s voices.”
“No matter your gender, age or experience, we need you at the table,” Pureval adds.
You can expect that the tables will be full at the next Women’s Fund event, its fifth annual “A Conversation With” gathering April 5 at Xavier University’s Cintas Center. National political commentator Cokie Roberts will be the keynote speaker.

GCF grant helps Hamilton Mill hire industrialist-in-residence and expand student support

Just a short drive north of Cincinnati, Hamilton Mill offers a distinctive experience within the Startup Cincinnati ecosystem.
“We focus on technology that helps Southwest Ohio manufacturers have small and lean shops,” says Director of Operations Antony Seppi.
Hamilton Mill also emphasizes clean and green technologies through a special collaboration with the City of Hamilton. The city utilities department currently produces nearly 90 percent of its energy from renewable resources and shares that expertise with participants in Hamilton Mill’s programs.
Unlike the familiar short-term accelerator program, Hamilton Mill is an incubator that accepts applications on a rolling basis and tailors the length of the program to the participant, whether that’s nine months or three years.
“Some companies need a prolonged maturation process,” Seppi says. “We have startups at many stages in their development.”
Startups participating in the Hamilton Mill program receive marketing resources and assistance, technology resources, networking opportunities, and mentors to help the startups hit their milestones. Hamilton Mill is also building an innovation fund that will be available to qualified startups graduating from their program.
“We have a unique niche in the greater Cincinnati startup ecosystem,” Seppi says. “We are really trying to engage with the Cincinnati community, and we work closely with Cintrifuse and CincyTech.”
A recent grant of $50,000 from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation (GCF) will help Hamilton Mill expand two of its signature programs.
Hamilton Mill is hiring an industrialist-in-residence to begin in a few weeks. It will be a rotating position featuring an expert in advance manufacturing who will consult regularly with the startups at Hamilton Mill.
“It offers added value to our participants, provides alternative perspectives, and helps formalize our program in advanced manufacturing technologies,” Seppi says.
The GCF grant will also support the development of a student entrepreneurship program, NextGen.
Hamilton Mill has been working with a couple of student startups, including one that has partnered with UC Health West Chester on a software project. However, there has is interest and opportunity to expand and further develop that program.
“NextGen lays a groundwork for high school and college students throughout Butler County to build and develop ideas,” Seppi says. “This is an expansive program that will include coding, app development, and technology.”
NextGen will incorporate students who have been participating in Butler Tech’s organization Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship (SAGE). Hamilton Mill expects to work closely with Butler Tech and SAGE to develop the NextGen program and hopes the program will be up and running before the end of this academic year.
For bricks and mortar businesses looking to start or get assistance in Hamilton, the Hamilton Mill is also home to the Small Business Development Center supported by the State of Ohio. They have two consultants who offer workshops, information and training and have recently brought a grocery store and bakery to Hamilton.
In the spring Hamilton Mill will get new bragging rights as the only Southwest Ohio startup program with an on-site brewery. Municipal Brew Works is building out a brewery and tap room in the former fire department space in the Hamilton Mill complex.

ArtWorks launches alumni network to connect 20 years of "doers"

ArtWorks has been around for nearly 20 years, touching the lives of thousands of local youths and adults through public art and creative enterprise programming. The noprofit launches an alumni network Feb. 4 to connect those people as a community of “doers.”
“Essentially we realized that over the past 20 years we’ve engaged almost 4,000 individuals,” says Colleen O’Connor, ArtWorks’ Talent Manager. “It’s time to re-engage them.”
The alumni network will provide ways for ArtWorks to support the careers of alumni through networking, mentorship opportunities, professional development workshops and meaningful engagement. The network is designed to bring together participants from all of the organization’s various programs.
The Feb. 4 event will feature food by provided by three different graduates of the Creative Enterprise division’s Co.Starters classes. More than 200 alumni of that program will soon be joined by a few more entrepreneurs — a new Co.Starters class started last Wednesday night and will graduate in nine weeks with lessons and connections to help them put their business ideas into action.
Another ArtWorks Creative Enterprise program is Big Pitch, sponsored by U.S. Bank, which has awarded $50,000 in funding prizes to creative small businesses and provided invaluable opportunities for them to receive mentoring and share their stories with funders and the public. Planning is underway for the third annual Big Pitch event later this year.
Of course, most ArtWorks alumni were participants in a summer apprenticeship program, particularly the organization’s famous public murals (for which ArtWorks is currently recruiting apprentices and teachers). The alumni network gives these apprentices a chance to connect, sometimes for the first time.
“I think one of the great things about our apprentices is there are almost 3,000 of them,” says ArtWorks Communications Director Destinee Thomas. “The teams work really closely together for six to eight weeks and become very close. We’re really excited to about bringing them back together.”
Thomas and O’Connor encourage all ArtWorks alumni to come to the event in February or register to be part of the alumni network.
“I think really just from walking around, I’m really blown away by the footprint ArtWorks has,” O’Connor says, citing a recent walk in Over-theRhine when she passed or visited Big Pitch alumni like Brush Factory and Original Thought Required while seeing mural after mural along the way. As the nonprofit enters its 20th year, that footprint is sure to keep growing.

Miami students get a taste of Cincinnati startup ecosystem via year-round internship program

Miami University students are getting more opportunities to intern at Cincinnati startup companies thanks to its expanded Cincinnati Digital Innovation Program. The collaboration between the school’s Armstrong Interactive Media Studies and Institute for Entrepreneurship allows students to do full- and part-time semester-long internships in summer, fall or spring.
Based on an established program Miami hosts in Silicon Valley, the opportunity is more than just an internship — it’s an introduction to the world of entrepreneurship and innovation. Students spend four days a week working with startup or tech companies in Cincinnati and once a week get to visit other tech companies, startups, chambers of commerce, development companies and other components of the local startup ecosystem.
“The goal was to see as many different angles of Cincinnati and the tech and startup scene as possible,” says sophomore Interactive Media Studies major Sam Huber, who participated in the program this fall. “Being able to see my home town in a new light was exiting for me.”
Huber interned at Cerkl, where he was able to put his design skills to use as well as learn more web development working alongside the team developing the company’s app. He says the experience was incredibly valuable, as was the chance to see Cerkl co-founders Tarek Kamil and Sara Jackson run the company.
“It was great just to have the real-world experience,” Huber says. “As good as Miami is in teaching in my program, there’s no comparison to seeing it actually happen.”
According to Mark Lacker, Miami’s John W. Altman Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship, that firsthand experience is exactly why the program matters.
“We’re training the startup workforce,” he says. “What kind of skills do you need to be a valuable, valued member of a growing startup company?”
Lacker says that Huber is just one of over 100 students to do internships in Miami’s program, which has been arranging summer internships since 2010 and recently expanded to offer opportunities year-round. He says that interest from startups matches that from the students, with more than 90 percent of host companies wanting to work with Miami students again. Some even offer further opportunities to the same students.
Although his internship is over, Huber says he’s still doing contract work for Cerkl and looks forward to continuing the relationship.

FounderCon 2016 is coming to Cincinnati in October, a "dream come true" for local startups

It’s official: Cincinnati’s thriving startup ecosystem will host more than 1,000 like-minded entrepreneurs and innovation leaders from around the world this Fall to check us out for a weekend.
Cintrifuse CEO Wendy Lea gathered this morning with Mayor John Cranley and Reds COO Phil Castellini to welcome John Hill of Techstars to Cintrifuse’s still-new Union Hall HQ to announce that the city will host the Boulder-based accelerator’s annual FounderCon in October.
Techstars is an “early seed stage accelerator” with an international network of accelerators and entrepreneurship heavy-hitters as well as Techstars Ventures, which invests in startups and has an established relationship with Cintrifuse.

Hill, the company’s Network Catalyst, explained that FounderCon is a signature event for Techstars, providing a crucial forum for their alumni, mentors and network to connect with each other and the rest of the entrepreneurial world every year.
He also pointed out that, as Cincinnati joins cities like Boston, Chicago, Austin and Boulder in hosting the event, the honor is a testament to the vibrant and hardworking startup and tech scene here.
“You’re already to the point where we can raise it to a different level,” Hill said, “and that’s why we’re in this room right now.”
“I’m here to tell you dreams do come true,” Lea said.
The Cintrfuse CEO had been working for months with the local startup ecosystem, larger companies like Procter & Gamble and Kroger and city officials to bring FounderCon to Cincinnati. They sought advice from the Reds as hosts of the area’s most recent large national event, the 2015 MLB All-Star Game.
Excitement for FounderCon among audience members at today’s announcement event neared that for the sporting event. Cincinnati entrepreneurs like Amanda Grossman, who’s been involved in the Cincinnati innovation scene for years but left P&G last year to start Gamejoule, see FounderCon as a great opportunity to put the city’s startups on the map.
“This means being more connected to the startup community nationally,” she said, explaining that many startups may question whether Cincinnati is the right environment for them, but events like these show that the city isn’t isolated from national trends.
FounderCon, scheduled for Oct. 18-20, is expected to attract more than 800 founders of tech-based startups who are alumni of the Techstars global accelerator network. They’ll be joined by 300-plus corporate innovation leaders looking to source ideas and learn from them.
“We want to hold the biggest un-conference we can,” Hill said. “We want to do a conference no one has ever seen before, and we think Cincinnati is the playground to do that in.”

Ocean's new startup class "reaching people well beyond Cincinnati"

Greater Cincinnati’s faith-backed accelerator program, Ocean, welcomed its second class of startup participants last week. The nine companies include two from the United Kingdom and three from outside Cincinnati.
“We are thrilled that the concept of Ocean as an accelerator has an appeal that has grown to the point where we’re reaching people well beyond Cincinnati,” says Ocean CEO Scott Weiss. “It is a diverse and exciting group of companies.”
The new class includes companies at very different stages in their business development.
“Companies including Homefield, Riser and Devoo are just at the beginning of their journey,” Weiss says. “They have great insights, great founders and are beginning to pull together their product and the business plan to take that product forward. At the other end of the spectrum, we have companies like Liquid which are established and generating revenue and are ready to use Ocean to get to the next stage.”
Ocean also recruited a range of business types for the new class, including consumer applications, business to consumer and business to business.
The nine members of the 2016 Ocean class are:

Devoo: helps friends connect with activities and discounts

Feasty: matches hungry diners with nearby restaurant specials

Homefield: engages fans with each other and the game

Liquid: provides data collection, management and collaborative resources for scientific research

RISR: offers personal coaching for student athletes

Spatial: uses social media to analyze sentiment patterns and define the vibe of a neighborhood

Spirit Labs: developed Lepton to connect donors with causes, ministries and charities

We Help Others: works with churches and nonprofits to generate revenue with underutilized resources

We Love Work: matches job candidates to companies by evaluating the compatibility of the candidates’ values with the company culture to improve the success of recruiting and hiring
The Ocean participants will work with other founders, entrepreneurs, mentors and subject area experts over the course of their five-month residency at the organization’s work space adjacent to Crossroads Church in Oakley.
“We have a rich pool of mentors,” Weiss says. “As part of their commitment, they give active service to our companies. So a mentor with a financial background could help a company set up their initial charter of accounts; someone with a marketing background could be helping a company validate an insight. We are fortunate to have great partners.”
Coffee chats with other startup founders and entrepreneurs, including Ocean’s 2015 graduates, provides an opportunity for the current class to share experiences and ask questions. Teaching sessions are offered at least twice a week to address specialized business topics as well as the faith-based subjects that differentiate Ocean from other accelerator programs.
“Ocean is beginning to prove that it’s a very effective business accelerator,” Weiss says. “But it is uniquely an accelerator that builds into the founder by taking a spiritual journey that’s integrated into the business journey. So the founder, the person, comes out of our program with more insight, self-awareness and maturity, and that is what helps them succeed as an entrepreneur.”
The 2016 Ocean class will have its demo day on April 28, but the program continues through May to help the class handle the negotiating, media coverage and other opportunities that arise after their demo day presentations.
“The date of demo day is carefully planned with Cintrifuse and our other partners in the city,” Weiss says. “All these people are working hard to continue to grow the vibrant startup economy we’re seeing in the region. We want Ocean to be an additive experience to the startup ecosystem so the region continues to shine.”
Other Cincinnati startup news

Bad Girl Ventures will announce the first class of its new LAUNCH program at a Feb. 3 event at Rhinegeist. Cintrifuse CEO Wendy Lea will give the keynote address at the free event.
The next day, Covington-based UpTech holds its fourth demo day at 84.51 downtown. Reservations are required for both events.

People's Liberty launching reimagined Haile Fellowship application as "civic sabbatical"

If you visited the People’s Liberty website in December, you might have encountered a message that began “Dear Cincinnati: It’s not you, it’s us.” The philanthropic lab was in the process of reworking its application for the Haile Fellowship.
The fellowship is People’s Liberty’s “marquee grant” and worth its headliner status, with two grants per year worth $100,000 each given to an individual along with the challenge to “research, plan, implement and present the results of a big idea that could change our community’s future” during the grant period.
After a successful first year of the fellowship program, People’s Liberty was actually partway through the application process for the second year when the staff decided it needed to change.
“As a philanthropic lab, we are constantly learning, tweaking things, and everything we do is changing all the time,” explains CEO Eric Avner. “This one was pretty prominent because we were in the middle of the application process.”
Avner explains that the catalyst for the change was a forum the organization hosted of funders from all over the country who provide grants to individuals. During the day and a half of conversations, People’s Liberty heard from other grantmakers that what was really important wasn’t necessarily the work grantees accomplished during their fellowship window but the longer-term results over the following three to five years.
“What we quickly realized was that we were treating the Haile Foundation Grant like a $100,000 project grant,” Avner says.
So the People’s Liberty team stopped the process to rethink the questions they were asking applicants. The goal changed to focus not just on the nuts and bolts of the proposed project but on the individual applying. This way, People’s Liberty hopes to grow strong local leaders and create an impact that lasts beyond the fellowship year.
The redesigned application opens Jan. 13 at 9 a.m., followed by an information session at the People’s Liberty office in Over-the-Rhine at 6 p.m. Interested applicants can arrange 20-minute meetings with the People’s Liberty staff over the next few weeks. Applications close Jan. 29, with the two 2016 winners announced in late February.
Avner is happy with the new version of the application.
“This is a unique opportunity (for grantees) to take a civic-based sabbatical,” he says. “I encourage people to take on this opportunity to change the city and change themselves in the process.”

Redesigned city website focuses on community feedback, ease of use

The City of Cincinnati unveiled its newly updated cincinnati-oh.gov website last week, with new graphic design, enhanced social media capabilities and mobile adaptability for better experience on phones and tablets.
“We wanted to do this because technology is changing extremely rapidly and we need to make sure we’re keeping pace,” says Rocky Merz, the city’s director of communications. “The other driving force was ‘How can we as a city do a better job of engaging the people who live here?’”
The website overhaul comes a few months after the city released its second app, Fix It Cincy, and the city used lessons from the app creation in the website redesign.
“What we had learned throughout the app development really helped inform the website,” Merz says. “We used analytics to really focus on looking at it from a user’s perspective.”
One of the big focuses of the redesign was how the website was already being used. The use of analytics for continual improvement was a key takeaway from the app development, so the design team looked in depth at the existing site’s analytics to see which pages were being used and which weren’t, then used that information to determine quick links highlighted on the site’s home page for efficiency.
A continual improvement cycle will be fed by responses the city gets to the new site, both on the newly integrated social media channels and features like the survey tool, which features a different question about city government each week.
Aesthetics were also important in the redesign. Merz points out that, as the screens on electronic devices have improved, website visuals have become more and more important. Font and color schemes on the site have been tweaked and modernized, but most notably the site now features a rotating gallery of high-definition Cincinnati images. The site pulls from a library of 3,000 photos that’s constantly updated.
In addition to ongoing technology improvements, the website also fits into the city’s efforts to make it simpler and easier for residents to get things done. Cincinnati’s two apps (Fix It Cincy for city services and Cincy EZ Park for on-street parking), the redesigned website and the newly opened and streamlined Permit Center are attempts to make it easier to partner with city government.
“We want to be transparent,” Merz says. “The more we engage and receive feedback from residents and visitors, the better city we are.”

Travel startup helps clients plan dream trips three years and more in the future

With the ubiquity of online travel booking services, launching a travel business these days might seem like a risky premise. Yet Kim Zielinski thinks the services offered by her new company, Intellego Travel, will fill a unique niche.
Many people have an extensive list of places to visit and sites to see, but doing the research to accomplish those travel goals can be daunting. That’s where Intellego Travel comes in, with Zielinski operating as an independent contractor affiliated with larger travel consortiums and tour operators. She’s launching a new long-term travel planning service in 2016.
“I meet clients somewhere that is convenient to them and on their schedule,” Zielinski says. “We talk about their travel style, things that they like, things they don’t like, how much they want to spend every year on travel, how often they want to travel and discuss the destinations they want to visit over time as well as any specific timing for those trips, like an anniversary or graduation gift.”
Zielinski uses that information to put together a proposal plotting a three- year or longer travel schedule, balancing big budget trips with smaller itineraries. That document gives Zielinski a blueprint for timing advantageous booking, and the client has a framework for allocating savings and valuable vacation time.
“Multi-year travel planning helps remove a lot of the barriers to travel,” Zielinski says. “Clients often don’t have the time and effort to do all the planning, so I take care of that. And although they might have an idea, they don’t really know how much it will cost or they don’t have enough lead time to put that money aside. The plan we create helps them feel confident that over time they have a strategy and can check these destinations off their list.”
Planning travel years in advance may make some people nervous: What if things change or something comes up? Zielinski has the answer.
“There are a million things that can happen, it’s life,” she says. “So if there are advance deposits or a significant money outlay, I highly recommend a travel insurance policy. In general I always encourage coverage, but especially for big trips.”
As a mother and avid traveler, Zielinski appreciates the benefits of family travel and understands the challenges in making that family vacation a reality.
“Travel is so important because it gets you out of your little bubble,” she says. “There are so many things to see and do and experience, especially if you have kids. It’s amazing to give them an opportunity to see the world and how that opens their eyes and makes them curious. When you travel together, that shared experience is something that people remember forever and is so much more valuable than any material gift.”
Zielinksi works with a range of clients from independent travelers to group tour participants, retirees and working families.
“I think one of the big advantages of operating as an independent contractor is that I have access to all of these different tour operators, vendors, companies and products but I’m not tied to any of them,” she says. “I can recommend the things resonate with you, whether that’s volun-tourism, biking trips, adventure travel or something you wouldn’t necessarily think of.
“There are so many different and cool travel opportunities out there. At the end of the day, clients value the expertise and sounding board that I can provide as they accomplish their travel wish list.”

Mortar's newest startup grads are already making strides

Entrepreneurship accelerator Mortar Cincinnati celebrated the graduation of its third class with a pitch night Dec. 15, when more than 250 people gathered in its Walnut Hills pop-up space Brick 939.
Mortar has been on fire lately, and two of the three founders were recently named in Forbes’ 30 under 30 for Social Enterprise. Yet the “Life’s a Pitch” event — sponsored by Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, LISC, African-American Chamber of Commerce and Value City Furniture, host for Brick 939 — wasn’t about the founders, but about their students and community.
Although the night may have been the end of a nine-week business incubator class, it was just the beginning for the new entrepreneurs. Many had already come a long way in a very short time.
“We started out as a concept in our backyard hosting cookouts,” explains Kristen Bailey of Sweets and Meats BBQ, which also provided food for the pitch night event.
Bailey earned recognition as one of the top three pitches Dec. 15 and will compete in June against top pitches from previous Mortar classes. Bailey held her first official Sweets and Meats event just a little more than a year ago, with her only marketing consisting of fliers passed out to neighbors with Halloween candy.
Taking home pitch night’s top honor was Anton Canady, founder of PUSH, or “Pray Until Something Happens.”
Canady started putting his motto on T-shirts to sell after his release from prison last summer. He uses money raised from shirt sales to help support children whose parents are incarcerated, knowing from his own experience how difficult it was to provide for his own children.
“I started after doing seven and a half years of incarceration, and my kids had suffered at the time,” Canady says. “I had to call and borrow money for back-to-school shoes, holidays, birthdays. I couldn’t be there physically, but I wanted to be there materially.”
So PUSH is much more than the clothing line — it’s Canady’s way of paying his experience forward.
Although their projects are vastly different, the two Mortar graduates have a lot in common. They were both immediately drawn to the Mortar program and were tenacious in their efforts to connect with it.
Canady found Mortar’s Over-the-Rhine building while job hunting near his halfway house after incarceration. He knocked on the window until co-founder Derrick Braziel, who was inside preparing for a class, noticed and came out to speak to him.
Bailey had already been taking workshops about small business and entrepreneurship through various local organizations, but when she saw Mortar co-founder Allen Woods give a presentation at Crossroads Church, where she is a member, she went home and applied to Mortar that night. She remained on the waiting list until being admitted into the October class.
While Canady and Bailey both knew Mortar would be important for their ventures, they might not have been able to predict the personal impact the founders and community would have on them.
“It’s more of a psychological thing,” Canady says. “I’ve been going through stuff my whole life, and I haven’t had many proud moments. …When I graduated from Mortar and won pitch night, it made me want to go even harder.”
Bailey has similar sentiments about the Mortar founders as well as her SCORE mentor from the class.
“Their commitment is second to none,” she says. “I’ve never had anybody build into me and believe in me as much as they did.”
Now, thanks to the empowerment experienced in the program, these Mortar grads are taking even bigger “leaps of faith,” as Bailey puts it.
Sweets and Meats has ordered a custom food truck to move up from catering and setting up at events into Cincinnati’s food truck scene. Bailey is fundraising for the truck via an active Indiegogo campaign (currently at 39 percent of goal), and the purchase would be a big step up for the company.
“We were going to these food truck rallies with a tent,” Bailey says, explaining that their previous setup was no longer cutting it. “We actually lost business by not having a truck.”
While Bailey is hoping to debut her truck in March for food truck season, Sweets and Meats is hard at work catering. The company just started a contract with Aramark food services — a weekly commitment that provides some stable ground to build on.
PUSH is also looking to build and expand. Although the nonprofit is only six months old, the shirt line is available in several stores around town. Canady says he’ll soon begin merchandising beyond T-shirts to other types of apparel and goods, allowing him to then expand his community support, including long-term mentorship for two children.
“I know it’s kind of cliche, but if we can only help one or two, in the long run we’ll be doing our part,” Canady says. “There is not a shortage of people to help.”
To expand its capacity, PUSH is also raising funds to move into its first office space.

Kickstarter campaigns helped many (but not all) local startups in 2015

Last year several Cincinnati startup companies used Kickstarter to launch or expand product offerings with varying degrees of success, including several Greater Cincinnati food companies that exceeded their fundraising goals.

For urban mushroom farmer Alan Susarret, Kickstarter offered a way to increase production at Probasco Farms while supporting a community building project, Cincinnati Food Not Bombs. Susarret reached his Kickstarter goal in just over a week, raising more than double his target with 47 backers pledging $1,896.
A larger gourmet Kickstarter project involved Newport’s Carabello Coffee, looking to fund the remodeling and expansion of their facility. They exceeded their goal with 269 backers pledging $42,155.

Local foodie favorite Skinny Pig Kombucha leveraged Kickstarter to expand its brewing and bottling capacity. The campaign was selected as a Staff Pick by Kickstarter, and 139 backers pledged $10,800 to surpass the project goal.

“Kickstarter was a great way to build excitement about our product and help educate people on what we're trying to do,” says owner Algis Aukstuolis. “We ended up building a new brewing facility in South Fairmount in the former Lunkenheimer valve factory. This unforeseen change gave us a lot of delays, but we were finally able to start production in November. To help us grow, we’re working with Stagnaro distributors locally and will try to get into some more large retailers.”
Two Cincinnati-based clothing manufacturers also did well with Kickstarter campaigns to launch new production facilities and product lines.
Drew Oxley’s social enterprise company The Parative Project produces bags, T-shirts and flags with messages that raise awareness of human trafficking. Its successful summer Kickstarter campaign has allowed Oxley to partner with Freeset and The Aruna Project to move its production to India, where Parative will employ women rescued from human trafficking. The Parative Kickstarter campaign exceeded its goal with 305 backers pledging $23,022.

“We're currently working on a new website that will sell the goods made by the women of India,” Oxley says. “We have several new shirts and flags we’re excited to release. The site will also host a blog sharing practical ways for others to take action against social injustices.”
Another Kickstarter Staff Pick was the campaign to launch Victor Athletics, a new clothing line by Noble Denim to be made in Tennessee from organic materials. Their ambitious $100,000 goal was exceeded by $23,002 and supported by 1,166 backers, allowing Noble Denim and Victor Athletics to open a brick-and-mortar store in Over-the-Rhine. While working to ensure the store is a success, Victor Athletics has plans to expand in 2016.

“Based on the feedback from Kickstarter and our first season of sales for Victor, we'll hone in our fits and add a few new styles for Spring,” says co-founder Abby Sutton. “We want to aggressively grow our online sales in 2016 to continue to hire more sewers back and slowly tip the scales toward U.S. manufacturing.”
Unfortunately, not all of the local Kickstarter product launches were successful in 2015. Nutty Jar, a treat dispenser created by Cincinnati-based dog toy company Zigoo, cancelled its spring Kickstarter campaign. Education and hand-writing tool Grip Wizard fell short of its Kickstarter goal to launch large-scale manufacturing in Forest Park.
For those considering using Kickstarter in 2016, some of the 2015 campaign alumni have advice to offer.
“My wife and I were in Kickstarter mode 24/7, constantly showing our campaign to bloggers, networking with local groups and pushing on social media,” Oxley says. In hindsight, “I might have done more pop-up events as there was definitely more traction when people came across the campaign in person.”
“Kickstarter Campaigns are such a vulnerable experience because success is rarely measured so publicly,” Sutton says.
As their campaign launched, Noble Denim/Victor Athletics also faced technology issues with the Kickstarter platform that presented challenges for fulfillment and communication with campaign supporters. Although they were able to solve the problem through a third-party platform, Sutton and husband Chris took special care to acknowledge the campaign backers.
“We recognize that Kickstarter backers have a very unique relationship with the company because they get a different experience than a normal customer,” Sutton says. “To honor this, we gave our backers a discount code for life as a ‘thank you’ for their unique role in launching Victor. They deserve a price break forever for their faith in us, their patience and their ongoing support of the ethic of the company.”
1806 Articles | Page: | Show All
Signup for Email Alerts