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Innovative EPA water challenge offers cash prizes for sewer solutions

The region's fifth annual Cincinnati Innovates competition comes with a federal twist, a global challenge and a $10,000 prize opportunity. 

By partnering with the US Environmental Protection Agency, Innocentive, the Cincinnati Metropolitan Sewer District and Northern Kentucky's Sewer District 1, the newly announced Water Challenge competition focuses on the development of low-cost, low-maintenance sensors able to monitor sewer overflows. 

Sewer overflows, which spill untold gallons of raw sewage into waterways after heavy rainfalls, remain a major challenge for cities and a major barrier to compliance with Clean Water Act regulations. Cincinnati Innovates founder Elizabeth Edwards explains this first-ever Cincinnati Innovates/government initiative:

Why is the sewer system ripe for innovation and why Cincinnati?
Cincinnati, like many other major metros, is faced with major infrastructure improvement costs to maintain our 100+ year old sewer system.

Is this the first time you've partnered with a governmental agency and what do you think that signals? Why do you think the EPA is reaching out to basically "crowd source" innovations in how we handle water overflows?
This is the first time Cincinnati Innovates has partnered with a government agency. 

The EPA's Water Research Lab here in Cincinnati is one of the largest in the world. This partnership is just another example of the EPA's efforts to commercialize water technologies in the region.

Contests spur innovation. The EPA's partnership with Innocentive and Cincinnati Innovates is just one way the EPA is sourcing innovation.

How did this partnership come about and what was the process? 
We've been working for several months together with Innocentive to create a prize and a process that makes sense. In defining the prize, we worked with water utility experts on both sides of the river.

What impact could this competition, and the products it support, have on the people of Cincinnati--and beyond?
This competition could save Cincinnati and cities like it millions of dollars a year - and improve safety and water quality. 

The competition is open and online now.

By Elissa Yancey
Follow Elissa on Twitter

Xavier MBA course links entrepreneurs, business students to fuel growth

Entrepreneurship might be in the blood, but success takes more than passion. It also takes a head for business, and there are tried steps that every business should take to go from concept to reality.

An entrepreneurship course at Xavier University pairs the region's startups with MBA students for a partnership of theory and real-world application. The course, ENTR 668, is an extension of the University's X-LAB (Xavier Launch-a-Business) competition. X-LAB was founded by Xavier's Williams College of Business.

"We've learned through X-LAB that 90 percent of our businesses understand their idea, and are passionate about it, but they don't how to take it to market," says professor Joe Carter, X-LAB's Director. "That's a gap we can fill at Xavier."

As part of X-LAB, finalists meet with potential investors and receive training and consulting services during an 18-week process. Once that ends, ENTR 668 students choose a handful of businesses from the finalists for more intense consultation.

"The MBA students, along with a business advisory board, interview the X-LAB finalists and decide which businesses they are going to help," Carter says.

Each business can have a number of students assigned to it, depending on its needs. Some have had up to eight advisors. The businesses that have benefited from XLAB include the 3D printing company 3DLT and Ahalogy (formerly Pingage), a results-oriented content marketing system.

Students work with the business for a semester, but there are plans to expand it to two semesters in the near future, Carter says. There is no cost for these services for the business.

Student consulting work runs the gamut, from developing marketing plans to business model development and verification to market expansion.

"We'll have students working late, on the weekends or after midnight because they are so invested in these businesses," Carter says.

The business owners aren't the only beneficiaries. Students—most whom are older professionals—win too.

"Businesses bring their knowledge and have practical work experience," Carter says. "We see this as a huge way to differentiate our program. Our students have all these business tools, but in this course, they have to know which tool to pull out of the toolbox."

By Feoshia H. Davis
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Gaslight leads effort to create training program for Ruby app developers

Tech talent in Cincinnati is in high demand but in short supply in some areas. And as the local tech startup economy grows, so does the need for cutting-edge developer talent.

One local mobile and web app development company is leading an effort to develop talent in its corner of the tech world. Blue Ash-based Gaslight is teaming up with Cincinnati-area industry and entrepreneurial leaders to start a training program for app developers using the Ruby on Rails platform.

Gaslight specializes in developing apps through Ruby on Rails. The growing company, which has more than a dozen developers, creates apps and other software applications for growing startups and established brands.

Gaslight co-founder and Ruby developer Bill Barnett says the idea is a practical one. Ruby has become a popular app development platform, and it's become harder for Ruby developers, including Gaslight, to keep up with client demand.

"There is a need for Ruby on Rails support that the market is not meeting at the moment," he says.

The training program is aimed at bringing new developers into the field, and would last about six months. This type of web development school is emerging in several cities across the United States—gSchool in Denver is one of the best known. GSchool is a model for Cincinnati to follow, Barnett says.

"We want to create an avenue for people who want to get into software development, and maybe come from other disciplines," Barnett says. "They might be a recent college graduate who has a degree in medicine or law but has an entrepreneurial inkling. They could be returning from overseas, transitioning from a military career."

Gaslight is still in the planning stages, but it has a record of leadership in the Cincinnati web community, and has hosted several developer Meetups and is the lead organizer of the Queen City Merge conference. Gaslight is working with a number of interested groups to get it off the ground, including NeoGirl Develop It and The Brandery.

No firm date has been set for the training program's launch, but a goal is to start a group of 20-25 students by late this year or early next.

Find out more about Gaslight and what it has to offer at Web School Cincinnati.

By Feoshia H. Davis
Follow Feoshia on Twitter

Read more Ohio innovation news

Read more Ohio innovation news here.

Cincinnati Digital Xchange explores latest strategies, techniques in digital marketing

Top digital marketing trends, techniques and strategies are ever-evolving. New tools, networks, devices and technologies make the rapidly changing space competitive and dynamic. You master one (or five) techniques, and then a new one comes along.

Keeping up with those tools and getting the best out of them is the foundation of a new group, Cincinnati Digital Xchange, which meets downtown once a month to explore the ins and outs of the digital marketing space.

The Xchange was founded by a group of local digital marketing experts as an open place where people can learn and swap ideas. It began as a web analytics group but expanded to include other dimensions of digital marketing as well.

"We decided we wanted to bring in more people in the digital industry," says Xchange's co-founder Russ Shirley, a digital marketing consultant. "We'd focus on social, local, mobile—anything trending or coming up."

The group meets the last Tuesday of each month at Cintrifuse, the region's newest corporate-backed startup investment fund and incubator.

The group has had some impressive, on-trend speakers, including inaugural speaker J.B. Kropp, Brandery co-founder and Twitter V.P. of Strategic Partnerships (and Cincinnatian), who spoke about engagement and how brands are leveraging the platform.

Other speakers include marketing pros from Cincinnati powerhouses like dunnhumby, Possible, Empower MediaMarketing, Rockfish Interactive and Procter & Gamble.

The group has grown quickly—some months, meetings attract more than 100 people. The meetings are free, and Xchange receives major support from Cintrifuse, Empower MediaMarketing and CincyTech.

"The main goal is kind of self-serving," Shirley says. "I wanted to get information that I want to learn, find out things that are not usually accessible to anyone who is outside of an agency."

The next meeting is set for July 30. Stay connected with Cincinnati Digital Xchange through its Meetup page.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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Article set to offer alternatives for sharp-dressed men in OTR

Article, a new clothing store focused on men's fashion, is set to open September in Over-the-Rhine, on the corner of 12th and Vine streets, catty-corner from Taste of Belgium. The shop will cater to an underrepresented demographic, says founder Anthony Graziani.

“There are young, professional men in the city that want to have a clothing shop built just for them,” he says.

He sees a disconnect for men between the ages of 25 and 49 who don't want to dress too young or too old. 

“Men shouldn’t be forced to shop in cookie-cutter retailers," Graziani says. "We’re not second-class citizens, but when we want to buy a shirt, we are.” 

He wants Article to become a destination not only for those who are biding time while waiting for tables at nearby eateries, but for serious shoppers who want fashionable choices.

Chris Sutton, the owner and designer of Noble Denim, will sell his locally made jeans inside the shop and also keep in-store hours to tailor pants. The collaboration between local entrepreneurs makes sense, given their similar aesthetic and focus on quality and care. Sutton, along with other local clothiers, are helping generate buzz for Article.

“Article wants to be an empowering and creative spot,” Graziani says. “We shouldn’t have to go to the back of a store that primarily caters to women in order to dress ourselves.” 

By Sean Peters

OTR Line collects, posts wait times at popular downtown restaurants

Scott Miller doesn’t like waiting in lines. Not for his driver’s license. Not at the doctor’s office. And not for a meal at one of his favorite restaurants in Over the Rhine.

So Miller and fellow software geek Scott Avera designed a new mobile app to leverage the power of crowd-sourcing and help diners get a real-time sense of the minutes they could spend waiting for tables in the city’s popular urban restaurant scene.

After calling OTR restaurants hourly for weeks to gather preliminary wait-time data, OTR Line launced last Friday to the public in both Apple and Android versions. It's a simple, streamlined app that offers information and a process for gathering in put in clear, easy-to-follow formats.

“The app calculates average wait times based upon history,” explains Miller, who grew up in Anderson Township and now lives in Blue Ash. “But we really want people to report. As people report wait times, the app gets better. The more input you get, the better predictability.”

Avera, a Springboro native who now lives in Hyde Park, brings his experience as former owner of Ascent Solutions to the new business venture. 

“We have been software entrepreneurs all of our lives,” says Miller, 52. 

The key to OTR Line’s success lies in users’ willingness to log wait times, he says. 

The app allows users to scroll through a list of eateries and compare wait times, and it also offers space for restaurants to place ads. “The restaurant will get to play the game as well,” he says.

Miller and Avera plan to approach restaurateurs with OTR Line window stickers later this week; the free app is available for download now.

By Elissa Yancey
Follow Elissa on Twitter.


Covington Renaissance explores power of pop-ups

Economic restructuring, or fostering the growth of new businesses, is high on the priority list for Katie Meyer, Covington’s 29-year-old Renaissance manager.

Three years into a job in the town where she grew up, Meyer sees signs of success in the 15 new businesses that have opened in the city since January—retail and restaurant and gallery spaces that have taken up once-vacant spots.

She’s the force behind “Make Covington Pop,” a community effort to support new small businesses and build excitement around the city by creating pop-up shops, or temporary business and event spaces, in unoccupied storefronts.

The initiative launched last Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) with the opening of two pop-ups on Pike Street—one bookstore/coffee shop and one vintage clothing operation that has since evolved into District 78

This week, Make Covington Pop hosts “Big Talk Small Talk, a Syposium on Pop-Up Shops and Urban Vitality,” in an effort to keep the momentum going. The power of the pop-up, according to one guest speaker, is in its ability to build community.

“You start turning places into destinations,” says Griffin VanMeter a Kick Ass Kentuckian of Kentucky for Kentucky, based out of Lexington. “You get people experiencing culture together. Kentucky for Kentucky has been successful at that. We get our fans and supporters to come out, and they see things they wouldn’t already see.”

Joining VanMeter in Covington this week are Lisa Frisch of the Portland (Oregon) Business Alliance, who has supported a range of pop-ups in Portland since 2009; and Michael Forsythe of Detroit’s pop-up initiative, RevolveDetroit.

Though the number of vacant storefronts in Covington has declined this year, Meyer can point to several spaces nearly move-in ready and others that need a boost from building owners to make them appealing investments for budding entrepreneurs. 

The symposium offers information designed to engage property owners as well as potential business owners, Meyer says. If entrepreneurs get a healthy start in Covington, they may, like District 78, decide to make a more permanent investment and stay.

“We do want to do another round of pop up shops this fall,” Meyer says. “It’s all about continuing the movement.” 

Interested in finding out more about "Make Covington Pop"? Find the group on Facebook or register for this week’s symposium.

By Elissa Yancey
Follow Elissa on Twitter.

Photos of a recent pop-up event in Lexington hosted by Kentucky for Kentucky: The Mounting of the Colonel, a celebration of the installation of a Colonel Sanders weather vane on a newly restored event space. Photos by Frank Döring.

Blegalbloss takes on clunky office document storage with innovative design

The old cardboard document storage box is getting a makeover, complete with ergonomic design, through the work of a Cincinnati startup.

Blegalbloss founder and president Will Scott has created a line of office products that make document storage, organization and use easier.

The company's signature product, BOXIE, is an ergonomic, lockable file box. The tough, rip-resistant boxes have a handle that is curved and slanted to make the box easy to pick up and carry. The box also has a locking feature, is made from 65 percent recycled materials, and is 100 percent recyclable.

Scott, a Northern Kentuckian, previously owned a record management company, and had worked in the financial service industry in sales and accounting.

"When I was in the record management industry, I had some time to think about how people use these storage items, and had a little black book of ideas," Scott says. "Looking at the boxes themselves, I realize they hadn't changed in nearly 100 years."

That's when he went to work and began making the boxes better through design.

"I went about the task to redesign these sorts of things, and to make them stronger," he says. "It wasn't until I watched someone carrying the box that I realized that had been designed totally wrong."

Blegalbloss (pronounced Blee-guhl-bloss) was launched in early 2011, and the BOXIE was first delivered in January. In addition to boxes, the company sells Roo brand document organizers and DominoTwin office supply organizers.

The products are sold through 2,700 retailers. The company's goal is to be in 4,000 retail stores by year's end and 10,000 by 2014, Scott says. Blegalbloss is working to expand the brand globally, and launch other products.

Among Blegalbloss retailers are GoEvolved.comAmazoneBay and Office Depot.

Since most of the innovation is in the products' design, their costs are competitive with traditional storage boxes, Scott says. His company currently has about 45 patents pending and 10 already issued.

"We've built a better mousetrap," Scott says. "We're selling this at the same pricing (as competitors) in the marketplace, with better value and features."

By Feoshia H. Davis

Design Impact for Change Makers uses design thinking to help nonprofits

Design isn't just about how something—like a mobile phone or a vacuum cleaner—looks, but how it works and how users receive and interact with it.

Creative design is most often applied in the consumer marketing world in product development, including packaging and marketing. But a Cincinnati couple is taking design thinking into the nonprofit world through their own nonprofit, Design Impact.

The organization works with social change organizations to help address local and global social issues through creative design thinking. Design Impact has applied this concept to organizations both here in Cincinnati and in rural India where the founders first began testing their ideas.

Design Impact was founded by husband-and-wife team Kate Hanisian and Ramsey Ford. Hanisian's background is in the nonprofit and education sectors, and Ford is a designer with extensive consumer product experience.

Design thinking can help nonprofits meet challenges by giving them a different way to solve, test and measure ideas, says Ford.

There are several key aspects to Design thinking:
  • Identify opportunities to innovate 
  • Apply empathy and creativity to change problems into breakthroughs
  • Uncover hidden insights and unarticulated needs from your customers
  • Quickly and inexpensively prototype new ideas
  • Initiate design thinking in your business, organization or community
Design Impact is holding a two-day seminar for nonprofits that are interested in learning more about incorporating design thinking in their own solving challenges. Design Impact for Change Makers is Aug. 1 and 2, at the Kaleidoscope building downtown, which is located at 205 W. Fourth St., Suite 1140.

Design Impact for Change Makers will be workshop-based and participants are being asked to bring a real challenge they'd like to solve or idea they'd like to explore. It could be anything from offering a new service to better engaging donors, Ford says.

"It's about idea generation, and staying in a creative state of mind so you don't always rely on the same old solutions," he says. "We'll be working through the entire creative process from discovery to creation and verification."

You can register for the event here, and the cost is $275 for both days.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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Share local history with Touritz

Are you empowered with an abundance of knowledge on a particular area—say, your old stomping grounds? Does downtown's infinite wealth of stories sway you to study up and make a cohesive tour? Then Touritz is your new outlet. By allowing you to share walking guides and videos, this format is bound to uncover little-known facts about our city (and beyond).

Created by Steve Oldfield and Sean Thomas, two local entrepreneurs with a passion for history, Touritz aims to help increase interest in local lore. They also hope it will be a resource for history buffs who want to expand their knowledge base.

Touritz enables everyone who is willing to put in some work to share their own historical observations. 

Though the service is not yet available, anyone interested can sign up for email reminders and updates on launch dates.

By Sean Peters


From Cincinnati to New Orleans, riverboat style

Kyle Rouse and his best friends, Bill, Turner and Alex Ross, set out on a river adventure in October 2011. Rouse, a native of Piqua, Ohio, and the Ross brothers, who are from the nearby town of Sidney, traveled on a pontoon boat named the “Rosemarie,” and made the trip from Cincinnati to New Orleans via the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. 

The trip lasted nearly a month—they arrived in New Orleans just in time for Halloween. The idea was hatched and planned while Rouse and the Rosses were in Texas shooting a documentary film for their aptly named 
Ross Bros film company. One of their most recent works, entitled Tchoupitoulas, was one of the last films to be picked up by the late Adam Yauch’s (aka MCA of Beastie Boys fame) Oscilloscope distribution company before he passed away.  

Rouse is now offering the public a unique way to experience this journey for themselves through his self-published book, titled simply, Cincinnati to New Orleans.

The book is primarily made up of images that Rouse took along the way using an old-school film camera instead of a newer digital model.

“Using film instead of a digital camera made me learn to see things intuitively,” Rouse says. “Because I knew I only had a set number of pictures to take, I learned to be more aware of what was happening around me and how to capture something really unique.” 

Along with the pictures, the story of the trip to New Orleans is told via journal entries typed on an old typewriter by Rouse. The journal entries take readers into the minds of the travelers and paint vivid pictures of American life along the forgotten backwaters and rusted-out small towns. 

“You learn a lot about yourself living 24 hours a day around the same people in a small boat stuck out on the water,” Rouse says. “But then, we also learned a lot about the people of America, and I’ll tell you what, that Credence song is right, people on the river are happy to give (referencing the song “Proud Mary”)."

More than two thirds of the way through their voyage, the Rosemarie wrecked and had to be left behind. Despite that setback, the crew did make it to New Orleans. 

After spending several months reviewing his pictures, Rouse began to compile them in order to tell a story. “The images in this book aren’t perfect, but they show emotion, which I think is more important,” he says. Self-published only this past spring, the initial short-run of Cincinnati to New Orleans has already sold out and a second press run is being planned now.

In addition to Rouse’s book, the Ross brothers made a film about the trip, entitled River, which aired initially in eight segments on the Internet. Since then, the four-man crew was invited to Toronto’s Hot Docs film festival to screen the film in its entirety there, where it became one of the surprise favorites.

Rouse says that perhaps the reason why the trip has resonated with people is the longing for adventure within all of us. “In situations like that, you understand just what you yourself can do as a person.” 

Learn more about “Cincinnati to New Orleans” which is also on Facebook. “River” will screen in Cincinnati on Sept. 30 at Washington Park

By Michael Sarason

Smartfish Studios selling Drunk Music Reviews prints

Back in 2011, Cincinnati drinking buddies Caitlin Behle and John Sebastian decided to make use of their opinions by critiquing musicians with both words and illustrations—while drunk. The result was Drunk Music Reviews.

While Behle typically live-tweets about bands on stage, Sebastian sketches caricatures of the musicians while they’re performing. This fly-by-night approach gives each illustration a unique tone that aims to capture the essence of that particular evening’s music.

To date, Drunk Music Reviews has been hosted on local music blog Each Note Secure.

The duo has gained acclaim beyond the Ohio River, as they’ve taken themselves all the way to Austin, Texas, for the SXSW music festival to spread the influence of their whimsical blog.

After receiving positive reactions from expanding audiences, Drunk Music Reviews developed a partnership with OTR's Smartfish Studio & Sustainable Supply, which now sells varies DMR prints.

Proceeds from the sales benefit Drunk Music Reviews' necessities, “part for promotion, part for supplies and merch, and the majority we'll drink away,” Sebastian says.

“We have 16 artists that we've reviewed in the past on display, and each band has one print for sale,” he says. Those artists include Author and Punisher, Automagik, Dinosaur Jr, Elia Goat, Grizzly Bear, Homemade Drugs, Manchester Orchestra, Ohio Knife, Orange Goblin, Pallbearer, The Ridges, Royal Thunder, Shadowraptr, The Tongue and Lips, Valley of the Sun and Weezer.

Interested buyers can purchase postcard-size prints for $5 and 11x17 and 11x14 posters for $30.

If you are a band that is interested in getting a Drunk Music Review, contact Behle and Sebastian to make a request.

By Sean Peters

Empower MediaMarketing creates Disruptive Media Fellowship

Independent media agency Empower MediaMarketing recently created a new Disruptive Media Fellowship at The Brandery, Cincinnati's consumer brand business accelerator.

The $10,000 fellowship will go to a Brandery startup whose idea is most disruptive to the media landscape. The fellowship recipient will be announced later this month, as The Brandery's incoming 2013 class begins, says Empower MediaMarketing's Director of Content Strategy Kevin Dugan.

"It seems that disruptions are taking place almost every day as consumer habits change," Dugan says. "We feel that for companies reacting to that is really more of an opportunity than anything else. If you are helping create the disruptions, it can become a competitive advantage."

Empower MediaMarketing is an independent media agency that plans, buys, creates and proves media impact for its clients. Dugan and CEO Jim Price are also Brandery mentors.

The Brandery launched in 2010 to offer funding, mentoring and partnerships for consumer marketing businesses. Brandery companies receive $20,000 in startup funding, and pitch their companies to potential investors at a Demo Day at the end of the four-month program.

The Brandery is a member of the Global Accelerator Network, and companies from across the country apply to the emerging accelerator. It is annually recognized as one of the elite startup accelerators in the country.

More than 60 mentors work with the companies, which each receive $20,000 in seed money. Leading Cincinnati-based agencies offer free marketing and media guidance to each of the startups.

"As a company, we have been mentoring startups since 2010," Dugan says. "We really enjoy the process and wanted to increase our support (of The Brandery). This allows us to increase commitment and help startups."

By Feoshia H. Davis

Zooted Delivery now available every day

Zooted Delivery brings food to your front door from restaurants around the city that don’t typically deliver. While it was only a weekend operation from the beginning, Zooted now offers service seven days a week, with their delivery radius spanning Hyde Park, the downtown business district, the Banks, Clifton and Norwood.

Created by Sheroz Zindani, a recent graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s business program, Zooted Delivery works in conjunction with more than a dozen restaurants to bring their menu items to hungry customers’ homes. 

The company has a recurring message that it reiterates to customers: “You drink, we drive.” This message targets the late night crowd, which is why Zooted Delivery operates until 3 a.m. on weekends.

Registration is not necessary to use the service—you only need to have access to Zooted’s website. The order is placed online, “zooted” to the restaurant automatically, and the customer need only “sign and dine.” Payments can be made with cash or credit cards. The service and delivery fee is nominal and the convenience is unparalleled. 

Offering a broad range of restaurants, this added service is sure to accommodate nearly every type of palate. If not, it’s likely that whatever type of food they would want already delivers directly, so it’s a win-win for homebodies. 

Interview by Sean Peters
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