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Eight startup myths ... busted

Whether they're actually involved with one or not, people love talking about startups. And amongst all the chatter, several stereotypes have emerged. Here to set the record straight are a few of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky's startup connoisseurs.
 
Special thanks to Eric Weissmann of Cintrifuse for the pitch.
 
 
MYTH: Startups are full of young people in hoodies.
 
"Startup life isn't for everyone. I came from the corporate world where I was used to dressing up more times than not. Now I find myself participating in no-shave November and wearing hoodies, athletic attire. I have even been caught wearing socks and sandals..." – Alex Burkhart, Tixers
 
"Entrepreneurship spans all ages. Out of the 60-plus companies inside HCDC's business incubator at the Business Center, the average age of entrepreneurs is 42 years old." – Bridget Doherty, Hamilton County Development Co. Business Center
 

MYTH: Venture capitalists (VCs) sit on bags of money and live a glamorous life.
 
"(VCs) are hard workers hard workers, very smart, travel a ton and don’t make very many investments in a year. They’re patient and deliberate with their funds (see Dov Rosenburg at Allos Ventures)." – Eric Wiessmann, Cintrifuse
 
"VC's are very much like entrepreneurs. They are out raising money themselves. They are constantly fundraising and tied to performance. They definitely don't just sit back and kick it, that's for sure." – Alex Burkhart, Tixers
 

MYTH: Every startup has to be a tech startup, and every employee is tech-savvy.
 
"We work with over 100 entrepreneurs each year, and of those 10 percent fall into the tech category." (See PetWants, Creative Invites and Events, Project Blue Collar, Functional Formularies.) – Corey Drushal, Bad Girl Ventures
 

MYTH: Startups have to go to West Coast or East Coast to find investors.
 
"(Some entrepreneurs) don't consider the advantages of things like an increased runway because of cost-of-living if you build a company in the Midwest." – Patrick Henshaw, Strap
 

MYTH: There are no women in startups, no women in tech and no system in place to support them.
 
"The Greater Cincinnati/NKY startup eco-system has a friendly and inviting environment for female founders. The latest Uptech class has five female founders, including myself and Amanda Kranias of Seesaw, a family social network. ... We also have a fantastic female founder, Brooke Griffin, at the CincyTech-funded company." – Candice Peters, Seesaw
 

MYTH: If you start your own business, you will have fewer people telling you what to do.
 
"Some people want to start their own businesses to get away from long hours ... or the horrible bosses of the world. However, starting your own business requires a substantial time commitment and possibly more people telling you what to do." – Bridget Doherty, HCDC Business Center
 

MYTH: In the startup world, no one gets paid until you have a big exit.
 
"Many startups have attractive pay and competitive benefits (see InfoTrust)." – Eric Weissmann, Cintrifuse
 

MYTH: Startup owners just eat Ramen noodles and drink beer from their office fridge all day.
 
"Not just Ramen — if you add hotdogs, it makes it that much classier and better tasting." – Patrick Henshaw, Strap
 
"There is never a problem finding beer. No keg per say, but always a case of Miller Lite or craft beers in the fridge." – Alex Burkhart, Tixers

Roadtrippers launches new app to ease holiday travel


Forty-eight hours before its users were hitting the road for Thanksgiving last week, Cincinnati-based startup Roadtrippers released their new iPhone app. A redesign that's been in the making for three months, version 3.0 arrived just in time to make traveling easier for the millions of Roadtrippers users across the country.
 
In the hopes of encouraging holiday travelers to "ditch long airport lines and expensive ticket fares for the open road," CEO James Fisher wants this version of the app to take advantage of the 41.3 million Americans projected to travel over the holidays (AAA). The timing of its release was entirely on purpose.
 
Known for highlighting off-the-beaten path destinations for road-trip enthusiasts, Roadtrippers' new app combines every element of planning a trip into one place. The newer features include weather forecasting and a GPS-enabled function that locates nearby gas stations, hotels, restaurants and other noteworthy stops as you drive. The interface is cleaner than the company's last iPhone app, and the maps are clearer and more detailed.
 
The app also features a virtual "concierge," which offers suggestions when users are not quite sure of where they want to end up. The concierge greets the user upon opening the app, helping the planner to do exactly what they want to do at that moment.

"It helps you plan but also act on the fly," says Roadtrippers business development manager Chelsea Koglmeier. "Unlike the usual map app, which shows you nearby places within a certain radius, our app keeps you on your route."

Users can also browse categories of destinations by using the "Discovery" feature. Place cards offer visual and descriptive information on each of your stops as you drive, and particularly appealing places can be saved under a kind of "favorites" list.
 
Though Roadtrippers gained popularity through its online planning tool, this updated app will likely inflate the company's already-booming success. It encourages travelers to change up their initial plan if something interesting comes along while still staying informed and on track.
 
With $3.25 million in brand funding on the books, it's likely that the app will only continue to develop and evolve as its popularity increases.
 

Breaking Brad: People's Liberty names 2015 fellowship winners

People’s Liberty announced today that its inaugural Haile Fellowship grants are going to Brad Cooper and Brad Schnittger, who will each receive $100,000 as well as co-working space with additional design and communications support at the new People’s Liberty office in Over-the-Rhine. The fellowship officially begins on Jan. 12 and will run throughout the 2015 calendar year.

Cooper’s project is Start Small, which plans to build two 200-sq.-ft. zero-net-waste houses. When finished, they'll stand on concrete foundations and be fueled by solar panels, making them self-sustaining and long-term investments in the community.

Schnittger's project is MusicLi, a music publishing platform to afford local musicians the opportunity to properly document, register and publish their musical compositions to an online library, allowing advertising agencies to license and purchase more Cincinnati music. Schnittger is co-founder of local music and design agency The All Night Party and a member of the popular rock band The Sundresses.

"I can't begin to express how rewarding it was to call both of the grantees, to let them know they'd be taking on their dream projects next year," Jake Hodesh, People's Liberty's vice president of operations, said in this morning's announcement. "Both indicated how their lives would never be the same. Knowing that our work has the potential to change people's lives, that makes my job worthwhile. January can't get here soon enough."

Better for buyers: Shelfie and Popad give consumers control

The folks over at Popad hate advertising.
 
"It disrupts your experience," says John McClelland, co-founder of the company. "What if people in your community could make the ads you see … your friends, your family?"
 
McClelland and his Brandery-trained team are self-proclaimed data geeks. Their chief technology officer, Luke Libraro, has an RFID (radio frequency identification) card in his hand that allows him to enter the Brandery building with a simple wave.  Their "boy wonder" engineer, Skylar Roebuck, was head of product at a company called Mobiquity by the time he was 25. And Rachel Bires, their Instagram connoisseur, is actually a licensed attorney who is unbeatable at darts.
 
Together, they have created an interactive app where users can submit a photo of themselves using or displaying a particular product. That photo, after a series of votes by other Popad users, then becomes available to Popad clients for purchase. In return for their submission, the creator of the image will receive royalties if their "ad" is purchased. Right now, all submissions come through Instagram.
 
The idea behind Popad emerged when McClelland's wife posted an Instragram photo of his (presumably very cool) shoes. When friends saw the photo and subsequently bought the shoes, a lightbulb turned on. By allowing regular Joes to submit photos of themselves actually using or enjoying a product, Popad hopes to create a stronger, more authentic personal connection with the consumer. This, they believe, is much more effective than advertising in the abstract.
 
"There's more of a dialogue now—there's been a fundamental shift in how people are operating," McClelland says.
 
Consumer communication is a key part of another Brandery graduate's business plan. Shelfie was founded by Edward Betancourt, a quinoa-obsessed runner with mad programming skills, and C.J. Acosta, a Reddit loyalist with a knack for marketing and pink hoodies. Together, they've put together a data-generating application that has already seen stellar success in in-store audits.
 
The app itself gives shoppers the power to do something about an absent product on the shelf. If they notice a product is missing, they simply snap a "shelfie" of the empty shelf, send it through the app, and are rewarded for their participation with points that they can redeem later.
 
"Think of it as an easy, one pic review of the in-store experience," Acosta says.
 
By generating real-time data, Shelfie could potentially create solutions ranging from contacting sales representatives at the site to arranging to have the missing product shipped to a customer's home.
 
For now, Shelfie is looking for investors. By staying in marketing-friendly Cincinnati, or "the little city that could," Acosta and Betancourt have made incredible connections and are building on the consumer-first approach that was born during their time at the Brandery.
 
"The concept of tackling the problem, from the consumer's side, proved to be the radical and most disruptive thing we could do," Acosta says.

Why 'Get Noticed Get Found' is the best place to work in Cincinnati

In the corner of the Get Noticed Get Found office, the gold star-embellished "Best Place to Work" award sits proudly on a shelf. The company, which provides marketing strategies and generates web content for law firms of all sizes, was presented with the award at the beginning of November. Chris Casseday, the company's very first employee and current account manager, has been working for the business since its humble beginnings at HCDC's Business Center incubator. To him, Get Noticed Get Found's newly-recognized status is a no-brainer.
 
"Work hard, play hard is embodied here," he says. "There aren't many places where your CEO will come up to your desk and ask you to drop everything and come play Ping-Pong or something."
 
The Ping-Pong table/beer-on-Fridays concept is hardly revolutionary when it comes to young companies in Cincinnati. More and more businesses have been emphasizing the balance between work and play, and their offices embody that. The thing that makes Get Noticed Get Found different from the others is its unique, detailed hiring process.
 
If you want to work for GNGF, you first have to put together a video presentation of yourself. These video-applications leave tremendous room for creativity, and the staff at GNGF uses them to see if the applicant would be a good cultural fit for the company. The process also weeds out those who are only marginally interested in the position.
 
"Experience is not exactly our goal," Casseday says. "We can teach them what they need to know. It's better that [the applicants] come out fresh with a drive to learn."
 
GNGF recruits young individuals right out of college. They encourage students to apply while they are in their final year or semester so that they can jump right in at graduation. If hired as an intern, they truly become a part of the company. They even play a role in choosing the next member of the GNGF family.
 
"When a person interviews, they interview with everyone who works here," Casseday continues. "Our biggest thing is personality and how you fit with our culture. One bad apple could totally throw the mood off."
 
Over the last few years, GNGF has grown exponentially. With more than a million dollars in revenue last year and a solid client base, they moved from a tiny room in HCDC's incubator to a large, open space across the street.
 

The customer is always funnier: The story behind Barefoot Proximity's new CIO

The existence of Chief Innovation Officers (CIOs) at growing creative companies is nothing new. It is, however, a role that is becoming more and more necessary as newer businesses emerge and already-existing companies fight to stay relevant. Barefoot Proximity, a Cincinnati-based advertising and communications agency, recently hired its new CIO both in response to this trend and to make sure that any opportunity to disrupt convention—or "innovate"—is seized will full force.
 
The man filling this role, Troy Hitch, is a character. His creative background in theatre and musical production is immediately apparent upon meeting him; he is animated, sarcastic and quick on his feet. After graduating from Northern Kentucky University, Hitch dabbled in everything from medical text illustration to creating interactive installations for the Cincinnati Zoo. As a creative individual, Hitch always knew that the Internet was a powerful tool. In 2004, he and a partner started their own content-generating studio, Big Fat Brain.
 
Big Fat Brain was based in Covington and dubbed a "new media studio" by its founders. Hitch and his partner made webisodes and short-form video content for companies looking to vamp up their websites.
 
"It was lo-fi production value, high content value stuff," Hitch says.
 
Big Fat Brain's national success led to a connection with the former president of CBS radio who had just started MyDamnChannel, an entertainment studio and distributor of web and TV content. Big Fat Brain's work with the company, which involved producing numerous creative webisodes, is what ultimately led Hitch and his partner to realize the power of consumer input.
 
"We could actually engineer a connection [to the user]," he says.
 
This realization came to a head with the success of Hitch's trans-media web video series, "You Suck at Photoshop," in 2008. The episodes, which have reached 100 million views to date, centered around a pissed-off guy, whom the viewer never sees, begrudgingly providing a YouTube tutorial.
 
When an overwhelming amount of fans insisted the "You Suck at Photoshop" guy was comedian Dane Cook, Hitch and his partner realized they could use that user connection to their advantage. They brought Dane Cook onto the show, and the Internet exploded.
 
Today, as the CIO at Barefoot, Hitch hopes to find more opportunities to truly involve the customer/consumer/audience when considering strategies for his clients. By integrating their inclinations and preferences in every way possible, Hitch hopes to expand on the opportunities presented to the company. As the person in charge of hiring Barefoot's creative department, he also plans to draw in talent that knows how to deal with that kind of data.
 
"This is not about me anymore," he says of his work. "The consumer is fickle—there are a million different options these days. We need a value exchange. My job is to engineer [the material] so that other people can create and think and inspire."
 
According to Hitch, the power of the media is that people want to participate. CIOs, he says, are necessary because the consumer expects something different than what the old agency formulas can deliver. That said, if it were up to him, the word "innovation" would be cut right out of the title.
 
"Innovation is an overused and abused word," Hitch says. "I like to describe my role as embracing complexity and delivering simplicity."
 
Every company's CIO may see their role differently. Still, when individuals like Hitch are hired to force companies to think way beyond the box, "innovation" in inevitable. 

RevolutionUC's hackathon brings young tech talent to Cincinnati

These days, the internet is littered with lists of life "hacks" that take everyday frustrations and make them mind-blowingly simple. This weekend, from November 14-16, students from across the tri-state area will spend two sleep-free days programming to create real solutions to real problems at the second annual hackathon, RevolutionUC, at the University of Cincinnati.
 
Local engineering and business data group Zipscene joins the list of sponsors for the event's second run. The hackathon provides a space for hundreds of talented students to hash out ideas for some sort of product or service that provides a solution to a common problem (a hack). During the two-day event, participants create a basic business plan that is detailed enough to implement into the University system. Last year's winner was a campus safety smartphone tool that sends a discrete call for help and uses GPS to track an individual's location when they may be in danger. UC is currently considering the tool's integration into its campus safety system.
 
Attendees can expect rows and rows of computers, laptops and charger cords with students congregating on the floor, in the corners, and on lounge chairs at the 800 Baldwin location, a part of the UC College of Engineering and Applied Science. Not many hackathon participants sleep; those that want to are encouraged to bring a blanket and a pillow. All meals are provided, from breakfast from Panera to lunch from Jimmy Johns and Currito to dinner from Adriaticos and Alabama-Q. Insomnia cookies will be providing sweet treats as well.
 
RevolutionUC is largely student run, and this year's event expects a turnout of more than 300 hundred young, creative minds from UC, Ohio State, Perdue, Kent State, Wright State and the University of Dayton. As a sponsor, Zipscene is there all weekend to support and mentor the students in attendance. That, and scope out a little talent for themselves. Last year, Zipscene hired two students they encountered at the hackathon.
 
Some hackathon participants continue working on their hacks long after the competition comes to a close. The exposure and connections gained at this weekend's event give them a leg-up in the industry.
 
Contestants will be judged based on the utility of their products, the creativity and technical difficulty involved, and overall polish. All experience levels are welcome, and high school and graduate students are equally encouraged to sign up.

Meet UpTech's new entrepreneur-in-residence

UpTech, Northern Kentucky's informatics accelerator, has recently announced the addition of a new member to its team. As the accelerator's first Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EiR), JB Woodruff is evidence that UpTech is growing and changing for the better. Now, with a business coach on hand, UpTech's third class of startups will likely have a leg up when they graduate next spring.
 
Unlike a mentor, of which UpTech has many, Woodruff will not be offering industry-specific advice to the startups at the accelerator. Instead, he will offer strategic advice and coach the young companies on the general direction of their business. With a plethora of industry experience under his belt, Woodruff will act not only as a peer to whom the company founders can relate, but also as the person who oversees their development. He meets with each startup for one hour each week to discuss their progress and make sure things are moving forward.
 
Amanda Greenwell, Uptech's program director, sees Woodruff's arrival as a sign of UpTech's growth as an accelerator. With an EiR added to the roster, there is now someone at UpTech who is responsible for making sure these companies are actually accelerating.
 
"He totally fits in with our culture, he's a super nice guy, and you don't want to let him down," Greenwell says. "You want to please him, you want to make sure you're doing what you say you're going to do."
 
Woodruff, a Cincinnati native, has worked with 20-30 startups in the past and has traveled all over the world, including South Africa, Nairobi, Kenya, to work with accelerators. He also helped jumpstart two local companies, Araytha and CampFinder.co, and has worked with UpTech in the past as an instructor for one of its lean startup method courses.
 
Woodruff sees his new role at UpTech as that of a motivator—someone who is there on a regular basis and is not only a peer, but also a tremendous resource for everything from graphic design, branding, marketing, web development and business strategy. His goal as the new EiR is to also make sure UpTech's decision to accept these companies into their program was a smart one.
 
"They made an investment," he says. "I'm here to help assure that they get a return on that investment."
 
Woodruff decided to work with UpTech because he was impressed with the UpTech vibe. When he returned from Cape Town, South Africa, last year, he was anxious to get involved in the thriving startup scene. He met dozens of people in the industry, but when he met the folks at UpTech, something clicked.
 
"They were by far the most open and engaged," he says. "They were not hesitant to say, 'We want you to work with us.'"
 
Woodruff is the official EiR for UpTech's third class of startups, UpTech III, which will graduate from the program in February 2015. Though Woodruff and his wife have lived in several different places over the years, they will be staying in Northern Kentucky for the foreseeable future.

Making life easier: Two new companies create platforms for homeowners, busy socialites

With the large influx of new and growing businesses in Cincinnati, there are going to be a lot of new homeowners looking for contractors, plumbers, and other service providers to help them settle in and adjust. HireWheel, a member of the Brandery's Class of 2014, is here for them.
 
While HireWheel is not the first to answer this call (Angie's List, Yelp, and the Yellow Pages all offer sites where homeowners can search for the best service provider), founders Steve Sperry and Matt Lenahan are quick to distinguish their growing business from the review-driven companies already in existence.
 
"Reviews are subjective," Lenahan says, "and less than 1 percent of homeowners actually write them."
 
The HireWheel solution is to take a data-driven, objective approach. The HireWheel team uses city permit data to track how many home improvement jobs are being completed, and by whom. The team then organizes the data and crunches the numbers to create a rating that users can grasp: one that is based on the experience of the service provider rather than popular opinion.
 
Hailing from New York, Lenahan and Sperry were pleasantly surprised by Cincinnati and have no intention to leave at this juncture, especially after having such a positive experience at the Brandery.
 
"We're light years ahead of the curve now," Lenahan says.
 
While many members of this year's class hail from elsewhere, there are a few examples of local talent. One of these companies, Venn, is made up of three native Cincinnatians who will probably stick around for a while.
 
"Being able to sit down [at the Brandery] and talk with the founders from successful startups—casually—is so huge," founder Steffan Howey says.
 
Howey, a startup veteran who handles the business end of things, joins Ian Donahue, a University of Cincinnati grad in charge of design and aesthetics, and Tim Giblin, a graduate of St. Xavier high school and Miami University who specializes in web development.
 
The Venn idea was born when a run-of-the-mill Craigslist meet-up went awry. Attempting to sell a phone, Howey says he was held up at gunpoint in a parking lot. The initial idea was that of a marketplace that would solve the problems that can arise when planning meet-ups, both social and otherwise. After working with the Brandery for a few months, the trio discovered an even bigger opportunity. Instead of a marketplace, Venn has now redirected its focus to creating an application that will provide a useful tool for developers.
 
"Developers will be able to build a new class of web and mobile applications where things like reservations, transportation, payments, identity verification, scheduling and location recommendations are as easy to integrate into their app as flipping a switch," Howey says.
 
Venn's most notable recent project is an app called Meetloaf, or, as Donahue describes it, "the Tinder for places." With a little help from Interbrand, the app features an adorable character named Marty Meetloaf who helps you navigate the when, where, who and how of getting together. The app is currently under review at Apple.
 
For those looking for a startup job, Venn is also hiring iOS developers. In the meantime, they can't wait to get little Marty off the ground.
 

DAAP students design contest-winning cars for Volkswagen

When Simon Wells arrived at the University of Cincinnati almost 5 years ago, he had been drawing for years. He had also dabbled in 3D modeling and computer graphics during high school in Texas. Though he had always had skill, his first day at UC's College of Design Architecture, Art and Planning brought him to an important realization.
 
"I wasn't any good," he says, laughing.
 
Five years later, Wells has more than developed his skills as a designer. Two weeks ago, Wells and his classmate Cameron Bresn were both named winners of the 2014 Volkswagen Design Contest.
 
The contest called for contestants across the country to design a car that might appear in a video game. But the typical racing game was not on Wells' radar. He wanted to go in a more sci-fi direction to truly excite the folks at Volkwagen.
 
"I wanted to show them something they wouldn't see at work," Wells says.
 
Wells' and Bresn's professor decided to integrate the contest into the semester-long design class. Since the goal of the class is to offer students the experience to land an internship, the Volkswagen Design Contest's promise of an internship in Germany was the perfect motivator.
 
Wells' winning design, entitled "The Quantum Ambassador," was chosen out of hundreds of applicants. The car he created would allow scientists to travel through space and eventually through a black hole—a true "journey into the unknown." The vehicle would be a large-scale "faraday cage," a tool police officers use to prevent electronic signals from reaching objects like cell phones. This feature would block the radiation from the black hole. The design itself even incorporated the "cage" theme.
 
Volkswagon was impressed, to say the least. As winners of their annual contest, Wells and Bresn will travel to Germany for an internship with the company next year.
 
Until then, Wells is already working with Volkswagon in California as an intern. His job is to imagine what the car of the future will look like it and to put his imagination to paper. Since Wells hopes to be doing this kind of work after graduation, this internship is a perfect opportunity. It's also the well-deserved product of five years of long hours and hard work. Wells' contest-winning entry will be a key part of his final portfolio at the end of the school year. 
 
"I used to get chest pains from the stress," Wells says. "But the work is enjoyable; at the end of the day, we're just drawing."

Pet Wants owners to open distillery in Over-the-Rhine

PetWants co-owner Michele Hobbs has a secret.
 
Well, two of them. First of all, she knows the origin of the ubiquitous "OTR$" stamp that has been appearing on paper money throughout the downtown Cincinnati area. Second, during a time when real estate in Over-the-Rhine is expensive and hard to come by, she and her wife (and PetWants co-owner) Amanda Broughton managed to purchase an old warehouse that will do much more than serve as a receiving area for the 25,000 pounds of food PetWants sells each month.
 
"People like me don't get these buildings," Hobbs says.
 
Hobbs discovered the structure after poring over public bankruptcy records. She stumbled across an owner who hadn't paid taxes since 2007 and jumped at the opportunity to make the building hers. For $225,000, Hobbs found herself with 17,000 square feet of space, including a warehouse and an attached garage. Two blocks from the streetcar, she has space for 250 cars and the kind of business potential people only dream of.
 
Though currently in the business plan stage, the groundwork has been laid to house OTR's first distillery in decades in the Central Parkway location. According to Hobbs, there used to be 80 distilleries in OTR. Though the city is chock full of craft breweries, liquor production has taken a back seat.
 
Born Again Distillery, a name Hobbs has already trademarked, will produce gin, whiskey and bourbon while also providing a large event space for rent. Hobbs hopes to collaborate with other OTR residents to make the place a neighborhood-driven destination.
 
Though she is excited about the project, Hobbs' main focus is still PetWants—that, and encouraging folks to buy local. Though money stamped with "OTR$" has been rumored to be linked to a neighborhood drug ring, its true origin is nowhere else but PetWants' own cash register. They created the stamp and stamps like it to make people aware of their company's commitment to spending money locally.

Hobbs' local commitment will become even more apparent with the emergence of her OTR distillery. The warehouse transformation should begin sometime next year.

The Brandery Class of 2014: Strap makes wearables doable

Two weeks ago, the Brandery celebrated Demo Day for its 5th graduating startup class. The graduation released the growing companies into the metaphorical "wild," though several will still maintain a presence at the Brandery until they find an alternate working space. This particular class, drawn from the Brandery's highest number of applicants to date, is made up of the most technically savvy founders the accelerator has seen yet. Not only that, but eight out of 10 of the members have decided to grow their businesses right here in Cincinnati.
 
"When you're in a vibrant place where people want to be, companies tend to stick around," says Mike Bott, general manager at the Brandery.
 
Bott is often quoted for his "swiss cheese" analogy when it comes to startups. When companies first come though the Brandery's doors, the foundation is there, but there are holes to be filled. When Class of 2014 graduate Strap first arrived at the Brandery, there were a lot of holes.
 
"When we arrived, we had a pretty narrow vision of what Strap would be," says Steve Caldwell, founder and CEO at Strap. "By the end, ... we had evolved personally and professionally into a well-rounded company."
 
Strap serves as a software development and analytics platform for wearables. The company's goal is to attract both developers and retailers who want to get the most from their wearable technology through an easy-to-use system. Caldwell and his team are thrilled to be developing their product in the cost-effective, startup-friendly Cincinnati area, a place he describes as combining the best of the big city with the friendliness of a small town. The resources don't hurt, either.
 
"If someone locally can’t provide something, we’ve been one degree of separation from just about any industry or area of interest through Brandery connections alone," Caldwell says.
 
The Strap staff is made up of a creative director who has a black belt in karate, an operations guru/former Army Ranger who spent time tracking and destroying the Taliban's bombs in Afghanistan, and two engineers who just dominate code.
 
"If you combined a musically inclined hipster kung-fu master with an Army Ranger, you’d be approaching our culture," Caldwell says.
 
Soapbox will profile the other nine members of The Brandery's diverse new class in the coming weeks.

One-room schoolhouse at NKU to be transformed into modern learning space

Imagine taking a history course in a building that, by its very nature, is a testament to how far education has come over the centuries. At Northern Kentucky University, plans are underway to create a space that creates that very opportunity, and more.
 
In the coming months, renovation projects will ensue to turn a one-room, 1850s schoolhouse into a technologically modern learning center. The log cabin-like structure will be equipped with wifi, a smart board and other modern classroom materials. That said, instead of gutting the building, project leader and Masters in Public History professor Dr. Brian Hackett wants to keep the design of the cabin as loyal to 19th century design standards as possible. This means primitive lighting and perhaps a coal-burning stove, if they're lucky.
 
Dr. Hackett, along with the grounds and maintenance crew at NKU, has been pushing to make this building usable again for years. The cabin arrived on campus grounds in 1979 after being transferred from Grants Lick, Ky. The university's former president, Dr. W. Frank Steely, brought the building to campus to provide a contrast to the modern amenities students were enjoying at that time. For decades, it simply sat on the grounds.
 
Furthered by a push from the Facilities Management Department at the university, Dr. Hackett finally made a move to change that. After years of bringing his museum management students to the building and asking them, "If someone handed you this building, what would you do with it?" Dr. Hackett finally decided to do something with it.
 
According to Hackett, the cost to carry out the project is surprisingly low. Financially backed by "money that should have been spent years ago" and aided by the help of dozens of student and faculty volunteers, the renovations should be complete by next spring. Once finished, Hackett and his teams envision that the building will provide a space for all disciplines, not just history.
 
"Any professor can take their students to the cabin for a class," Hackett says. "[The cabin] is meant to be integrated into the philosophy of the whole university."
 
That philosophy is characterized by a sense of collaboration. NKU's Ecological Stewardship Institute Initiative, its Masters in Public History Program and even its cabinetry department will all be working together to make Dr. Hackett's vision a reality.
 
The grounds surrounding the cabin will also serve an important purpose. In the coming months, the fields behind the structure will serve as living laboratories for students studying the sciences.
 
As for the cabin itself, it will allow NKU students to escape the distractions of the average learning space and truly return to a simpler time.
 
"I think people are going to use it more than they think," Hackett says. "If you're looking for a place to, say, write the next great American novel, there's really no better option."

Local startup Lisnr finds a home with Techstars and R/GA

When you’re a company like Lisnr, accelerators come to you, not the other way around. As a relatively established Cincinnati startup, Lisnr already has millions in investments, a solid employee base and an even more impressive product. So when one of the largest accelerators in the country approached its chief executive, Rodney Williams, he was not planning on settling for just anything.
 
That accelerator was Techstars, a Colorado-based, nationally recognized accelerator that has recently teamed up with R/GA, an equally acclaimed design and advertising firm. As the Wall Street Journal blog reported a couple of weeks ago, the duo is seeking startups that are far past the seed-stage and well on their way to generating revenue. Techstars and R/GA hope to attract companies just like Lisnr by offering them a worldwide network of investors, customers and developers.
 
That said, Techstars and R/GA’s more-than-appealing offerings were not what convinced Williams and his team to come on board. There had to be a spark.
 
"When I usually meet an agency, they’re trying to understand Lisnr," Williams says. "Within a few minutes of speaking with R/GA, they not only understood us, they understood how impactful we could be in the market."
 
Lisnr, which describes itself as a “premiere smarttone technology company,” develops software that uses ultrasonic technology to transfer data through audio. It could mean big things for retailers who want to reach their customers directly, in real time. Anything, from advertising data to promotional announcements, can be transferred through audio waves directly to a consumer’s smartphone or other device.
 
Working with Techstars and R/GA means that the technology can now become more prolific than ever. According to Williams, it has the potential to replace Bluetooth. This is no small task, and where an accelerator could prove very beneficial.
 
"The R/GA client base is incredible for Lisnr," he says. With success stories like Microsoft, Beats by Dre and Nike Fuel Bands on their resume, R/GA has proven extremely successful in marketing products to the exact customer base Williams hopes to reach. As for Techstars, Williams anticipates that they will help him to recruit even more top talent in the area to even further perfect the software.
 
"As we look at the next four months, it’s really about connecting with companies, creating standards," Williams continues. "Demo Day, for us, will be about becoming the new standard."
 
After their time with Techstars and R/GA, Lisnr hopes to appear on millions of devices and have developed a team both in Cincinnati and New York that can further that goal. Though their New York office provides an important hub for the business, Cincinnati is still home.
 
"There are no better developers than here in the Midwest," Williams says. "Cincinnati has been amazing for us."
 
The company plans to move into its new building at 12th and Broadway in the next month, where it will have more room to expand and grow as a brand.
 
"The team is uber-excited," Williams says, "and so motivated to speed this up within the market."

The Hamilton Mill adds a microbrewery to its roster

At The Hamilton Mill, "startup culture" is about to take on a whole new meaning. In the coming months, the Hamilton incubator will be welcoming a microbrewery to the old firehouse it calls home.
 
Municipal Brew Works is the brainchild of six businessmen, three of whom hail from the Hamilton area and all of whom bring some sort of microbrewery or business experience to the table. By 2015, the bottom floor of the Mill’s High Street location will house a taproom and boast production of nearly 2,500 barrels of craft beer per year. Not a bad deal for the Mill’s current residents, who are more than encouraged to use the taproom as a workspace.
 
The Mill, which has undergone a rebranding during the past three to four months, describes itself as Southwest Ohio’s green incubator for startups focused on manufacturing. Companies who join the Mill usually remain on board for three to four years, taking full advantage of the Mill’s excellent relationship with the city of Hamilton and its utilities department. As a board member at Cintrifuse, the Mill also offers its companies access to Cintrifuse’s mentor network and venture capitalist connections.
 
Most of the companies who sign on with the Mill are somehow related to green technology, but the arrival of Municipal Brew Works highlights the Mill’s broader focus on craftsmanship and artisan efforts. Just like the other companies at the Mill, the brewery will have access to the business development tools the incubator offers. A presence at the Mill will help the brewery in its growth stage.
 
The Mill’s director, Antony Seppi, is more than excited to bring the brewery on board.
 
"The response we got [from the community] was pretty incredible," Seppi says. "The city has a strong history of both manufacturing and beer creation that dates back to the late 1880s."
 
The even greater news? Bringing in a brewery means that other artisan businesses may look to the Mill as an incubator. The ridiculously convenient access to a frothy pour of craft beer for all Mill residents certainly won't keep people away. 
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