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ReelAbilities Film Festival moves headquarters from NYC to Cincinnati, plans biggest year yet

The ReelAbilities Film Festival, A weeklong festival of independent, award-winning films, aimed at stirring discussion and celebrating diversity and shared humanity, has moved its headquarters from New York City to Cincinnati. The headquarters in Cincinnati is now overseen by the local nonprofit Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled (LADD).
 
ReelAbilities was founded in 2007 in New York City by the Manhattan JCC, and has grown to become the largest film festival in the country dedicated to sharing the stories, lives and art of people who experience disability. The festival now takes place in 14 U.S. cities across the country. In Cincinnati, the biennial festival will next occur February 27-March 7, 2015.
 
“Cincinnati has been so receptive to this festival, it makes perfect sense for it to be here,” says Christa Zielke, National Field Director of the festival. “From the funders to our partners and the festival goers themselves, everyone has really rallied around this.”
 
In 2013, the festival brought 24-plus events to the Cincinnati area, held at a variety of venues including the Contemporary Arts Center, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati Art Museum, Esquire and Mariemont Theaters and more. More than 250 people volunteer, and the festival saw a 514 percent increase in attendance last year from the previous festival in 2011.
 
“By telling these diverse stories through film, ReelAbilities shines a light on our common human spirit,” says Jeff Harris, a board member and funder of the festival through the Saul Schottenstein Foundation B. “Last year’s festival was truly amazing in its ability to draw that connection and include the entire community.”
 
This year, LADD has partnered with several organizations to continue to raise awareness and promote discussion around these topics outside of the festival. This summer, they partnered with 3CDC and Washington Park to sponsor a screening of Finding Nemo.
 
“We’ve also partnered with the education and legal communities to engage people with these ideas, and to celebrate and acknowledge difference,” Zielke says.
 
Among ReelAbilities advocates is Danny Woodburn, a professional actor who plays the voice of Splinter in the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.
 
“Actors with disabilities are 90 percent less likely to be seen, and many characters with disabilities aren’t actually played by actors with disabilities,” Woodburn says. “It’s important for work like this to be done, and if I have the chance to speak out and be heard because I’m recognizable from being in the public eye, then I feel it’s my responsibility to do so.”
 
“But this isn’t just about actors getting work,” Woodburn continues. “Two-thirds of people with disabilities are unemployed; we need to raise awareness of that fact. If we want that to change, we as a society have to create an environment for change.”
 
For more information about the 2015 ReelAbilities Festival, visit www.cincyra.org

Artworks Big Pitch Finalist: C. Jacqueline Wood, Golden Hour Moving Pictures

Throughout the summer, Soapbox is profiling each of the eight finalists in the Artworks Big Pitch competition, presented by U.S. Bank, which offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes, as well as pro-bono professional services. The competition concludes August 27 at the American Sign Museum with the eight finalists each giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges. You can read Soapbox’s article on the Big Pitch here.

It was the radio station or the film festival. It was going to be one of those two and for whatever reason, the film festival won out. That was 11 years ago, and since then, C. Jacqueline Wood has continued her passion for film and made it her career. Now back in her hometown of Cincinnati, she is the one-woman show behind Golden Hour Moving Pictures.
 
During her freshman year of college at the University of Michigan, Wood decided to walk into the office of the Ann Arbor Film Festival. She wound up working for the festival in a variety of capacities throughout her time at the university before moving to Chicago, where she received her master’s degree from the Art Institute of Chicago in film video/new media. From there, Wood returned to Ann Arbor, where she began teaching film and video classes to high school students through a program with Eastern Michigan Unveristy.
 
“It was great to get to teach students about experimental film and video and to expose them to some things outside of the mainstream Hollywood aesthetic,” Wood says. “But I was getting antsy and really had an urge to spend more time creating my own work. So in 2012, I decided to quit all of my jobs and move back to Cincinnati, and on the day I moved, I began the CO.STARTERS program.”
 
After graduating from the CO.STARTERS program, Wood had an LLC and a business plan for Golden Hour Moving Pictures, but the business itself was still very green. Two breakthrough moments came for her one right after another when she landed an opportunity to create a video for Nicola’s, one of Cincinnati’s most esteemed Italian restaurants, which led to her creating a video in anticipation of the opening of Boca’s downtown location, which opened just over a year ago.
 

Boca from Golden Hour Moving Pictures on Vimeo.

“For the Boca video, I traveled all around and got footage of farmers, painters, woodworkers, engravers and more,” Wood says. “That video got a lot of attention for Boca and ended up being show on the jumbotron on Fountain Square. It also opened a lot of doors for me, and it’s just been project after project since then.”
 
Since then, Golden Hour’s clients have included organizations like the Contemporary Arts Center, The Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington, Random Snacks of Kindness and more. Wood does all of her editing and production work in her studio at the Essex building.
 
“Even though I’m from here and I’m moving back here, it’s just a whole new place,” Wood says. “It’s not the same Artworks I remember 12 years ago when I was in high school. It’s just an amazing organization. In any other big city, there’s no other way I would be at this point in my business. Artworks has truly helped make my business what it is every step of the way.”
 
Through the Big Pitch competition, Wood is hoping to secure the funding that would allow her to expand her staff and catch up on the demand for her work. She sees lots of room to grow here and also has her sights set on some bigger dreams further down the line.
 
“In the long term I want to open a micro cinema, a small movie theater that has a focus on experimental film and video,” she says. “That’s a huge part of the culture right now, and it’s not represented here in Cincinnati. I’d love to see the cinema as a place that focuses on exhibition and education, where people can take film-making classes for all ages.”
 
In the meantime, Wood has plenty of video production work to keep her busy for a long time.
 
“I’ve done virtually no PR, so the fact that people have seen my work and notice it, I can’t describe what that means to me,” she says. “I can’t imagine that happening this quickly or in this capacity in any other city.

Check out these other Artworks Big Pitch finalists:

Roadtrippers employees launch Side Project Cincinnati, start urban garden

Roadtrippers, the Cincinnati travel-based startup, can’t seem to stay out of the news. The app-based company was recently named one of Time Magazine’s 50 best websites of 2014 for its easy-to-use interface that allows users to plan trips and includes curated descriptions of hidden gems along the way. It also recently raised $2.8 million in venture funding and is now up to 47 total employees, making it one of the largest companies to graduate from the local accelerator the Brandery.
 
Now, two Roadtrippers employees, Chelsea Koglmeier and Matt Fulton, have partnered together to create Side Project Cincinnati, a meetup group for the rapidly expanding tech and entrepreneur community in Cincinnati.
 
“We decided that we want Roadtrippers to be more of a focal point for innovation discussion happening in Cincinnati right now,” Koglmeier says. “We want to open up our space and create an environment, not just for Roadtrippers employees, where people can share and explore creative ideas.”
 
Koglmeier is not looking to create another avenue for businesses to pitch ideas, but rather wants hackers, tinkerers and creative thinkers to come share their side projects and ideas.
 
“We’re doing these meetings about every quarter,” Koglmeier says. “We give each presenter five minutes to talk about their project and then 10 minutes to answer questions. We want to help foster that creative community and maybe even help people find collaborators for their projects.”
 
After doing very little advertising, the group has already grown to more than 150 online members, and meetings have drawn 40 to 60 people. The next meeting for Side Project Cincinnati is Tuesday, August 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the Roadtrippers headquarters.
 
As if this weren’t enough, the actual building Roadtrippers occupies, on McMicken in the Brewery District of Over-the-Rhine, has recently gotten a bit of an upgrade. First, Artworks has just finished a brand new mural on the building. Second, Koglmeier, with the help of friends and family, has planted a garden right next to the mural.
 
“We were going to just pave over the lot, and I asked our CEO, James, to give me until the winter to try to turn it into a garden,” Koglmeier says. “Thankfully, he said yes. So I raised money to build it out and had a lot of help setting it up. Now, every few days I harvest kale, chard, hot and sweet peppers, rosemary and more and just leave them on the counter for our employees to take home.” Even neighborhood kids have pitched in to help tend the garden.
 
Koglmeier created a group to chart the progress of the garden; you can follow it here.

Scripps launches in-house startup to connect parents with youth sports organizations

As the entrepreneurial scene grows not only in Cincinnati, but nationwide, different sectors of the business community are getting involved in all sorts of ways. The E.W. Scripps Company, a national media group headquartered in Cincinnati, has begun incubating startup companies and ideas within the structure of the company.
 
Launched in April by Scripps, Youthletic is an online tool for parents in Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky to help them find the best sports organizations for their kids. Youthletic allows parents to search through options based on location, age, cost and reviews.
 
“Within Cincinnati alone, there are over 1,500 organizations,” says Bo Schuerman, director of digital solutions and new business development Scripps and Founder and CEO of Youthletic. “If you are just Googling sports organizations in your area, the results are pretty overwhelming. The parents want to have confidence in their decision-making; what we want to do is build that confidence in the selection process and help them figure out what’s right for their family.”
 
Youthletic promises that it has done extensive research on these organizations so that parents don’t have to worry vetting them themselves. Though launched in the spring, the team spent six to eight months not only on developing the product, but also on building a comprehensive list that so far includes more than 1,200 organizations in the region. The platform allows registered users to set up reminders and alerts as well as rate organizations and send messages.  
 
“We’ve also brought in local experts to provide guidance and expertise to parents,” Schuerman says. “The site has all sorts of helpful content on youth athletics, including the benefits for childhood development such as leadership, character, sportsmanship and time management. We chose to include this type of content after talking with many parents about what they need.”
 
The Youthletic team is still small, with four or five employees working on it at the moment, so it still functions like a small startup. The main difference is that has access to Scripps' vast array of resources and doesn’t have to scramble for funding. Schuerman says it’s like having a “built-in” venture capital firm.
 
“This division launched about a year and a half ago,” Schuerman says. “It’s really the best of both worlds.”

Cincinnati startup Lagoon aims to change how we view water usage

A good idea can come at any time, as long as you’re ready to listen to it. There may be no group in town that knows this better than the founders of Lagoon, the Cincinnati startup that seeks to help homeowners understand and reduce their water usage.
 
Late in the fall of 2013, good friends, entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts Eric Elias and Nathan Heidt wanted to work on a side project together. The two got together, along with Heidt’s lifelong friend Will Wiebe, and began working on ideas to submit to the University of Dayton’s Business Plan Competition.
 
“An hour before the application was due, we really weren’t passionate about anything,” says Elias, now CEO of Lagoon. “We wanted a market that wasn’t already over-saturated and, ultimately, an idea that we cared about.”
 
Heidt, now CTO, had just finished a cross-country bicycle trip. Along the way, he saw the impact a drought was having in regions of Texas and California on its farmers and citizens and became inspired to learn more about water usage. The group started thinking about a product that could educate and inspire others around the issue of water usage.
 
“I just asked Nathan and Will if it would be possible to measure water usage from the outside of a pipe,” Elias says. “They said it could work, and we all knew immediately that we were on to something.”
 
Fast forward to the present and Lagoon has made major strides forward, and is no longer a side project being worked on out of a barn. The team ended up winning third prize at the UD Business Plan competition and receiving $10,000. The startup has also since been accepted into the 2014 class of the Brandery, the top 10 nationally ranked accelerator located in Over-the-Rhine.
 
The technology for Lagoon is similar to that of the Nest model in that it reinvents home automation for the digital age. A Lagoon sensor is placed around the outside of a home’s main water line and a Lagoon base station is placed in the home. Using the home’s wi-fi network, the two devices communicate with each other to monitor and track water usage and then send information to the user’s smartphone.  
 
“As a homeowner, I never really understood my water bill,” Elias says. “It’s like receiving your credit card bill with a single line item—it’s very unclear. Plus, right now, you get a water bill 30 days later. That’s a long feedback loop. We want to bring it closer, to the week, to the hour, to the minute, so you can understand your water usage even for your morning shower you just took.”
 
Already, Lagoon has entered into a partnership with the Hamilton Mill and the city of Hamilton, Ohio, to pilot its technology with the city’s residents.
 
“Hamilton is a city that is focused on being eco-friendly and sustainable. Having a smart home water system within their homes fits that,” Elias says.
 
Lagoon is poised to make even bigger moves as the year progresses. The team urges residents to check out its site and explore how having a Lagoon in their home can help them save money and save the planet.  

New co-working space merges work and play

Cincinnati’s newest co-working office, MOVE, is opening early next month and hopes to stimulate its clients both mentally and physically. The workspace is attached the Foundation Fitness gym and promises to be full of energy, motivation and “people taking breaks to climb ropes, sneak in a few squats or flip the tires a few times.”
 
Located at the intersection of the Brighton, Over-the-Rhine and West End neighborhoods in Cincinnati’s Historic Brewery District, MOVE sits less than half a mile from Findlay Market. Co-founders Patrick Hitches and Ryan Meo say they opened MOVE because they saw a need for collaborative workspace in the city.
 
“I was looking around town and was honestly shocked at how few co-working spaces there were, especially in and around downtown,” Hitches says. “At MOVE, we’re looking to cultivate the local entrepreneur/soloprenuer scene, and the idea is that being active and healthy helps to spark creativity, productivity and innovation. We merge work and play to help our members reach their own personal potential in both body and career.”
 
But the founders emphasize that MOVE is not just for the physically fit. “I have been running an online company for seven years now, and it did no favors at all to my body and health,” Meo says. “I sat all the time, worked long hours and inadvertently ended up in terrible shape; I needed a change without sacrificing my growing business. MOVE was the change I needed and why Patrick and I came together to offer this opportunity to those in the same position I was.”
 
MOVE will feature a variety of amenities including Commercial Broadband Wifi, 24/7 access, showers, lounge area, indoor hanging bike racks and more. Move will have its soft opening on August 6 before launching fully at the beginning of September. 

Frameri wins $100K from AOL founder Steve Case, moves into OTR office

To say that the Frameri has been busy would be an understatement.
 
Since entering the Brandery a year ago, the versatile eyewear startup company has grown from a team of two co-founders to five full-time employees and four part-time employees—with a few more new hires in the pipeline. In May, after having split his team between Chicago and Cincinnati, CEO Konrad Billetz decided to move the entire team back to Cincinnati and just last week signed a lease on a new office in Over-the-Rhine that will put his entire team under one roof.
 
In June, Billetz, along with seven other entrepreneurs, pitched in front of a packed crowd at the Know Theatre that included AOL founder Steve Case. The pitch event was part of Case’s Rise of the Rest Tour in which local startups competed for funding (highlights from Case’s Cincinnati stop can be found here). After a brief deliberation, Billetz was named the winner and took home a $100,000 investment from Case’s venture capital firm Revolution.
 
“It was really great to get selected as the winner and receive the investment, but for us that was more about validation than anything else,” Billetz says. “It helps to get more people to know what were doing; now we just need to get out there, work our assess off and prove that they were right to pick us.”
 
If the past year is any indication, Billetz and his team are ready to put their collective noses to the proverbial grindstone. This week marks the official launch of the Frameri’s first line of product, which is based around creating quality, crafted frames with interchangeable lenses to bring style into the industry and waste out of it.
 
“We’ve had three goals since we started,” Billetz says. “First, to shake the eyewear industry up, which we see as really boring. Second, to make people smile by delivering really awesome product that genuinely deserves to exist. Third, to add lots of jobs and create a really cool culture. We want to be one of those jobs that people really want to work at—not just in Cincinnati, but nationwide.”
 
To that end, Frameri is currently on the lookout for designers, digital marketers and web developers. 

Artworks Big Pitch Finalist: Brian Stuparyk, Steam Whistle Letterpress

Throughout the summer, Soapbox will profile each of the eight finalists in the Artworks Big Pitch competition, presented by U.S. Bank, which offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes, as well as pro-bono professional services. The competition concludes August 27 at the American Sign Museum with the eight finalists each giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges. You can read Soapbox’s article on the Big Pitch here.

It may seem hard to believe, but some people still like to make things with their hands. Brian Stuparyk, founder of Steam Whistle Letterpress, is one of those people.
 
Stuparyk studied photography initially, but by the time he graduated college, photography was already making the digital shift, something that didn’t interest him as much.
 
“I really liked being in the darkroom. I liked working with the equipment and creating things, and I liked the science of it all,” Stuparyk says.
 
He discovered printmaking while doing production for a newspaper. For Stuparyk, it combined the mechanical processes that he liked about analog photography with art and creativity.
 
“The other obvious part about printmaking is that someone is still going to hire your services,” Stuparyk says. “Very few people will hire a photographer using film when they can get digital. But with letterpress, you can’t achieve this kind of quality any other way.”
 
Stuparyk’s production is split between a Main Street storefront in Over-the-Rhine and a space in the Essex Studios. Both are filled with machines anywhere from 40 to 100 years old. Despite the fact that newer machines may be cheaper and quicker at turning out product, Steam Whistle prefers older machines because, according to Stuparyk, they produce a higher quality product.
 
“If you do something really, really well, people will gravitate to that,” Stuparyk says. “With Steam Whistle, the quality was the first thing I really had to conquer. We’ve done that, and I’d put our printing up against any other shop in the country.”
 
Since incorporating as a business in November 2011, Steam Whistle products can now be found in more than 20 U.S. states, as well as in Canada. The requests for custom work have begun piling in, and the company has begun working with a sales rep in New York, substantially increasing the brand's visibility. At this point, Stuparyk’s biggest issue is how to deal with the growth.
 
“Currently, I’m working 80 to 85 hours a week, and I’m finding that there aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up with the work that’s coming in. I’d like to consolidate all my equipment into one shop and hire another employee, but I need to get the financing right to make it work.”
 
For this reason, Stuparyk entered into the Artworks Big Pitch competition.
 
“If I do win the competition, I know I’ll be able to put the money to work right away,” Stuparyk says. “What’s been great is getting that reassurance from the mentors that Artworks has connected me with."
 
Stuparyk would like to sell Steam Whistle products in all 50 states, begin working with more Cincinnati businesses and be recognized as a leading brand in the letterpress industry. He already partners with stores like OTR’s Rock Paper Scissors and Noble Denim, a fellow Big Pitch finalist.
 
“I want to keep growing the business and keep doing it here in Over-the-Rhine,” Stuparyk says. “The more I grow, I know it will benefit my partners and the community as well, so I’m hoping to keep growing and keep funneling that growth back into the city and community."

Check out these other Artworks Big Pitch finalists:

GoSun ships first solar cookers, launches online community

GoSun, the Cincinnati startup that developed a portable, high-efficiency and fuel-free solar cooker of the same name, has just begun shipping their first line of products around the world.
 
The cookers come in two variations, called the GoSun Sport, which can cook up to 3 lbs of food and weigh only 5 lbs itself, and the GoSun Mini, which weighs about 1.5 lbs and can cook 9.5 oz of food. Soapbox profiled GoSun in the fall of 2013, when they were in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign. The campaign ended with GoSun raising over $200,000, making it the most successful Kickstarter campaign ever in Cincinnati. Since that time, things have been happening fast for the GoSun team.
 
“We’ve already sent out over 1,000 products to 22 countries around the world, making these the first batch of American made high efficiency solar cookers,” says Patrick Sherwin, Founder and President of GoSun.
 
Additionally, GoSun has launched an online community via Facebook called the GoSun Community Kitchen, where early adopters of the technology can post and view pictures and recipes using the solar cooker.
 
“We love that people are so excited about the GoSun and are constantly thinking up new ways to use it,” says Social Designer Matt Gillespie.
 
With the rapid expansion of the company, GoSun has hired six fulltime employees since the fall and that number will likely grow through the end of 2014. At the beginning of the year, they were even offered a spot on the coveted entrepreneurial-themed TV show, Shark Tank.
 
“They actually approached us and suggested we apply for the show,” says Sherwin. “We seriously considered it for a long time, but in the end, we decided that we’d rather grow our company based on the steady input of users we’ve built up over time, as opposed to hoping for an overnight success.”
 
To read about the decision in greater detail, you can find the blog post on GoSun’s site here. Whichever way they choose to go, GoSun’s future looks undoubtedly bright. 

Manufacturing accelerator First Batch announces 2014 class

First Batch, a Cincinnati-based accelerator aimed at taking entrepreneurs from prototype to production, has announced its 2014 class of companies.
 
The companies, which represent a wide spectrum of business ideas, also display First Batch’s aim to not only accelerate participating companies but to promote a unique set of resources that position Cincinnati as a great place to start a physical product company. The companies are:
 
3D Kitbash, founded by Quincy Robinson and Natalie Mathis, offers professionally sculpted digital models online for the 3D printing market.
 
Ampersand, founded by Tim Karoleff and Greg Lutz, utilizes awareness and empathy to design unique furniture, home goods, and artworks, delighting users with unexpected cleverness and practical pleasure.
 
Switcher, founded by Ken Addison, is made to help provide professional-level video studio control for the growing internet video studio or consumers. The switches are able to control multiple cameras in a software environment and provide lighting indicators (called “tally”) to direct the on-screen talent.
 
Ohio Valley Beard Supply, founded by Patrick Brown and Scott Ponder, is a line of beard care products and beard elixirs that come in five natural scents.
 
“This year we wanted to bring in a mix of companies that was both a good fit for our manufacturing and production strengths as a city, but also offered diversity and the ability to learn a lot from each other,” says Matt Anthony, program coordinator for First Batch. “We have companies that have been running successfully for a few years and are using First Batch as an opportunity to launch a new product (Ampersand, 3DKitbash), a completely new concept that is just now forming as a company through our UC law partnership (Switcher), and a company that launched a few short months to early success and has found a fast need for scaling up (Ohio Valley Beard Supply).”
 
Cincinnati has a well-documented history of industrial production, which First Batch hopes to tap in to.
 
“We think the resources here are perfect and feel like we've picked a broad range of companies that should showcase what is possible here,” Anthony says. “We want to start building momentum and a movement behind both First Batch and Cincinnati Made and are hoping to bring along anyone who wants to grow or contribute.

Artworks Big Pitch Finalist: Matt Madison, Madisono's Gelato & Sorbet

Throughout the summer, Soapbox will profile each of the eight finalists in the Artworks Big Pitch competition, presented by U.S. Bank, which offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes, as well as pro-bono professional services. The competition concludes August 27 at the American Sign Museum with the eight finalists each giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges. You can read Soapbox’s article on the Big Pitch here.
 
Matt Madison knows that a skilled artist cannot truly create a great work of art based on his mind alone. He needs the proper materials, the right canvas and genuine inspiration to make something creative. For this reason, Madison founded Madisono’s Gelato & Sorbet in 2006. To understand Madison’s mission, we have to go even further back to a distant era called the “mid-90s”.
 
“In the mid-90s, a trend emerged of chefs looking out beyond traditional food sourcing companies for higher quality ingredients and more interesting, specific types of flavors,” Madison says.
 
So Madison and his father, who owns and operates Madison’s at Findlay Market, ran a unique farm in West Union, Ohio that would source these specific ingredients like custom heirloom tomatoes, heirloom cantaloupes and more to chefs around the Cincinnati area.
 
“I recognized that for a chef to do really creative, awesome things, it starts with the materials,” Madison says.
 
After living on the farm for five years, Madison moved back to the city and discovered that his knack for making gelatos and sorbets would allow him to provide that same inspiration and pleasure to chefs and consumers alike.
 
“This was in 2005, and at that time, we really didn’t have anyone making artisan, handcrafted ice creams and sorbets in Cincinnati,” Madison says. “You’d hear about it in places like Atlanta, New York and Seattle, but nothing here.”
 
So Madison started Madisono’s in 2006 and went back to the same restaurant contacts he’d had from his days on the farm to ask what chefs would want from an artisan gelato maker.
 
“They said they wanted something authentic, with great ingredients, and I knew I could do that,” Madison says. “The business is based on our passion for creativity; we’re always trying to create something different and delicious—that’s the focus.”
 
To keep it authentic, Madisono’s makes the base for its gelatos from scratch every day. Many other companies will order a premade base that includes many extra artificial ingredients; Madisono’s makes its recipes as simple and natural as possible.
 
Madisono’s can now be found in nearly 40 restaurants in the Greater Cincinnati area, including Taste of Belgium, Via Vite, Arnold’s, Anchor OTR and Essencha Tea House. Madison estimates that this accounts for about 40 percent of the business, while the other 60 percent is geared toward selling pints in retail stores like Whole Foods, Findlay Market, Clifton Natural Foods and more.
 
Madison hopes to build the company and brand to the point that Madisono’s is recognized all over the region and thought of as a must-have experience when you’re in Cincinnati. If Madison wins the Artworks Big Pitch contest, he would be able to upgrade equipment, bring in more employees and expand production.
 
“Just being a part of the process of being a finalist, I feel like I’ve won already,” Madison says. “Of course, I’d love to win the competition, but even if I don’t, getting the mentorship has been so valuable in helping me develop my business plan. Sometimes, in the midst of running a business, it’s hard to focus on that when there are so many other possibilities and opportunities to think about. But to get this kind of disciplined approach, I feel like I’ve prepared myself to grow the business, whether or not I win the $15,000.”

Check out these other Artworks Big Pitch finalists:

Biztech incubator rebrands and shifts focus

Biztech, the 11-year-old business incubator based in Hamilton, Ohio, announced earlier this month its new name and rebranding initiative aimed at attracting early-stage entrepreneurs and companies. Moving forward, Biztech will be known as The Hamilton Mill with the goal to serve as a resource for the entrepreneurial community, particularly in the areas of advanced manufacturing, clean technology (renewable energy, natural gas, water) and digital technology.
 
“This announcement marks the culmination of many months of effort to redirect and refine the mission, scope and utility of The Hamilton Mill,” says Rahul Bawa, The Hamilton Mill’s Chairman of the Board and Chief Operating Officer of the Blue Chip Venture Company. “As the only incubator in Butler County, it is incumbent on The Hamilton Mill to find new ways of attracting and growing the businesses of the future. The Hamilton Mill is uniquely positioned to bring together entrepreneurs who can build the clean, digital and advanced technologies that will impact all of our lives for the better.”
 
The city of Hamilton actually owns its utilities department and has been very progressive about providing clean and renewable energy to residents. Anthony Seppi, Operations Director for the Hamilton Mill, is hoping that clients will tap into what the city is doing.
 
“We’re touting this as a ‘city as a lab’ kind of concept,” he says. “Companies with that fit into this industry can come here, work on prototypes of their product, and have immediate access to resources and customers willing to try them out and give valuable feedback.”
 
Although the incubator has existed since 2003, it’s only now, with the rebranding and renewed focus, that The Hamilton Mill has made itself known as a regional presence and formed key partnerships with organizations in the entrepreneurial ecosystems of Cincinnati, Dayton and other cities.
 
“We have a seat on the board of Cintrifuse, we’ve been working with Confluence and with the manufacturing program at Miami University,” Seppi says. “With our new regional partners, we’re going to be making some noise and growing some high-quality businesses.”

ArtsWave collaborates with Cincinnati Chamber to launch CincYPerks

ArtsWave, a local arts agency that supports more than 100 arts organizations in Greater Cincinnati, announced the launch of CincYPerks, a new donor benefit program for young professionals and unique collaboration with the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber's C-Change Class 8.
 
An offshoot of its popular ArtsWave ArtsPass donor benefit, CincYPerks provides ArtsWave's young professional donors with special discounts to arts organizations, shops, and restaurants plus exclusive invitations to fun-filled events all over the region. The benefit program is available to all YP donors, ages 40 and younger, who give $75 or more to the annual ArtsWave community campaign.
 
The Cincinnati Chamber had been researching how to create a program that would help young professionals new to the area discover all the diverse things to do in Cincinnati and meet other people their age.
 
"We thought about creating something entirely from scratch, but then we realized that it sounded a lot like the ArtsWave ArtsPass," says Emily Roberts, Manager, Corporate Sponsorship, Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and C-Change Class 8 member. "So we reached out to ArtsWave about developing a special version of the ArtsPass just for young professionals."
 
The program was introduced as a donor benefit during the 2014 campaign, and the number of young professional donors to the campaign more than doubled to over 3,500. A few of the partners offering CincYPerks include 50 West Brewing Company, Cincinnati Bikram Yoga, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Cincinnati Nature Center, Cricket Lounge and Gents.
 
“This is the first time that ArtsWave has offered an expanded benefits program for young professionals, and so far it has been incredibly well-received,” says Maddie Grant, Manager of Residential and Affinity Group Giving for ArtsWave. “YP giving in the 2014 Campaign more than doubled from the previous year, and approximately 95 percent of the young professionals who gave to the campaign elected to receive the benefits. We are excited to continue this early momentum and the program with additional offers and events.”

MyActions raises $100K on Indiegogo to empower children to create change

MyActions, the Cincinnati-based startup that encourages users to engage and share their meaningful, healthy and caring actions, has launched an Indiegogo campaign. The funds will be used to expand the company's technology so that students in schools across the country can access it and and share their actions. Thus far, the campaign has raised just over its target mark of $100,000 with 10 days remaining.
 
MyActions, co-founded in 2010 by Michael Young and his father/CEO Craig Young, provides an online platform for users, mostly youth from college age down to middle school students, to celebrate moments and actions people take every day, amplifying the compassionate things people do to make the world a better place.
 
The company began as a high school project Michael thought up to help engage more of his classmates in volunteering. Craig, who has been working in technology for more than 20 years and has developed products for Apple, helped Michael and his classmates develop a website and app that would communicate their message.
 
“People share things from composting in the cafeteria, volunteering or even just being outside with their friends,” Michael says. “Each action is rewarded with a donation to a chosen cause and inspires others to take more action themselves.”
 
In its first year including colleges and universities, MyActions was used on more than 75 college campuses; more than 6,000 students documented 100,000-plus actions. Now with the Indiegogo campaign, MyActions is creating a way for middle school and high school students to participate, by rolling out tablets and RFID bracelets to give to schools.
 
“Our early technology could only be used on a cell phone or a mobile computer, which meant that there was a significant barrier of access,” says Kristine Sturgeon, president of MyActions. “This new technology flattens that barrier so every child can do more, and as they do more and see that their actions count, their confidence grows.”
 
With the success of the Indiegogo campaign, MyActions will look to roll out the technology in schools this fall and aims to be used on more than 150 college campuses this year. To learn more or contribute to the campaign, click here.

Artworks Big Pitch Finalist: Shalini Latour, Chocolats Latour

Throughout the summer, Soapbox will profile each of the eight finalists in the Artworks Big Pitch competition, presented by U.S. Bank, which offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes, as well as pro-bono professional services. The competition concludes August 27 at the American Sign Museum with the eight finalists each giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges. You can read Soapbox’s article on the Big Pitch here.
 
For some people, chocolate is an indulgence. For others, it’s a comfort. For plenty of us, it is a craving. For Shalini Latour, owner of Chocolats Latour, chocolate is a meditation.
 
“I’ve been a pastry chef for over 20 years, been in the wedding cake business, worked in New York and in Cincinnati, until around four years ago I started playing with chocolates,” Latour says. “Compared to baking, the room needs to be really cool with chocolate, the whole process is in some ways quieter, requires a lot of precision and it’s very meditative, which I really like.”
 
Latour has had quite the journey to arrive at this particular meditation. Her mother is Belgian, and Latour spent time growing up in Brussels, Montreal and Paris before moving to the Catskills in New York. 15 years ago, she moved to Cincinnati and has remained here ever since.
 
Since founding Chocolats Latour four years ago, she has utilized many of the resources Cincinnati offers small businesses, and learned quite a bit along the way. Three years ago, she was a Bad Girl Ventures finalist, receiving a small business loan that allowed her to purchase equipment. This past summer, she took part in Artworks’ CO.STARTERS program (formerly Springboard) and now is taking part in the Big Pitch.
 
“Going through the process with our mentors for the Big Pitch has already been so helpful,” Latour says. “Sometimes, when running a business, you get so caught up doing the work that you don’t have a chance to step back and look at where you are going. My mentors have been great at helping me think about that and how I want to get there.”
 
Latour’s chocolates have been making waves around Cincinnati and showing up at more and more locations. When she first started, Latour would sell chocolate exclusively at Findlay Market on Saturdays. Now, she still sells at Findlay, but you can also find her goods at Coffee Emporium, Jungle Jim’s and Whole Foods, to name a few. She’s also partnered with the Cincinnati Symphony to offer special chocolates for Lumenocity at Washington Park.
 
“Chocolats Latour has done so well that I don’t really do cakes at all anymore,” Latour says. “I use all fairly traded chocolate; it’s important to me that the people who pick the cocoa beans all the way down the line are treated fairly, and I think people have responded to that. I also work with unusual flavors, and I think that’s something I’ve become known for.”

Her chocolates including everything from lavender, lemon and sea salt to turmeric, curry, mango, raisins and even tomatoes. Some of her most popular options are slightly less adventurous bars like sea salt and almond, but common among all of them is the use of simple, natural and local ingredients.
 
Despite being sold at a handful of locations in Cincinnati, Latour is still legally limited to sell her products only in Ohio because she works from her home in Northside. One of the goals for her if she wins the Big Pitch is to move into a commercial kitchen.
 
“My hope is to move some of my production to a commercial kitchen, probably just my chocolate bars at first, so that I can sell those in a wider area,” Latour says.
 
Latour is grateful for all of the help Artworks has provided her along the way.
 
“I love that they have programs that really help creative people into the business side of things,” she says. “For a lot of us creative types, the business side isn’t our strong point. Artworks does a great job at understanding that what I do is the creative part but also helping to make it sustainable. But I also don’t feel like I have to let go of my creativity in any way, and I get to enjoy just making the chocolates, creating the designs and enjoying the work that I do, whichever way I choose to grow my company. They understand that and want to support me in that, and it’s great that Cincinnati has programs like these.”

Check out these other Artworks Big Pitch finalists:
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