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Big Pitch Finalist: Frameshop


Jake Gerth entered Artworks Big Pitch Presented by U.S. Bank to take his custom framing business to the next level.
 
Frameshop has been operating in Over-the-Rhine for three years, providing custom picture framing to both individual retail customers and larger clients like restaurants and hotels. According to Gerth, they fill an important niche in the Cincinnati and regional market, which used to be occupied by names like Closson’s, which has since died down and created opportunity for Frameshop.
 
What makes Frameshop different is that they create their own custom molding.
 
“We really tell the story of where the tree is from, what kind of species it is — we really do everything so that when you leave Frameshop, you have a final product that you couldn’t get at another framer,” Gerth says.
 
Gerth has been aware of the Big Pitch for a while, but wanted to wait to apply until the company had a very clear purpose for the grant. This year the timing was right, with a big goal for the company in site: opening a second location in a neighborhood like Hyde Park to become more established and increase their retail sales to individual customers.
 
“We were really trying to figure out our purpose and where to put the growth, and now we’re at a point where we very literally have an objective that we can accomplish,” Gerth says. “We really wanted to have a set mission.”
 
Leading up to this decision, Frameshop has spent a great deal of time refining their process, finding the right tools and growing from using contractors to employing a six-person crew.
 
For Gerth, the Big Pitch process has become just as important as the possibility of the prize. The opportunities for mentorship and connections he's made have provided diverse perspectives on the business that have proven incredibly valuable, refreshing and energizing.
 
“It’s actually been awesome, shockingly so!” Gerth says. “I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve been thrilled with the mentorship piece of it.”
 
That new energy has re-invigorated Frameshop’s vision and encouraged them to think big as they work toward becoming a regional brand for both the general public and larger hospitality business projects. Perhaps one day they will even have their own timber farm to source their raw materials.
 
“I’ve been in Over-the-Rhine for eight years now in the same apartment, and back in the day, you could do anything if you put the work in,” Gerth says. “Even as we’ve grown the company, I still think of it as ‘what is the perfect thing for us to do — what would be the most amazing project or the best scenario?’ and then go pursue that first.”
 
Gerth isn’t afraid of doing the work to open a second store. So far, Frameshop has grown on its own from an idea to employing Art Academy graduates and skilled craftspeople. Opening a second shop would only be further proof of their sustainability and ability to make an impression on the region.
 
“We really grew this dollar by dollar, sale by sale,” Gerth says. “If there was a time that we deserved something, this is our time. We really could make an economic impact — that's what I think of the Big Pitch — is that we really would do the money justice.”
 
ArtWorks Big Pitch Presented by U.S. Bank is a 10-week mentorship program that culminates in a pitch competition Oct. 6 at Rhinegeist. You can purchase tickets here.
 
 
 
 

Village Capital and The Hamilton Mill partner to bring about new water-tech program


Southwest Ohio has a long history of innovation in water technology — the area leads the country in water technology patents per capita, and is currently home to one of five Environmental Protection Agency offices in the United States.
 
A partnership between The Hamilton Mill and Village Capital is yielding a new water-tech commercialization program, Pipeline H2O. Its mission is to identify and commercialize the world’s leading water-based startup technologies.
 
Pipeline is managed by The Hamilton Mill, a business incubator in Hamilton that focuses on clean energy and advanced manufactured technologies. The program plans to utilize The Hamilton Mill’s “City as a Lab” approach, which enables companies to engage with municipal departments to prototype and test their projects. Several water-based startups are on the path to commercialization through The Hamilton Mill.
 
The Hamilton Mill is part of the Village Capital community network that is dedicated to innovation. Village Capital operates business development programs for early-stage entrepreneurs in agriculture, education, energy, financial inclusion, health and water. Greater Cincinnati is one of five Village Capital communities dedicated to innovation around water technologies.
 
Village Capital creates space for entrepreneurs to work together across the boundaries of other organizations. Over the past five years, program graduates have reached 6 million customers, created over 7,000 jobs and raised more than $110 million in follow-on capital.
 
Pipeline is a collaboration among many local organizations — Village Capital, the EPA, Cincinnati Water Works, Confluence, the University of Cincinnati’s water center, Xavier University’s Center for Innovation, the City of Cincinnati, the City of Hamilton, Cintrifuse and The Hamilton Mill.
 
Pipeline is officially open and accepting applications until Nov. 11.
 
The program is looking for companies that are working on water technologies that solve various aspects of the world’s water issues, including infrastructure improvements, water reuse, wastewater treatment and monitoring. Pipeline is hoping to attract 8-10 startups for its first class, which will run from February to May 2017.
 

Day of Innovation to showcase innovation in all sectors of the economy


Centric, an Indianapolis-based think tank and innovation hub, is hosting its fourth annual Day of Innovation on Oct. 13 at Butler University. Day of Innovation is Indiana's only full-day innovation event that brings together leaders and practitioners from all backgrounds and sectors.
 
This year’s event focuses on the intersection of play and innovation, featuring keynote presentations by Stephanie Chen, research and insights lead at HP; and Brady Gill, director of play at Camp Grounded, among others.
 
“As the ‘innovation group,’ Centric is always thinking about how to be unique and create events that break a bit from the status quo,” says Jason Williams, Centric's executive director. “Play is a theme that is very relevant to innovation. More and more studies are discussing the importance of play in creativity and innovation.”
 
The day-long program also includes hands-on workshops for participants, including two led by startup Cincy stalwarts. Tim Metzner, founder and partner at Differential, will talk about leveraging technology to encourage growth, and MORTAR co-founders Derrick Braziel and Allen Woods will discuss their experience reframing community redevelopment.
 
“I have seen growing connections in the innovation, startup and even faith spaces between Indianapolis and Cincinnati, and I'm increasingly excited about that,” Metzner says. “There is no shortage of amazing, forward-thinking people doing great work in both towns, but combined, I believe there's even greater potential to move both, and the Midwest, forward. I have been looking for any reason to spend more time in Indy, as I believe relationships and connections there will bear significant fruit in the coming years.”
 
Williams agrees: “There isn’t a sense of competitiveness between the Cincinnati and Indianapolis startup communities, but too often everyone focuses on how to be like Silicon Valley and worrying about brain drain. There is a strength in numbers here in the Midwest, and we will all do a better job if we link arms and share resources.”
 
Winners of the 2016 Innovation Awards will be announced at the Day of Innovation. Over 60 applications were received and eight winners were chosen. Past winners cross all industries and sectors, and have included Delta Faucet, The Indianapolis Zoo, Octiv (TinderBox), People for Urban Progress, Whirlpool, Brackets for Good and Vortek Surgical.
 
“We recognize that innovation happens everywhere,” Williams says. “Not all innovation is technology or a product. It could be a business model or a unique partnership.”
 
The Excellence in Innovation Award, recognizing an Indiana community leader that has demonstrated successful innovation over the course of his or her career, will also be awarded at the event.
 
“Today more than ever, innovation is the key to survival and long-term success,” Williams says. “Those who have the aptitude for identifying opportunities, creative thinking, problem solving and risk taking will elevate the economic base within our state and lead to global recognition of Indiana as an innovation leader.”
 
Centric’s Day of Innovation and monthly workshops are open to anyone, and they strive to offer programs that reach across different sectors, from the food industry to intellectual property, and that will draw a mix of attendees.
 
“We attract many corporate innovators, but also nonprofits, startups, academics and the economic development community," Williams says. “Anyone responsible for their organization’s innovation, business development, product management, leadership or marketing efforts would be a fit for the event.
 
“Centric strives to produce programming at Day of Innovation that not only inspires, but also that attendees can take back to their office and apply. We want to equip innovators with tangible tools and resources that will make them better at innovating.”
 

New chapter of the Founder Institute helps cultivate startup ecosystem


Founder Institute, one of the three original Silicon Valley accelerator programs, is coming to Cincinnati with its first class this October.

“Founder Institute targets people at the ideation stage when an individual is deciding whether to take the leap from working or being a full-time entrepreneur,” says Michael Hiles, founder of Intellig8.
 
Founder Institute was established in 2009 by Adeo Ressi and Jonathan Greechan. There are currently chapters in 135 cities in 60 countries. The new Cincinnati chapter is being co-directed by Hiles; Eric Fulkert, CEO of Campus Suite; Dustin Grutza, CEO of CraftForce; and Bhaskar Majji, director of IT services at Capgemini.
 
“The Founder Institute is a great example of a group of our local entrepreneurs filling a gap for the good of the broader StartupCincy community,” says Christina Misali, community manager at Cintrifuse. “There needs to be as many 'front doors' to the ecosystem as possible so that it is easy to locate resources to help entrepreneurs get started. We all know it’s a difficult road once you make the decision to build your own scalable business, and StartupCincy is here to help make it a little easier.”
 
The 14-week Founder Institute starts with the rigorous application process, which includes a screening test to determine if applicants are up to the challenges of being an entrepreneur. Unlike many accelerator programs, Founder Institute is designed for people who are not quite ready to quit their day jobs. Participants meet one evening a week for classes and mentoring, with a significant amount of homework to complete outside of class.
 
“One of the things that’s unique about Founder Institute is that you don’t have to have an idea to participate,” Hiles says. “Everyone has ideas, but if the market doesn’t think it’s a great idea, who cares. It is more about being able to execute a solution to a problem that the market will support. The program is a gauntlet of idea validating and listening to customers, adapting and pivoting in response to the market.”
 
Founder Institute not only helps entrepreneurs develop their business ideas, but it also helps entrepreneurs build their leadership team by creating a class of potential co-founders and partners.
 
“Our graduates will be quality candidates for the StartupCincy ecosystem,” Hiles says. “They finish with a vetted idea, an investor-friendly structure, and they can immediately move forward. They may go into another accelerator program or straight into business.”
 
Another unique aspect of the Founder Institute is the organization's desire to cultivate entrepreneurship within large, established companies.
 
“We are actively working to launch more innovation development with big corporations as an intrapreneurship strategy,” Hiles says. “We are able to run an entire program for big corporations who want to be more agile and ‘startuppy’ in their efforts.”
 
Founder Institute is accepting applications through Sept. 22 for the program that begins Oct. 5. Detailed information on the course, the funding structure, and application can be found online.
 
Individuals interested in the Founder Institute program, or other opportunities in the StartupCincy ecosystem, are invited to attend a free program at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 7 at Union Hall. Registration is still open for the pre-event.
 
“We have held a series of lectures and workshops to launch Founder Institute in Cincinnati and help build community around the program,” Hiles says. “We’re starting a startup within this robust ecosystem, so we want to showcase the other accelerators like Mortar, Bad Girl Ventures, Uptech and Ocean that make the Cincinnati startup community so great.”
 

Cincinnati startup scene growing with addition of Jersey Watch


The Brandery grad Jersey Watch will soon be setting up shop in Over-the-Rhine. The company got its start in 2012 in Athens when two Ohio University graduates — Tim Gusweiler and David Carter — developed the idea to provide free digital services to youth sports teams, leagues and clubs, all by backing brands and businesses that are looking to reach that audience through advertising.

Jersey Watch was accepted into The Brandery in early 2015, and graduated last fall.
 
“All of the advertising and brand expertise in Cincinnati with national experts in the field drew us here,” Carter says. “Things accelerated tremendously when we entered The Brandery and began to refine our scaling and growth strategy. It was a gamechanger and pushed us into 14 new states.”

Jersey Watch recently secured $1 million in capital funding from CincyTech, TechGROWTH Ohio and angel investors; it is also currently in the midst of a national rollout of its service.

Youth sports leagues often operate on a shoestring budget. The company currently supports 10,000 teams in 16 states with eight full-time staff. The national rollout of Jersey Watch will begin with East Coast metro areas like Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Philadelphia and New York. After establishing itself in those markets, Jersey Watch plans to widen its client base throughout those regions.

Jersey Watch provides free websites and online platforms for player registration and game scheduling, as well as email communication for coaches, parents and players.

“We don’t want this to be just a digital ad buy,” Carter says. “We are always looking for ways to build engagement, particularly for our healthcare clients. They’re interested in sponsored content about nutrition, concussion prevention and other health topics for young athletes.”

To date, Jersey Watch has secured commercial clients like Pizza Hut and UDF, as well as service providers such as Dayton Children’s and Adena Health Systems. Clients can customize their placement by selecting a specific sport, geographic area, demographic or advertising method.

“Over the next year, you are going to see Jersey Watch grow nationwide and cross 25,000 local teams served,” Carter says. “We will continue to increase our team size, as we continue improving how to serve youth sports organizations and help them win. I also expect several new national advertisers to join our client list in the upcoming months, and our aim is to continue delivering targeted sponsorship campaigns for brands that want to align with this attractive audience, at scale.” 

Locally, Jersey Watch works with teams like the Anderson and Harrison youth football leagues, Cincy Classics Volleyball and Seven Hills Lacrosse. Even as it doubles its reach, Jersey Watch plans to maintain its base of operations in Cincinnati.

“The experience here has been tremendous for us, and I can’t say enough good things about the ecosystem,” Carter says. “From a mentorship, recruiting and agency-relationship standpoint, the StartupCincy community has been incredibly supportive. It was a no-brainer to open our office on Sycamore to stay involved in what’s going on in Over-the-Rhine.”
 

Big Pitch Finalist: Jonathan Fox, Fox Aprons


When chef Jonathan Fox couldn’t find the perfect apron, he decided to make one. Now, after two years of making, refining and selling his unique raw denim aprons, he wants his product to become the best high-end apron on the market and is one of eight finalists in the Artworks Big Pitch program presented by U.S. Bank.
 
There are thousands of companies that manufacture aprons, but only a few that produce high-quality aprons for professional chefs. When Fox made the decision to invest in one, none of the options had all the elements he was looking for. So he taught himself to sew, and designed his own idea of the perfect apron.
 
“As a chef, I’ve worn aprons for a long time, and a few of my tools I’ve always been kind of finicky about — cutting boards, knives and aprons,” Fox says.  
 
The idea only grew, gaining attention as Fox made them for other chefs, who spread the word and even attracted some local media attention. At first, he didn’t intend to become an apron manufacturer, but his aprons were popular enough that he could do just that.
 
“I decided if I was going to do it, they were going to be the best aprons,” he says.
 
So the aprons became a business, and Fox partnered with Noble Denim in order to source raw denim for the aprons and he started producing them in a factory in Tennessee. That unique material is what sets Fox Aprons apart from other apron manufacturers.
 
“Denim is made out of cotton, it’s breathable and it’s a natural material, but it also has a carrying capacity for dirt and grime and oils, so it becomes a second skin,” Fox says. “I just wanted a denim apron because I thought it would look cool, but this really cool side effect is that I didn’t have to look dirty halfway through my shift — denim hides spills very well.”
 
That feature, along with cross-back straps that take the weight of the apron off the wearer’s neck, have made the aprons popular with chefs and bartenders both locally and beyond. The aprons are sold through an online store, which means the entire world is a market for the product. Fox has sold to customers in Seattle, California, Texas, Mississippi, South Carolina and even Mexico.
 
All the while, Fox hasn’t spent a cent on marketing. That’s where Artworks’ Big Pitch competition comes in. The prize money — up to $20,000 — would allow Fox to launch a marketing campaign and grow the business beyond the aprons "selling themselves."
 
“I have not marketed or advertised this business at all at this point,” Fox says.

The two reasons behind this choice: “One, I wanted to prove that it was the best apron to myself, and I thought if it could sell itself, if it caught on and if it spread like wildfire, that meant that it was good and if it didn’t, maybe I needed to improve it. But then the other thing was that I didn’t want to take more money from an investor or someone to fund a marketing campaign.”
 
But the money for marketing is not the only perk of the competition. The process itself, including guidance from small business owners and financial mentors (the latter provided by Big Pitch sponsors U.S. Bank), and the connections provided through the competition have proven invaluable for Fox.
 
“I’m doing things I probably wouldn’t have done for another year or two, just being in the program," Fox says. "I’ve already gained so much. The truth is that everybody in the Big Pitch has already won.”

ArtWorks Big Pitch Presented by U.S. Bank is a 10-week mentorship program that culminates in a pitch competition Oct. 6 at Rhinegeist. You can purchase tickets here.
 

Big Pitch Finalist: James Avant, OCD Cakes


James Avant wants to help start conversations about mental illness with his custom baking business, Obsessive Cake Disorder. He is one of eight finalists in the Artworks Big Pitch program presented by U.S. Bank.
 
Avant is clear that the name of OCD Cakes is not mean to be poking fun at OCD, but rather making mental illness part of the conversation — the baker himself struggles with OCD and anxiety. A recent University of Cincinnati grad, Avant saw his ticks and quirks increase significantly with the increased stress of the first few years of college, which prompted him to seek treatment.
 
“I told my parents, ‘I’m experiencing a lot of stress and I really can’t concentrate or focus, and these rituals I’m doing are really stopping me from being productive,’” Avant says.
 
College was also when Avant began to change a longtime interest in pastry arts into a business. Coming from a family of cooks, Avant hadn’t considered cooking as a profession — he followed the pre-med and neuroscience track in high school and college, which ended up leading him back toward baking.
 
“I really love the scientific element and rigidity of baking, but it can also be creative,” Avant says. “It’s the perfect merger between the two, and I really just found a place where I can be calm, I can be me and I can be in control.”
 
About two years ago, while watching the show Two Broke Girls with a friend, Avant got the idea to start a cupcake business. He eventually went through Artworks’ CO.STARTERS program for new small businesses, where he refined the concept of his baking business: gourmet cakes and desserts to “take a bite” out of the stigma of mental illness.

The idea is to break the ice around talking about mental illness by combining it with something familiar and celebratory — cake.
 
OCD Cakes is not a nonprofit undertaking, but it does aim to have a positive community footprint, making it a kind of social enterprise. Avant donates about 5 percent of his profits back to organizations that do work around mental illness, such as Warrior Run, and gives free talks to community organizations and college campuses to raise awareness about mental illness and start conversations.
 
“I thought as someone who has had a negative experience with OCD, but has also had many positive experiences with it, I think that it’s my job to kind of educate people and get people comfortable talking about it, reaching out and getting help," Avant says.
 
In March, Avant became a founding member of the Findlay Kitchen, which gives him the space and resources to do his baking. Now, he has brought enough success to his business that he’s looking to branch out through the Big Pitch. With the competition’s prize — up to $20,000 in business grants — Avant hopes to start a sort of sister brand to OCD Cakes.
 
“Bakeologie” would focus on the experience of baking by offering professional baking classes in an affordable, accessible way. Avant wants to help people think of baking as more than cakes and cookies, but as a medium for food preparation, allowing the oven to become the star of the show.
 
Avant entered the competition to start a new step, but has found the structure and mentorship offered by the program useful in enhancing the practices of his existing business.
 
“It gives me the opportunity to kind of get my ducks in a row and do this next piece right from the beginning,” Avant says. “I’m excited for just the opportunity to be on this type of platform and have other people excited about my business and learn about my business for the first time.”

ArtWorks Big Pitch Presented by U.S. Bank is a 10-week mentorship program that culminates in a pitch competition Oct. 6 at Rhinegeist. You can purchase tickets here.
 

Bad Girl Ventures opening new hub in Covington, announcing second Launch class


Bad Girl Ventures will host a public reception in their new Covington headquarters Sept. 8 as well as announce the members of its second Launch class.
 
For several years, BGV has been operating out of the HCDC space in Norwood. They will maintain an office and continue holding classes there, with the Covington location offering new opportunities.
 
“Our Covington space represents an expansion of our programming — a widening of our net, so to speak,” BGV Executive Director Nancy Aichholz says. “We cross industries, we cross the state of Ohio and now we cross the river.”
 
This has been a big year for BGV, with the rollout of their new curriculum and now moving into their new home — all part of the organization's efforts to become the leading resource for female entrepreneurs in the region.
 
“Our vision for the Covington space, which is more 'our own,' is to have a very welcoming combination of offices and meeting spaces where Bad Girls and all female entrepreneurs are welcome to stop in for an hour to visit with other women in their same situations, or come and work all day, bring clients for meetings, etc.,” Aichholz says.

BGV’s Covington home will create a new hub of activity within the StartupCincy community.
 
“We have great relationships on both sides of the river,” Aichholz says. “We look forward to having our women engage in as many programs that the Cincinnati entrepreneurial ecosystem has to offer.”
 
Details of the new space have, understandably, not been revealed yet, as BGV is saving the first peek for those attending the reception.
 
The other big announcement will be the businesses joining BGV’s second Launch class. The inaugural class began in February and wrapped up in June. Eight female-led companies participated in classes and a mentorship program, which culminated in a pitch night, with a prize of a loan from BGV that would take the winning company to the next level.

Meaghan Dunklee’s company Wedding Bags won the $25,000 loan, while Melyssa, Michelle and Christine Kirn of Grainwell received a $12,500 loan.
 
“All of the companies had great media attention,” says Angela Ozar, BGV’s Cincinnati/NKY market manager. “We’re staying in close contact and are excited to have them be part of our BGV network.”
 
Based on participant feedback, BGV is making a few tweaks and one big change to the program — the second class of Launch will welcome the public to its pitch night.
 
Two applicants to the round two class are recent graduates from BGV’s Explore program, which is the first class in BGV’s curriculum series.
 
“Explore is about helping entrepreneurial women find the right direction for them, and helping them be successful in any field,” Ozar says.
 
BGV is still accepting applications for the next round of Explore, which begins Sept. 14.
 
“The changes to the BGV curriculum we made last year are working,” Ozar says. “With our approach, we are able to provide continual support to our companies as they grow.”
 
Grow is the ongoing support plank of the BGV curriculum. Those classes, which will begin in the fall, will be held at the BGV Covington headquarters and other venues in the region. The Grow program is open to BGV graduates as well as any other female-owned businesses.
 
Click here to register for the Sept. 8 open house. 
 

AMA rebrands, uniting the national organization and chapters across the country


As one of the leading marketing centers in the country, it should come as no surprise that Cincinnati has one of the largest and most active chapters of the American Marketing Association. Last week, they welcomed AMA CEO Russ Klein to officially launch the organization’s new brand and direction.
 
“AMA has over 30,000 paid members in a one-size-fits-all model, so we’re blowing that up,” Klein says. “We want to increase engagement and relevancy, and shape the professional development of marketers. So we’re creating benefit bundles with targeted products, services and prices.”

 
For the first time since 1976, AMA revealed a new logo and brand, “Answers in Action,” to reflect the diversity of its membership. With 11,000 undergraduate students, young professionals, mid-career and C-suite professionals — plus academics and researchers — AMA covers every step in a marketing career.

“AMA is to the individual marketer like Nike is to the individual athlete,” Klein says. “We affirm the power of marketing and the individual marketer. We revere and know the marketer. We are stronger together and bound by common values.”
 
AMA Cincinnati was one of a handful of AMA chapters selected to participate in the AMA Brand Task Force, and to pilot the roll out of the new brand.

“The Task Force discussed and created ways to ensure that the new brand was communicated with clarity and excitement, that chapters had what they needed to engage and activate the new brand locally, and that “One AMA” intention was front and center,” says Gina Bonar, president of AMA Cincinnati. “The new brand is not just fresh, simple and current, it is now the cornerstone for all of us to build around, and makes us all much stronger and more connected.”

One of the biggest changes to the AMA brand is that previously, individual chapters had separate identities from the national organization. Now, the national office and all the chapters will work within the same brand template. AMA Cincinnati began transitioning their branding in May and completed it August 1 with the move to their new website.
 
“The early adopter cities, including Cincinnati, helped us understand what it takes to roll out the brand at the chapter level,” Klein says. “Chapters represent the face of the AMA and are the engine of professional development. The new brand is a beacon and a source of energy for the organization and its members.”
 
AMA Cincinnati currently has 400 members that represent 400 companies from every industry in town, even the nonprofit community. The organization is open to traditional marketers, as well as people working in public relations, graphic design, social media and digital communications. The chapter hosts events throughout the year, including a Signature Speaker Series, the first of which is scheduled for September 23 and will feature a representative from Google.
 
“AMA Cincinnati has long embraced the diversity of our audience,” Bonar says. “We host evening events that are more accessible for young professionals, featuring activities like Speed Networking and Recruiter Panels. We bring in top national and local speakers and run workshops that are specifically focused on practical, hands-on development. For several years we have run a CMO Roundtable in partnership with the Cincinnati Chamber. Last year we also launched a new annual program, the CMO/CIO summit.”
 
The rebranding is the visible piece of AMA’s effort to address the intellectual agenda and infrastructure of the association.

“The brand and organizational alignment we now share with our national organization is dramatically improved,” Bonar says. ‘We look like, feel like, and act like one association, with the national driving much of the thought leadership, and chapters driving much of the connectivity. The experience design work that Russ mentioned will help further define the communities, the deliverables and the channels — it’s all coming together to better serve the individual marketer.”
 

Creative App Project and Future Leaders of OTR partner to create app and community


The new “Treasures of OTR” Android app that leads users on a scavenger hunt to find Over-the-Rhine community landmarks comes with a surprise backstory: It was created by 12 young people in the Future Leaders of Over-the-Rhine program with the assistance of the Creative App Project.

For the students, the experience turned out to be about much more than the technical side of building a smartphone app.
 
Creative App Project, the People’s Liberty-funded endeavor of Mark Mussman, has been around for over a year now and had some success with its adult class, where individuals created apps ranging from biking calendars to historic preservation platforms to selfie tools.
 
The class as a group also created Upz in collaboration with the Safe and Supported program to help connect LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness with resources and services. The app was presented at the True Colors Summit in Houston last year, an iOS version is currently in development and more than 100 people have downloaded it to their devices, which pleases Mussman.
 
“The idea is that as many people have it on their phones as possible so that then if you or someone you know is in a crisis, you have that information readily available,” he says.
 
The success of Upz and the first class pushed the Creative App Project to expand in new directions, including moving into teen education this summer. Although Mussman originally envisioned CAP as primarily adult education, two 17-year-olds participated in his 2015 class, which opened his eyes to the need for technology skills education for youth.
 
Mussman points out that just because young “digital natives” grow up using technology doesn’t mean they have the skills to build it.
 
“Not all kids have technology skills,” he says. “The fact of the matter is they’re going to be consumers rather than producers.”
 
Mussman saw an opportunity for collaboration between CAP and OTR Future Leaders, the nonprofit program for young people ages 13-17 who either live or go to school in Over-the-Rhine. The program focuses on social and personal development, community engagement and being guided by the interests of the youth participants.
 
Mussman and CAP facilitator Key Beck took these goals to heart when working with the Future Leaders. The class met just four times but packed a lot into those few sessions, using the process of creating an app as a lens for exploring themselves and their community.
 
“We asked them ‘What is the make up of their community? What are they grateful for? What are the stories of their community?’” Mussman says. “They responded with ‘We love our neighborhood, we want to show it off in some way.’ In one of the early brainstorms, one of them said ‘What if we did a scavenger hunt?’”
 
The students were divided into teams based on their strengths and interests to work on different elements of the app: art and design, storytelling and programming.
 
“Future Leaders are always so excited and enthusiastic about doing stuff, we have to say ‘You can’t do everything,’” Mussman says.
 
They came up with the concept of using fragments of pictures combined with clues to direct app users to each stop on the scavenger hunt. Once the user gets there, he/she must check in using the GPS on their phone. (Mussman points out that the app was developed before Pokemon Go was released.)
 
As the students selected the stops that would be featured, more questions about the nature of their community emerged.
 
“We talked about places in their community and they would say, ‘I’ve never been in there,’” Future Leaders Youth Program Director Renáe Banks says. “When we talk about being inclusive, there are kids who have lived in their community all 12 or 14 years of their life and these new businesses are popping up and they’ve never been inside.”
 
Once the stops were chosen and the prototype created, the Future Leaders class got the first opportunity to test their own app.
 
“It was neat to see them play the game and get excited about it, seeing the little circle and saying, ‘I know where that is!’” Mussman says.
 
Banks agrees, saying, “They had a blast!”
 
For the students, it was an opportunity to see their ideas come to life.
 
“I can’t believe it was so easy to put our ideas to real life,” Leonate Moore says.
 
“The process was easy, all we had to do is put our ideas together to make it for people to download,” Dionne Parker says in agreement.
 
Banks encourages the public to download “Treasures of OTR,” both to experience Future Leaders’ vision of their community and as inspiration for more technology. She wants to see more apps designed by and for local communities.
 
“Downloading the app gives them tangible evidence that people care about what they do, that they have an impact on the community,” Banks says. “We need more apps like this! I want people not only to say, ‘Look what the youth did,’ but to see it as a foundation they can build upon.”
 
“One of the things we saw come out of the first class was that lots of the ideas had something to do with Cincinnati,” says Mussman, who plans to continue building CAP classes. “It’s something we really need in our community. We need to have more technology education accessible to everyone.”
 

Learning to treat nonprofits as more than charity cases


The U.S. nonprofit sector has been set up to fail, Dan Pallotta says. A centuries-old Puritanical approach casts all nonprofits as charities in Americans’ eyes, making it difficult or impossible for organizations to reinvest money in themselves and thus create stronger and more effective operations.

Nonprofits are usually forced to forego the kinds of basic business tools that for-profit businesses invest in every day — from new computers and basic building repairs to employee training and marketing — to ensure that “overhead” remains low. The organizations might save themselves from the “temptation” of overspending, but at what cost?
 
“Why have our breast cancer charities not come close to finding a cure for breast cancer or our homeless charities not come close to ending homelessness in any major city,” author and advocate Pallotta asks in a 2013 TED Talk. “Why has poverty remain stuck at 12 percent of the U.S. population for 40 years? The things we’ve been taught to think about giving and about charity and about the nonprofit sector are actually undermining the causes we love and our profound yearning to change the world.”

Pallotta’s books Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential and Charity Case: How the Nonprofit Community Can Stand Up For Itself and Really Change the World lay out the basic framework for his latest endeavor, the Charity Defense Council. Tom Callinan, former Cincinnati Enquirer editor, serves on its advisory board.

After retiring from journalism, Callinan threw himself into working with local nonprofits like Charitable Words, which he founded and still directs, and Social Venture Partners. Those efforts have connected him with dozens of other local and national nonprofits.

“I never knew how hard it would be,” Callinan says. “Especially raising money.”
 
Since Pallotta began aggressively agitating on behalf of the nonprofit sector, Callinan says he’s begun to see a slow shift on how nonprofits and their funders approach their work and giving.

“You hear more and more discussion about impact now, not overhead,” he says. “The whole industry is starting to get that now, and Dan has certainly been a catalyst for that.”
 
Pallotta points out that nonprofits often lose their effectiveness when they don’t invest in basic business tools, making it nearly impossible for them to actually accomplish the lofty goals they seek. The misguided “overhead myth” creates insurmountable obstacles to moving the needle on causes we hold most dear — poverty, homelessness, curing cancer, treating AIDS and so on.
 
“These social problems are massive in scale, and our organizations are tiny up against them,” Pallotta says in his TED Talk. “And we have a belief system that keeps them tiny. (But) which makes more sense: Go out and find the most innovative researcher in the world and give her $350,000 for research, or give her a fundraising department and use the $350,000 to multiply it into $194 million for her breast cancer research?”

Pallotta says the current “overhead myth” view of nonprofits stems from a concept created 400 years ago when the Puritans ventured to the New World to escape persecution and make their fortunes. They considered the very practice of making money to be sinful, requiring penance, which they turned into charitable giving. Their 5 percent tithe to charitable causes (in those days more direct contribution to poor individuals than to social service organizations) created the moralistic framework that still guides our thinking about giving to this day.
 
Pallotta experienced the “overhead myth” firsthand through his own nonprofit, Pallotta TeamWorks, which he founded in 1994 to raise money via multi-day biking and walking events. He raised funds to benefit AIDS and breast cancer charities, and the hugely successful events netted $305 million (after all expenses) in nine years.
 
Suddenly, in 2002, major sponsors began to abandon TeamWorks. There had been a lot of negative press around his organization, specifically regarding its overhead expenses — in his case, a full 40 percent of all revenue was being used to provide better customer service and create magic experiences at the events while investing heavily in marketing and fundraising.
 
In short order, press attacks shuttered the TeamWorks doors, 400 jobs evaporated overnight and AIDS and breast cancer charities lost some of their biggest annual fundraising events. Assuming that Pallotta’s success would have continued otherwise, those same causes have cumulatively lost hundreds of millions dollars in the years since.
 
Callinan recalls the first time he heard Pallotta speak while in California for a conference.

“He talked about the media and how the public does not understand these ideas (of the overhead myth),” Callinan says. “I walked up to him afterwards and said, 'You have just changed the way I think about this issue after 35 years in the media business.’”
 
He says he then began to wonder, “How much damage have I done by not understanding these ideas? How many times (while at The Enquirer) did I order a little graphic showing 'overhead’ to print alongside a story about a nonprofit?”
 
Callinan points out that local organizations such as People’s Liberty and ArtsWave have funding models that look more at impact than at how every dollar is spent. They recognize that training, buildings and computers are important tools and that, without them, nonprofits might be less effective.
 
Pallotta established the Charity Defense Council to combat our counterproductive approach to and perceptions about charitable giving. It’s currently collecting feedback on an initiative called Rethinking Charity, which asks people to watch Pallotta’s TED Talk and take a short survey to collect their impressions. Watch the talk here and take the five-minute survey via a link on the page.

Director of Mobilization Jason Lynch says that survey results so far have already helped to create a stronger framework for the Council’s mission and recruit interested individuals to the cause, and he’s hoping that the data will eventually help make the case for additional funding for the Council.
 

Skube founder benefits from local entrepreneurial programs, gives back to other startups


For local entrepreneur Monica Kohler, a simple idea has become a growing business thanks in part to Cincinnati’s startup ecosystem and range of support programs for entrepreneurs.
 
Like many businesses, Skube began with a need that led to an idea.
 
Kohler and many of her female friends and family members were fitting exercise into busy schedules and didn’t always have time to change out of leggings or athletic clothing after a workout and before going out to eat or to pick up a child from school. Kohler wanted an article of clothing that covered from the waist to the knees and transformed workout clothes into fun and expressive casual attire. She had some sewing skills, so after years of talking about the idea with friends she created a skirt in the form of a tube — the first skube.
 
The prototype Kohler created and wore got so much interest from her own circles that she began to wonder if she might actually be onto something. After nearly a year of wearing her skubes and making them for friends and family, she enrolled in ArtWorks’ Co-Starters program to explore turning the idea into a business.
 
That exploration proved to be the first step on a new path for Kohler.
 
“I had no idea Cincinnati had such a deep, rich pool of entrepreneurs and programs to help someone move into that space,” she says. “I wasn’t aware there were so many people willing to share their wisdom.”
 
With a background as a nurse practitioner and years of experience in healthcare management, making and selling skubes was a completely different direction for Kohler, but after developing her business idea through Co-Starters she took the leap. She started working more on designs, creating simple reversible tube skirts with a variety of bright, expressive colors and patterns and selling them at street fairs and festivals.
 
The response she got from consumers inspired her to continue building the business.
 
“I was encouraged to take the next step, which for me was Bad Girl Ventures,” Kohler says.
 
She is now a graduate of BGV’s first “Launch” class, designed to help newly established women entrepreneurs take their businesses to the next level. For Kohler, this intense, focused class was helpful for answering the question, “I have a product that seems to be in demand, now what do I do?”
 
The class, along with mentorship from Jim Cunningham of Queen City Angels, helped Kohler lay out the next steps for Skube.
 
Then, just before graduating Launch, Kohler went to a Small Business Association mixer at Rhinegeist and met John Spencer of First Batch. Skube is the kind of product First Batch looks for — a manufactured product that’s been tested by the market and is ready to scale up production.
 
Skube was accepted into the current 20-week First Batch accelerator program, where Kohler will find ways to produce more skubes and begin selling them online through a newly re-designed website (currently under construction).
 
“I’m a believer in hard work and being where you need to be, but I’m also sort of a believer in serendipity,” Kohler says. “It was always in my mind how much help I received, and I wanted to not lose that.”
 
Kohler feels she’s received the help of Cincinnati’s innovation ecosystem at every step in her journey, and along the way she’s committed to giving back as well.
 
“Strong women can help young girls become strong women,” she says.
 
Kohler helps by giving back and sponsoring programs when she can for organizations like Girls on the Run and Mortar, making possible for others the same support and mentorship that have helped her grow her passion into a business.
 

Pokemon craze gets people on the go across Greater Cincinnati


Health fads are nothing new, but Pokemon Go is taking the craze to an entirely new level by generating innovative ways to get people moving.
 
Pokemon Go debuted in the U.S. on July 7, and since then the app has been downloaded more times than Tinder. The augmented reality game encourages users to walk around and “catch” Pokemon that are living or hiding in real stores, parks, historic sites, museums and other public buildings.
 
In Cincinnati, Pokemon are showing up at the Cincinnati Zoo, bars and restaurants in Over-the-Rhine and Great American Ballpark. Pokemon Go events have already been planned for Jungle Jim’s Fairfield and Washington Park.
 
Articles touting the health benefits of Pokemon Go have been featured on a range of media outlets, including Huffington Post and Washington Post.
 
Cincinnati is already the fourth healthiest city in the U.S., so lucky for Tristate residents there are already a number of local tools that could help Pokemon Go users find the elusive and rare beasts.
 
Dan Korman and Katie Meyer’s book Walking Cincinnati offers walking routes in 32 neighborhoods that are no doubt home to many Pokemon.
 
Downtown walkers can also take advantage of the Go Vibrant walking paths to find urban Pokemon. Outlying Pokemon might be found in some of the region’s great parks; Cincinnati was ranked as having the seventh best park system in the country after all.
 
The arts-inclined pedestrians might catch Pokemon near the 100-plus ArtWorks murals, and those who are inclined can climb some of the city’s hillside stairways in search of Pokemon, cardio and burning thighs.
 
Physi app users might find Pokemon near their sports fields or play dates, and soon there may even be a Pokemon Go activity or event.
 
Users of wearable health tracker like Fitbit or iWatch will see their points increase, particularly if they’re integrated with local health startups like SparkPeople or Strap, although it remains to be seen if Pokemon Go will be woven into fitness engagement challenges.
 
Across the river Live Well NKY is promoting a diverse assortment of activities to encourage health and fitness, and perhaps some Pokemon may live nearby as well.
 
Area Pokemon Go players have no shortage of places to explore to capture Pokemon, earn points and burn some calories.
 

Cintrifuse launches innovation studio for the healthcare industry


Last week, Cintrifuse announced a new branch to the #StartUpCincy ecosystem. On June 30, they launched Spry Labs, a venture-building studio for healthcare solutions. The project is a collaboration between Cintrifuse and Mercy Health with a number of other partners, including The Health Collaborative and Bethesda, Inc. The idea is to find and commercialize solutions to some of the healthcare industry’s most pressing problems.
 
While accelerators and incubators help entrepreneurs launch and grow the ideas they already have, a venture studio starts with the problems recognized by the industry. Cintrifuse’s healthcare partners will identify problems they and other companies face, and Spry Labs will bring together innovators to come up with and prototype solutions. Then those partners will be the first to test the prototypes.
 
“What we’re going for is digital healthcare solutions,” says Patrick Venturella, Cintrifuse's content marketing specialist. “We’re trying to get these people all in one room to solve these problems that we know we all have.”
 
Venturella points out that Cincinnati is a great place to start a healthcare venture lab because of the strong healthcare industry in the region.
 
Healthcare is the perfect industry for this kind of endeavor because as a whole, it is facing a major disruption. It's in the middle of a revolutionary transformation toward value-driven and patient-centered care, with the goal of reducing costs while also improving outcomes and patient experience.

Of course, this transformation means lots of problems to solve, which means lots of opportunity for Spry Labs. Solutions could be anything, from tools to help patients navigate the healthcare system easily to instruments for tracking community outcomes.
 
“These shifts are happening as we speak, and we want to do our part,” Venturella says. “Now the hard work starts, and we’re hitting the ground running.”
 
Spry Labs is launching right into its first design sprint and will premier what comes out of that process at the end of September at the Healthcare Innovation Xchange.
 
For Cintrifuse, it’s a new frontier, and one that might continue to yield new ventures.
 
“We’re now in the business of building companies,” Venturella says. “We’re starting with healthcare, but there’s nothing stopping us from branching out.”
 

Local startup Physi app now helps whole family get active


Cincinnati-based fitness app Physi recently announced that it has added family play opportunities to the range of activities it offers. It launched in 2015, and is a free app that is currently available for download in the Google Play or Apple Store.

The announcement makes sense, given Physi’s social focus. What makes it different from other fitness apps is that it’s not just about getting people exercising — it’s about connecting users to each other so they can get active together.
 
“There are a lot of technologies out there that are very performance-oriented, and that’s great if you’re training for a triathlon,” says Physi's President and COO, Marty Boyer. “But this is just as much on the social side as it is about just being active.”
 
Physi works to connect users based on location, interests and skill levels. It helps people build communities and social networks as much as it helps them be healthier. The activities offered range from yoga to dog walking, and users can meet each other through planned activities or spontaneous “play now” options, like if a flag football team needs an extra sub that day.
 
The new family play offerings continue this trend, but provide opportunities for parents and families to meet each other by arranging active play dates. Physi is also planning to roll out improved pairing soon by offering “proactive pairing,” where the app will suggest pairs or groups based on interests and skill levels, then users will be able to message each other to set up activities. This way, the app puts an even greater emphasis on those connections.
 
Physi also has a corporate option, which Boyer points out works well because it gives employees easy, organic ways to get active together, rather than feel like a corporate kickball tournament is forced on them, or maybe it just doesn’t appeal to them.
 
“For people to get active, you have to remove the overhead of decision-making,” Boyer says. “On Physi, there’s always someone out there ready to play.”
 
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