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Great Parks partners with NKU to track park attendance

Great Parks of Hamilton County is working with faculty and students at Northern Kentucky University’s Burkardt Consulting Center to create a dependable and statistically valid way to track park attendance.
Work began in early 2015, when Great Parks and the BCC mapped 72 survey points at 17 area parks and nature preserves. Great Parks staff and volunteers gathered about 12,000 manual samples from these points in order to provide the BCC with data.

From Sept. 2015-Aug. 2016, Great Parks reports that there were 4.63 million total park visits, and total park attendance, including drive through data, is 6.82 million.
In the next year, Great Parks and the BCC plan to develop new tools to provide monthly attendance information, as well as the ability to evaluate individual activity centers. Data will be used by Great Parks to monitor trends for making sound operating decisions, which will allow them to share the outcomes with the public and demonstrate the impact that parks have on the community. The data will also provide valuable justification to leverage tax funding on the local, state and federal levels.
The BCC is a transdisciplinary organization that provides statistical support for research on a variety of subjects, studies and experiments that involve elements of statistical modeling. The BCC supports both NKU and community clients.

CincyTech scores $13 million grant for startups

Last week, Ohio Third Frontier announced $67.4 million in funding awards across the state, including grants to two key organizations in the StartupCincy community. Grant money will be used to help encourage innovation and regional entrepreneurs. As Cincinnati’s dynamic startup ecosystem continues to expand, Ohio Third Frontier funding provides an important resource for the organizations supporting the thriving entrepreneurial community.

received about $13.5 million through 2019 from the Entrepreneurial Services Program to disburse to partner organizations Cintrifuse, the Brandery, HCDC and the U.C. accelerator while the University of Cincinnati’s Technology Accelerator for Commercialization received $500,000 from the Technology Validation and Startup Fund Program.
Ohio Third Frontier, which is administered by a commission and advisory board, allocates General Assembly funds to encourage the growth of startup and technology companies throughout the state. In addition to the two programs announced last week, the commission also operates a Commercial Acceleration Loan Fund and a Capitalization Program.
The Entrepreneurial Services Program focuses on four organizations that are supporting early-stage companies, attracting outside investment capital and encouraging regional collaboration around entrepreneurship: CincyTech (Southwest Ohio), JumpStart (Northeast Ohio), Rev1 Ventures (Central Ohio) and TechGROWTH Ohio (Southwest Ohio). The commission hired Urban Venture Group to conduct an evaluation of the four organizations supported by the ESP since the last award cycle.
CincyTech and its partners exceeded the requirements in all four areas of evaluation: regional focus and identity, ESP structure and management plan, client services and capital access and funding pipeline. The report noted several key strengths for the organization, particularly that the “’separate but interconnected network has achieved effective cooperation and coordination among partner organizations.”

The report also commended them for “high-quality services, especially mentor networks, customer access and capital access” and “deep ties with investors, regional corporations.” The only organizational weakness listed was a “low emphasis on reporting of metrics and costs.”

Previous funding from Ohio Third Frontier has also funded Imagining Grants, which support entrepreneurs and pre-seed companies as they develop sufficiently to attract outside funding.
The Technology Validation and Startup Fund Program supports colleges and universities as well as nonprofit research institutions in licensing their technological discoveries. The companies and agencies purchasing those licenses generate economic growth for the state as they develop commercial products.
UC submitted a proposal for Round 12 of the TVSF for its Technology Accelerator for Commercialization, which “provides seed funding, commercialization expertise and business connections to launch potentially high-impact entrepreneurial initiatives” to technologies developed at UC by full-time faculty and staff. The award will encourage multiple projects to transition from the lab into commercial ventures.

Locally designed app Physi partners with NKY Chamber for new year Wellness Challenge

From Jan.  5 to Feb. 16, 2017, the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce will hold its fifth annual Workplace Wellness Challenge in collaboration with Physi, a Cincinnati-based fitness activity app.

“This partnership is a direct result of wanting to find the answer to a very tough question: How can we make Northern Kentucky a community that is healthy, interactive and fun,” said Carla Landon, marketing and communications manager at the NKY Chamber. “We believe that with the utilization of Physi, the participants of the Wellness Challenge will find it easier than ever before to plan activities with their friends and co-workers while still being able to balance their busy schedule between work and home.”

Companies participating in the challenge will be able to register online with the Chamber and receive a promotional code for employees to use when signing up for Physi. Employees will receive points for fitness activities, like taking a walk at lunch, or healthy behaviors, like getting a flu shot. The points will be tracked through the app, and at the end of the six-week challenge, used to determine the winner.

“When you were little, you came home, threw off your backpack and went outside to play,” said Marty Boyer, president of Physi. “Wellness is not just our personal responsibility any longer, we have engaged corporations in wellness too. A well employee is a better employee, but most wellness programs focus on 10 percent of individuals that take up 65 percent of our healthcare spending. This leaves the larger population with an unmet need of a wellness program that actually helps them maintain their health. We want to make it easy and fun to stay well; do the things that you like doing, when you’re available, with people in your community, and you’ll stay well.”
Physi will be rolling out the 2.0 version of its app just before the Wellness Challenge begins. The new version will have expanded social media and promotional code functionality, including the ability to unlock hidden activities.
“We are making the activities easier for individuals to see what others are doing, opting into their activities and seeing a wall of activities where your friends are participating,” Boyer said. “We often say there is no shortage of things to do, we just have to make it easier to participate.”
In addition to the Chamber’s Wellness Challenge, Physi is also working with Meet Me Outdoors, Creating Healthy Communities and Live Well NKY to leverage the app's networking platform to build relationships among community members while promoting physical activities. The Chamber is also promoting LiveWell NKY, awarding extra Wellness Challenge points to employers that are also registered LiveWell worksites.
“We share a common mission,” Boyer said. “We are both trying to connect people around activities and kick off the year with wellness in mind.”

Download Physi today in the Google Play or App Store.

NKU hosts national cyber security symposium, encourages awareness of hackers

On Oct. 21, Northern Kentucky University hosted a Cyber Security Symposium. It was the ninth annual event, and featured national and local experts in the field of cyber security.
The symposium focused on online privacy and ethics in the information age; how to secure mobile apps, cloud storage and databases against cyber attacks; and security for the medical industry.
NKU was designated by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security as a National Center of Academic Excellence in information assurance and cyber defense. It’s also the first university in Greater Cincinnati to offer cyber security programs, such as minors in information security and computer forensics, and graduate certificates in secure software engineering and corporate information security — these programs were all added to the course catalog in 2006.
“In 2016, we have a large team of security-oriented faculty and we offer a broad array of cyber security education programs,” said Dr. James Walden, director of the Center for Information Security.
The symposium is more important now than ever as hackers are obtaining consumers’ credit card information daily, and both local, national and international websites are hacked regularly as well.
“Prevention technologies like firewalls only slow attackers,” Walden said. “It is essential for an organization to have robust incident detection and response capabilities.”
He encourages people to use fully updated software and two-factor authentication.
“Citizens need to understand public issues related to cyber security, like why it will never be secure to vote online, why backdoors inserted by law enforcement make computers less secure for everyone, and how corporate and government surveillance of individuals and groups impacts their lives and futures.”

UC gets $5 million for investment lab with simulated trading floor

Dr. Timothy Johnson, founder of Cincinnati-based Johnson Investment Counsel and University of Cincinnati finance professor, recently donated $5 million to the Carl H. Lindner College of Business. The money will be used to establish the Johnson Investment Counsel Institute and Johnson Investment Counsel Investment Lab within the college’s new building.
The new 225,000-square-foot facility, which is expected to be completed by fall 2019, will feature top-of-the-line facilities, renowned faculty, collaborations with industry partners and increased student involvement. Johnson’s donation will specifically support a dedicated director for the institute, as well as undergraduate and graduate scholarships.
Plans for the state-of-the-art Johnson Investment Counsel Investment Lab include a simulated “trading floor” where students can develop their skills on innovative hardware and software systems. There will also be a manager who oversees the 30-computer lab.
Fundraising began for the new building in August 2015, and more than $20 million of the $120 million project has already been raised.
The current building, which is located at 2925 Campus Green Dr., is about 30 years old and can’t accommodate the growing number of undergraduate and graduate students at the Lindner College of Business. Currently, about one-third of business classes are taught outside of Lindner Hall.
Early designs from Henning Larsen Architects for the four-story building feature a glass façade, a grand atrium and lobby, open workspaces, a courtyard, café, lecture spaces and teaching lab. The new Lindner College of Business will be located at the current site of the Russell C. Myers Alumni Center and the Faculty Club building, which will be relocated.

Looking to score $2,500 for your OTR business expansion? Hit up the OTR Chamber

Business is booming in Over-the-Rhine, over 40 new businesses have opened this year. Many of the neighborhood’s established businesses are expanding and the OTR Chamber has a way to help make that happen.
The OTR Chamber is accepting applications for the OTR Business Innovation Challenge through Nov. 1.  Any OTR business is invited to submit its innovative idea for a chance to win up to $2,500 in grants.
Since the program’s inception in 2014, over 40 businesses have applied for grants. Past recipients from the first three rounds are: MOTR Pub, Cincy Shirts, The Garage OTR/Segway, Steam Whistle Letterpress, Daisy Mae’s Market and We Have Become Vikings.
The OTR Chamber’s Business Attraction and Retention Committee offered the grants for the first time in fall 2015. Applications are evaluated based on innovation, business growth, execution and impact.
The OTR Business Innovation Challenge seeks to award grants to businesses with an innovative idea for how to spend the grant money, with an emphasis on growing new products and services in OTR.
Innovative ideas can focus on expanding an existing business, equipment, promotions, etc.; enhance customer experience; or help fund a project or service that a business has been wanting to launch.
Existing OTR businesses can submit their innovative business ideas and application fee ($20 for OTR chamber members, $30 for non-members) here, and send a separate, one-page or one-minute video that explains their idea to contact@otrchamber.com.
Funding for the 2016 Innovation Challenge is provided by Fifth Third Bank.

Accelerator alum, KiwiLive founder forms partnership with Fern to take app to the next level

Live-event interaction technology KiwiLive is expanding into the convention industry through a new relationship with Fern Exposition & Event Services.
“I’ve been interested in the tradeshow market for awhile,” said Jeff Mason, KiwiLive founder and CEO. “Fern has such an extensive network and experience, and it’s exciting to be working together.”
KiwiLive started two years ago as a quick and easy solution to exchanging contact information and presentations at meetings. The application allows users to connect with other attendees and access speaker information by entering a keyword on the KiwiLive website. There is no app to download or software to install.
“The name came from a simple idea: through a keyword we connect, key-we became Kiwi,” Mason said.
Recruited to Cincinnati after college by an engineering firm, Mason eventually left his job to work on KiwiLive full-time, quickly plugging into the entrepreneurial community here.
“I went to a Startup Weekend at UpTech, which was my first experience at what it’s like to really run a startup,” he said. “I started to meet people involved in the startup scene, joined Cintrifuse, and plugged into the UnPolished movement at Crossroads.”
KiwiLive debuted at UnPolished's first Demo Day. Mason continued to work with other events, particularly in the startup community, to refine and develop the KiwiLive platform. Based on responses from speakers and organizers, new features like live polling and feedback were added. Ready to grow KiwiLive further, Mason joined UpTech's fourth cohort last fall.
“Accelerator programs often focus on ideas or early stages of a product, so I was a little worried about being pushed to totally rebrand and create something new,” Mason said. “But UpTech adapted to the level of each participant. Their ability to provide support and infrastructure, to push me forward, was critical.”
UpTech’s Demo Day is where KiwiLive connected with Fern. It took several months of discussions before last week’s announcement that, in addition to their financial commitment to KiwiLive, Mason will take on the role of director of customer technology innovation for Fern.
“This partnership is a lot deeper than just an investment,” Mason said. “Fern wants to be an innovation and technology leader in the tradeshow industry. KiwiLive services fit really well with their existing platforms and will work alongside them as another offering for their clients.”
KiwiLive will continue to serve its existing clients and core audience of seminars, speakers and presenters while working with Fern on the tradeshow marketplace, including developing tools for multi-tracked events where participants change sessions and speakers. Mason also plans to refine the look and feel of the application, creating an ease of use to make KiwiLive accessible and easy for meeting and event planners to set up, even at the last minute.
“This is a great opportunity to leverage Fern’s expertise at large events and my startup experience,” Mason said. “We’ll offer a unique experience that maximizes the value for both event organizers and attendees.”

Next Lives Here Innovation Summit brings together big business and Cincinnati's startup scene

Next Lives Here Innovation Summit is a new entrepreneurship event hosted by the University of Cincinnati that will take place on Thursday. It's organized with help from UC Innovate, a student group that encourages the development of campus leaders.
The event will kick off at noon with a networking lunch on McMicken Commons. It will then move inside to the Tangeman University Center where 12 teams of UC students will test out their ideas with representatives from big business and the Cincinnati startup scene.
Spark UC, now in its second year, is partnering with MORTAR to match interdisciplinary student teams with the entrepreneurs and businesses that are part of MORTAR, an organization that works with underserved, non-traditional entrepreneurs in communities experiencing redevelopment. The collaboration launched on Oct. 3 at the Social Enterprise Cincy Summit, and was followed by two weeks of workshops and project development.

At the Innovation Summit, the top three teams will make their final pitches.
Alternating with the pitch sessions will be speakers from the local startup scene, as well as leaders from the creative and engineering sectors. The first panel will discuss encouraging innovation and partnerships between the academic sector and industry, and the second panel will focus on disruption and the types of people and projects that challenge the status quo.
There will be a number of speakers from local, regional and national startup and bigco organizations, including Austin Allison, co-founder and CEO of dotloop, Wendy Lea, CEO of Cintrifuse and Rodney Williams, CEO and co-founder of LISNR, as well as a handful of representatives from UC. A full list of speakers and the day's agenda can be found here.
Throughout the day, the Innovation Showcase will feature displays that explore the resources and research activities taking place at UC. The exhibits will be organized around themes of social innovation, consumer engagement, local impacts, expectant futurology/fresh tech, student entrepreneurship, inspiring design, and health and wellness. The event will wrap up at 7 p.m.
Registration is required to attend the free conference, and spaces are still available.

Artrageous cultivates next gen innovation where science, art, history, engineering meet

Innovation and creativity are sought after traits in the startup community, but nurturing and encouraging those qualities in the next generation in an era focused on STEM and standardized testing can be difficult. Nathan Heck addresses that challenge through his web series Artrageous with Nate.
“Creativity happens everywhere,” Heck said. “You don't have to be a painter to be creative. I want to change the conversation about innovation and look at it in the world, outside of siloed school subjects.”
The web series, available on YouTube and PBS Digital, takes a multi-disciplinary approach, exploring a different artist, style, or subject in each episode. The art historical cannon is well represented, but with a twist.
“Our episode on Michelangelo looked at his art, but also pulled back the curtain on what was happening at the time that allowed (artists) to be so creative and innovative,” Heck said.
Artrageous with Nate also tackles subjects that might not be considered art, including episodes on design and engineering at Delta Faucet, microscopic views of kidney cells, and the process of developing a roller coaster at an amusement park. Heck explores the intersection of science, engineering, history, and art.
For historical figures, episodes focus on little known biographic facts, like the name of their dog, to make them relatable as people.
“These artists were rebels who made their own path,” Heck said. “Some died in poverty. Some never sold anything. Yet today they’re world famous.”
Heck also interviews contemporary artists to talk about their process, and for those working in non-traditional art environments, how their creativity fits in with their colleagues who are scientists and engineers. Each episode ends with a hands-on activity inspired by the subject.
“I am all about the process, not the finished product,” Heck said. “Art materials are expensive, so I try to come up with things people can make with what they have handy.”
Heck collaborates with museums, including the Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM) , on his program. He has filmed three episodes at CAM featuring the Damascus Room, a dress by Issey Miyake, and a portrait by Gainsborough.
His most recent partnership, with the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City, will create an app for museum users. Heck is also working to bring Artrageous to the Curiosity network, a spinoff of the Discovery Channel.
Heck will talk about his methods for encouraging creativity at the 2016 Day of Innovation conference at Butler University on Oct. 13.
“I love talking to business people about art and creativity,” Heck said. “It's important they understand creativity, what happens in the brain when you're being creative, and how broad creativity is. I want everyone to walk out thinking about how they are creative and innovative.”
The event is familiar to Heck. Artrageous with Nate won an Indiana Innovation Award at the 2014 conference.
“Nate's program impressed our judges with its very unique and fun approach and the show's combination of art, history and creativity,” said Jason Williams, executive director of Centric. “Nate is taking a lot of interesting material and making it more approachable. Artrageous is passionate about inspiring creativity inside and outside of the art studio.”
“We focus so much on measurable results,” Heck said. “But the things you can’t measure are what makes people unique and creative. If we lose creativity, we lose innovation.”
Those attending his session at the Day of Innovation should be ready to explore their creative side.
“I love to have fun with big, massive art projects,” said Heck. “So I’m planning something that everyone can do, but it won’t be too messy since it’s a conference after all.”

Artworks awards $15,000 to Obsessive Cakes in The Big Pitch

A sold out, standing room only crowd of over 500 cheered on a baker who struggles with OCD and anxiety to win The Big Pitch at Rhinegeist Brewery. On Oct. 7James Avant sailed through his pitch to win $15,000 to seed his budding business Obsessive Cake Disorder. The audience choice award of $5,000 went to Scott Beseler of The Lodge in Northern Kentucky.

The Big Pitch is a 10-week program open to creative small business owners who have been in business for at least two years. The entrepreneurs who are selected for the program receive training and mentoring from both a small business mentor and a U.S. Bank banking advisor.

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 and led him to his calling.

Beseler designed The Lodge as a “one-stop-shop” for bands, including digital and analog audio recording, screen printing studio, photography, event and performance center and even spaces for traveling and hardworking musicians and artists to sleep.

The 2015 winner, Hayes Shanesy, opened by detailing the ways in which his businesses had grown with the win. The woodworker and furniture maker of the Brush Factory opened a new store on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine, and will be featured in Dwell magazine in an upcoming issue.

The pitchers delivered a wealth of anecdotes about inspirational ancestors and the local importance of makers and craftsmen. Jonathan Fox of Fox Aprons recalled his grandfather inviting, "You ready to cook kid?", coaching him to cook and inspiring him to design a sturdy apron where every tool had a place. He wrapped up with a photo of a nearly empty American manufacturing facility, underscoring that his business employed American workers to manufacture the aprons.

An organic line of beauty and self-care products was pitched by Tempal Hitt, who discovered her business calling while struggling to treat a small son with eczema. "I became a mad scientist," she laughed.

The eight pitches were varied and entertaining -- a framer, a screen printer who employed recovering addicts to teach a trade, a furniture maker, a graphic clothing line designer. The shared anecdotes of struggling to fill orders, install central heating, finding manufacturing and studio space.

Over the course of the program, the eight finalists prepared their business plan and their pitches. The $15,000 cash prize presented by U.S. Bank was based on equal parts of the finalists’ business plan and on their pitch.

FEASTY app joins Startups in Residence program at 84.51

FEASTY, which is the first app to connect people with restaurants in real-time, recently moved offices to the 84.51° building to be part of the company’s Startup in Residence program. The program launched in June 2015, and provides co-working space and mentorship opportunities to four companies at a time, all of which are graduates of regional accelerator programs.
Startups in Residence is part of 84.51°’s Innovation initiative, which focuses on connecting, empowering and transforming associates, the community and customers.
FEASTY — a 2016 graduate of OCEAN acceleratorlaunched in March with two full-time employees, and has since added four more full-time employees. The app aims to connect those who love to eat food with those who create it.
“There are two problems when it comes to dining out: people can’t make decisions about where to eat, and the second is that restaurants don’t know how to drive customers into their restaurants in real-time,” says FEASTY founder Anthony Breen.  
FEASTY allows restaurants to post offers or incentives in real-time based on how they’re doing at that moment and drive traffic during slow periods. Those offers go out to users, and they can swipe and search deals, choosing one that will work for them.
Since March, FEASTY has evolved. It now tailors offers to each individual user.
“We started gathering and collecting data about what users like to eat, what types of deals they like and any dietary restrictions they might have,” Breen says. “FEASTY can then post intelligent offers for customers, and make sure they’re seeing customized deals.”
Tony Blankemeyer, startup liaison at 84.51°, sought out Breen because FEASTY fits well into the Startups in Residence program, as it is interested in companies that are leading in the field of data. 84.51°, a.k.a. Kroger, has significant data around in-home grocery purchases and is interested in learning more about the patterns and behaviors of people when they’re looking for somewhere to dine out.
“84.51° is home to some of the best data scientists in the world, and being in that community, engaging and connecting with those scientists will be an awesome opportunity,” Breen says.
Although no formal partnerships have been announced, FEASTY hopes to incorporate some of the data 84.51° has and make the app experience better for users.
FEASTY currently serves over 200 restaurants in the Greater Cincinnati area, including new partners like Q’Doba, The Rook and ZBGB. A 2.0 version of FEASTY will come out later this year, which includes a total revamp of the app. After the relaunch, Breen plans to begin scaling into other cities as quickly as possible.
“We’re excited to get as much knowledge from the Startups in Residence program as possible,” he says. “It will really help us make the right scaling decisions and moves, as well as help us establish the right contacts and networks.”
FEASTY is free and available for download on iOS, Android and the Apple Watch.

Big Pitch Finalist, Scott Beseler

For about five years, Scott Beseler has been working on making the studio collective The Lodge a reality. The space is designed as a “one-stop-shop” for bands, including digital and analog audio recording, screen printing studio, photography, event and performance center and even spaces for traveling and hardworking musicians and artists to sleep.

All of this is housed in a former Masonic Lodge in Dayton. Beseler, who also serves as Soapbox's managing photographer, purchased the 1922 brick building in 2011 and quickly learned just how much time, money and work would be required to turn the place into his vision of a rock ’n’ roll bed and breakfast/art studio.
“It was a long process to get where we are today,” he says. “Immediately when I bought the place, the roof failed, the boiler failed, so I had to put a new roof on it, and do up the HVAC and all that kind of stuff.”
The trials and tribulations of the past five years have also included getting the building re-zoned, bringing it up to compliance with fire and building codes and installing adequate HVAC systems for the historic building’s large open spaces. Much of this work was financed by Beseler himself and a single private investor.
Despite these challenges and setbacks, The Lodge has moved forward and has started to make a name for itself. The building officially opened to the public in August. It has hosted art exhibits like the recent “The Magic of the Polaroid,” produced posters for MidPoint Music Festival and other merchandise for bands and served as a recording studio.

Perhaps its biggest claim to fame so far is that the band Walk the Moon wrote their 2014 album “Talking Is Hard,” including hits “Shut Up and Dance” and “Different Colors” at The Lodge. The Lodge studio photographers and filmmakers have even produced some of their music videos.
But for Beseler, the work is still not done. Although progress has been made on the space, there are still finishing touches to be resolved. That’s why he applied for ArtWorks’ Big Pitch presented by U.S. Bank, and will present with the other seven finalists on Thursday for up to $20,000 in business grants.
“Up until now, it’s been privately funded, but we need an extra push of money to get us over to the edge,” Beseler says. “So I’m officially open but our bathrooms are in disrepair, we need HVAC for the middle floor, which is now being utilized as a photography studio and event space and we also need to do a big marketing push because right now, no one knows who we are and what we are, so the funds from the Big Pitch would be greatly, greatly appreciated.”
The grants available through the Big Pitch would set Beseler up to be able to finish the building itself, and then even look toward expansion. Next steps would include putting in a commercial kitchen for catering events and feeding artists working long hours in the recording studio, hiring an employee to run the place and maybe someday even putting in a coffee shop open to the public. It seems that for The Lodge, the possibilities are endless and the work is never done.
Beseler will be going last at the event, and says his pitch may even end with a surprise — but you’ll have to be there to find out.
“We’re going to end with a big bang,” he says.

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.


ArtWorks' Big Pitch to provide two finalists with up to $20,000 in business grants

On Thursday, eight finalists will compete for $20,000 in small business grants at the third annual ArtWorks' Big Pitch presented by U.S. Bank at Rhinegeist.
The Big Pitch is a 10-week program open to creative small business owners who have been in business for at least two years. The entrepreneurs who are selected for the program receive training and mentoring from both a small business mentor and a U.S. Bank banking advisor.
Over the course of the program, the eight finalists prepare their business plan and their pitches. Each one has an idea for how the grant money will take their business to the next stage of growth in a tangible way.
There are two grant prizes available through the Big Pitch. A $15,000 cash prize presented by U.S. Bank is based on equal parts of the finalists’ business plan and on their pitch. There is also an audience choice prize for $5,000.
For many of the creatives, however, the value of the competition goes far beyond the prize money. The work they’ve done with their mentors will certainly make an impact on their business, and the connections they’ve made with each other and through the Big Pitch community will likely pay off in unexpected ways.
“All of the businesses, all eight of us, are worthy of winning,” says finalist Thane Lorbach. “It’s almost a shame that there’s just one or two awards, because they’re all very cool businesses and good people. I’ve gotten to know these people over the past several weeks. There is no wrong answer on Oct. 6.”
At this time, tickets for the event at 6:30 p.m. at Rhinegeist are sold out.
You can learn more about each of the finalists through our Soapbox Innovation profiles:
  • Jake Gerth, frameshop is becoming Cincinnati’s go-to place for custom framing in both home and business.
  • James Avant, OCD Cakes takes a bite out of stigma with beautiful custom baked goods and mental health awareness.
  • Jonathan Fox, Fox Aprons makes a kitchen-tested chef's apron like no other out of raw denim produced in the United States.

Innovation Alley to connect startup orgs in downtown Covington

The City of Covington will officially dedicate Innovation Alley at the Oct. 6 UpStart Celebration of Entrepreneurship.

“The Innovation District, Hub and Alley is the future of Covington,” says Casey Barach, director of the Kentucky Innovation Network’s Northern Kentucky office. “And the future is now. Covington is building a knowledge economy that we can celebrate.”
Innovation Alley connects Russell and Washington streets, between Sixth and Pike streets, in downtown Covington. The all-volunteer group behind the project is currently working on the beautification of the alley, but they have much bigger plans.
MKSK, a Covington-based landscape architecture, urban design and planning firm, has developed a three-phase strategy for redeveloping and activating the alley.
The current beautification work is part of the first phase, which will also include signage and murals that feature the themes of creativity and innovation. The second part of the project will restore some of the alley surfaces and improve lighting. The project will be completed with the installation of solar covered parking, flexible public spaces and awning installation.
“Young entrepreneurs want to be in cool spaces,” Barach says. “The density of the Innovation District is perfect for that; within a couple blocks there are entrepreneurs, accelerator programs and places to get beer and coffee. It’s the kind of place that attracts creative people who want to be around other creative people.”
Bad Girl Ventures recently opened a second location in the Innovation District, joining neighbors like Tier1 Performance Services, bioLOGIC and UpTECH. They are all supporting the alley improvements along with partners Keep Covington Beautiful, BLDG, Duke Energy Foundation, Graydon Head, Renaissance Covington, Republic Bank and U.S. Bank.
The alley dedication will be part of Covington’s annual innovation celebration, UpStart. The free ticketed event, running from 4:30 to 8 p.m., will feature music, food, beer and a showcase of the region's entrepreneurial community.
“It’s a non-structured event for people to get together, celebrate the innovation community, bump into entrepreneurs and just meet each other,” Barach says.
Representatives from the regional StartupCincy scene will be on hand, including Cintrifuse and the Hamilton County Business Development Center, as well as co-working spaces and the StartUp Weekend team. The Kentucky Innovation Network’s Northern Kentucky Office, which recently opened in the Innovation District, will also be open for attendees to check out.
UpStart will be Innovation Alley’s trial run as an event space.
“One of the fun things about activating the alley is that we can try some cool lighting effects,” Barach says. “For UpStart, we will light up the alley for the first time and see how it looks.”
The official renderings and plans for the alley will be displayed at UpStart as well.
The volunteer committee has raised about $12,000 for the project so far, and they are out every weekend pulling weeds and picking up trash.
“We’ve reached the critical mass to really launch this project,” Barach says. “We’ve got good momentum going forward, and I expect things will really take off this spring."

Big Pitch Finalist, Sara Swinehart, SRO Prints

SRO Prints is a full-service branding design agency, but its mission goes far beyond graphics and printing. The female-owned business is also a social enterprise, a company that wants to do good — by providing employment and job training to individuals who are recovering from drug addiction.
The company is led by CEO Sara Swinehart, along with her husband and co-founder Brandon Swinehart. For them, the concept is deeply personal.

Brandon’s story combines many of the elements of the business itself: He has a history of addiction, as well as many years of graphic design experience. He has been clean and sober for 11 years, and was involved in starting a similar business in San Francisco. That business, which started out printing posters for bands, is what inspired the acronym in their name — SRO for both “Single Room Occupancy” and “Standing Room Only.”

Brandon left the Bay Area in 2010, and after a three-year journey connecting with Sara and living in Knoxville, Tenn., the couple ended up in Cincinnati, a place with one of the worst heroin epidemics in the country.
“We both thought it was really important with all the stuff going on in the news and everything,” Brandon says. “We agreed that we should do this and get involved and help the community here."
So in 2013, Sara, Brandon and their first “social enterprise” employee, Chase Stein (now five years sober), founded this iteration of SRO Prints.
“We built this business off of one order, where we were able to make $1,000, and we went from there,” Brandon says. “I think we’re set to make $50,000 this year.”
SRO Prints is not the first of its kind in the country or even the only organization in the region to focus on employment for those in recovery. But to the Swineharts, what sets SRO Prints apart is the kind of employment opportunities they offer — they're aiming for true empowerment through career training and quality experience in a high-paying, in-demand industry.
“We were thinking more along the lines of what about longevity?” Sara says. “A lot of times when an addict gets clean, the cycle is they get a crappy minimum-wage production job, and what’s the buy-in? It’s not a career, it’s a job, and people just think that those types of people are not worthy. It’s like they’re damaged goods and that’s it.”
In contract, SRO Prints sees this underserved population as an untapped resource of driven, committed employees.
“What I’ve learned over the years is that people the I’ve seen that really want to give everything they’ve got and really are hungry to learn something new are the recovering heroin addicts,” Brandon says.
In order to reach those people and offer full-time employment, SRO Prints is ready to grow, and they are taking advantage of Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial resources to do so. The company graduated from Bad Girl Ventures’ first LAUNCH class earlier this year, and are now finalists in ArtWorks' Big Pitch presented by U.S. Bank.
Winning the business grants available through the Big Pitch would mean a major step forward for SRO Prints. Currently, they design marketing, branding materials and merchandise, but are not able to make their products in-house. With an infusion of funding, that would change, meaning they could grow their business and hire employees to train in all aspects of the business.

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.
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