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First Batch seeks next batch of manufacturing entrepreneurs for accelerator class


Local business accelerator First Batch is recruiting the next group of entrepreneurs for its 20-week manufacturing-focused mentorship and acceleration program. This is First Batch’s fourth year offering the program, which will help as many as eight startups ready to scale up product production.
 
First Batch is unique in Cincinnati because it’s the only accelerator in the area — and the country — to focus on new companies that manufacture physical products rather than tech, app development, food, retail or creativity startups.
 
According to founder and program director Matt Anthony, First Batch is accepting applications from businesses with creative ideas they’ve been able to transform into a prototype or small batch production and are ready to increase production through Cincinnati’s local manufacturing resources. Application deadline for the next class is May 6.
 
“We’re looking for people with innovative product ideas,” Anthony says. “They also need to have a solid market reason as to why this has to be produced at scale.”
 
Each accepted business will receive up to $10,000 in funding, space in the Losantiville Design Collective, guidance from the First Batch team, mentorship from industry experts and two months of free legal services from UC’s College of Law.
 
“At the end of our program, the goal is that an organizations will not only be producing product but selling it in some capacity,” First Batch board member John Spencer says.
 
In addition to the hands-on assistance bringing their products or prototypes into scaled production, this year’s companies will also participate in weekly classes on business management — not a completely new addition to the program but one that’s taking a new form. First Batch will expand the Co.Starters curriculum it’s used in the past to address the unique needs of companies manufacturing physical products.
 
“There’s always been a business class component,” Anthony says, “but we wanted to structure it specifically toward physical products.”
 
“Physical products are very different from other products and services,” Spencer adds, “so they require a specific set of skills and expertise.”
 
The expanded business program is one way First Batch is incorporating new ideas with feedback from alumni to hone its specialized acceleration program. As in previous years, 2016 will see First Batch working with companies at various stages in their development and helping them reach their goals.
 
These companies may look like Ohio Valley Beard Supply, a First Batch alum that’s gone from selling beard care products at local vendors and craft fairs to being sold in over 70 Fresh Thyme Markets nationally. Or they may look like Mortal Skis, which entered First Batch with a prototype for skis designed for non-ideal Midwestern snow conditions and has now sold nearly 75 pairs of its first production line, well beyond its goal of 50 pairs.
 
Or the new cohort of companies might look completely different. It all depends on the creative entrepreneurs who apply to First Batch’s program by the extended May 6 deadline and are chosen for the June-October class.
 

CincyTech Fund IV raises over $30 million to spark growth in Cincinnati's startup economy


CincyTech, which invests in local technology and science startups, just closed its fourth and largest fund at $30.75 million, more than its three previous funds combined.
 
Investors in the fund span Cincinnati’s science, philanthropy and business communities and are buttressed by a $10 million two-to-one matching loan from Ohio Third Frontier, the state initiative investing in startups to stimulate growth in Ohio’s economy. CincyTech, which aims to spark development and growth in the local economy by investing in high-potential startups, was a natural fit for the program.
 
CincyTech will use Fund IV to invest in approximately 25 companies over the next three years. Going by CincyTech’s track record, however, the fund’s benefits likely will exceed $30.75 million by attracting other funds and investors to promising Cincinnati companies, which in turn will generate economic growth and new high-paying jobs across the city.
 
“We invest in companies that we believe will become attractive to sustainable investment,” CincyTech President and CEO Bob Coy says. “Most of the companies we invest in at first may employ two to four people. They’re starting from scratch.”
 
With the help of CincyTech investment, many of those companies are able to expand and employ more people, often in the annual salary range of $75,000 to $80,000. CincyTech has created more than 800 jobs by investing in success stories like Ahalogy, Roadtrippers, LISNR and Assurex Health, and Coy points to this track record as one of the reasons the organization was able to raise such a large sum for its fourth fund.
 
“The first three funds have been performing well, and I think the investors in Fund IV based their decisions on that performance,” he says.
 
CincyTech is looking to continue that trend with the new companies it supports over the next three years. Most will likely come from the software/technology and bioscience sectors, which Coy says have a great deal of potential and innovation right now.
 

Cincy Next helps young professionals under 30 connect with each other and the region


Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber announced 43 members of its third Cincy Next class earlier this month.

Based around a personal and professional development curriculum, the eight-month program targets early career young professionals working at for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations as well as entrepreneurs. Class members live and work across the Cincinnati region, and nearly half are transplants to the area.
 
“When you come to Cincinnati, there is access to the things you want to do and the people you want to meet that is absent in larger cities,” says Julie Bernzott, senior manager of the Chamber’s Harnessing Young Professional Energy (HYPE) programs. “You can start a business, get really involved in the community and really make a difference here. And for our size we have great amenities and great cost of living.
 
“Toward the end of the program we explore how class members can get more involved with the community. We usually have ArtsWave and United Way come to talk about their board training programs. And we encourage the class to think about how they can apply the skills they’ve been working on both inside and outside of work.”
 
Cincinnati was recently included in Forbes’ ranking of the top 20 U.S. cities for young professionals, making programs like Cincy Next and C-Change (for those ages 30-40 with 10 or more years of experience) important to attract and retain “creative class” professionals.
 
“As we considered developing a new young professional program, we held focus groups with employers to find out what was needed,” Bernzott says. “The feedback we received was that employers could teach the skills for a position but needed resources to help their employees with soft skills, like emotional intelligence, handling difficult conversations, public speaking and etiquette. Cincy Next focuses on developing the skills that we hope will help them accelerate at a faster rate in their career.”
 
Cincy Next targets professionals under age 30 with eight or fewer years of experience in the hopes of helping them not only further their careers but also build a network of contacts and a connection to the region that will convince them to make Cincinnati their long-term home.
 
“There are young professional leadership programs in many markets,” Bernzott says. “But I’m not aware of any market that’s doing two leadership programs in the way that we are. We took a wide demographic, post-college to age 40, and developed two programs that target different sets of needs. Cincinnati has robust offerings for young professionals, not just the Chamber programs but the YWCA Rising Stars, the Urban League leadership program and others. We’re fortunate to have a wealth of resources in that area.”
 
As Cincy Next continues to develop, the Chamber hopes to reach further into the entrepreneurial community to broaden the range of program participants and to provide networking and awareness-building that’s invaluable when starting a business or career.
 
“Cincy Next and C-Change require a significant time commitment,” Bernzott says. “It’s been difficult to get entrepreneurs involved, not because they’re not interested but because they’re so focused on growing their business.”
 
The costs associated with the program can also be challenging for entrepreneurs and nonprofit employees. The Chamber does offer partial grants for candidates with financial need.
 
Applications for the fourth class of Cincy Next will open in November and for the 12th class of C-Change in July.
 

Xavier conference takes deep dive into local & national co-op movement


Xavier University hosts a conference April 21-22 on “The Cooperative Economy: Building a Sustainable Future” to bring together national experts and local practitioners in the cooperative movement.
 
Xavier has become increasingly interested in the co-op movement in Cincinnati over the past year or so. Much of this interest has been sparked by involvement with Community Blend Coffee, a two-year-old employee-owned co-op just down Montgomery Road from the university in Evanston.
 
That involvement led Xavier to the idea of a three-part exploration of co-ops with the help of local players in the co-op movement like Interfaith Business Builders, which helped Community Blend get started, and Cincinnati Union Cooperative Institute. This week’s conference is the second part of that series.
 
“This is largely in response to what we see as a growing movement of co-ops around Cincinnati,” says organizer Gabe Gottlieb, professor of philosophy and Director of the Ethics/Religion and Society program at Xavier. “Because of the nature of co-ops, they tend to have values, like a concern for workers and the environment, that are in line with what we do at Xavier, so it was a natural fit for us to develop an educational program around co-ops.”
 
The conference will bring together academics and practitioners, including two keynote speakers. The first keynote will be given by Jessica Gordon Nembhard, a professor at John Jay College who’s written a book on the history of African-American co-op movements. Nembhard will also present a workshop on economic justice, co-ops and criminal justice.
 
The second keynote will be given by Melissa Hoover, a national expert in the co-op movement who has worked with organizations like the U.S. Federation of Worker Co-ops and the Democracy at Work Institute. Her address will focus on the state of the co-op movement nationally.
 
The rest of the conference’s workshops and panels will explore topics ranging from the basic “What is a co-op?” and “How do I start a co-op?” to more complicated topics like funding models and fiscal sustainability. The conference is geared to the Xavier University community but also free and open to the public, and Gottlieb says it will be perfect for those already involved in the co-op movement as well as for someone who might have thought of starting a co-op but wants to learn more first.
 
“What I think is really interesting about co-ops is that they offer not a supplement to businesses or even nonprofits that you already see,” Gottlieb says, “but offer alternatives to those models that are often underexplored and can meet the needs of a community in a different way.”
 
Gottlieb feels the conference has the potential to really push the co-op movement in Cincinnati forward by allowing individuals to learn more about co-ops and by helping co-ops find more opportunities to work together. The title “Co-operative Economies” reflects a theme of co-ops working together, creating economic impact from their shared reach and success.
 
Registration for the conference remains open until Thursday’s session begin.
 

St. X grads design unique language-learning platform, launch Kickstarter campaign


A team of four college students launched a Kickstarter campaign this week for a personalized language-learning platform, Lingohop, that combines cutting-edge technology with the newest discoveries in linguistic research. The new app is the brainchild of three first-year college students from Cincinnati and a PhD candidate in linguistics and promises to allow users to begin conversing in their new language “on day one.”
 
Three of the co-founders graduated from St. Xavier High School only last year: President and CEO Michael Ashley, Vice President Tsavo Knott and Chief Product Officer DJ Hammett. They first got the idea for an app while in high school together.
 
Ashley and Hammett were self-proclaimed “language nerds” who committed to learning languages together. They’d practice by learning words and phrases that applied to their lives so they could speak to each other in Spanish, for example, in the hallways. Their friend Knott also had an affinity for language stemming from his dual Dutch citizenship, and he also brought tech expertise into the group.
 
Using their method, Ashley and Hammett have tested “fluent” in four and five languages, respectively. But it wasn’t until they enrolled in college — Ashley at Ohio State University, Knott at Miami University and Hammett at Washington University — that they learned the technique they stumbled upon in high school aligned with the latest research in linguistics.

Ashley met Ohio State PhD candidate Ramón Padilla-Reyes, who has spent seven years researching how people learn languages. So Padilla-Reyes joined the team and the four started working together on Lingohop, an app and platform that uses those newest research-informed linguistic techniques to teach language with a focus on conversation and personalization.
 
“You don’t have to spend years studying language,” Ashley says. “We’re deceived that learning a language is this big scary monster. When you come on (Lingohop), we actually ask you what your needs are and we mold everything you experience to be immediately applicable to your needs.”
 
The app is organized into four-minute lessons organized around questions learners might encounter based on their expressed needs. For example, someone learning for basic tourism might explore “Where is the museum?” while someone who will be traveling for business might learn professional introductions.
 
In addition to this “language for a specific purpose” methodology, the app integrates visual cues and text to provide an immersive experience that addresses different styles of learning.
 
The design team has combined the linguistic techniques with software development and startup principles like agile development and lean startup methodology to design a new experience. They’re also using smart technology to help users understand how they learn best, sort of like the way Fitbit tracks activity, goals and successes. The platform will have an embedded intelligence system to give users suggestions for when to take lessons based on their efficiency.
 
“It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds,” Knott says. “With the technology today, it’s readily available.”
 
The team is beginning to make the app available now via the Kickstarter campaign, allowing contributors to pre-order it for discounted rates. Lingohop will have a different model than a free app or an expensive CD/DVD set — even its pricing is personalized depending on a user’s needs. Different options will be available for month-long, year-long and lifetime access to the platform.
 
Kickstarter contributors will have an option to help with the app’s beta testing. The campaign is attempting to raise $25,000 through May 29, and if it’s successful the team will use this summer to refine the platform build-out to anticipate a full launch date in the fall.
 

Travel Notes startup acquired by Silicon Valley firm, stays rooted in Cincinnati


Any good business provides a solution to a problem, and that’s exactly what Hudson Chilton wanted to do when he co-founded Travel Notes.
 
“One of the problems to improve the travel experience for cardholders is making sure their credit cards aren’t declined when traveling, both domestically and internationally,” Chilton says.
 
He’d learned of this industry-wide problem while working for Fifth Third Bank. He eventually quit his job there in Fall 2013 to work full-time on solving the problem.
 
He enrolled in UpTech’s third accelerator class to launch a startup business around his solution, which he called Travel Notes. That’s when the idea really began to take flight.
 
“I give a ton of credit to UpTech for putting together an amazing program,” Chilton says. “If your company needs a connection with someone, someone in the network of UpTech was always willing to make that connection, which really accelerated the growth of Travel Notes.”
 
Those connections helped take the business to the next level.
 
In particular, about a year ago, Chilton started collaborating with Germany- and Silicon Valley-based company Refund.me, which helps travelers secure compensation for cancelled flights to and from the European Union. That partnership recently turned into an opportunity for Chilton to become part of the Refund.me team, and the company acquired Travel Notes.
 
“This acquisition really doesn’t mark the end of Travel Notes,” Chilton says. “It marks the opportunity to accelerate.”
 
Although the acquisition by a large international company is exciting, Chilton won’t be hopping on a plane to move to Silicon Valley any time soon. He’ll continue to work out of Cincinnati.
 
“I’m equally likely to be successful in Cincinnati as in Silicon Valley, if not more successful,” he says. “I can put in as much work and get as many connections here as anywhere else in the world. It didn’t make sense to uproot and start over.”
 

Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired launches re-brand of social enterprise


What do binder clips and services for blind and low-vision individuals have in common? You can find out on April 14 at the re-branding launch event for VIE Ability.
 
Formerly CincySight, VIE Ability is the social enterprise venture of the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CABVI). It’s an office supplies company that employs blind and severely low-vision individuals and brings in revenue to help fund the rest of CABVI’s services.
 
Like any company, VIE Ability aims to be the best in its field, focusing on providing excellent customer service like including free shipping and making the company competitive for customers. At the same time, it looks to make a small dent in the 65 percent unemployment rate for blind and low-vision individuals.
 
Amy Scrivner, Director of Development and Community Relations for CABVI, points out that most of VIE Ability’s five employees lost their vision in adulthood, when they were already well into careers. For many, that event also means losing their jobs.
 
“While five employees may not seem like a lot, it’s really huge for those individuals,” Scrivner says. “This is a way for us to chip away at that appalling statistic and give people really meaningful work.”
 
VIE Ability provides an example for other businesses of how easy and effective it can be to employ blind and low-vision people. Scrivner says that accommodations to help people work are often simpler and cheaper than employers realize.
 
CABVI debuted its social enterprise in 2013 and has been working ever since to grow the business. The organization started providing supplies to a handful of nonprofits and now enjoys more than 100 business customers.
 
“As we looked at that next stage of growth opportunity, we decided it was time to re-brand,” Scrivner says. “We feel like we’ve achieved that next stage of growth, that we’re ready to make that big splash.”
 
The new name and look were designed by marketing experts from Brandwright and Brandimage Cincinnati with close ties to CABVI. The new name plays on the idea of offering viable office supplies solutions for customers and the ability of the low-vision employees to provide excellent services.
 
The rebranding also marks a new phase of development for the social enterprise. VIE Ability plans to continue expanding its customer base in order to increase the number of employees, with hopes of adding paid job training to the permanent employment program.
 
The 5-8 p.m. event on April 14 at Braxton Brewing in Covington will be a casual, enjoyable way to meet CABVI staff and VIE Ability employees. The event is open to the public with some food provided and a portion of drink sales going to CABVI.
 

Hamilton Mill workshop offers free tools to help build customer-focused businesses


Hamilton Mill hosts a free two-day workshop, Building Better Business Models, led by UK-based entrepreneur Tom Strodtbeck on April 14-15. The program will offer tools to help new businesses to start out with a strong footing while providing existing organizations methods to identify services and products most valuable to their customers.
 
Strodtbeck, who grew up in Hamilton and attended Ohio University, worked with the National Business Incubation Association on business development and training before relocating to Liverpool in 2009. Using his experience working with entrepreneurs and startups, Strodtbeck developed a customer-centric business model, synthesizing the work of Steve Blank, Alexander Osterwalder and Eric Reis into a responsive and nimble business tool.
 
“The basic idea is that products and services, whether you’re a new company or an established one, should be led by customer information and data rather than your own knowledge base and passions,” Strodtbeck says. “The customers, if you approach them correctly, will tell you everything you need to know for your product or service.”
 
Developing a business, service or product takes a significant allocation of money and time, yet the traditional business plan focuses on assumptions made by the business about customer preferences and desires. Strodtbeck shifts the emphasis to uncovering what the potential customer actually wants.
 
“These ideas have been out there since Blank’s 2002 book Four Steps to the Epiphany,” Strodtbeck says. “The framework made sense, but what entrepreneurs struggled with was the approach — what questions to ask customers, how to ask them, what to expect and how to get over the fear that people aren’t going to like your idea.”
 
During the workshops, participants will learn how to use the Business Model Canvas developed by Osterwalder, an agile and useful planning tool that maps out the ways businesses try to create value for their customers.
 
“The Business Model Canvas is the tool to get the guesses about your product or service on the table,” Strodtbeck says. “Then you can start going to customers and find out if your guesses are actually true.”
 
Involving the customer earlier in the development of a product or service limits the amount of risk taken on by a business or organization. The idea of pre-testing concepts directly with the consumer is central to the Lean Startup movement championed by Reis. A customer-led development cycle allows organizations to reduce their exposure to failure while focusing on creating viable products.
 
“With Lean Startup methods, you build just enough of a product to let people use it and tell you what they like, don’t like and what they want to do with it,” Strodtbeck says. “Then you build features into the product that reflect customer feedback. So you build, measure feedback, learn and then start the process over again until you get to the product that you want.”
 
Strodtbeck emphasizes that the Building Better Business Models workshop will be interactive and hands on, providing resources to any company or organization looking to create new value, including nonprofits.
 
Hamilton Mill’s free workshop is scheduled for 8:45 a.m.-4 p.m. April 14-15 at the Fitton Center in Hamilton. Space is limited and pre-registration is required.
 

This weekend's Tidal hackathon could be the start of a beautiful tech/arts relationship


Cincinnati’s tech innovation ecosystem collides this weekend with its robust arts community to devise new solutions for some of the region’s largest arts organizations.
 
Tidal: Art x Tech Challenge is a problem-solving hackathon that brings together different sectors of the community to innovate with others and come up with solutions to improve how arts organizations connect with their audiences.
 
The April 8-10 event is organized by ArtsWave, Cintrifuse and Fifth Third Bank with the help of Cincinnati’s startup community.
 
“This is a great collaboration, the whole thing,” says Hillary Copsey, Director of Communications and Marketing at ArtsWave. “Tidal is a synthesis and a showcase of all the exciting things happening in Greater Cincinnati right now. All the stuff that is good right now in our region, Tidal is connected to it in some way.”
 
Even the origins of the event come from the crossover between the innovation and arts communities. One of the main organizers, Chris Ostoich, has been active in the Cincinnati startup community as an entrepreneur himself — his company Lisnr in fact was born in a hackathon — and serves on ArtsWave’s Board of Directors.
 
For Ostoich, Tidal is not only a way to bring together these two worlds but a venue for the tech community to give back to and get involved in arts in Cincinnati. The hackathon allows innovators to participate in a different way from monetary donations, meaning it can engage on a deeper level than simple philanthropy and it can involve individuals who can’t always contribute fiscally.
 
“It was a question of ‘where do my skills fit in?’” says Ostoich of his time on the ArtsWave board. “I felt like nobody in my circle was hearing about ArtsWave or these arts organizations. I’m of the mindset that if you want to engage people in Generation X and following, you have to give them opportunities to contribute. They want to feel like they had a hand in building something.”
 
So Tidal does just that by giving technologists, product developers, marketers, designers and anyone with a problem-solving skillset a chance to contribute to building solutions to real challenges Cincinnati arts organizations face.
 
 
Hackathon agenda
 
Beginning Friday night, teams of innovators will come together to solve eight challenges identified by local arts organizations. The challenges include creating digital interactive lobby experiences, connecting theatregoers with each other, allowing people to follow Cincinnati artists around the world and much more.
 
Tidal is still taking RSVPs for participants. More than 200 individuals have signed up so far, with event capacity set at 300. Once the challenges are presented Friday evening, participants will be able to self-select into teams based on the challenges they want to work on. Teams will work in Cintrifuse’s Union Hall space in Over-the-Rhine on Saturday and Sunday.
 
On Sunday afternoon, each team will present its solution and one team will be named the winner. Tidal will provide prizes to the winning teams as well as arts performances for participants like the band Multimagic on Friday night.
 
The teams will also have the help and guidance of volunteers and coaches from Fifth Third Bank throughout the weekend. According to Sid Deloatch, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, the company sees Tidal as a new way to express its longstanding support of the arts and make use of its tech expertise as the bank transitions to a primarily technology-based company.
 
“This is a unique gathering of interests,” Deloatch says. “We thought we could help, we wanted to help and we felt we could give back to this community.”
 
Organizers are excited to see what new ideas and solutions come out of this weekend’s work. They hope the hackathon is the debut of an annual event.
 
“I love being first,” Ostoich says. “I would love if, five years from now, we can say, ‘This is the community where arts and tech collide with one another.’ Nobody else owns that. We absolutely have a right to do that based on our history and our momentum in this space.
 
“I’m thinking, five years from now, can we expand on the work that’s happened? What I love about these sort of events is that you never know what’s going to come out the other end.”
 

Xavier University's student-run TEDx to explore unexpected sides of deception


TEDxXavierUniversity will hold its fifth annual TEDx event April 14 on Xavier’s campus.
 
The event is a TED-licensed, independently organized TEDx event very much like TEDx Cincinnati. The biggest difference is that this event is completely organized and run by Xavier students who are now under the umbrella of the recently formed Innovation Society student club.
 
The biggest focus for this year’s TEDx group was coming up with its intriguing theme: Decoding Deception.
 
“We spent about four months working on coming up with the theme,” says member Margaret Rodriguez. “We really wanted to find a theme that would be interesting not only to Xavier students but to the greater Cincinnati community.”
 
They chose an exploration of how deception might have positive or necessary uses in daily life and then took applications to come up with a diverse, dynamic group of speakers.
 
“We encouraged the speakers to we chose this year to look at deception from their own perspective,” Rodriguez says.
 
The speakers will be emceed by Mary Curan-Hackett of Xavier’s Center for Innovation. According to Rodriguez, Curan-Hackett was open-minded about the theme and helped speakers think about deception in positive and unexpected ways.
 
Speakers include Amber Hunt, Cincinnati Enquirer investigative reporter, who will explore how people can be deceiving without meaning to be and how as a journalist she tries to find objectivity in that subjective or unintentional deception. Other speakers are from Xavier University and the wider Cincinnati community, with diverse backgrounds in corporate, nonprofit and other worlds.
 
And that’s exactly the point. The event is meant not only to stand alone but to spark dialogue and conversation among audience members.
 
The TEDx student group has focused on building a large and diverse audience with Xavier students, working to advertise on campus and make the event as accessible and appealing as possible to the student body. Tickets are available online.
 
“It’s worth coming just to experience the atmosphere,” Rodriguez says. “It’s exciting to watch something like this. Decoding Deception is only two words, but it’s really taken on a life of its own.”
 

Cintrifuse names new Director of Syndicate Fund, looks to increase investment in local startups


Cintrifuse has named long-time team member Sarah Anderson as Director of its Syndicate Fund, the “fund of funds” designed to generate venture capital and resources for the Cincinnati startup ecosystem.
 
The for-profit fund is one of three major branches of nonprofit Cintrifuse’s work to support the startup and innovation ecosystem in Cincinnati in unique ways. The other two are services provided to entrepreneurs and the Union Hall building that houses Cintrifuse, The Brandery, CincyTech, multiple co-working startups and other related organizations like Flywheel Cincinnati.
 
The $57-million Syndicate Fund was founded by the Cincinnati Business Committee in 2012 to invest in other funds instead of investing directly in startup ventures and made its first investment in 2013. Cintrifuse searches out funds around the country that believe in Cincinnati’s innovation ecosystem and are likely to invest in it, with the hope that when those funds do invest in local startups they’ll attract other investors into the mix.
 
This “syndication effect” is where the fund gets its name, Anderson says.
 
“We’re really looking for that ‘needle in a haystack’ fund that can provide strong returns in the region,” she says. “We are looking at funds that can really be building companies.”
 
In addition to the financial performance any investor expects, Cintrifuse uses its Syndicate Fund to build regional engagement of funds and a “return on innovation” for its backing limited partners — large local companies like Kroger and Procter & Gamble — that can also benefit from all the innovation coming from small startups and entrepreneurs.
 
To foster this kind of innovation and growth here, the Syndicate Fund adds a few twists.
 
Anderson says the best and most effective funds want “no strings attached” to their investments, so the Syndicate Fund chose not to require funds to re-invest in Cincinnati. Instead, she actively works with funds to develop relationships and make sure investors share Cintrifuse’s commitment to innovation across Greater Cincinnati.
 
Anderson also takes a hands-on approach to fostering and connecting with funds that fit Cintrifuse’s mission. Although the Syndicate Fund has invested in just 13 funds nationally, it has a network of 250 partners with which it actively engages. Cintrifuse has been able to bring a 7:1 return on its investments back to Cincinnati so far, and Anderson is looking to make sure that ratio gets even better going forward.
 
The Syndicate Fund will be finishing up Fund I around the end of this year and is already looking toward its next second round, Fund II. Anderson says that there will be tweaks and improvements based on what she and her staff learned in the first round, just as the Cincinnati entrepreneurship ecosystem is always learning and growing.
 
“There’s really not another model that we’ve been able to find like Cintrifuse,” she says.
 

Flywheel social enterprise hub moves to "startup central" at Union Hall


The region’s social enterprise hub will soon be found in the heart of #StartUpCincy headquarters, Union Hall, when Flywheel Cincinnati completes its long-planned move to Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine.
 
Although Flywheel focuses on connecting nonprofit, for-profit and faith-based social enterprises to resources and each other, Executive Director Bill Tucker sees an important point of overlap between the city’s social enterprise economy and its startup ecosystem.
 
“A couple of years ago,” he says, “I started to realize that in order to have a real impact in this community it’s really about job creation.”
 
Flywheel works to provide the social enterprise community with momentum toward the greatest social impact possible, ranging from the economic development of job creation to the sustainability, scalability and funding opportunities of local social enterprises.
 
Moving into Cincinnati’s urban core from Covington will allow Flywheel to expand its network in the civic, venture funding and business communities, although Tucker emphasizes that the organization will maintain deep connections in its Northern Kentucky home as well.
 
“It’s remarkable how being shoulder to shoulder with other individuals in this space has created opportunities for connections that I never could have predicted,” Tucker says.
 
In addition to the networking connections, the move to Union Hall allows Flywheel to expand its services to social enterprises by providing co-working space. Tucker has wanted to start this program for a long time, but the move makes it possible without Flywheel having to develop its own brick-and-mortar building.
 
Tucker points out that work spaces new nonprofits are often able to afford come nowhere close to the environment provided by Union Hall.
 
“For a nonprofit or social enterprise to be able to step into a space like this that has the latest technology, it enables a totally different kind of connection than anything else can,” he says.
 
To Tucker, the presence of social enterprise at Union Hall provides a crucial link between startups and social enterprise. Flywheel can provide visibility and resources to tech-focused companies that may want to do social good, while the startup ecosystem provides sustainability (and sometimes even “fast failure”) models for organizations focused on social good.
 
For Flywheel, being an integrated part of the local startup environment highlights the economic legitimacy of social enterprise in Cincinnati. To demonstrate the impact of the “real work, real jobs and real people” involved in Greater Cincinnati social enterprise, Tucker tells the story of Flywheel’s 2016 Social Enterprise Award MASTER Provisions, which finished second in the recent SVP Fast Pitch competition.
 
This organization began by providing food, clothing and orphan care in Northern Kentucky and grew enough that it was able to purchase refrigerated trucks for food deliveries. When staff members weren’t using the trucks for food deliveries, MASTER began renting them out to partners for expedited food delivery, earning revenue to support the rest of its work. MASTER then added another dimension to this social enterprise — using the trucks for a job training program for drivers, allowing individuals with barriers to employment to learn and grow into full-time employment.
 
For Tucker, it’s a perfect example of the benefits and sustainable reinvestment social enterprises can achieve.
 
“This is all about moving a larger community around social enterprise,” he says.
 
That community will surely grow with Flywheel’s move to Union Hall in addition to the recent expansion of its board and look forward to 2016’s Social Enterprise Cincy week in October.
 

Kitchen Convos series shines light on local food industry entrepreneurs


Entrepreneurship is typically associated with the tech industry. But Northern Kentucky Incubator Kitchen (NKIK) hopes to expand that perception by highlighting “foodpreneurs” in its Kitchen Convos series.
 
“There is a need for food people to come together,” says Rachel DesRochers, founder of Grateful Grahams, NKIK and The Hatchery. “I was going to all these entrepreneurial programs and always felt like I can’t really relate to any of that.
 
“One of the things our incubator kitchens do so well is work together, not in competition — no one is better than anybody else and there is a willingness to help each other. So hopefully Kitchen Convos are creating a space for people to meet and connect.”
 
Kitchen Convos will be available in two formats: a live monthly discussion held at NKIK in Covington and a weekly podcast.
 
The live discussions will bring together people from across the regional food industry, including branding, packaging, growers, famers, brewers, manufacturers, writers and chefs.
 
“I put it out on Facebook that I was looking for people who want to share their stories in and around the food industry,” DesRochers says. “Within three days I had three speakers a month booked through September, each month bringing together like-minded people.”
 
The live Kitchen Convos begin with panelists introducing themselves and talking about their experience in the food industry, followed by a conversation moderated by DesRochers and audience questions.
 
“At the February and March programs we had people who just love food, as well as manufacturers,” DesRochers says. “For people who are in the small food business industry who want to come and learn or make connections, it’s a great space to connect into this community. But it’s also for people who just love food and want to hear the stories of why people do what they do.
 
“Everyone loves to eat, but who are the people producing our food and what are we consciously making a choice to support with our dollars? We’re doing cool stuff, we just need to share our stories and tell people that we’re here in your back yard working really hard together as a community of foodies to help each other.”
 
Unravel Productions is recording the live discussions and editing them into one-hour podcasts. They’re also working with DesRochers on mini Kitchen Convos, a weekly podcast featuring one-on-one interviews with regional food industry professionals. The first mini Convo will be released on March 23.
 
Live Kitchen Convos are scheduled for the second Wednesday of each month, although the April program will be held on Monday, April 11. They’re held at the Northern Kentucky Incubator Kitchen, 1032 Madison Ave., Covington. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the program begins at 6:30; admission is $5.
 
The April Kitchen Convo panel features Alice Chalmers, founder of Ohio Valley Food Connection; Kate Cook, Garden Manager of Carriage House Farms; and Amy Paul, Advertising Director of Edible Ohio Valley.
 
“These people are creating their dreams through food,” DesRochers says. “I want people to listen to it and really be inspired.”
 

Digital Dialogue conference focuses on consumer conversations in the digital world


What do banking, paper, healthcare and coffee have in common? They’re consumer marketing fields represented by various keynote speakers at this year’s Digital Dialogue conference March 29-30.
 
The event, begun eight years ago as the “Digital Non-Conference,” is an opportunity to learn about new and emerging trends in digital marketing. This year’s theme, says conference co-chair Nicole Ball, is “How to market in a world where everybody can participate.”
 
“Digital is so wide that it really opens it up to conversation,” Ball says. “We’re here, and we need to talk to each other.”
 
The keynote speakers represent a variety of industries, including Deep Focus, Leo Burnett Chicago (gave Fifth Third Bank its “curious bank” brand), MediaVest, Eric Mower & Associates (managed the digital campaign #PaperBecause for the very non-digital paper business) and Death Wish Coffee.
 
The conference will focus heavily on how to prioritize and engage the consumers that marketers want to reach in a digital environment where they have more and more opportunities for engagement.
 
That’s where one of the keynote speakers, Mike Brown of Death Wish Coffee, comes in. The small business that produces “the world’s strongest coffee” won Intuit Quickbooks’ Small Business Big Game Competition and had a fully produced commercial air during the 2016 Super Bowl. Death Wish Coffee got the most votes in the competition by effectively leveraging social media and engaging its fan base to vote, even after entering the competition a month late.
 
“We’ve broadended our horizons because consumer centricity is everywhere,” Ball says. “You might ask ‘why Death Wish Coffee?’ but when you hear his story you start realizing how consumer-focused it was and yet it was all on digital.”
 
Ball says that she and other Digital Dialogue organizers think these new stories of consumer engagement will be a major draw for the conference. Just because everyone can participate in the digital world doesn’t mean they are yet.
 
Digital Dialogue will be held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel downtown March 29-30. Registration is available here.
 

MusicNOW festival keeps experimenting and exploring in 11th year


The annual MusicNOW festival continues to bring musical experimentation and dialogue to Cincinnati, and its 11th version this weekend will once again partner with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. MusicNOW founder and Cincinnati native Bryce Dessner (The National) and CSO Musical Director Louis Langree have planned three nights of new music and classics like you’ve never heard them before.
 
“It’s truly a unique CSO experience,” says Meghan Berneking, the Symphony’s Director of Communications. “From the flip side, these composers now have at their disposal 90 orchestra musicians excited to play their music.”
 
For the CSO, the three-day festival — two nights of which center around the CSO and Music Hall — is a chance to live up to one of its core values of being a place for musical experimentation. For Dessner, MusicNOW is an annual return to his home town and an opportunity to compose and play music in a totally different way.
 
“This is music that people don’t get to hear every day,” Berneking says. “Bryce talks a lot about how Cincinnati is really the only place MusicNOW could happen.”
 
The experimentation of the festival will begin Friday, March 18, with a night filled with contemporary music by composers who are still writing. The night focuses on the world-renowned Kronos Quartet in conversation with the full orchestra, the music inspired by themes ranging from historical immigration to 9/11. Joining Kronos, CSO and Dessner will be MacArthur Genius Fellow and new host of Prairie Home Companion Chris Thile, performing his own works for mandolin.
 
The collaborations and conversations continue into the second night of music Saturday, March 19, opening with a piece by 20th-century Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski followed by Dessner's response to it. Adding to the conversation is a piece by composer Terry Riley inspired by the first Gulf War. The night will end on a more uplifting note with Magnus Lindberg’s Feria, or “Festival.”
 
MusicNOW will continue with the Punch Brothers (one of Thile’s side projects) at Cincinnati Masonic Center downtown on Sunday night, March 20.
 
Berneking encourages MusicNOW audiences for any of the nights of the festival to come with an open mind, pointing out that even Beethoven’s 5th Symphony was once new to listeners. She also says there might be more surprises in the works for the festival.
 
“We didn’t even announce what’s on the program until about two months ago,” she says. “That’s how new it is.”
 

UC team prepares for finals of Space X Hyperloop Pod competition


A team of University of Cincinnati students that’s part of a global effort to build a new Hyperloop transportation system will present its design at the Official Space X Hyperloop Pod competition in June.
 
Hyperloop is intended to provide high-speed, solar-powered, zero-carbon transportation between cities less than 900 miles apart. Passengers seated in a pod would be propelled through tubes on an air cushion, similar to how air hockey pucks move. Getting from Cincinnati to Chicago currently takes roughly four hours by car; the trip via Hyperloop would be a mere 30 minutes.
 
Elon Musk, founder of electric car company Tesla and private space craft technology manufacturer Space X, is Hyperloop’s highest-profile backer and advocate. Last year, Space X committed to constructing a test track at its facility in Hawthorne, Calif. and announced an international competition to generate models to test there.
 
More than 1,000 university, high school and corporate teams from around the world entered the initial competition. Last fall’s first round required a preliminary design briefing to outline a complete Hyperloop transportation system. The field was narrowed to 300 teams, including Hyperloop UC, a team of 60 undergraduate and graduate students representing an array of University of Cincinnati departments and disciplines.
 
“At first, a few of my friends in engineering made up a core team of five or six people,” says Dhaval Shiyani, Team Captain and Chief Engineer of Hyperloop UC. “Once we came up with a rough plan of what we wanted to do, we launched a recruitment drive to complete the team, interviewing candidates to find people motivated enough to work on something that will very surely change transportation.”
 
A diverse team was important, as the competition requires not only detailed engineering but also a manufacturing plan to construct and scale the project as well as business plan with funding models.
 
“We have people not just with an engineering background but also people from business, design and DAAP,” says Shishir Shetty, Hyperloop UC Director of Finance.
 
Team members traveled to Texas A&M University in January to present their final design, which included not only the passenger pod but also station renderings and a complete system engineering scheme. The event drew an impressive gathering of Hyperloop supporters, including Hyperloop Technologies CEO Rob Loyd and Chairman Shervin Pishevar, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and Musk himself.
 
Hyperloop UC was selected as one of the final 30 teams to advance to the prototype competition in June. The UC team is now constructing a 14-by-3-foot pod prototype to ship to California for the trials on the track being built on the Space X campus. Although this remains a competition, Space X has encouraged participants to discuss the project with potential community partners so that the winning design will actually be scalable and buildable.
 
Hyperloop UC team members have been doing that, as well as reaching out to community organizations and schools to build excitement and interest about its project.
 
“In addition to our full-scale prototype, we are building a small-scale model to take to schools to raise awareness and excite young students to join an effort that will make a better future,” Shiyani says. “We want to ignite their passion not just for engineering but for technology in general.”
 
Hyperloop UC continues to raise funds and in-kind support for its project, including seeking assistance from local companies on manufacturing and technical issues, with help from their UC advisors and colleagues. Online donations are being accepted by the UC Foundation here (select Hyperloop UC on the Area of Focus pulldown menu).
 
“We owe a lot to (UC) President Santa Ono,” Shetty says. “He got on board as soon as we made the pitch to him and has been great about spreading the word around town. The UC faculty across campus in engineering, business and DAAP have been making calls, setting up meetings and helping with fundraising — without them this wouldn’t be possible.”
 

Casamatic plans expansion after receiving $1.1 million in seed funding


Local startup Casamatic has had a whirlwind first year. After starting with just an idea in late 2014, co-founders Alex Bowman and Chris Ridenour have grown their concept into a website and app operating in three cities and currently planning expansion to five more.
 
Bowman credits much of the organization’s explosive growth to the help they’ve received though the Cincinnati startup ecosystem, including going through accelerator programs at Ocean and The Brandery and serving as a Startup in Residence at 84.51°.
 
“When we started the Ocean program, we knew we were tackling buying a home,” Bowman says. “We had the name and had a Twitter handle, and that was about it.”
 
They came out of Ocean with their now signature quiz for matching buyers with homes, and by the time they graduated from The Brandery they had users/customers and were beginning operations in Chicago.
 
Casamatic currently operates in Cincinnati, Chicago and Dayton and recently added its fourth team member, but those numbers won’t stay the same for long. In January, the company closed its first seed round of investments, garnering $1.1 million to fund further expansion.
 
The company’s growth matches its audience growth. Everything about Casamatic is designed with Millennials in mind, the fastest growing segment of home-buyers, particularly first-time home-buyers. The company is choosing markets for expansion based on that audience.
 
“The goal now is really to find where the other cities are where Millennials are buying homes,” Bowman says.
 
Casamatic is planning expansion to Phoenix, Raleigh, Columbus, Charlotte and Nashville. Bowman says that, once they launch in those markets, they’ll begin to look for the next 10-15 cities to target.
 
“We want to be in every city in the U.S.,” he says, “but more importantly, we want to be to de facto way for Millennials to buy homes.”
 
If growth continues at this rate, that goal doesn’t seem too far off.
 

HCDC to host its first startup Business Showcase and Innovation Village


Business incubator and economic development corporation HCDC is hosting its first Business Showcase and Innovation Village March 15 at Xavier University’s Cintas Center.
 
The event will be an opportunity for residents in HCDC’s Business Center startup incubator to display and tell their story to an audience of over 300 people representing sectors of the community ranging from the business world to local universities.
 
Business Center Director Pat Longo explains that the Showcase is an opportunity for the companies to tell their story and make connections in the community as well as for the public to learn more about the work HCDC does. He says the idea came about after bringing on two new business mentors who subsequently told him how much they’d learned about the organization’s work in such a short time.
 
“They said, ‘We thought we knew what the Business Center was about, but we need to give these companies an opportunity for Greater Cincinnati to know what they’re doing,’” he says.
 
Only a few of the HCDC Business Center residents will be able to show off their work at this event, however. The organization had an internal competition to select 10 companies to give full pitches at the showcase, while an additional 30 startups will man display tables in the “Innovation Village.”
 
The exclusivity is a matter of space and practicality — with 72 startup companies currently in its program, HCDC is the region’s largest incubator.

Norwood-based HCDC also operates slightly differently than most other accelerators and incubators in the area, which is partly why it’s never hosted a showcase before.
 
While The Brandery, UpTech, Ocean, First Batch and Mortar take in several startups together as a class and “graduate” them together with a culminating pitch or demo event, HCDC both accepts and graduates startups on a rolling basis. The organization is able to meet the needs of a variety of types of new businesses, then — while entrepreneurs launching an app might only need a year or two to get off the ground, a biotech company commercializing a tangible product might stay in the incubator for four years or more.
 
Longo is proud of this diversity of businesses in HCDC’s portfolio, which he says will be visible at the Showcase among the startups giving pitches as well as those in the Innovation Village.
 
“The idea of technology commercialization is alive and well at HCDC,” Longo says. “Seeing these nascent ideas percolate, I hope that people will see what’s going on and say, ‘I can’t believe that’s happening here!’”
 

OTR Chamber's Star Awards mixing it up March 16


The Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce hosts its annual Star Awards March 16 at The Transept. The event features a change in venue, timing and format, shifting from a presentation-packed luncheon to a shorter program with more networking time.
 
“We have had a really successful luncheon in a room packed with 400 people, where the program goes to the last second and then everyone has to race back to their offices,” Chamber President Emilie Johnson says. “This year, we tried to embrace a format that would allow this group of people who are committed and passionate about the neighborhood to have more time to enjoy each other’s company.”
 
The brief program for the 2016 Star Awards will feature keynote speaker Harvey Lewis, a marathon runner and educator.
 
“He is an amazing individual,” Johnson says. “Harvey is an educator at the School for Creative and Performing Arts and has been in the neighborhood a number of years. He’s also an athlete with a really compelling and inspirational story.”
 
Lewis won the Bad Water ultramarthaton, a 135-mile race in California’s Death Valley. He teaches social studies and economics at SCPA, running to and from work every day.
 
The program is scheduled for 4-6:30 p.m. Following Lewis’ talk, Star Awards will be presented to these 2016 winners:
 
Mortar, Chairperson’s Award
Woodward Theater, Norma Petersen Arts and Culture Award
Chatfield College, Property Development of the Year
Sundry + Vice, New Business of the Year
The Transept, Business of the Year
Red Door Project, Individual Contribution of the Year
OTR Community Housing, Nonprofit of the Year
Cydney Rabe, Off the Vine and Core Movement Studio, Entrepreneur of the Year
Taft’s Ale House, Restaurant of the Year
Future Leaders OTR, Community Impact of the Year
 
The Star Awards Review Committee chooses winners for the Chairperson’s Award and the Norma Petersen Arts and Culture Award, while the remainder of the awards are selected by the committee based on nominations from the community.
 
“What’s really cool about this process is that anyone can submit a nomination for the Star Awards,” Johnson says. “This year we had the most nominations we’ve ever received. These nominations celebrate Over-the-Rhine and all the great things that are happening here. We’re glad to have such a diverse pool of recipients who are uniquely contributing to OTR.”
 
The Chamber is also gearing up for the 10-year anniversary of the OTR 5k on May 21, with runner registration open now. Organizers are looking for volunteers to help with the race and the Summer Celebration in Washington Park immediately after.
 
“The 5k highlights the neighborhood and all that’s happening here,” Johnson says. “City Flea will kick off its season with us again. Art on Vine is also back on board, bringing their festival to the bandstand area. And the OTR 5k is still one of the few races that’s stroller- and dog-friendly.”
 

After pause to rework Haile Fellowship goals, People's Liberty names 2 winners


People’s Liberty announced last week that Chris Glass and Brandon Black are its 2016 Haile Fellowship winners and will each receive $100,000 grants, office space and mentoring over the next 12 months.

Glass will celebrate local communities by photographing every Greater Cincinnati neighborhood while engaging residents and local organizations throughout the process. Black will explore traditional apprenticeship in the age of technology by connecting Baby Boomers and Millennials through home repair projects that bring out the best in both generations.

After a successful first year of the Haile Fellowship program in 2015, People’s Liberty originally planned to have this year’s Haile Fellows start work in January but called a timeout in late Fall. Staffers were actually nearing the end of the 2016 application process when they decided it needed to change.
 
CEO Eric Avner explained that the catalyst for the change was a forum the organization hosted of funders from all over the country who provide grants to individuals, where it was suggested the People’s Liberty team stop the application process to rethink the questions it was asking applicants. The goal changed to focus less on the proposed projects and more on the applying individuals in order to grow strong local leaders and create lasting impact beyond the fellowship year via “a civic-based sabbatical.”

People’s Liberty says Glass’ project will be “transformative for him and will bring together the collection of creative pursuits he has built over the years.” Black, meanwhile, “hopes to reimagine the role of elders, beautify neighborhoods and increase home values (and) to develop a model that could incorporate other disciplines with intergenerational apprenticeship.”

This week, People’s Liberty is opening the application process for its next round of Project Grants, which provides eight winners with $10,000, a launch event and access to office space and mentorship. Applications will be accepted through March 23, with winners announced by April 22.

An information session will be hosted at 6 p.m. March 2 at People’s Liberty HQ in the Globe Building, 1805 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine. Get more information here.
 

Cincinnati TEDx chapter hopes to use talks to build community

 
TEDx Cincinnati will host a “Salon” happy hour event March 9 featuring speakers giving short, 2 1/2-minute talks on a subject of their choice. The audience will vote for an audience choice award, and several of the speakers may be invited to give a longer presentation at the TEDx Main Stage event in June.
 
The Salon and Main Stage events will be very different, says TEDx Cincinnati Director Jami Edelheit, describing the Salon happy hour as a more relaxed focus on networking. Speakers were invited after filling out applications, but unlike Main Stage speakers they haven’t been coached by event organizers.
 
“We don’t really know exactly what they will say,” Edelheit says, explaining that’s part of the beauty of an event that brings people together to listen to each other’s ideas. “The Salon events are really fun and are a chance for people to meet others who you may not usually get a chance to meet.”
 
One thing both the Main Stage and Salon events have in common is that they bring together larger and larger numbers of people. The Salon has received so much interest that it’s moving to a larger venue this year, The Redmoor in Mt. Lookout, with a proper stage for speakers.
 
Edelheit is also looking to expand in another way by recruiting new members to the TEDx Cincinnati board, which organizes and promotes the local events. She hopes new blood will help continue growing TEDx Cincinnati into the kind of top-notch organization seen in other cities around the country.
 
“We are building a community, not just an event,” Edelheit says. “The idea that I think is really important for our city is that TEDx is a platform for people to share ideas in Cincinnati, to get things out of Cincinnati and to bring things into Cincinnati.”
 
Applications are still being accepted for the June 16 Main Stage event. Tickets are available for both the Salon and Main Stage events here.
 

Bikes O.R.O. launches bicycle-focused social enterprise with Indiegogo, Rhinegeist party


Chelsea Koglmeier made a New Year’s Resolution about a year ago “to try to come to terms with the risk of failure,” and she’s been working to put that into practice ever since.
 
The native Cincinnatian was no novice in taking risks. She’d already cut her teeth in the innovation and entrepreneurship world as a fellow at The Brandery and a staffer at local startup Roadtrippers to help it scale up.
 
In the past year, though, Koglmeier has taken on a different kind of risk, combining her experience in entrepreneurship and her passion for social good to venture into the world of tangible products with Bikes of Reckless Optimism.
 
Bikes O.R.O. is a social enterprise inspired by companies like TOMs Shoes that operate with a “double bottom line” of both profit and social good. Koglmeier’s goal is to sell quality everyday bikes in the U.S. and, for every unit sold, make it possible for someone in need to access a bike.
 
“Nonprofits absolutely have such an important role in the world,” she says, “but if businesses could do something good and have a double bottom line, what a wonderful place we would live in.”
 
The idea has been Koglmeier’s dream for a long time. She studied abroad in Uganda seven years ago and witnessed the power of bicycles to transform lives in places with little established transportation infrastructure. She remembers seeing children who were able to go to school more frequently if they had a bike to get them there faster and more safely each day.
 
Since returning to the U.S., Koglmeier has gotten even more involved in bike culture and sees the benefits of biking for the States as well.
 
“At the core level I wanted to get more access to people who need bikes,” she says, noting both the need for bikes around the world and the need for a different, less technically-focused kind of messaging around bikes in the U.S. “I think there needs to be a company that speaks to consumers in a different way.”
 
And so Koglmeier started Bikes O.R.O. in January 2015, spending the past year researching bicycle-making, manufacturing prototypes and identifying partners. Bikes O.R.O. will start its social aspect by working with World Bicycle Relief, and Koglmeier hopes to add other partners as the company grows.
 
Now she’s at the moment of truth. Bikes O.R.O. launched an Indiegogo campaign this week to fund the first batch of bicycle manufacture and launch the company in earnest. Koglmeier raised about 10 percent of her $45,000 goal in the first five hours.
 
“The process has been crazy, it’s been a really interesting roller coaster,” she says. “This is our proof of concept. Does this idea resonate enough to translate into a large scale purchase and potentially lifestyle decisions about whether you’re going to ride a bike?”
 
To go along with the Indiegogo launch, Bikes O.R.O. is hosting five launch parties around the country, including one right here in Koglmeier’s home town. Anyone interested in Bikes O.R.O. can meet Koglmeier and her team at 5-9 p.m. Thursday, March 3 at Rhinegeist and even ride one of their unique bicycles.
 
Koglmeier hopes that the Indiegogo is just the beginning.

“I want to work on building a world of reckless optimism,” she says. “I want to build the company into something that can make the biggest impact on the world while building quality products.
 
“But I never want to lose the product of the bike.”
 

4th Floor Creative shoots and scores in first year


Tom Gelehrter had more than a decade of experience in sports broadcasting when, just over a year ago, he decided to take his career in a different direction.
 
“I was really ready for a different challenge,” he says. “I was talking to a friend of mine on a drive home from work at 10:30 at night and ended up having an hour and half long conversation.”
 
Out of that late-night conversation in January 2015 came the concept of 4th Floor Creative, a company that creates graphic, digital and video products for clients. Although the creatives work for a variety of businesses, they’ve found a special niche for themselves with videos and other products for the world of professional and college sports.
 
This specialty speaks directly to Gelehrter’s background as a sportscaster at the University of Cincinnati for nine years before starting 4th Floor Creative. He was heavily involved in bringing UC’s sports broadcasting department into the digital age by building the new media department and implementing new broadcasting techniques like live-streaming audio and then streaming video.
 
“We used to joke, ‘Why aren’t we in my basement doing this?’” Gelehrter says, recounting time spent with his staff creating and editing video and new media products for UC. About a year ago, they finally made that leap.
 
Gelehrter and longtime collaborators Shane Harrison and Marc Graham have been able to make use of their sports media experience in their new endeavor. 4th Floor Creative is barely a year old, but the company is already building a reputation by creating digital solutions for sports.
 
Part of the growth could be attributed to a close partnership with folks who are making big waves in local sports news. 4th Floor Creative has become the primary video and media producer for FC Cincinnati as it gears up and gathers fans.
 
“We’re able to provide everything they need to launch a new franchise,” says Gelehrter of the partnership.
 
The company has expanded into other high-profile sports clients, like producing high-quality facility tours for the University of Tennessee, and into non-sports clients such as Kroger and Rising Star Casino.
 
Luckily, the company isn’t actually producing all of its videos in Gelehrter’s basement but instead has received both mentoring and affordable office space from Norwood-based HCDC. That partnership is fitting even in unexpected ways — while the company’s name actually comes from the fourth floor of UC’s Richard Lindner Center, where Gelehrter worked for seven years, their office space in HCDC is also on the fourth floor.
 
“We’ve been very lucky in the first year to have a lot of support,” Gelehrter says. “It’s not something I really imagined happening until about a year ago. It’s different every day, and it’s exciting. I’m not going to say every day is great, but a lot of them are.”
 

Conference focuses on applying the predictive analytics of sports to business


The University of Cincinnati’s Center for Business Analytics hosts “Predictive Analytics Day” Feb. 29 featuring panels of experts who are applying predictive analytics to business and, more frequently, to sports.
 
The day-long mini conference is one of the public events presented by the Center of Business Analytics, which changes topics each year. This year, as Executive Director Glenn Wegryn explains, the chosen topic was predictive analytics.
 
“Predictive analytics is being able to anticipate better through understanding data with statistical and mathematical methods,” Wegryn says, explaining that the methods can be used to help anticipate everything from what your next click on a website might be to when a piece of industrial equipment will need to be replaced to overall business forecasting.
 
Wegryn says that as the Predictive Analytics Day was planned, a sports theme emerged organically through speaker recruitment. Those speakers include the Decision Science Technical Manager for Walt Disney Co., Louie Kuznia, whose background is with Disney-owned ESPN; a specialist in sports analytics, which uses predictive analytics to anticipate factors like how well a scouted player might perform or how many tickets will be sold for a particular game; and a technical speaker who has used predictive analytics to study athletes’ training videos.
 
Once the theme emerged, the Center decided to complement it by calling on some of their own members from the Cincinnati Reds, the Cincinnati Bengals and the UC Bearcats to put together a lunchtime panel about how predictive analytics works in those organizations.
 
Even though the day’s program has ended up focusing on sports, Wegryn points out that the topics will still be applicable to a much wider audience.
 
“The problem is the same whether you’re trying to sell your next baseball ticket or your next piece of clothing,” he says. “Coming to an event like this, you get to think outside the box a little bit about your own organizations.”
 
The Center expects more than 200 people at the event, breaking previous records for its public programming. Most attendees are coming from the Greater Cincinnati business world and use analytics or predictive analytics in their company work.
 
“It’s an explosive field right now,” Wegryn says. “Data is exploding, and everyone is figuring out how to leverage it effectively.”
 
Predictive Analytics Day will be held at UC’s Tangeman University Center at 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Feb. 29. Registration is $125 and is available here.
 

Bad Girl Ventures welcomes first Launch class of eight startups


Bad Girl Ventures (BGV) welcomed its first Launch class last week, part of the business accelerator organization’s revamped three-tier Explore, Launch and Grow programming.
 
“We had over 50 applicants for the class,” BGV Executive Director Nancy Aichholz says. “Our volunteer selection committee chose the class based on stringent criteria. The eight companies represent completely different industries. They’re energetic and engaged, and we’re excited about them.”
 
The 18-week program began last week. Since all of the participants are also running their companies, classes are offered alternating weeks with the off week providing time to do homework and meet with mentors.
 
“BGV’s job is to cultivate these companies and help them be as successful as possible,” Aichholz says. “They are competing to receive a $25,000 loan from us, but just as importantly they will learn how to access capital elsewhere to meet the needs of their business.”
 
Members of the first BGV Launch class are:
 
Meaghan Dunklee, Wedding Bags: creating custom gift bags for weddings
 
Debbie Immesoete, Route Fifty Campers: offering vintage camper rentals
 
Melyssa, Michele and Christine Kirn, Grainwell: making wood-centric home décor
 
Monica Kohler, Skube.Me: sewing modern tube skirts with American sourced fabrics
 
Lynn Love, LL Spirits: an adult lemonade stand at Findlay Market
 
Cullen Meehan, Wish Pretty: a line of accessory bags
 
Sara Swinehart, SRO Prints: a social enterprise screen printing business
 
Kimberly Turnbow, Hair Gem Elite Salon: restoring hair damaged by chemotherapy and chemical treatments
 
“We have all the right ingredients for our first Launch class,” Aichholz says. “The right staff, the right volunteers, the right sponsors and absolutely the right women. We’re very excited and hopeful for the quality and potential in this class.”
 
The first week of class included presentations on corporate culture by Steve Martin, Vice President of Organizational Development at Hubert Company; pitch practice with actress and coach Elle Zimmerman; meeting their mentors; and connecting with peer counselors from Northern Kentucky University and University of Cincinnati law schools as well as BGV’s legal counsel partner, Cors & Bassett.
 
Aichholz credits the quality and diversity of the Launch class with BGV’s efforts to recruit applicants for the class.
 
“We were more focused and intentional in our marketing,” she says. “Instead of just letting people come to us, we were more proactive in going out, meeting and getting to know women who were starting and running really neat businesses. We engaged them with BGV and got them interested in the program.”
 
Two Launch participants are graduates of BGV’s first Explore class held last fall, Debbie Immesoete and Meaghan Dunklee.
 
“Megan was using Etsy to sell her bags,” Aichholz says. “During Explore, she created her own website and she’s since hired her first employee. Debbie wants to raise capital to buy additional campers because her current inventory is booked all the time.”
 
BGV is accepting participants for the second Explore class through March 8; the nine-week class will begin April 7.
 
“The Explore class is meant for anyone, including men, who is thinking about going into business for themselves,” Aichholz says. “Our hope is that people who go through Explore will have a basic business plan at the end of the class, go and grow their business for a year or so, then come back and Launch with us.”
 
The third phase of the BGV program, Grow, which offers stand-alone workshops for established business owners, will begin in the spring. That’s also when BGV hopes to be located in its new permanent office space in Covington.
 
“BGV is different from other programs,” Aichholz says. “When women begin our program, they aren’t just taking an accelerator class, they’re joining an organization. This isn’t a ‘quick go in, get a business plan and find funding’ program.
 
“We want to see these women be successful. Five years from now they can call us and ask for help. We want to promote these business once they’re launched. And we hope they want to stay connected to BGV when they’re successful. It’s a unique value proposition BGV offers our members.”
 

Queen City Mobile Summit brings national recognition to local app developers


On Wednesday, Feb. 17, Cincinnati will play host to the Queen City Mobile Summit, a collaboration among national and local players to spark discussion about the state of mobile app technology and where it’s headed.
 
This will be the fourth such mobile summit organized by ACT: The App Association, a national organization representing the app industry through education and advocacy. Previous summits were held in Salt Lake City; Eugene, Ore.; and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to bring attention to the great app development going on where it might not be typically expected.
 
“It’s really about highlighting and getting to know the community outside Silicon Valley,” says Courtney Bernard, Communications Manager for ACT. “Contrary to popular belief, most of the highest grossing apps are not from Silicon Valley.”
 
A few of those have even come from Cincinnati, a market that seemed like a natural fit for the association’s next summit. The event will be co-organized by Possible, the global digital media and marketing agency with its second largest office in Cincinnati, and The Brandery.
 
For Possible, a major international player in the digital media and app technology world, the summit will be an opportunity to connect with the local technology and app ecosystem.
 
For The Brandery, the connections to the national app economy will come with a significant recognition: The startup accelerator will be the second ever recipient of ACT’s App Economy Spotlight Award. The award recognizes companies and organizations that foster a culture and community of entrepreneurship in the app technology economy. It will be presented at the Wednesday event by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman.
 
Bernard says that ACT chose The Brandery for the honor because of the exceptional level of support it provides to startups in their accelerator program, which includes successful apps like Roadtrippers and ChoreMonster, and the way it’s fostered a supportive culture of innovation in Cincinnati.
 
It’s that culture of entrepreneurship and encouragement in the Cincinnati ecosystem that both ACT and Possible want to highlight in Wednesday’s event.
 
“One of my hopes is that this event helps people recognize what a strong mobile app economy we have in Cincinnati,” says Brian Le Count, Executive Vice President for Strategy and Insights at Possible Cincinnati. “This is not only a great place where advertising happens but where mobile tech happens.”
 
“Cincinnati is a model for how cities can really have a community that fosters entrepreneurs and innovation,” says Bernard, who is a Cincinnati native herself and made sure there would be some local touches (like Skyline for lunch) at the summit.
 
The Queen City Mobile Summit will take place at The Brandery’s Union Hall in Over-the-Rhine at 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Feb. 17, with a press event and award ceremony at 9:30 a.m. Registration is free; you can sign up online here.
 

New grant program pushes to expand "good food" options across Greater Cincinnati

 
Food security has been a hot topic in the news with food-borne illness outbreaks at national chains and studies on the impact of urban food deserts.
 
Locally, the Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Council (GCRFPC), an initiative of Green Umbrella, is working to create a healthy, equitable and sustainable food system across the tristate. The council recently announced that it will award multiple grants of up to $10,000 each for innovative projects that promote more “Good Food” in the region.
 
The Cincy Good Food Fund Award is supported by a grant from the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities and the Carol Ann & Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation.
 
“Addressing the need for a healthy, equitable and sustainable regional food system is right up there with the goal of world peace,” GCRFPC Director Angie Carl says. “The link between food and health, sustainability and the local economy is undeniable. Ideally it would be easy for all to make healthy eating choices. Yet we know many people in our region go hungry, many don’t have access to healthy food and many do not make healthy eating choices.
 
“Further, there are many practices, regulations and obstacles in our food system that present challenges for local food production and distribution. Some say our food system is broken. Whether or not that’s true, it is definitely true that our region's farms are decreasing and we desperately need to support and encourage more agriculture in both urban and rural areas.”
 
GCRFPC itself is a relatively new organization, coming together in October 2014 with a grant from Interact for Health to reactivate the Cincinnati Food Policy Council, which had disbanded in 2011. Today, 40 representatives from organizations operating in the 10-county region are addressing issues facing the regional food system through four working groups: Healthy Food Access and Consumption; Distribution and Procurement; Food Production and Land Use; and Community Assessment, Planning and Zoning.
 
Each work group identified priorities for its focus area, established a work plan and are conducting research on best practices that will provide information for case studies, position papers and policy recommendations.
 
The Good Food Fund Award seeks to engage the wider community in achieving GCRFPC goals. The award is modeled on similar programs in cities like Cleveland, Indianapolis and Hartford, Conn.
 
“There is no ‘Department of Food,’ so we are determined to help our region put a higher priority on a healthy food system,” Carl says. “GCRFPC will provide some financial assistance for innovative, impactful and viable food-related projects to help promote our mission.”
 
The program will award up to $40,000 in grants in 2016. Applications are welcome from nonprofits as well as commercial businesses and are due March 3.

Successful entries will address at least one of the following GCRFPC priorities:
• Healthy food access for Greater Cincinnati residents,
• Production of local foods and value-added food products,
• Community development to support local foods and coalitions,
• Food security for Greater Cincinnati residents,
• Educational programs that promote healthy eating habits and
• Beneficial reuse or minimization of food waste.
 
“We hope the Cincy Good Food Fund will help raise awareness in our region of some of the good work that is going on to improve our food system,” Carl says.
 

Let's Dance uses ballroom dancing to teach discipline and teamwork to Avondale students


It was dance that first connected Greg Norman and Kathye Lewis two and a half years ago, and dance has been their passion ever since. As the two began dating, they talked about ways they could share and pass on their passion.
 
Norman previously taught ballroom dance classes in Los Angeles, where they’d grown to include the children of his adult students. The couple was captivated by the idea of dance classes for young people in Cincinnati’s inner city, similar to those held in New York City and many other places and featured in the documentary film Mad Hot Ballroom.
 
So, at the recommendation of Lewis’ friend, the two applied for a People’s Liberty project grant and were awarded $10,000 to start “Let’s Dance,” a 10-week ballroom dance class for fifth and sixth graders at South Avondale Elementary School.
 
“We wanted to be able to have an impact in the community,” Lewis says.
 
The first 10-week class had its graduation ceremony on Feb. 10, when students got to perform two ballroom dances they’d learned — the Waltz and the Cha-Cha-Cha — for their parents and families.
 
“They loved everything that they learned, and they showed off at graduation,” Lewis says. “It was just wonderful.”
 
Lewis and Norman say they’ve already been able to see dancing’s impact on the students. Because learning ballroom dance requires discipline and teamwork, the teachers say they’ve even been able to see improvement in the children’s behavior. The experience speaks to the importance of arts education, they believe.
 
“I think that this program should be in all the schools because the arts have been taken out,” Norman says. “What we have learned is that the arts really do help children. It shows how you can take students that might not feel like they can contribute and expose them to the arts and they discover they may have other unique talents.”
 
Norman and Lewis started with that mindset of “life lessons through ballroom dance” as well as with the goal of exposing students to different kinds of music and artistic expression as they dance to artists like Nat King Cole and Cuban Pete. They also see themselves as passing on a legacy of black ballroom dance in Cincinnati, particularly in Avondale, recalling how important that artistic exposure has been in both their lives.
 
“This is an experience they will carry with them for the rest of their lives,” Norman says.
 
The students from the first class certainly won’t be leaving the experience behind soon — many will return for the second 10-week session to act as mentors for new students. Norman and Lewis are also dedicated to making the program available in more ways and on a long-term basis across the city.
 
“That’s the good thing about People’s Liberty,” Lewis says. “It gives people the opportunity to try out concepts and build things around them.”
 

Flywheel Cincinnati to host new round of social enterprise workshops


Social enterprise hub Flywheel will soon start a new round of workshops for Cincinnatians interested in starting social enterprises.
 
The workshops are one of the ways Flywheel provides training to potential social entrepreneurs, along with educating the public about social enterprise and nurturing a social entrepreneur community.
 
The workshops, which have been offered since 2011, were recently re-branded from a “Social Enterprise 101” concept to “Exploring Social Entrepreneurship” and “Becoming a Social Entrepreneur.” According to Flywheel Executive Director Bill Tucker, the rebranding was influenced by Flywheel’s Social Enterprise Cincy arm, an effort to bring together the best of different types of social enterprise.
 
“It goes right back to when we launched the Social Enterprise Cincy brand,” Tucker says. “It was with the idea of bringing best practices from for-profit spaces into the nonprofit space.”
 
Tucker explains that various sectors of social enterprise do different things exceptionally well. While nonprofit social enterprises are often especially good at delivering services, for-profit social enterprises tend to be better at branding and marketing.
 
The upcoming workshop series will bring the strengths of both those sectors together for people considering social entrepreneurship as a way to make their ideas a reality. The three workshops build on each other to create a detailed how-to guide for social entrepreneurs.
 
Exploring Social Enterprise (8:30 a.m.-12 p.m. Feb. 22) will serve as an introduction to the concept of social enterprise, exploring how individuals might be situated to start a business for social good or a business where society profits.
 
“This is for the beginners,” Tucker says. “Maybe someone who has an idea and wants to see if they’re going down the right path.”
 
If they are, they could follow up on March 22 by attending Becoming a Social Entrepreneur (8:30 a.m.-12 p.m.). That workshop will get into the details of determining if a social enterprise is a feasible idea, giving attendees the tools “to evaluate their business so they can fail quickly and fail cheaply,” Tucker says. He explains that about one third of people who take Flywheel training actually decide not to start businesses, “and we consider that a successful outcome.”
 
For those who do decide to start a venture, the third workshop in the series is Business Plans That Stand Out (8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. April 22), providing a longer, more in-depth exploration of the best ways to create a plan for their enterprises. That event is sponsored by Interact for Health — which hosts the meetings at its Roodwood Tower offices in Norwood — and is the only workshop with a fee.
 
Tucker encourages potential social entrepreneurs considering the workshops to think outside the box, because social enterprise doesn’t have to mean just traditional nonprofits.
 
“We’ve trained a ton of people in the community around starting businesses that have a social purpose,” he says.
 
It’s likely that, with the continuation of these classes, they’ll train a ton more.
 
Register for one, two or all three workshops here.
 

Greater Cincinnati Venture Association starts 2016 with Breakfast Club at Braxton Brewery


Greater Cincinnati Venture Association kicks off its 2016 educational programming this week with the year’s first Breakfast Club. They’re held every other month to alternate with GCVA’s Joe Thirty gatherings to create a year-long schedule of educational and promotional programming for local tech startups and entrepreneurs.
 
Each Breakfast Club event features four speakers: three early-stage tech startups, who each give an eight-minute pitch about their venture, plus a “keynote” speaker talking about his/her entrepreneurship experience. They’re typically attended by between 100 and 150 entrepreneurs, investors and fans of the Greater Cincinnati startup ecosystem. The year’s first event is at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 10 at Braxton Brewery in Covington.
 
Entrepreneurs presenting at the event will include Atumsoft, a pair of chemists who launched a business to commercialize their technology allowing lab equipment to transfer data directly to the cloud. Their technology has the potential to be a major disruptor in product manufacturing and distribution.
 
Also presenting is SowOrganic, “the Turbo Tax for organic certification,” says Kevin Mackey, President of GCVA since December. The company designed software to streamline the process for growers and farmers to be certified as “organic” and for agricultural inspectors becoming certified as organic inspectors.
 
The third pitch will be given by Fanbloom, which targets social media “influencers” in specific geographic locations. The technology helps marketers effectively reach targeted audiences while still feeling very organic to audiences.
 
“We always try to curate companies who are prepared to pitch,” Mackey says. “So we ended up with all three of those because we wanted a good mix of tech startups.”
 
After the three pitches, the keynote will be given by Braxton Brewery founder Jake Rouse. His talk is designed as the morning’s educational section, a chance for early-stage startups to hear from someone else’s experiences.
 
“His story combines entrepreneurship with a specific focus on the trials and tribulations of being an entrepreneur,” Mackey says.
 
Rouse is himself a former tech entrepreneur and hasn’t entirely left that world behind in his brewing venture, since Braxton provides resources like open co-working space in its taproom to local startup entrepreneurs.
 
“One thing we’re going to be doing this year is trying some mixed-up locations,” Mackey says. “We want to highlight some more spaces that are a little more native to tech startups.”
 
Elaborating on Braxton’s involvement with and support of the tech startup scene, he adds, “People won’t usually associate a brewery with a place you might want to go in the morning, but startups work out of there every day.”
 
Despite the location, there will be no beer at the Breakfast Club event. Instead, coffee and light breakfast will be provided for those who register here.
 

The Brandery opens applications for its seventh accelerator class


The Brandery has begun taking applications for its seventh annual startup accelerator class focusing on branding, design and marketing. Each of the selected 10-12 teams will receive $50,000 in seed funding and a year of free office space and mentorship in exchange for a 6 percent equity stake in their company.
 
The application deadline is April 15.
 
The Brandery is looking for the best and brightest startups inside Greater Cincinnati as well as from across the country and the world, says Program Manager Justin Rumao.
 
“We talk about how we have a marketing and branding bend,” he says, “but we encourage anyone with an idea to apply.”
 
In other words, applicants don’t have to have a completely fleshed out business plan to be considered for a slot in the four-month class. In fact, Rumao states that having a strong team is often just as important, if not more so, than the idea itself — ideas often transform in the startup world, but a strong team can carry a company through that type of transition.
 
For prospective applicants who aren’t quite sure yet or want to learn more, The Brandery has scheduled four sessions of “Open Office Hours” before applications are due as a chance for startups to meet its staff.
 
“The goal is not only to share their idea through the application but to bounce it off other people and really start building that network,” Rumao says, emphasizing that those networks are crucial to the Brandery program.
 
The class isn’t just about accelerating startup ideas through branding and design, it also helps entrepreneurial teams leverage the resources of Cincinnati’s startup ecosystem — access to big companies like Procter & Gamble and Kroger and a spirit of collaboration found throughout the region’s innovation scene. In fact, Rumao jests that the city’s environment is almost an “unfair advantage.”
 
“We’ve got something special brewing here,” he says. “There is no reason The Brandery can’t become a top-5 accelerator in the country.”
 
The program doesn’t want to just use the city’s and region’s resources, Rumao says — The Brandery wants to build them up as well, encouraging the entrepreneurs who go through their accelerator to stay here and invest in the area. They even provide opportunities for out-of-town startups to live in Branderyhaus three blocks from the accelerator’s Over-the-Rhine offices, helping newcomers get to know the local community while in the accelerator program.
 
“We want to make sure that as many people as possible who come through here stay here,” Rumao says.
 
Considering the stories of graduates like Natasia Malaihollo, founder and CEO of Wyzerr, it seems like The Brandery is succeeding on that front. Malaihollo recently told Soapbox that, after relocating from New York and California for a Brandery class last year, she’s hoping her startup can become the Google of Covington and help improve her new Northern Kentucky community.
 
If the past six years are any indication, The Brandery’s 2016 class will add plenty of valuable assets to Startup Cincinnati.
 

The Women's Fund rallies allies to promote economic empowerment for women


The Women’s Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation has been working to ensure women’s economic self-sufficiency for more than 20 years, supporting programs and conducting research around economic empowerment of women.
 
The fund looks at how gender affects a variety of issues in the community, and that gendered lens often helps reveal solutions to those issues. Women’s Fund Executive Director Meghan Cummings uses the example of child poverty to illustrate the approach.
 
Cincinnati has the second highest rate of child poverty in the country, and the majority of those children in poverty are living in single-parent, female-headed households. Cummings points out that when those facts are combined with Women’s Fund research like the PULSE: 2020 Jobs and Gender Outlook study conducted in 2014, it helps to illuminate the problem’s roots.
 
That study found vast differences in women’s and men’s economic opportunity as different job markets grow at different rates. Even though many job fields in Cincinnati are predicted to grow in the next five years, Cummings and the Women’s Fund looks more critically at those numbers.
 
“When we take a closer look at what kind of jobs are growing and who traditionally holds those jobs, it’s a much bleaker picture,” she says.
 
According to research, some of the biggest growth might happen in some of the lowest-paying sectors and subfields, like medical assistance and home health aides — jobs held overwhelmingly by women.
 
The Fund takes a comprehensive approach to addressing the economic well-being of women and girls along with issues like the high childhood poverty rate. It helps facilitate and connect the dots across the community from groups like the mayor’s Poverty Task Force to initiatives like Preschool Promise.
 
“These issues of women’s self-sufficiency, we think they affect our entire community,” Cummings says. “Our issues aren’t red or blue, they’re purple. These aren’t partisan issues, they’re community issues.”
 
Cummings explains that because the issues she looks at affect the entire community, the Women’s Fund tries to include as many community stakeholders and partner organizations as possible to help solve them. The inclusivity is reflected in the Fund’s events as well as in its board room — the Cincinnati Women’s Fund is one of the few women’s funds around the country with men in leadership positions.
 
Aftab Pureval, one of the first three men to join the Fund’s board roughly three years ago, is passionate about the work the fund does.
 
“If we’re going to address the issues and challenges we face, it’s going to be through the leadership of women,” Pureval says.
 
The Fund even hosts a yearly “Guys Who Get It” happy hour event to raise money and engage men in the community in these issues.
 
“Who knew if it would be successful or not,” Cummings says, remembering the first event three years ago. “We took a risk, and it was really successful. It was an unusual angle that, being a Women’s Fund, we were engaging men’s voices.”
 
“No matter your gender, age or experience, we need you at the table,” Pureval adds.
 
You can expect that the tables will be full at the next Women’s Fund event, its fifth annual “A Conversation With” gathering April 5 at Xavier University’s Cintas Center. National political commentator Cokie Roberts will be the keynote speaker.
 

GCF grant helps Hamilton Mill hire industrialist-in-residence and expand student support


Just a short drive north of Cincinnati, Hamilton Mill offers a distinctive experience within the Startup Cincinnati ecosystem.
 
“We focus on technology that helps Southwest Ohio manufacturers have small and lean shops,” says Director of Operations Antony Seppi.
 
Hamilton Mill also emphasizes clean and green technologies through a special collaboration with the City of Hamilton. The city utilities department currently produces nearly 90 percent of its energy from renewable resources and shares that expertise with participants in Hamilton Mill’s programs.
 
Unlike the familiar short-term accelerator program, Hamilton Mill is an incubator that accepts applications on a rolling basis and tailors the length of the program to the participant, whether that’s nine months or three years.
 
“Some companies need a prolonged maturation process,” Seppi says. “We have startups at many stages in their development.”
 
Startups participating in the Hamilton Mill program receive marketing resources and assistance, technology resources, networking opportunities, and mentors to help the startups hit their milestones. Hamilton Mill is also building an innovation fund that will be available to qualified startups graduating from their program.
 
“We have a unique niche in the greater Cincinnati startup ecosystem,” Seppi says. “We are really trying to engage with the Cincinnati community, and we work closely with Cintrifuse and CincyTech.”
 
A recent grant of $50,000 from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation (GCF) will help Hamilton Mill expand two of its signature programs.
 
Hamilton Mill is hiring an industrialist-in-residence to begin in a few weeks. It will be a rotating position featuring an expert in advance manufacturing who will consult regularly with the startups at Hamilton Mill.
 
“It offers added value to our participants, provides alternative perspectives, and helps formalize our program in advanced manufacturing technologies,” Seppi says.
 
The GCF grant will also support the development of a student entrepreneurship program, NextGen.
 
Hamilton Mill has been working with a couple of student startups, including one that has partnered with UC Health West Chester on a software project. However, there has is interest and opportunity to expand and further develop that program.
 
“NextGen lays a groundwork for high school and college students throughout Butler County to build and develop ideas,” Seppi says. “This is an expansive program that will include coding, app development, and technology.”
 
NextGen will incorporate students who have been participating in Butler Tech’s organization Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship (SAGE). Hamilton Mill expects to work closely with Butler Tech and SAGE to develop the NextGen program and hopes the program will be up and running before the end of this academic year.
 
For bricks and mortar businesses looking to start or get assistance in Hamilton, the Hamilton Mill is also home to the Small Business Development Center supported by the State of Ohio. They have two consultants who offer workshops, information and training and have recently brought a grocery store and bakery to Hamilton.
 
In the spring Hamilton Mill will get new bragging rights as the only Southwest Ohio startup program with an on-site brewery. Municipal Brew Works is building out a brewery and tap room in the former fire department space in the Hamilton Mill complex.
 

ArtWorks launches alumni network to connect 20 years of "doers"


ArtWorks has been around for nearly 20 years, touching the lives of thousands of local youths and adults through public art and creative enterprise programming. The noprofit launches an alumni network Feb. 4 to connect those people as a community of “doers.”
 
“Essentially we realized that over the past 20 years we’ve engaged almost 4,000 individuals,” says Colleen O’Connor, ArtWorks’ Talent Manager. “It’s time to re-engage them.”
 
The alumni network will provide ways for ArtWorks to support the careers of alumni through networking, mentorship opportunities, professional development workshops and meaningful engagement. The network is designed to bring together participants from all of the organization’s various programs.
 
The Feb. 4 event will feature food by provided by three different graduates of the Creative Enterprise division’s Co.Starters classes. More than 200 alumni of that program will soon be joined by a few more entrepreneurs — a new Co.Starters class started last Wednesday night and will graduate in nine weeks with lessons and connections to help them put their business ideas into action.
 
Another ArtWorks Creative Enterprise program is Big Pitch, sponsored by U.S. Bank, which has awarded $50,000 in funding prizes to creative small businesses and provided invaluable opportunities for them to receive mentoring and share their stories with funders and the public. Planning is underway for the third annual Big Pitch event later this year.
 
Of course, most ArtWorks alumni were participants in a summer apprenticeship program, particularly the organization’s famous public murals (for which ArtWorks is currently recruiting apprentices and teachers). The alumni network gives these apprentices a chance to connect, sometimes for the first time.
 
“I think one of the great things about our apprentices is there are almost 3,000 of them,” says ArtWorks Communications Director Destinee Thomas. “The teams work really closely together for six to eight weeks and become very close. We’re really excited to about bringing them back together.”
 
Thomas and O’Connor encourage all ArtWorks alumni to come to the event in February or register to be part of the alumni network.
 
“I think really just from walking around, I’m really blown away by the footprint ArtWorks has,” O’Connor says, citing a recent walk in Over-theRhine when she passed or visited Big Pitch alumni like Brush Factory and Original Thought Required while seeing mural after mural along the way. As the nonprofit enters its 20th year, that footprint is sure to keep growing.
 

Miami students get a taste of Cincinnati startup ecosystem via year-round internship program


Miami University students are getting more opportunities to intern at Cincinnati startup companies thanks to its expanded Cincinnati Digital Innovation Program. The collaboration between the school’s Armstrong Interactive Media Studies and Institute for Entrepreneurship allows students to do full- and part-time semester-long internships in summer, fall or spring.
 
Based on an established program Miami hosts in Silicon Valley, the opportunity is more than just an internship — it’s an introduction to the world of entrepreneurship and innovation. Students spend four days a week working with startup or tech companies in Cincinnati and once a week get to visit other tech companies, startups, chambers of commerce, development companies and other components of the local startup ecosystem.
 
“The goal was to see as many different angles of Cincinnati and the tech and startup scene as possible,” says sophomore Interactive Media Studies major Sam Huber, who participated in the program this fall. “Being able to see my home town in a new light was exiting for me.”
 
Huber interned at Cerkl, where he was able to put his design skills to use as well as learn more web development working alongside the team developing the company’s app. He says the experience was incredibly valuable, as was the chance to see Cerkl co-founders Tarek Kamil and Sara Jackson run the company.
 
“It was great just to have the real-world experience,” Huber says. “As good as Miami is in teaching in my program, there’s no comparison to seeing it actually happen.”
 
According to Mark Lacker, Miami’s John W. Altman Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship, that firsthand experience is exactly why the program matters.
 
“We’re training the startup workforce,” he says. “What kind of skills do you need to be a valuable, valued member of a growing startup company?”
 
Lacker says that Huber is just one of over 100 students to do internships in Miami’s program, which has been arranging summer internships since 2010 and recently expanded to offer opportunities year-round. He says that interest from startups matches that from the students, with more than 90 percent of host companies wanting to work with Miami students again. Some even offer further opportunities to the same students.
 
Although his internship is over, Huber says he’s still doing contract work for Cerkl and looks forward to continuing the relationship.
 

Ocean's new startup class "reaching people well beyond Cincinnati"


Greater Cincinnati’s faith-backed accelerator program, Ocean, welcomed its second class of startup participants last week. The nine companies include two from the United Kingdom and three from outside Cincinnati.
 
“We are thrilled that the concept of Ocean as an accelerator has an appeal that has grown to the point where we’re reaching people well beyond Cincinnati,” says Ocean CEO Scott Weiss. “It is a diverse and exciting group of companies.”
 
The new class includes companies at very different stages in their business development.
 
“Companies including Homefield, Riser and Devoo are just at the beginning of their journey,” Weiss says. “They have great insights, great founders and are beginning to pull together their product and the business plan to take that product forward. At the other end of the spectrum, we have companies like Liquid which are established and generating revenue and are ready to use Ocean to get to the next stage.”
 
Ocean also recruited a range of business types for the new class, including consumer applications, business to consumer and business to business.
 
The nine members of the 2016 Ocean class are:

Devoo: helps friends connect with activities and discounts

Feasty: matches hungry diners with nearby restaurant specials

Homefield: engages fans with each other and the game

Liquid: provides data collection, management and collaborative resources for scientific research

RISR: offers personal coaching for student athletes

Spatial: uses social media to analyze sentiment patterns and define the vibe of a neighborhood

Spirit Labs: developed Lepton to connect donors with causes, ministries and charities

We Help Others: works with churches and nonprofits to generate revenue with underutilized resources

We Love Work: matches job candidates to companies by evaluating the compatibility of the candidates’ values with the company culture to improve the success of recruiting and hiring
 
The Ocean participants will work with other founders, entrepreneurs, mentors and subject area experts over the course of their five-month residency at the organization’s work space adjacent to Crossroads Church in Oakley.
 
“We have a rich pool of mentors,” Weiss says. “As part of their commitment, they give active service to our companies. So a mentor with a financial background could help a company set up their initial charter of accounts; someone with a marketing background could be helping a company validate an insight. We are fortunate to have great partners.”
 
Coffee chats with other startup founders and entrepreneurs, including Ocean’s 2015 graduates, provides an opportunity for the current class to share experiences and ask questions. Teaching sessions are offered at least twice a week to address specialized business topics as well as the faith-based subjects that differentiate Ocean from other accelerator programs.
 
“Ocean is beginning to prove that it’s a very effective business accelerator,” Weiss says. “But it is uniquely an accelerator that builds into the founder by taking a spiritual journey that’s integrated into the business journey. So the founder, the person, comes out of our program with more insight, self-awareness and maturity, and that is what helps them succeed as an entrepreneur.”
 
The 2016 Ocean class will have its demo day on April 28, but the program continues through May to help the class handle the negotiating, media coverage and other opportunities that arise after their demo day presentations.
 
“The date of demo day is carefully planned with Cintrifuse and our other partners in the city,” Weiss says. “All these people are working hard to continue to grow the vibrant startup economy we’re seeing in the region. We want Ocean to be an additive experience to the startup ecosystem so the region continues to shine.”
 
Other Cincinnati startup news

Bad Girl Ventures will announce the first class of its new LAUNCH program at a Feb. 3 event at Rhinegeist. Cintrifuse CEO Wendy Lea will give the keynote address at the free event.
 
The next day, Covington-based UpTech holds its fourth demo day at 84.51 downtown. Reservations are required for both events.
 

People's Liberty launching reimagined Haile Fellowship application as "civic sabbatical"


If you visited the People’s Liberty website in December, you might have encountered a message that began “Dear Cincinnati: It’s not you, it’s us.” The philanthropic lab was in the process of reworking its application for the Haile Fellowship.
 
The fellowship is People’s Liberty’s “marquee grant” and worth its headliner status, with two grants per year worth $100,000 each given to an individual along with the challenge to “research, plan, implement and present the results of a big idea that could change our community’s future” during the grant period.
 
After a successful first year of the fellowship program, People’s Liberty was actually partway through the application process for the second year when the staff decided it needed to change.
 
“As a philanthropic lab, we are constantly learning, tweaking things, and everything we do is changing all the time,” explains CEO Eric Avner. “This one was pretty prominent because we were in the middle of the application process.”
 
Avner explains that the catalyst for the change was a forum the organization hosted of funders from all over the country who provide grants to individuals. During the day and a half of conversations, People’s Liberty heard from other grantmakers that what was really important wasn’t necessarily the work grantees accomplished during their fellowship window but the longer-term results over the following three to five years.
 
“What we quickly realized was that we were treating the Haile Foundation Grant like a $100,000 project grant,” Avner says.
 
So the People’s Liberty team stopped the process to rethink the questions they were asking applicants. The goal changed to focus not just on the nuts and bolts of the proposed project but on the individual applying. This way, People’s Liberty hopes to grow strong local leaders and create an impact that lasts beyond the fellowship year.
 
The redesigned application opens Jan. 13 at 9 a.m., followed by an information session at the People’s Liberty office in Over-the-Rhine at 6 p.m. Interested applicants can arrange 20-minute meetings with the People’s Liberty staff over the next few weeks. Applications close Jan. 29, with the two 2016 winners announced in late February.
 
Avner is happy with the new version of the application.
 
“This is a unique opportunity (for grantees) to take a civic-based sabbatical,” he says. “I encourage people to take on this opportunity to change the city and change themselves in the process.”
 

Travel startup helps clients plan dream trips three years and more in the future


With the ubiquity of online travel booking services, launching a travel business these days might seem like a risky premise. Yet Kim Zielinski thinks the services offered by her new company, Intellego Travel, will fill a unique niche.
 
Many people have an extensive list of places to visit and sites to see, but doing the research to accomplish those travel goals can be daunting. That’s where Intellego Travel comes in, with Zielinski operating as an independent contractor affiliated with larger travel consortiums and tour operators. She’s launching a new long-term travel planning service in 2016.
 
“I meet clients somewhere that is convenient to them and on their schedule,” Zielinski says. “We talk about their travel style, things that they like, things they don’t like, how much they want to spend every year on travel, how often they want to travel and discuss the destinations they want to visit over time as well as any specific timing for those trips, like an anniversary or graduation gift.”
 
Zielinski uses that information to put together a proposal plotting a three- year or longer travel schedule, balancing big budget trips with smaller itineraries. That document gives Zielinski a blueprint for timing advantageous booking, and the client has a framework for allocating savings and valuable vacation time.
 
“Multi-year travel planning helps remove a lot of the barriers to travel,” Zielinski says. “Clients often don’t have the time and effort to do all the planning, so I take care of that. And although they might have an idea, they don’t really know how much it will cost or they don’t have enough lead time to put that money aside. The plan we create helps them feel confident that over time they have a strategy and can check these destinations off their list.”
 
Planning travel years in advance may make some people nervous: What if things change or something comes up? Zielinski has the answer.
 
“There are a million things that can happen, it’s life,” she says. “So if there are advance deposits or a significant money outlay, I highly recommend a travel insurance policy. In general I always encourage coverage, but especially for big trips.”
 
As a mother and avid traveler, Zielinski appreciates the benefits of family travel and understands the challenges in making that family vacation a reality.
 
“Travel is so important because it gets you out of your little bubble,” she says. “There are so many things to see and do and experience, especially if you have kids. It’s amazing to give them an opportunity to see the world and how that opens their eyes and makes them curious. When you travel together, that shared experience is something that people remember forever and is so much more valuable than any material gift.”
 
Zielinksi works with a range of clients from independent travelers to group tour participants, retirees and working families.
 
“I think one of the big advantages of operating as an independent contractor is that I have access to all of these different tour operators, vendors, companies and products but I’m not tied to any of them,” she says. “I can recommend the things resonate with you, whether that’s volun-tourism, biking trips, adventure travel or something you wouldn’t necessarily think of.
 
“There are so many different and cool travel opportunities out there. At the end of the day, clients value the expertise and sounding board that I can provide as they accomplish their travel wish list.”
 

Mortar's newest startup grads are already making strides


Entrepreneurship accelerator Mortar Cincinnati celebrated the graduation of its third class with a pitch night Dec. 15, when more than 250 people gathered in its Walnut Hills pop-up space Brick 939.
 
Mortar has been on fire lately, and two of the three founders were recently named in Forbes’ 30 under 30 for Social Enterprise. Yet the “Life’s a Pitch” event — sponsored by Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, LISC, African-American Chamber of Commerce and Value City Furniture, host for Brick 939 — wasn’t about the founders, but about their students and community.
 
Although the night may have been the end of a nine-week business incubator class, it was just the beginning for the new entrepreneurs. Many had already come a long way in a very short time.
 
“We started out as a concept in our backyard hosting cookouts,” explains Kristen Bailey of Sweets and Meats BBQ, which also provided food for the pitch night event.
 
Bailey earned recognition as one of the top three pitches Dec. 15 and will compete in June against top pitches from previous Mortar classes. Bailey held her first official Sweets and Meats event just a little more than a year ago, with her only marketing consisting of fliers passed out to neighbors with Halloween candy.
 
Taking home pitch night’s top honor was Anton Canady, founder of PUSH, or “Pray Until Something Happens.”
 
Canady started putting his motto on T-shirts to sell after his release from prison last summer. He uses money raised from shirt sales to help support children whose parents are incarcerated, knowing from his own experience how difficult it was to provide for his own children.
 
“I started after doing seven and a half years of incarceration, and my kids had suffered at the time,” Canady says. “I had to call and borrow money for back-to-school shoes, holidays, birthdays. I couldn’t be there physically, but I wanted to be there materially.”
 
So PUSH is much more than the clothing line — it’s Canady’s way of paying his experience forward.
 
Although their projects are vastly different, the two Mortar graduates have a lot in common. They were both immediately drawn to the Mortar program and were tenacious in their efforts to connect with it.
 
Canady found Mortar’s Over-the-Rhine building while job hunting near his halfway house after incarceration. He knocked on the window until co-founder Derrick Braziel, who was inside preparing for a class, noticed and came out to speak to him.
 
Bailey had already been taking workshops about small business and entrepreneurship through various local organizations, but when she saw Mortar co-founder Allen Woods give a presentation at Crossroads Church, where she is a member, she went home and applied to Mortar that night. She remained on the waiting list until being admitted into the October class.
 
While Canady and Bailey both knew Mortar would be important for their ventures, they might not have been able to predict the personal impact the founders and community would have on them.
 
“It’s more of a psychological thing,” Canady says. “I’ve been going through stuff my whole life, and I haven’t had many proud moments. …When I graduated from Mortar and won pitch night, it made me want to go even harder.”
 
Bailey has similar sentiments about the Mortar founders as well as her SCORE mentor from the class.
 
“Their commitment is second to none,” she says. “I’ve never had anybody build into me and believe in me as much as they did.”
 
Now, thanks to the empowerment experienced in the program, these Mortar grads are taking even bigger “leaps of faith,” as Bailey puts it.
 
Sweets and Meats has ordered a custom food truck to move up from catering and setting up at events into Cincinnati’s food truck scene. Bailey is fundraising for the truck via an active Indiegogo campaign (currently at 39 percent of goal), and the purchase would be a big step up for the company.
 
“We were going to these food truck rallies with a tent,” Bailey says, explaining that their previous setup was no longer cutting it. “We actually lost business by not having a truck.”
 
While Bailey is hoping to debut her truck in March for food truck season, Sweets and Meats is hard at work catering. The company just started a contract with Aramark food services — a weekly commitment that provides some stable ground to build on.
 
PUSH is also looking to build and expand. Although the nonprofit is only six months old, the shirt line is available in several stores around town. Canady says he’ll soon begin merchandising beyond T-shirts to other types of apparel and goods, allowing him to then expand his community support, including long-term mentorship for two children.
 
“I know it’s kind of cliche, but if we can only help one or two, in the long run we’ll be doing our part,” Canady says. “There is not a shortage of people to help.”
 
To expand its capacity, PUSH is also raising funds to move into its first office space.
 

Kickstarter campaigns helped many (but not all) local startups in 2015


Last year several Cincinnati startup companies used Kickstarter to launch or expand product offerings with varying degrees of success, including several Greater Cincinnati food companies that exceeded their fundraising goals.

For urban mushroom farmer Alan Susarret, Kickstarter offered a way to increase production at Probasco Farms while supporting a community building project, Cincinnati Food Not Bombs. Susarret reached his Kickstarter goal in just over a week, raising more than double his target with 47 backers pledging $1,896.
 
A larger gourmet Kickstarter project involved Newport’s Carabello Coffee, looking to fund the remodeling and expansion of their facility. They exceeded their goal with 269 backers pledging $42,155.

Local foodie favorite Skinny Pig Kombucha leveraged Kickstarter to expand its brewing and bottling capacity. The campaign was selected as a Staff Pick by Kickstarter, and 139 backers pledged $10,800 to surpass the project goal.

“Kickstarter was a great way to build excitement about our product and help educate people on what we're trying to do,” says owner Algis Aukstuolis. “We ended up building a new brewing facility in South Fairmount in the former Lunkenheimer valve factory. This unforeseen change gave us a lot of delays, but we were finally able to start production in November. To help us grow, we’re working with Stagnaro distributors locally and will try to get into some more large retailers.”
 
Two Cincinnati-based clothing manufacturers also did well with Kickstarter campaigns to launch new production facilities and product lines.
 
Drew Oxley’s social enterprise company The Parative Project produces bags, T-shirts and flags with messages that raise awareness of human trafficking. Its successful summer Kickstarter campaign has allowed Oxley to partner with Freeset and The Aruna Project to move its production to India, where Parative will employ women rescued from human trafficking. The Parative Kickstarter campaign exceeded its goal with 305 backers pledging $23,022.

“We're currently working on a new website that will sell the goods made by the women of India,” Oxley says. “We have several new shirts and flags we’re excited to release. The site will also host a blog sharing practical ways for others to take action against social injustices.”
 
Another Kickstarter Staff Pick was the campaign to launch Victor Athletics, a new clothing line by Noble Denim to be made in Tennessee from organic materials. Their ambitious $100,000 goal was exceeded by $23,002 and supported by 1,166 backers, allowing Noble Denim and Victor Athletics to open a brick-and-mortar store in Over-the-Rhine. While working to ensure the store is a success, Victor Athletics has plans to expand in 2016.

“Based on the feedback from Kickstarter and our first season of sales for Victor, we'll hone in our fits and add a few new styles for Spring,” says co-founder Abby Sutton. “We want to aggressively grow our online sales in 2016 to continue to hire more sewers back and slowly tip the scales toward U.S. manufacturing.”
 
Unfortunately, not all of the local Kickstarter product launches were successful in 2015. Nutty Jar, a treat dispenser created by Cincinnati-based dog toy company Zigoo, cancelled its spring Kickstarter campaign. Education and hand-writing tool Grip Wizard fell short of its Kickstarter goal to launch large-scale manufacturing in Forest Park.
 
For those considering using Kickstarter in 2016, some of the 2015 campaign alumni have advice to offer.
 
“My wife and I were in Kickstarter mode 24/7, constantly showing our campaign to bloggers, networking with local groups and pushing on social media,” Oxley says. In hindsight, “I might have done more pop-up events as there was definitely more traction when people came across the campaign in person.”
 
“Kickstarter Campaigns are such a vulnerable experience because success is rarely measured so publicly,” Sutton says.
 
As their campaign launched, Noble Denim/Victor Athletics also faced technology issues with the Kickstarter platform that presented challenges for fulfillment and communication with campaign supporters. Although they were able to solve the problem through a third-party platform, Sutton and husband Chris took special care to acknowledge the campaign backers.
 
“We recognize that Kickstarter backers have a very unique relationship with the company because they get a different experience than a normal customer,” Sutton says. “To honor this, we gave our backers a discount code for life as a ‘thank you’ for their unique role in launching Victor. They deserve a price break forever for their faith in us, their patience and their ongoing support of the ethic of the company.”
 

HCDC business support is going strong one year after name change


As HCDC, Inc. prepares for its annual meeting and awards ceremony on Jan. 15, leaders at the former Hamilton County Development Company reflect on the year since announcing a name change to project a single identity for the three major services they offer. They’ve had a strong 2015 in all three sectors.
 
Norwood-based HCDC assists businesses opening or working in Cincinnati’s core and suburbs, but its efforts extend beyond Hamilton County across Southwest Ohio, Southeast Indiana and Northern Kentucky. It’s one of the oldest and largest engines in the tristate area for SBA lending, small business incubation and economic development.
 
Talking about these three major programs, HCDC President David Main chuckles.
 
“It’s like having three more children,” he says. “I’m asked which is my favorite, and I have to say, ‘It depends.’”
 
Small business lending
HCDC administers Small Business Association 504 and Ohio 166 loans. While the lending program took a hit several years ago because of the 2008 recession, it’s now back in full swing. This year the organization loaned approximately $26 million to area projects.
 
The organization is among the biggest SBA lenders in Southwest Ohio. Main estimates that they’re also probably one of the largest commercial real estate lenders in Over-the-Rhine, with borrowers like the Woodward Theatre, MOTR Pub and Gray & Pape Cultural Resource Consultants.
 
Business incubation
HCDC has been a small business incubator since “before it was cool,” Main says. In the 1980s, when manufacturing jobs were leaving the area, HCDC responded with assistance.
 
“We thought a business incubator would be a rational response to make the core of Hamilton County a business hub,” he says.
 
Their incubation program includes rentable office space, access to capital, workshops, mentoring and networking with other entrepreneurs. HCDC also rents CoWorks office space to entrepreneurs and individuals in the very early stages of their businesses. The workspace itself has proven inspiring as entrepreneurs support each other in a startup-friendly atmosphere.
 
“We are an environment that’s conducive to risk-taking and entrepreneurial thinking,” Main says. “Being in an incubator, they’re with other entrepreneurs who have faced, wrestled with and solved similar problems.”
 
HCDC’s incubation space is currently over 80 percent full, housing more than 40 startup businesses. Main is happy about his full office and parking lot, but he’s even happier about the tenants he loses — several businesses “graduate” from the incubation program each year and expand into their own offices.
 
According to Main, five companies graduated in fiscal year 2013, 10 in 2014 and 11 in 2015. Two more such graduations will happen by the end of January.
 
The idea is that incubation graduates stay in the Greater Cincinnati area and bring jobs and funds to the region as they grow.
 
Economic development
Small businesses and startups aren’t the only way HCDC works to add jobs in the region. Its economic development arm works to retain businesses of all sizes and to attract new ones.
 
The team saw success in that endeavor this year too, as the organization partnered with Jobs Ohio and REDI to bring Illinois-based CDK Global to Norwood and add approximately 1,000 jobs to that city and to Hamilton County. On a smaller scale, HCDC has continued its work in suburban communities, not only reaching out to new businesses but providing mentoring and assistance to those already doing business here.
 
As HCDC gears up for a new year and its annual meeting, Main wants to encourage small businesses, both new and existing, to take advantage of the services HCDC offers.
 
“We have plenty of money to lend,” he says. “We have room in the inn, and we’ll probably have more room in the inn after the first of the year when more tenants graduate into new spaces.”
 

Cincinnati Film Commission celebrates "Carol" premiere as well as new jobs and attention


The Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky Film Commission will host a red carpet gala Dec. 12 to celebrate the local premiere of Carol, filmed entirely on location in Greater Cincinnati. The romantic drama stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara and is already garnering critical acclaim and awards from Cannes and the New York Film Critics Circle, among others.
 
The benefit gala will celebrate a crowning achievement for the Film Commission, which has played a key role in the increase of major motion pictures shooting in the area over the past couple of years.
 
The nonprofit works to attract, promote and cultivate various kinds of film production in order to bring the jobs and economic stimulus associated with the industry here. The organization courts production companies and helps facilitate the process of filming in the area to provide filmmakers with a positive experience, hoping those same companies build Cincinnati’s reputation as a good place to do business.
 
That work has been paying off in the past two years, with Blanchett even giving interviews stating it was “phenomenal” to work in Cincinnati. But Film Commission Executive Director Kristen Erwin Schlotman also gives some credit to the state of Ohio.
 
Schlotman explains that Cincinnati had film production business in the 1990s but lost much of it when many film shoots left the U.S. for cheaper international destinations. To lure some of that business back into the country, many states began adopting incentives for production companies to film there.
 
Ohio was one of the later states to adopt such incentives, which Schlotman sees positively.
 
“We’ve learned a lot from states that have been too aggressive with the programs,” she says. “We don’t want to be a state that is turning away business.”
 
The incentives must be in place strategically, but with a $1.75 return on every dollar currently spent on them and six major motion pictures having filmed in Cincinnati this year, the strategy seems to be working.
 
With the Film Commission helping to coordinate all the moving parts that go into film shoots, more movies made here means more work for a host of people involved: actors, crew, technicians and the entire support staff involved in the film industry.
 
Schlotman is now starting to hear stories of Cincinnatians who are able to work full time in that industry, including young actors who never thought it could be a reality in Cincinnati and those able to change careers because more film-related work is available. These stories will only multiply as film shooting becomes steadier and requires a fully fleshed out support network.
 
“We don’t just want to have a piece of this business,” Schlotman says, “we want to see the entire film ecosystem here and become a global destination.”
 
Schlotman sees Cincinnati eventually supporting multiple film projects at one time and in succession, with all aspects of the film industry represented locally, from education to production.
 
“I just want people to know that while it seems like this is the peak of our efforts, it’s only the beginning,” she says. “This office is changing people’s lives. And I think it’s changing the city, too.”

The Carol gala is 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12 at the Cincinnati Club downtown, with proceeds benefiting the Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky Film Commission. Tickets are $150. The movie screening is sold out.
 

Design community rallies around "Ink Bleeds" rock poster art exhibit and party


The Cincinnati chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Artists (AIGA) hosts the opening of its biennial “Ink Bleeds” exhibit of rock poster art Dec. 4 at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. The opening night event will feature sales by the artists showing work, live music, beer, food and a talk by Art Chantry, “the Godfather of modern rock poster design” who, according to event organizer and past president of AIGA, Mark Thomas, “really gave grunge rock its look” and visual identity in the 1990s.
 
This will be AIGA and the Art Academy’s fifth Ink Bleeds show. They’ve been holding the exhibit every two years since 2007 to highlight rock poster art culture in Cincinnati.
 
“I personally had been noticing around town such an amazing culture of rock poster artists,” says Thomas, who collaborated with artists such as Keith Neltner, Rob Warnick and Tommy Sheehan, and the event has grown to steadily attract an audience of about 600 each year. “This one looks like the biggest and best yet.”
 
This fifth show also promises to be the most Cincinnati-centric. Subtitled “Local Blood,” everything from the artists showing work in the exhibit to the bands playing to the beer selections chosen by HalfCut will be from Greater Cincinnati. Even the design work for marketing the show features four different designs of that iconic animal so linked with the city: the pig.
 
Those Ink Bleeds pig designs will be available for purchase on beer glasses Friday night as well as to be screen-printed for $5 “bring your own shirt” style. Besides the poster art sold by artists featured in the exhibit, pig merchandise will also be available as part of “bundles” along with tickets to Chantry’s talk.
 
All proceeds earned by AIGA will go to fund scholarships for art and design students associated with its mentorship program, which involves monthly networking meetings between students and professional AIGA members October-April. In the spring, the program culminates in a senior day, when students bring in portfolios to be reviewed by the professionals. Based on those reviews, three or four students each year receive $1,500 scholarships to assist them with education costs.
 
AIGA is a national organization for visual artists, with chapters all over the county. Cincinnati’s chapter has approximately 500 members who plan and participate in programs such as “Liquid Courage” networking events and “Design for Good” campaigns like a Match.com-style event matching designers with nonprofits that need design work.
 
For the past few years, the group has hosted Cincinnati Design Week, which has grown exponentially to become “like Midpoint for visual artists,” Thomas says. For an event of that scale, AIGA partners with a wide variety of other arts and creative organizations around town. Thomas emphasizes the incredible community of such organizations to choose from and the rich, deep creative culture in the region.
 
According to Thomas, “The creative community embraces alternative forms of music.” That creative community will be well represented at Friday night’s event, which features live music from Temple, The Recreational and The Tillers.
 
“Ink Bleeds” runs 6-11 p.m. at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, 1212 Jackson St. in Over-the-Rhine. Advance tickets are $20 for AIGA members and $25 for nonmembers and include admission to Art Chantry’s talk at 7 p.m. (limited to 125 seats). Get advance tickets here.
 
Admission to just the opening night exhibit is a donation at the door.
 

CraftForce startup plans national expansion for its job search platform

 
Christmas came early for CraftForce, the local job search platform targeting skilled trades. On Nov. 17 the company was featured on Innovations with Ed Begley Jr., and at the viewing party CraftForce announced plans for a national expansion.
 
“We have been getting good responses since Innovation aired on the Discovery Channel,” says Dustin Grutza, founder and CEO of CraftForce. “That exposure provides some validation and credibility for us, which is a good thing for employers to see and helps with our national launch.”
 
CraftForce has been building its sales team and database to prepare for this expansion. The company has also been building relationships with technical schools and potential employers.
 
“We’ve had great feedback from employers, many of whom are in high need of our application,” Grutza says. “With baby boomers starting to retire, finding highly skilled labor has been a challenge.”
 
Grutza had been working in the industrial sector running a staffing company when he realized the hiring model for skilled trades needed to change.
 
“There was no platform for the skilled trade workers to post their resumes and demonstrate their abilities,” he says. “I wanted to create an easy way for them to post the work that they’re doing, to showcase themselves and their skills and be found for jobs. They would be driving two hours to work when there was a job just up the street that they didn’t even know about.”
 
CraftForce launched a mobile-responsive website in February that allowed workers to create a resume from their phone, search job postings and receive email or text notifications when they’re matched with a position.
 
“Our goal is that they don’t have to be out searching for jobs all the time,” Grutza says. “They can stick with a job until the project ends and be lining up their next job as the notifications arrive.”
 
The website was significantly updated in October, and major changes are in the works for the first quarter of 2016. CraftForce is also creating a new app to launch in conjunction with the 2016 update.
 
“We’re building a strong foundation with our website and application,” Grutza says. “As we’re working with our clients, we see what other features employers and workers need and we’re able to make those adjustments. I’m really excited about what we’ll be able to offer in the future.”
 
CraftForce currently doesn’t charge job candidates for resume and job search services, but employers pay a fee to post positions and access the resume bank.
 
CraftForce was founded in Maysville, Ky. and maintains an office there as well as a second office based out of Cintrifuse in Over-the-Rhine.
 
“Cintrifuse helped us find a lot of the resources we need to expand and build our web and mobile applications,” Grutza says. “There are so many different pieces to that puzzle, and they supply some great resources. I think Cincinnati is a great place for a company to start out and grow.”
 

Holiday shopping events feature work from lots of local artisans and entrepreneurs


The weekend after Thanksgiving will provide Cincinnati shoppers with many opportunities to focus on local goods and regional crafts in lieu of big-box Black Friday shopping.
 
Crafty Supermarket, held Nov. 28 at the Music Hall Ballroom, will feature crafters and makers from all over the eastern U.S. The event, started six years ago by Grace Dobush and Chris Salley Davis, is a curated show that values the quality of the vendors over quantity available. It has a competitive process to be selected as a vendor — the show had more than 200 applications for this year’s 90 vendor slots.
 
“We’re expecting a blowout,” says Dobush, explaining that last year saw 5,000 shoppers visit their Music Hall holiday show, with the year before attracting around 4,000.
 
The next day, City Flea Small Mall will have a smaller scale but just as strict a focus on vendor quality. The Small Mall is City Flea’s way to bring 30 of Cincinnati’s local brick-and-mortar stores together at one time for a unique holiday shopping kickoff at 21c Museum Hotel downtown.
 
“Our normal markets are open to vendors ranging in anything from vintage to found objects to artisan style food products,” says founder and organizer Lindsay Dewald. “We wanted to create a holiday event that highlighted the plethora of actual stores in and around our city.”
 
Both Crafty Supermarket and the Small Mall provide shoppers an opportunity to purchase unique, handcrafted goods from small businesses or directly from the artisans who created them.
 
“Buying directly from a maker in person is the best way to support them,” says Dobush, who also authored The Crafty Superstar: Ultimate Craft Business Guide. “They get all the money you give them. Artists are working really hard for their money, and any time you can eliminate the middle man (like third-party website fees), that’s a huge help.”
 
These one-day shopping experiences support some of the smallest entrepreneurs and newest startups in Cincinnati and across the region.
 
Of Crafty Supermarket’s 90 vendors from 12 states, between 15 and 20 are local crafters who have been through ArtWorks’ Creative Enterprise programs. Dobush says she met a couple at a Columbus craft fair who commuted every week to Cincinnati to participate in ArtWorks’ nine-week Co.Starters class.
 
Pop-up and craft shows like Crafty Supermarket, the Small Mall and Mortar’s Brick 939 pop-up shop create additional opportunities for entrepreneurs to connect with consumers.
 
“(I’m) most excited about seeing some of the stores that have opened up within this past year to be participating,” Dewald says of the Small Mall. “It’s exciting that new stores continue to pop up on a pretty regular basis.”
 
Participating in each of these holiday events can be part of a day on the town in either Over-the-Rhine (for the Crafty Supermarket) or downtown (for the Small Mall). Throw in Brick 939, which opens on Black Friday in Walnut Hills, and there will be a wide variety of shopping sites and experiences in the urban core throughout the weekend.
 
Besides “making a day of it,” Dobush has one last tip for shoppers: “If you love crafts but hate crowds, come after 4 p.m.” in order to support Crafty Supermarket entrepreneurs in a more leisurely environment.
 

Crafty Supermarket
11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 28
Music Hall Ballroom, 1241 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine

City Flea Small Mall
12-6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29
21c Museum Hotel, 609 Walnut St., Downtown

Brick 939
10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 27
939 E. McMillan St., Walnut Hills
[Open Fridays-Sundays through Jan. 3]
 

Global Entrepreneurship Week helps startups collaborate, thrive, avoid pitfalls


Global Entrepreneurship Week kicks off on Monday, Nov. 16 in Greater Cincinnati as well as in 160 countries worldwide. Local events include happy hours, competitions and the return of Startup Weekend.

Nationally, an effort is underway to have the third Tuesday in November declared National Entrepreneur Day by Congress. Nov. 19 has already been declared Women’s Entrepreneurship Day by the United Nations.
 
As The Brandery, InnovateHER, Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Skyward, Northern Kentucky University and others join to celebrate Entrepreneurship Week, the local office of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease has launched an effort to help startups and entrepreneurs avoid legal pitfalls.
 
“We have talked to many young companies that avoid legal counsel because they don’t think the fees are reasonable or necessary,” says Kimberly Schaefer, Partner at Vorys’ Cincinnati office who specializes in corporate law. “Unfortunately, our litigation group often encounters these same companies again after they’ve been sued or are in legal trouble.”

MyCounsel offers new and growing businesses a customized legal plan for a fixed fee that is spread out over a full year.
 
“The fee is all encompassing in the areas we identify so that the client is able to pick up the phone and call us without being concerned about the fees they are incurring every minute,” Schaefer says. “We get to know the company, they get to know us, and we show them what we can do and the value that we can provide.”
 
Vorys attorneys focus each MyCounsel package around the client’s needs.
 
“We will set up a meeting, usually one to two hours, to find out more about the company and its needs, and then determine if it’s a fit for MyCounsel,” Schaefer says. “If it is, we create a customized proposal for the company to become a part of the program.”
 
Services provided by Vorys may address labor, employment, contract review or intellectual property issues, with the idea of diffusing any potential legal situations before they arise.
 
“We often see companies fail to consider what happens if one or more of the shareholders or partners leave,” Schaefer says. “It is critical to consider Buy/Sell Agreements to cover these scenarios on the front end.
 
“Another common problem we see is that companies all too frequently forget to protect their intellectual property, which is created long before there is a tangible product in place. If you wait to protect your IP too long, someone may beat you to the punch.”
 
Eventually, Vorys hopes to offer quarterly workshops for MyCounsel participants and trainings geared to growing businesses.
 
As the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Cincinnati expands, the professional resources available to these startups and their founders also continue to grow. During Global Entrepreneurship Week, Skyward will launch a new online tool to direct entrepreneurs to resources that address startup needs.
 
“A thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem is important for our entire region’s growth,” says Trey Grayson, President of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. “Our goal with Global Entrepreneurship Week is really to shine a light on the wide variety of opportunities we have in our region for entrepreneurs of all levels to connect, grow and develop all types of companies.”
 
Most of the local Global Entrepreneurship Week events are open to the public, but registration for some programs is required. The week concludes with Startup Weekend Nov. 20-22, a “frenzy” of business model creation, coding, designing and market validation hosted at 84.51 downtown.
 
A full events schedule is available on the NKYStartups website.
 

Mortar is opening Brick 939 pop-up holiday shop in Walnut Hills


Local entrepreneurship accelerator Mortar wants you to do your holiday shopping as locally as possible in order to support Cincinnati startups and entrepreneurs. In fact, the organization will help by providing a formidable pop-up space in Walnut Hills where you’ll be able to shop a variety of local vendors, entrepreneurs and even artists.
 
The pop-up space, Brick 939 (named for its location at 939 E. McMillan St.), will open on Black Friday, exactly one year after Mortar debuted its original pop-up space, Brick OTR, in Over-the-Rhine. But the new Brick will be on a new scale.
 
“Brick 939 is the Incredible Hulk-sized version of our pop-up shop in OTR,” says Mortar co-founder Allen Woods, referencing the fact that while the original Brick OTR is approximately 400 square feet of space, Brick 939 will be 10,000 square feet. The additional space will provide plenty of room for a variety of Cincinnati artisans and entrepreneurs to show their wares to holiday shoppers as well as house an art gallery for both visual arts and media in a screening room.
 
For Woods and Mortar, the extension into an art gallery makes perfect sense.
 
“Artists are entrepreneurs,” he says, pointing out that artists, just like all the other entrepreneurs Mortar works with, are trying to express themselves and realize their ideas in order to make a living. Since the purpose of Mortar’s pop-up shop is to provide an accessible way for businesses to do real-life trial runs very early in their startup process, providing space for artists was a natural next step.
 
939 McMillan seemed like the perfect space for all of those opportunities, but it took a lot of work to get the space ready. Over the past 14 weeks, Mortar has removed more than seven dumpsters’ worth of old merchandise and debris from the former Dollar City store in the process of preparing the building.
 
“It was a task to have the vision to see what it could become,” Woods says. “When we walked into this space, it completely pulled me in. … Now it has become exactly what we wanted it to be.”
 
Woods sees the transformation of the Brick 939 space as an apt metaphor for the changes that Mortar leads entrepreneurs through in its nine-week accelerator class, taking their idea from a rough vision to a fully fleshed-out concept and often a realized business. Mortar is now well into its third such class, which is its first one taking place in Walnut Hills.
 
The accelerator, which got its start in Over-the-Rhine a year ago, expanded into Walnut Hills this summer and will now alternate class sessions between the two neighborhoods. More than half the members of the current class are Walnut Hills residents or entrepreneurs looking to be active in the neighborhood.
 
“For me, we’ve always wanted to be as engaged in the community as possible,” Woods says. “We want to make sure we’re in all the places people need us.”
 
For Mortar’s Walnut Hills expansion, this means focusing on its mission of helping “the residents who aren’t typically included” in the process of redeveloping neighborhoods. The founders have worked closely with Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation on their expansion into the neighborhood, including hosting community forums to solicit input on their programs.
 
“We were able to ask, ‘What would you like to see, what is missing in your neighborhood?’” Woods says. “They might have a genius idea none of us have thought of.”
 
In addition to gathering ideas, Woods says those kind of conversations help give longtime residents a sense of pride and ownership over the changes in the area. When Walnut Hills was a flourishing business district several decades ago, it was also a primarily African-American neighborhood. As it goes through this period of rebirth, Woods says, “We want to get entrepreneurs to be at the forefront of that flourishing.”
 
Entrepreneurs and artists who want to flourish at Brick 939 this holiday season can apply at Brick939.com. There are a limited number of pop-up concepts that will be accepted in the space.
 

Two meetups to offer "speed dating" mentorship connections for social enterprise concepts

 
Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial community fosters many opportunities for networking and mentorship. A new effort is targeting social entrepreneurs with two meetups on Nov. 19.
 
Social Enterprise CINCY, produced by Flywheel Social Enterprise Hub, will host the events to bring together mentors and social entrepreneurs for a speed-dating type program.
 
“There are lots of definitions of what social enterprise is,” says Bill Tucker, executive director of Flywheel. “We look at it pretty broadly and consider social enterprise to be a business that is built around the notion of serving some common good. That can range from an organization like the Freestore Foodbank’s Cincinnati Cooks to a company like Nehemiah Manufacturing.”
 
Flywheel was created specifically to work with nonprofits that wanted to explore the idea of social enterprise in order to provide mission-related funding which would reduce their dependence on grants and philanthropy. Social Enterprise CINCY was established to broaden that ecosystem.
 
“Social entrepreneurs tend to exist within silos: for-profit, nonprofit, faith-based,” Tucker says. “We believe there is value in creating connections between all three types of social entrepreneurs and bringing them into relationships with other community leaders.”
 
The two meetup events, one at 8:30-10:30 a.m. at Community Blend Coffee in Evanston (featured in a recent Soapbox story about co-ops) and the other at 5-7 p.m. at Japp’s in Over-the-Rhine, are open to anyone interested in starting or scaling a social enterprise business. Mentors are also being sought for the event, specifically individuals with experience in accounting, marketing, finance, operations or a general business background.
 
Participants will complete a quick questionnaire, either before the event or at the door, to assess the skills they need or the skills they can share. The event itself will run like a speed-dating program, with entrepreneurs meeting a number of potential mentors trying to find a good fit. The meetup part of the program will be followed by a general networking session for all attendees.
 
“We want to start bringing people together,” Tucker says. “Our hope is that we can put the attendees in a relationship with someone who can make a difference in their lives, either as a mentor or social entrepreneur, and that we can bring more mentors to the social enterprise sector.”
 
These meetups grew out of the Social Enterprise Week and Summit hosted by Social Enterprise CINCY in September.
 
“We consider Social Enterprise CINCY to be an ecosystem builder similar to Cintrifuse,” Tucker says. “Cintrifuse supports an ecosystem around entrepreneurship with a technology focus and profit motivation; they’re the backbone of venture capital and the startup community in Cincinnati. Social Enterprise CINCY wants to promote the same type of energy, connection and sense of community among social entrepreneurs.”
 
Tucker hopes some of the meet up attendees will have ideas that could eventually land them in business accelerator programs like Bad Girl Ventures, ArtWorks’ Co-Starters or Mortar.
 
“Cincinnati is a really unique place with so much energy around businesses that are designed to support the common good,” Tucker says. “We want to bring together for-profit, nonprofit and faith-based social entrepreneurs to elevate the impact of their work with business, civic, and government leaders in order to build sustainable business ventures and enrich the fabric of our community.”
 
Although the Nov. 19 meetup events are free, advance registration is required.
 

Cincinnati Design Awards to celebrate architecture, interior design, graphic design


Five local design organizations join together to celebrate the year's best architecture, interior design, graphic design and landscape architecture projects on Friday, Nov. 13 at the Cincinnati Design Awards. The 19th annual event will be hosted at the Woodward Theater in Over-the-Rhine, where awards in 11 categories will be presented.

CDA19 is organized by the Cincinnati Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Cincinnati), the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) Cincinnati/Dayton City Center, the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Cincinnati/Dayton, the Society of Experiential Graphic Design (SEGD) Cincinnati Chapter and the Miami Section of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). Award categories include built work, unbuilt work (studies/reseach/analysis), small projects and open design recognition for Design Excellence and Design Advancement.

Entries are reviewed in a blind jury format by a diverse panel of design professionals from around the country who are recognized leaders within their organizations. Jurors include Eddie Jones, Principal of Jones Studio in Phoenix, Ariz.; Natalie Engels, Design Director of Gensler in Silicon Valley, Calif.; Cybelle Jones, Principal and Studio Director of Gallagher & Associates in Washington, D.C.; Meg Storrow, Principal of storrow/kinsella in Indianapolis; and Mike Tittel, Executive Creative Director of gyro in Cincinnati.

The event begins at 6 p.m. with a reception and dinner, with the awards presentation following at 8 p.m. and then dessert and coffee. Tickets are $75 for individuals and $600 for a discounted group of eight, with student tickets available for $25. Reservations are required and can be made here.
 

UC steps up role in encouraging startups on and off campus


The University of Cincinnati is co-hosting “University Start-Ups: Getting Beyond Challenges, Making It Happen” Nov. 9-10 in Louisville, a conference serving as a “mini boot-camp” on the various stages of creating a startup, from evaluating the idea to working with professional partners.
 
The event is organized by OVALS, formerly the Ohio Valley Association of Life Sciences, although its scope now extends beyond life sciences; the group of universities regularly holds conferences on startups and commercialization topics. UC was a founding member of OVALS 14 years ago.
 
“Our focus has always been commercialization, bringing scientific discoveries to the market,” explains Dorothy Air, UC’s Associate Vice President for Entrepreneurial Affairs and Technology Commercialization. “We’ve always focused on startups. Just this year we’re focusing it in a slightly different way with the mini boot-camp. I like the fact that we are very focused on practical things: Here are the critical aspects of starting a business, here’s how you work with partners, here’s what you need to be thinking about.”
 
Air says the model of this year’s conference makes it particularly appealing for not just universities looking to support commercialization of technology but anyone interested in starting a tech company or getting his or her idea off the ground.
 
“We’re trying to attract the ecosystem of everyone who is participating,” she says. “It will be useful for any startup.”
 
The conference will feature sessions on deciding whether a certain technology is right for a startup, how to make a company a reality, how to move forward and partner with industry, and how to look for and secure funding sources. It will also include a showcase of early-stage technologies coming out of participating universities and a keynote speaker, Nan Mallory MD, who successfully launched a startup companyt based on technology from university research.
 
For Air, the conference fits well into UC’s new model for supporting innovation. A few years ago, the university didn’t do much beyond helping inventors secure patents and intellectual property rights for their innovations. Recently, though, UC has “flipped the model,” Air says, focusing on a comprehensive approach to supporting startups and the full commercialization of new technologies to come out of university research.
 
The Louisville conference is part of that comprehensive model, as is the research accelerator UC is building at its former Campus Services building on Reading Road. UC is also hosting entrepreneurs in residence to help serve as a resource for faculty and students.
 
The university has even changed the way it tracks progress and success of commercialization, going from tracking the number of patents awarded to looking at the stages along the pathway of a startup from idea to available product. UC leaders are focusing heavily on supporting the difficult early stages of development and on partnering with the public and industry to inform university-supported processes.
 
“The OVALS conference fits into our overall strategy because we want to develop external visibility,” Air says. “We’re really kind of early on in this, and I think we’re starting to see more traction.”
 
The “University Start-Ups” conference will take place Nov. 9-10 at the Seelbach Hilton Hotel, 500 S. Fourth St. in downtown Louisville. Besides UC and CincyTech USA, host institutions include Indiana University, Ohio State University, Ohio University, Purdue University, University of Dayton, University of Kentucky and University of Louisville. Get more information and register here.
 

Cincy Sundaes wraps up sweet year of grassroots micro-funding

 
Cincy Sundaes has wrapped up its second year of providing grassroots micro-funding for innovative projects. The program is organized by Erika Fiola, Strategic Initiatives Manager at Agenda 360, and Kristine Frech, Vice President at Skyward NKY.
 
They came up with the Cincy Sundaes concept on a City Swap trip to Detroit, where they heard about a program called Soup that hosts monthly dinners to raise funds for creative community projects. But instead of serving soup, Fiola and Frech decided to feature a make-your-own sundae bar.
 
“For us this is fun,” Fiola says. “We’re lucky enough to have jobs in the community that we love, so this is just the icing on the cake. We love seeing people come together to support good ideas that make our community a better place. Cincy Sundaes is a really family-friendly event, and we like to think we’re helping kids see that giving back can be fun.”
 
Fiola says that Dojo Gelato was quick to step up and support them by donating gelato for each event. The first Cincy Sundaes event was in April 2014 at Rhinegeist, when more than 175 people attended.
 
Here’s how it works. Cincy Sundaes accepts applications until a week before each event. Applicants can be for-profit or nonprofit, they just have to pitch their idea in one page.
 
“Erika and I review the proposals with a set of questions including: Will Cincy Sundaes funding be enough to bring this project to life? Will this benefit the region, a specific neighborhood or community? Is this unique?” Frech says. “We also take into consideration region. We want presenters from a variety of neighborhoods in both Ohio and Kentucky.”

Four applicants are chosen to present at each Cincy Sundaes event, where they have four minutes and four audience questions to sway the crowd. Anyone with $5 can attend Cincy Sundaes, grab a gelato sundae and vote on the idea they like best. The winning idea gets all the money raised at the door.
 
Cincy Sundaes started in 2014 and funded five projects that year, including ArtWalks.
 
“Pam Kravetz and I had a blast pitching the Art on the Streets idea for ArtWalks at the very first Cincy Sundaes event,” Margy Waller says. “Several families brought their kids to help us illustrate how much fun our community-designed creative crosswalk painting would be. We had butcher paper and paint and colored pencils for everyone to suggest painting ideas.
 
“We were surprised and pleased to learn that the donations from Cincy Sundae eaters would be matched by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. We painted six crosswalks with hundreds of citizen painters, bringing a fun surprise to thousands of people in our region and enhancing safety for walkers at the same time. None of this would have been possible without Cincy Sundaes’ support.”
 
Funds raised by Cincy Sundaes in the 2015 season were matched by People’s Liberty. The final event of 2015 was held in October with Sweet Cheeks Diaper Bank winning the vote.
 
“All of the Cincy Sundaes projects have been awesomely executed,” Frech says. “We ask winners to come back to a future event to talk about what they’ve done with their dollars. In some cases, like ArtWalks, you can visit the finished product. In other cases, like Changing Gears, you hear a powerful story about how providing access to a vehicle allowed a man to find sustainable employment. Either way, we have been very impressed with the impact our winners have had on our community.”
 
“We’ll be back next year,” Fiola says. “We hope to do some new innovative and fun things, so keep your eyes peeled! We plan to have details up on CincySundaes.com in early 2016.”
 

Regional Workforce Network looking for input on Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

 
The Employers First Regional Workforce Network hosts a forum Oct. 30 on the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which aims to streamline and improve workforce development systems so potential employees can develop needed skills and talents.
 
The workforce network is a coalition of four Workforce Investment Boards from Southwest Ohio, Southeast Indiana and Northern Kentucky that work to connect businesses with potential employees. The boards formed the coalition 14 years ago after recognizing that their efforts needed to reach across the tristate region.
 
“The realization that began the conversation was that employers weren’t concerned about which state their potential employees came from, they just wanted qualified employees,” says Barbara Stewart, Associate Director of Workforce Development at the Northern Kentucky Workforce Investment Board. “So we would ‘circle our wagons’ to align and coordinate workforce services for the employers.”
 
Since then, those Workforce Investment Boards have worked together to help businesses connect to talent in the region. According to Stewart, it’s a great model.
 
“I was delighted to get involved with the workforce network because it made so much sense,” she says. “In the workforce development arena, success is closely tied to the relationships that support linking job seekers to employment opportunities.”
 
The Employers First Regional Workforce Network allows the four workforce boards to strengthen those relationships by pooling resources and combining their networks. In addition, the WIOA legislation emphasizes regional efforts.
 
“It realizes that workforce development does not stop at county borders,” Stewart says. “In our area, efforts don’t stop at state borders either.”
 
Consequently, the workforce network has developed a proposal for a regional workforce development strategic plan in reaction to the WIOA legislation but is looking for public input on the plan. Stewart encourages people to come to the Oct. 30 forum to help provide that input.
 
“We very much want to collect comments and insights from employers and community stakeholders that will help with our regional approach,” she says. “This will ensure our Employers First region becomes a more effective workforce development partnership.”
 
The Employers First Regional Workforce Network has held several similar forums in the past on topics ranging from skill shortages during high unemployment to the future of manufacturing. Stewart sees this week’s forum as an important step in the future strategies of Workforce Development Boards in the tristate.
 
“This one is bringing us into the next phase of the workforce development scene,” she says. “It will strengthen our direction, making sure we’re addressing the current and future needs of employers and the job seekers they’ll hire.”
 
The forum will be held 9-11 a.m. Oct. 30 at the Fifth Third Convening Center at United Way, 2400 Reading Road, Walnut Hills. RSVP to Nori Muro by phone (513-762-7234) or by email at nori.muro@uwgc.org.
 

Transit's role in regional econcomic development to be discussed at Nov. 10 event

 
A new study using data from the Regional Indicators Report to examine how Tristate transit systems compare to 11 peer cities will be released Nov. 10 at “The Connected Region: Transit’s Role in Economic Development” at the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.
 
The study goes beyond traditional mass transportation modes like bus, rail, walking and biking to include innovative multi-modal systems such as Uber, Lyft, Zipcar and bike share programs — whatever makes it easier for people to get around without using a single occupancy vehicle. More than 21,000 people in Greater Cincinnati use transit to commute to work on a daily basis.
 
The study and the event are hosted by the Cincinnati Chamber, Agenda 360, Skyward in Northern Kentucky and the Urban Land Institute's Cincinnati chapter.
 
The Regional Indicators Report began in 2010 as a partnership between Skyward (then Vision 2015) and Agenda 360 in order to gather unbiased data on 15 key indicators that would allow for direct comparison of Greater Cincinnati with 11 peer markets: Austin, Charlotte, Cleveland, Columbus, Denver, Indianapolis, Louisville, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Raleigh and St. Louis. Those cities were selected based on their similarities in geography, population size or demographics to the 15-county Cincinnati Metropolitan Statistical Area (three in Southeast Indiana, five in Southwest Ohio and seven in Northern Kentucky).
 
“We've done a couple of deep dives like this,” says Erika Fiola, Manager of Strategic Initiatives for Agenda 360 at the Cincinnati Chamber. “Diverse by Design looks at female-owned business, minority educational attainment and regional ethnic diversity. 2020 Jobs Outlook considered what fields will have job growth and where the jobs will be in five years. This is our first deep dive on transit data.”
 
Fiola will present an overview of the transit indicators report findings Nov. 10. A panel discussion reacting to the report will follow, featuring such regional representatives as Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune; Boone County Judge-Executive Gary Moore; Darin C. Hall, Vice President of Real Estate Development at the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority; and Dan Tobergte, President & CEO of Northern Kentucky Tri-ED.
 
In addition to their county governance roles, Portune and Moore also serve on transit-specific committees — Portune heads the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District and Moore is chair of the Transit Subcommittee for the Transportation Steering Committee at the National Association of Counties as well as chair of the Local Streets and Roads Committee for Kentuckians for Better Transportation.
 
“There is a lack of knowledge that across the country there are no transit systems that make money, that they’re all subsidized in some form, some more than others,” Fiola says. “But without robust regional transit systems people can’t get to jobs. There is a huge economic impact associated with our local transit systems, and we want to help people understand that.
 
“We want to have as great of a transit system here as we possibly can. Releasing this report is one step along the way. We need to continue this conversation about regional transit to make sure we are continually getting better.”
 
After the panel discussion, Dearborn (Ind.) County Commissioner Kevin Lynch will introduce the keynote speaker, Gabe Klein, former Regional Vice President of Zipcar and head of the transportation departments in Washington, D.C. and Chicago. Klein is currently with Fontinalis Partners, focusing on transportation technology startups.
 
Klein’s keynote address will share ideas from his new book, Start-Up City, about bridging the public-private divide to provide better transit solutions.
 
“Gabe Klein is going to be an incredibly interesting and motivating speaker for us,” Fiola says. “He's done some great things in Chicago and D.C., including cutting through some of the red tape associated with transit projects and making things happen. Also, his work with transportation technology startups should be really relevant to the great startup and entrepreneurial community here.”
 
The Nov. 10 event is scheduled for 7:30-9:30 a.m. at the Chamber's office at 3 E. Fourth St., downtown; pre-registration is required, and tickets are $35, or $25 for Chamber and Urban Land Institute members. Breakfast will be provided, and all attendees will receive copies of the Regional Indicators Report on transit and Klein’s book, Start-Up City.
 

Torrice's "Trees in Trouble" film has local roots, national relevance


Three years ago, local filmmaker Andrea Torrice was jogging through Burnet Woods and noticed swaths of dead trees with an “X” spray-painted on them.
 
“Then my neighbor said, ‘Do you know, we’re going to loose them all. There’s an invasive species from China that’s killing them all,’” Torrice recounts.
 
As the filmmaker learned more about the Emerald Ash Borer, she began to realize the scale of the issue of tree loss nationally as well as in Cincinnati. She became passionate about the value of trees to human economies, social life, health and well-being, which inspired her to make the documentary film Trees in Trouble.
 
The film explores the national issue of tree loss, specifically the loss of Ash trees to the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive insect native to China that arrived in the packing material of goods being shipped to the U.S. Trees in Trouble focuses on Cincinnati’s reaction to the arrival of the pest and how the city is responding. Since the Ash Borer arrived here a few years ago, more than 12,000 dead Ash trees have been cut down just on land owned by the city.
 
“I wanted to use Cincinnati as a case study for other communities,” Torrice says. “My film explores the rich history of urban forestry in the region.”
 
That history, going back over 100 years, is one of the reasons Torrice focused on Cincinnati. She sees a current need for urban forestry and stewardship of our green spaces as a continuation of this tradition.
 
Trees in Trouble is more than a stand-alone documentary — it’s also part of a larger social movement to value and preserve trees. Torrice hopes that the film will “make us perhaps pause and re-evaluate what we think about trees” because increased international trade makes trees ever more vulnerable to invasive pests like the Emerald Ash Borer.
 
The film will be used to spread the word about what’s happening to trees and to raise a little money for associated causes. Its first public showing will be a sneak preview Nov. 5 at the 20th Century Theater in Oakley. The event will benefit the Cincinnati Park Board and Taking Root Reforestation, a campaign to plant 2 million trees in the region by 2020.
 
Just as the film starts in Cincinnati to tell a national story, screenings start in Cincinnati and move to the national arena. After the local sneak preview, the film will be shown at the Continental Dialogue on Invasive Insects and Diseases Nov. 17 and the Partners in Community Forestry Conference Nov. 19, both in Denver. The broadcast premieres will follow the same pattern, with the initial premiere on CET Channel 48 at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 22 and showings on PBS channels nationally on Arbor Day in April 2016.
 
“I’m hoping that people will change their views on the importance of trees,” Torrice says. “We need people, politicians and policy-makers to re-think what trees mean in our communities.”
 
From her viewpoint, understanding the value of trees is the only thing that will save them.
 

People's Liberty announces second round of Project Grant winners


People’s Liberty moves its experiment with a new model of philanthropy into a second full year of grantmaking, announcing its second round of Project Grant winners on Oct. 16.
 
The first round of project grants, awarded in April, included ideas as diverse and dynamic as a way to teach Cincinnatians how to build their own Andriod apps, a high-quality print magazine on historic architecture and renovation, a huge interactive retro video game to activate space and a curated online platform for local makers to sell their wares, among others.
 
As those projects are now seeing the fruits of their labor in the Cincinnati area, the next eight grantees are just beginning their journeys to turn their own visions into reality. They’ll be developing projects ranging from exhibitions focused on both art and science to tools for real estate development to solutions for the sharing economy.
 
As with all People’s Liberty grants, these projects will be undertaken by individuals, not organizations. Each project is awarded $10,000 and 10 months to complete its work as well as mentorship and resources from People’s Liberty.
 
The Project Grants are the first of People’s Liberty three major grant programs — also Globe Grants ($15,000 for a three-month installation in the organization’s Globe Building in Over-the-Rhine) and Haile Fellowships ($100,000 and one year to complete a project) — to announce a second round of winners. The first round of Globe Grant awardees were announced in August and the second round of Haile Fellows is scheduled to be unveiled Nov. 4.
 
The new Project Grant winners are:
 
1 Degree of Separation by Kailah Ware: An interactive mobile installation using audio and visual components to both ask and answer the question, “What do you love about Cincinnati?”
 
N.O.M. by Kevin Wright and Joe Nickol: A step-by-step guide to public space activation in pioneering locations and emerging markets to empower community stakeholders to create demand for additional and ongoing real estate development.
 
The Solar System by Josiah Wolf, Elisabeth Wolf and Matt Kotlarcyzk: The project will create and install a scaled model of our solar system for permanent display in a public setting.
 
Let's Dance by Gregory Norman and Kathye Lewis: Cincinnati’s long history of ballroom dancing will be reinvigorated through fifth and sixth grade students in South Avondale to instill a sense of pride and confidence.
 
Plop! by Amy Scarpello and Abby Cornelius: The creative project will add engagement and fun in Cincinnati Parks through the deployment of giant 15-foot bean bags.
 
State by Nate May: A series of performances featuring MUSE, MyCincinnati, singer Kate Wakefield and other local musicians centering around the premiere of an oratorio about Appalachian migration to Cincinnati.
 
POPP=D'ART by Janet Creekmore, Ben Neal and Melissa Mitchell: A 1963 Rainbow caravan travel trailer will be converted into a tiny mobile art gallery to introduce affordable art in unexpected places while also elevating exposure and recognition for up-and-coming local artists.
 
A Sharing Solution by Adam Gelter and Andrea Kern: The project will leverage the power of the “sharing economy” to connect Over-the-Rhine businesses, institutions and public spaces with those who live, work and play there in a way never before attempted.
 

SCORE provides free business mentoring, names Clients of the Year

 
The Cincinnati chapter of SCORE recently named Pianimals, The Yoga Bar, Spicy Olive and Spun Bicycles as Clients of the Year. They were just a few of the over 700 local small businesses and entrepreneurs aided in the last year by free mentorship and counseling from Greater Cincinnati SCORE, the volunteer branch of the Small Business Association, and its 90-plus volunteers.
 
The volunteers are working or retired executives and professional managers who choose to spend time helping and advising startups and small businesses in business operations, marketing and finance. Those mentors are the ones who nominate their advisees as Clients of the Year.
 
For one of those clients, the mentorship had a special extra dimension. Judi LoPresti of Spun Bicycles is the daughter of longtime SCORE member and mentor Ed Rothenberg.
 
When her father passed away in 2012 and left her some money, she and her husband decided to follow their passion and use the inheritance to open a bicycle shop in Northside. Judi and Dominic LoPresti went straight to SCORE for advice and mentorship.
 
If her father were still around, LoPresti might go to him for advice, but since he’s not she has her SCORE mentor, Carlin Stamm, instead. That relationship has served the LoPrestis well.
 
“They’ve been profitable every year since they opened (in 2013),” SCORE Executive Director Betsy Newman says of Spun Bicycles. “I think the key for them, and it goes for all clients, is that they’re very passionate.”
 
That also goes for one of the other Clients of the Year, Rachel Roberts of The Yoga Bar, who traveled the world studying yoga before coming back in her home town of Cincinnati to open a studio. Roberts has a team of three SCORE mentors — Hugh Dayton, Mike Crossen and Stamm — that helped her guide her business through a move from her original downtown location to studios in Over-the-Rhine and Newport, with possible expansion still to come.
 
Newman says that SCORE mentorship allows clients to be more comfortable with the nuts and blots of running their business and focus more on the parts they do best. Of course, one of the huge advantages of SCORE services is that almost all of them — from individual mentorship to group counseling to online resources — are offered free of charge.
 
“Our goal is to help them start up or grow their business,” Newman says. “We want to make sure no one is unable to compete because they can’t afford mentorship. When you’re starting a business, the last thing you want to do is spend money you don’t have to.”
 
SCORE volunteers know that well. Most are veteran or retired executives with years or decades of experience in business, marketing, accounting and related fields. Newman, who has worked as a career development consultant, explains that volunteering their time and wisdom with SCORE allows mentors to remain connected to what’s going on in their fields and communities.
 
“No one ever really retires,” she says. “You just find a new avenue for your skills.”
 
The avenue of SCORE mentorship certainly puts those skills to use.
 
“I’ve never heard of one Client of the Year that hasn’t given all the credit to the SCORE mentor,” Newman says. “Some of these mentorships have lasted over 10 years. The business is well launched, but the relationship continues.”
 

"Fuel the Fire" lets projects pitch to audience for funding


Fuel Cincinnati, the grant-making arm of Give Back Cincinnati, will host its fourth annual “Fuel the Fire” event Oct. 19, when startups and projects pitch to the audience and attendees choose which one receives the evening’s proceeds.
 
As a branch of Give Back, a service organization for Greater Cincinnati young professionals, Fuel focuses on funding ideas by young professionals ages 18-40 and projects that will impact that demographic in the areas of education, community building, environment and diversity.
 
Their micro-grants range between $500 and $2,000 to help individuals and nonprofits get projects started. Awarded on a monthly basis, the grants have totaled more than $40,000 over the past five years.
 
Fuel focuses on making the process as easy as possible for projects just starting out.
 
“We try to break down the barriers that prevent motivated individual from getting off the ground,” Fuel Chair Alexis Morrisroe says, adding that since applications are reviewed by a committee of Give Back Cincinnati members the grant makers are peers of the grantees.
 
Once a year, a few applicants to Fuel are given the opportunity to present their ideas to a much wider audience at the Fuel the Fire event. Morrisroe points out that even for the presenters who don’t win, the opportunity to talk about their projects is a valuable way to raise awareness and support from around the city.
 
Some of the past Fuel the Fire winners have made a huge impact in the city already. The winners of last year’s event in May 2014, Derrick Braziel and William Thomas, were awarded $2,500 for a project they called OTR Urban Entrepreneurs. That project has since been renamed Mortar and recently graduated a second group of startups from its business and entrepreneurship class. Mortar is now expanding the classes into Walnut Hills from their home base in Over-the-Rhine.
 
This year’s Fuel the Fire presenters will doubtless be hoping for the same kind of success. They include initiatives like ReSource, which repurposes office supplies and other materials for area nonprofits; The Grand City Experiment, which hopes to bring young people together to create a more well-connected and welcoming community; and Never the Less, which wants to help develop girls’ self-confidence and sense of purpose.
 
“Never the Less is excited to be a presenter at Fuel the Fire because that’s exactly what we’re trying to do for the girls — ignite a fire of possibility, hope, change and faith,” says Doris Thomas of Never the Less.
 
Morrisroe points out that some of the projects impact more than current 30-somethings by working to empower the next generation of creative, entrepreneurial young professionals. To that end, Fuel the Fire will include a student ticket price for the first time.
 
“We really want to reach those at different universities,” she says. “Xavier and University of Cincinnati have both started entrepreneurship programs, so we want those students to think of Fuel as a resource for them.”
 
The other new feature of this year’s event is an additional “People’s Choice” award of $500. Anyone can currently vote online for their favorite project, even if they’re not able to attend the event. So two awards available for the five pitch presenters.
 
Fuel the Fire 2015 will be held at MadTree Brewing Tap Room at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 19. Tickets are currently on sale for $20 ($15 for students) and will be $30 at the door; tickets include a drink and appetizers from Delish Dish.
 

Engage Cincy Challenge offers $10k for innovative ideas to generate community engagement

 
The City of Cincinnati is rolling out the Engage Cincy Challenge to identify and fund innovative ideas to generate community engagement. Five winning applications will receive up to $10,000 each.
 
Cincinnati’s private sector has long encouraged innovation through numerous business accelerator programs as well as recent efforts that include supporting civic-minded individuals and organizations.
 
People’s Liberty launched in 2014 to provide grants, fellowships and residencies to individuals with ideas to improve Cincinnati. Earlier this year, Richard Rosenthal established Transform Cincinnati as a resource for matching individuals and organizations with big ideas for improving the quality of life in Cincinnati to large funding sources. 
 
Now the City of Cincinnati will fund innovative ways to generate engagement-based on proposals from members of the community.
 
“Cincinnati is unique in many ways,” City Manager Harry Black says. “Each of our 52 neighborhoods are well organized. I have not been in a city that has this level of structure, capacity and civic participation. Although we do a good job of community engagement with the tools we’re currently utilizing, with the mature network of neighborhoods in Cincinnati, can we take community engagement to the next level? And can the answer come from within the community?”
 
The Engage Cincy Challenge is open to individuals, businesses and organizations with creative ideas to help build community within a neighborhood or the city as a whole.
 
“We’re looking for innovative new approaches to elevate community engagement as it relates to the government connecting to its citizens, citizens communicating with the government and within the neighborhoods themselves,” Black says. “We want this to be a wide open process. Engage Cincy is an out-of-the-box thinking experience. We’re looking for innovative programs that  foster and nurture some sort of civic activity within a neighborhood that the city can support, further enable and perhaps scale up.”
 
Projects proposed for Engage Cincy don’t have to be completed by a designated deadline — the proposals can stipulate individual timelines.
 
“Once we accept and identify viable proposals, each of the grant recipients will be brought in to discuss our expectations as well as to think through their concept as it relates to measuring the impact, identifying potential outcomes and determining time lines,” Black says.
 
The City Manager has already received 19 applications for the Engage Cincy Challenge, which was announced Oct. 1. Submission deadline is Dec. 1.
 
Black says the applications will be reviewed and finalists selected by a committee made up of city employees and representatives from the business and nonprofit communities. He will choose the five winning proposals.
 
Winners will be announced at the Cincinnati Neighborhood Summit in March 2016, and each will receive up to $10,000 to develop, implement or complete their projects.
 
If the funded projects are successful in reaching their engagement goals, it’s possible they could be considered for future support to continue or to scale up and serve a larger audience.
 
“We are all about innovation,” Black says. “We’ve established a comprehensive and integrated performance management program that has been getting noticed on a national scale. I think all the pieces are in place in Cincinnati. The city is growing in all the right areas and the right ways. There is an air of innovation and excellence throughout the city, including our city government.”
 
The City Manager's Office will make a presentation and take questions about the new Engage Cincy program at the Invest in Neighborhoods meeting at 7 p.m. Oct. 22 at the Cincinnati Fire Museum downtown. Questions about the program and application can also be submitted via email.
 

JoeThirty offers new round of feedback events for startups


A new round of JoeThirty community feedback and networking events will begin Oct. 14. Hosted by the Greater Cincinnati Venture Association (GCVA), it’s a place where startups and entrepreneurs are able to get feedback on specific questions or problems.
 
The idea, created by Brad Kirn and Jake Hodesh, is that attendees and presenters have a cup of joe and 30 minutes of conversation to discuss some of the issues facing that company or organization. Each event features one startup presenting three specific challenges for feedback ahead of time.
 
When they started JoeThirty last year, Kirn and Hodesh wanted to create a different kind of platform for feedback.
 
“We wanted to not just have another event,” Kirn says. “We wanted to provide value back to our community.”
 
So, taking inspiration from the national series 1 Million Cups, they created a unique format. While there are lots of forums around the city for entrepreneurs to pitch to an audience, most of them have several startups making general pitches at the same time. JoeThirty is different in its focus and the space it provides for conversation.
 
Kirn and GCVA hope that their setup provides something useful to both the community and the presenters. They actively try to choose startups who would be helped by the format and invite community members who would provide the most relevant feedback for those entrepreneurs, although anyone is welcome to attend.
 
Kirn, who was a founding partner at Differential and is now with Astronomer, knows the importance of getting fresh ideas and constructive criticism for a new venture.
 
“People want to help,” he says. “Ever since I started talking to people in the startup community, they want to tell their story and almost everybody is open to feedback.”
 
The first startup to share its story in this round of JoeThirty will be Linkedu, which has designed software to help teachers share resources and ideas with each other.
 
“What I’m most excited about is hearing about how their pivot is going,” Kirn says.
 
Linkedu is looking to expand its software product beyond exclusively K-12 educators and make it available for a wider range of communities that need to share the knowledge and resources they build. This kind of pivot is common among startups trying to find the business model and niche that works best for them, but it also comes with its own set of challenges.
 
Linkedu will be able to use its JoeThirty session to get input from people with a variety of backgrounds and specialties.
 
For Kirn, providing that opportunities and being able to help fellow entrepreneurs are the best parts of organizing the events.
 
“What keeps me going is the conversations I have with presenters afterward,” he says. “When presenters say they have gotten something valuable out of their experience, that’s what makes the events worth it.”
 
The biggest change to JoeThirty events this year is that they’ll take place every other month, alternating with another GCVA morning event, the Breakfast Club. While JoeThirty focuses on a single presentation, Breakfast Club will provide time for four entrepreneurs to make pitches at each event.
 
“We’re creating this morning series,” Kirn says. “It’s kind of a nice change of speed instead of another monthly event.”
 
The Oct. 14 JoeThirty event is scheduled for 8:20-8:50 a.m., with mingling both before and after, at Rookwood Tower, 3805 Edwards Road at the Rookwood shopping centers. Admission is free but requires advance registration.
 

LawnLife founder pays forward the values of hard work and a well-kept yard


Tim Arnold has given real work experience to nearly 600 at-risk youth over the past seven years, and he’s getting local and even national recognition for his efforts.
 
Founder of the nonprofit LawnLife, Arnold employs young people ages 16-24 who face multiple hardships in their life and gives them an opportunity to earn a paycheck working in lawn care, landscaping and construction. The work gives them a chance to feel valuable, learn new skills and advance in a trade while earning money, empowering them through economic opportunity, education and accountability.
 
After winning Social Venture Partners’ Fast Pitch in February, LawnLife recently went to the Philanthropitch International competition in Austin, Tex., where the company was honored as one of the 10 “brightest social innovators” from across the U.S. and Canada.
 
Perhaps Arnold’s model is working so well because of the founder’s connection to the youth he employs.
 
“I’m very passionate about these kids because I was these kids,” he says. “I did whatever I could to survive, so I understand what these kids have been through.”
 
In his own youth, Arnold says, he had trouble with the law many times while trying to survive. What finally enabled him to turn his own life around was his first legitimate job opportunity in construction.
 
“I applied myself to that job,” Arnold explains. “I started working work.”
 
He says he began to appreciate the importance of work life, staying late and learning trades from supervisors, and eventually saw the rewards of that work.
 
That first job started an upward spiral for Arnold. In a few years, he was able to get a real estate license and started rehabbing houses on the side. It was on those rehab jobs that Arnold started hiring young people off the street, trying to give them the same opportunities and instill the value of hard work that had made such a difference for him.
 
The effort quickly grew into a comprehensive, multi-tiered program. As Arnold hired more youth who wanted to keep working, he started taking them out to mow lawns and do yard work in the community. It soon grew into a nonprofit organization that works with many other area services to reach young people to employ.
 
“They don’t understand we’re trying to help them,” Arnold says, adding that his young employees take the program seriously as a job rather than a service provided to them.
 
But LawnLife does help the youth they employ as well as the communities in which they work. Although the employees do lawn care and construction for clients who can pay market rate, Arnold also finds ways to “pay it forward” and clean up community spaces or offer lawn mowing to residents who might not be able to afford to pay for a lawn mower or what a professional company might charge.
 
Even though LawnLife is getting calls from all over the country and the model might take off elsewhere, Arnold is focused on Cincinnati and making an even bigger impact on the city’s landscape.
 
“If I can keep one less kid off the nightly news, I’m doing a good job,” he says. “There’s more bad yards than bad kids, I guarantee you.”
 

Bad Girl Ventures launches new 3-prong curriculum to support female entrepreneuers


It’s been a big year for Bad Girl Ventures (BGV). Its new executive director, Nancy Aichholz, joined in April, and a new curriculum structure launched this month.
 
“We had a one-size-fits-all class open to any woman who had a business in any stage of the business cycle,” Aichholz says. “And that worked, but it didn’t work for everyone. We needed a program that offers different kinds of help at each stage of a businesses development.”
 
The revamped BGV program takes a tiered approach — Explore, Launch, Grow — to support women-owned businesses.
 
“Explore is for the person who is literally exploring the feasibility of their idea,” Aichholz says. “They may have a concept and might actually be in business, but they aren’t very far along and they definitely don’t have a fully functional business plan. We’re helping them vet their ideas and walk them through the process of starting a business correctly.”
 
The first Explore class started mid-September with 36 participants. Weekly classes will address legal issues, human resources, marketing and finance as well as coaching and how to pitch their business to investors. By the end of November, each Explore participant will have a basic working business plan.
 
The second phase of the new curriculum, Launch, will begin in the spring.
 
“Launch will target women who are much farther along in the business cycle,” Aichholz says. “We’re looking at participants who have been in business for a couple of years with revenue and customers. Launch participants will develop a business plan to take to funders.”
 
The 25 participants in the Launch program will be selected through an application process that will evaluate their experience and potential for capital investment. The nine-week program will include weekly classes and work with SCORE mentors. At the end of the program, participants will present their business plan and pitch their idea in competition for up to $25,000 in business loans.
 
“In the past, there has been primarily one $25,000 loan,” Aichholz says of the original BGV concept. “Although that has been fine so far, to really meet the needs of our female entrepreneurs we need to loan them the amount of money they need, not a fixed amount.”
 
The final phase of the new BGV curriculum, the a la carte workshop series Grow, will begin next summer.
 
“We have BGV businesses that are five years old, and they’re facing completely different issues than those just starting a business,” Aichholz says. “They’re thinking about partnering, franchising, selling to national organizations, things that are at a more experienced level than the women just getting started. Instead of a series of classes, with Grow you can come to the workshop that’s right for you.”
 
None of the new curriculum tracks require participation in previous Bad Girl Ventures classes. The classes are even open to men, although they aren’t eligible to compete for the business loans.
 
Bad Girl Ventures offers programs in Greater Cincinnati and the Cleveland area, with more than 650 alumni, including owners of The Yoga Bar, Sweet Petit Desserts and Pet Wants.
 
“BGV businesses are much more likely to stay in town, to get their venture capital in town, and then those jobs are staying in the region,” Aichholz says. “We have had BGV businesses that have scaled dramatically, but they’ve kept their primary base here.
 
“A big differentiating factor with BGV is that once a Bad Girl always a Bad Girl. Our alumni constantly interact with and support each other. This alumni network is a unique asset for BGV that we can offer as a support system both to incoming Bad Girls and to any female entrepreneurs we’ve launched into their own businesses.”
 
Entrepreneurs interested in participating in the Launch and Grow programs can sign up online to be notified when applications for the spring class and summer workshops are available.
 

African Professionals Network continues to grow influence, spread connections


The African Professionals Network (APNET) is working to become Cincinnati’s go-to organization for anything related to continental Africa, according to its vice president for strategic initiatives, Clara Matonhodze. The organization will host its fourth annual symposium Oct. 10 with a keynote address given by Trey Grayson, president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
 
“This event will provide a platform to network, share ideas and create long-term business relationships between some of the most successful Africans in the Tristate and American businesses,” Matonhodze says.
 
Business, networking and community engagement are APNET’s three pillars. The group was formed in October 2010 to help provide a support network for African people living in greater Cincinnati and to create a welcoming environment for African immigrants coming to the region.
 
“(It was) a result of long ongoing conversations by African Northern Kentucky University alums about how best to assist individuals of African descent in the area become part of their new community, tap into the local networking scene, graduate from college and find careers in their desired fields,” Matonhodze says.
 
In the five years since its founding, APNET has not only provided regular opportunities for members to network with each other and other business organizations but also organized events for members to volunteer and give back to their new community. They’ve partnered with Cincinnati Youth Collaborative to provide one-on-one mentoring to students from elementary school through college and worked with Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly to put on a yearly Easter Brunch for elderly Cincinnatians with few family or resources.
 
For Matonhodze, the opportunity to be involved in the Cincinnati community while creating community with other Africans was what drew her to APNET. She was born in Zimbabwe, where she worked in television media before coming to the U.S. at 23 to attend NKU. She got involved with APNET in 2012.
 
“I was looking for a dynamic organization that shared my passion to assist African immigrants by helping them integrate into American society, a pretty daunting task, and showcase our great city to new African immigrants by providing a support system if you will,” she says. “I also needed the organization to be open to genuinely working with people across cultures.”
 
Matonhodze stresses that anyone interested in Africa and related issues is welcome at APNET events, including the upcoming symposium. The organization has made an effort to form relationships with a variety of businesses and professional groups in the area, working to show off Cincinnati to recent immigrants as well as educate the city about the African continent.
 
“Africa has problems, we acknowledge that,” Matonhodze says, “but the image we want to promote and put forth is one of a progressive Africa — an Africa that most of our members and leadership agree is not shown enough.”
 
Their goals seem to be popular. APNET has held more than 20 programs and events this year and expects around 200 people at the October symposium, which will also celebrate its fifth anniversary. In addition to its success in Cincinnati, APNET is taking its model to other cities by forming chapters in Chicago and Indiana.
 
“We want the APNET brand to be global, having APNET locations/branches in different countries and leading big initiatives here and abroad,” Matonhodze says.
 
Tickets to the Oct. 10 symposium at the Anderson Center in Anderson Township are $35, with discounts available for groups and students. Register online here.
 

AIA Cincinnati program to address "missing 32 percent" of women in architecture

 
Gender disparity in the workplace has been big news this year, particularly in the tech industry and in coverage of the ongoing gender wage gap. The field of architecture has taken a proactive approach to addressing gender equity within that profession.
 
“Recent discussions and initiatives regarding gender parity in various fields have helped to push this topic to the forefront in our industry,” says Heather Wehby, Project Architect at emersion DESIGN and Co-Chair of AIA Cincinnati’s Equity in Architecture committee.
 
In 2011, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) San Francisco launched The Missing 32% Project, an initiative to start a conversation about gender representation. Several successful symposiums and events led them to pursue a national study, “Equity in Architecture,” in 2014.
 
AIA Cincinnati is bringing Saskia Dennis-van Dijl, Principal Consultant at Cameron MacAllister Group, to present the findings of that study at the Mercantile Library at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 22. The free program, supported by an AIA Ohio Opportunity Grant, is open to the public and requires advance registration.
 
“This program is especially relevant to all those in the design, engineering and construction industry who are passionate about creating a more inclusive community and workplace,” says Jeffrey A. Sackenheim, Vice President at SHP Leading Design. “For us at AIA Cincinnati, this is the next big step in delivering content rooted in critical conversations affecting architectural practice now and 20 years in the future.”
 
“We are hoping that all members of Cincinnati's architectural community — including students, interns, professionals and firm leaders — attend to help position architecture as a 21st Century profession that more closely reflects the people and communities that it serves,” adds Kathryn Fallat, Co-Chair of the local Equity in Architecture committee. “We also encourage people who don’t have a direct connection or involvement with architecture to attend, as we’ll be discussing unconscious bias and how it affects everyone in any and every workplace.”
 
Earlier this year, AIA Cincinnati formed its own Equity in Architecture committee to address workplace disparities attributed to gender, race and socioeconomic status.
 
“Ms. Dennis-van Dijl’s presentation is the first of many that will not only help spark dialogue on what is typically considered to be a challenging subject matter but will also inform and shape it,” Fallat says. “Our goal is for a lively yet positive discussion to develop, focusing on steps that both employees and firms can take to improve workplace policy and culture.”
 
The “Equity in Architecture” survey assessed the current career status of architects as well as challenges to success and efforts made by employers to recruit, retain and support professionals. The study report examines the “pinch points” where architects choose to leave the field.
 
On the national level, women represent nearly half of graduates from architecture programs but make up only 20 percent of practitioners and 17 percent of partners or principals in architecture firms. Thus the “missing 32 percent” are the women who graduate from architecture programs but aren’t currently working as architects.
 
The slippage is even worse locally. According to the Ohio Architects Board, only 13 percent of active, registered architects in Ohio in 2014 were women, significantly less than the national average.
 
“We have done some investigation into local numbers, but more study needs to be done,” Wehby says. “No matter which statistics you look at, a significant and undeniable gap lies between the number of women graduating from architectural programs and the number of women who are registered architects.”
 
The “Equity in Architecture” study and the Sept. 22 Dennis-van Dijl program focus specifically on gender, yet other disparities also exist within the field. AIA Cincinnati plans to work with the National Organization of Minority Architects on future Equity in Architecture programs.
 
“In order for architects to successfully design for and engage with a diverse and changing society, our profession must be comprised of members that reflect and represent it,” Fallat says. “If architecture is to remain a relevant and influential profession throughout the 21st Century, then it needs to recruit, retain and promote talented individuals of all genders, races and socioeconomic levels.”
 

Cincinnati Symphony opens new season thriving on experimentation


The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra opens its new season Sept. 25-27 with a weekend of events centered around Hector Berlioz’s edgy, dreamlike Symphonie Fantastique. It’s a fitting accompaniment to the organization’s high-profile efforts to experiment on new ways to connect with the community.
 
The weekend offers a variety of events for different audiences, including a Friday morning performance of the Berlioz Symphonie along with the Beethoven’s Overture to Fidelio and Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 2. The CSO performs all three works again Saturday evening after its annual Opening Night Gala, culminating with one of the largest after-parties it’s thrown in years.
 
“This will be a chance for people to let their hair down a little bit,” CSO Director of Communications Meghan Berneking says. “Symphonie Fantastique has this lore around it that the composer was on opium when he wrote it, so they’re capitalizing on that for the (party) theme.”
 
The “5th Movement” after-party will feature psychedelic decorations, dancing and a specially-brewed beer from Taft’s Ale House. The event will likely appeal to the Young Professionals crowd the Symphony tries to cultivate early in their careers with a variety of CSO Encore events, although Berneking emphasizes that all of the weekend’s events are open to anyone.
 
Opening weekend wraps up Sunday evening with the first installment of CSO’s new “Stories in Concert” series. The orchestra will again perform Symphonie Fantastique, this time without the other pieces but with accompanying explanations to tell the story of the music in greater depth.
 
“If you’re intimidated by classical music, this performance is for you,” Berneking says, adding that the goal of “Stories in Concert” performances is to help audiences better understand and engage with classical music.
 
The series is just one of many innovative projects CSO is working on to help connect with the community at large.
 
“The Orchestra prides itself on being a place of experimentation,” Berneking says. “That comes with us not being afraid to try new things.”
 
Over the past few years, the CSO has been involved in events and collaborations that might seem surprising from a symphony orchestra dedicated to classical music.
 
The organization has collaborated with Cincinnati native Bryce Dessner and The National rock band at the annual MusicNOW festival, which promotes artists experimenting with new music at Memorial Hall, Music Hall and other local venues. The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra just released American Originals, a live album honoring the works of Stephen Foster that features collaborations with such artists as Rosanne Cash, Over the Rhine and Comet Bluegrass Allstars. The CSO has also been engaging the city with its One City, One Symphony series, which will continue this year with a tribute to Maya Angelou focused on the theme of “freedom.”
 
Of course, the experiment that’s garnered the most attention is Lumenocity, which had its third annual run in early August. The CSO charged for tickets for the first time this year in order to help fund the $1.4 million event, and the concerts set to light projections drew more than 30,000 people over four nights in Washington Park. It was a smaller turnout than the first two years because of the restricted ticket sales, but the event has quickly become one of Cincinnati’s most popular summer traditions.

Berneking says all of this summer’s Lumenocity performance sold out, proving that patrons valued the event enough to pay for it and boding well for future years.
 
“When you’re experimenting, there’s always the risk that it won’t work, but even if it flops we see it as our duty to try new things anyway,” she says.
 
Those risks are paying off in a big way for the CSO. As orchestras around the country struggle and occasionally fail, Cincinnati’s has seen an uptick in attendance over the last few years. Leadership plans to continue experimenting, commissioning new works and finding new ways to share musical stories with the community.
 
“If Cincinnatians are engaged, we’re happy,” Berneking says.
 

Chatfield College's new OTR home maintains community ties, provides room to grow


The paint might still be drying and floors still being laid, but Chatfield College’s new Over-the-Rhine facility on Central Parkway is already bustling with students and staff for the fall semester.
 
Chatfield is a unique institution in Cincinnati: a private, not-for-profit, faith-based Associate’s Degree program that emphasizes the liberal arts. The college, founded in the Ursuline tradition of Sister Julia Chatfield, has campuses in both Cincinnati and St. Martin, Ohio, to focus on critical thinking and preparing students to continue at four-year bachelor’s degree programs while remaining accessible to students who face significant barriers to education.
 
“We’re all about taking down barriers,” says Chatfield President John Tafaro, explaining the school’s student-focused programs from financial aid to daycare.
 
Tafaro explains that the new Over-the-Rhine building is within walking distance of 15 bus stops, saying it will make the college’s services available to even more students while providing an upgraded space for classes and resources.
 
“This is a first-class learning environment,” Tafaro says, “because our students deserve the best.”
 
The new environment is the result of a 14-month, $3.4-million renovation of a building on Central Parkway near Liberty Street. The building was formerly used by the Cincinnati Association for the Blind (now Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired) as a broom factory employing its clients.
 
The socially conscious renovation made use of historic tax credits by maintaining the historic character of the early-20th Century building and created an energy-efficient green facility.
 
“We met our goal of using 30 percent minority-owned and women-owned businesses and 70 percent union labor for our subcontractors,” Tafaro says.
 
The space includes versatile classrooms for small classes and larger events, science labs, work space, a computer lab, a non-denominational chapel to be completed in early 2016 and a large music and dance studio space with wide windows overlooking Central Parkway and the Cincinnati Ballet headquarters right across the street.
 
Tafaro is especially excited about the natural light and open feel after moving from the space Chatfield rented nearby since 2006. That space had been just one third the size of the new Central Parkway building, with no outward-facing windows. The new space provides the college much more opportunity to grow — the campus currently serves just over 200 students, but Tafaro can imagine a day when it might host many more.
 
He says that Chatfield is deeply committed to the Over-the-Rhine community and excited to take advantage of the resources near their new location and build on collaborations with its neighbors. Several tours of the new campus are coming up, including one on Thursday, Sept. 17 in collaboration with the OTR Chamber of Commerce and Taft’s Ale House.
 

New round of People's Liberty grants available as first year starts to wind down


The next few months will be busy at People’s Liberty, with new grantees announced, current grantees premiering project results and two grant application deadlines.
 
Last week, the organization announced the three winners of their Globe Grants for 2016, an opportunity that gives projects $15,000 and three months to create some kind of innovative installation or programming in the People’s Liberty Globe Gallery space on Elm Street across from Findlay Market. The 2016 group of grantees features a photography exhibit of African-American men as Kings, a “toy library” for both children and adults and a chain-reaction space-filling machine art installation reminiscent of Rube Goldberg. Winners Nina Wells, Julia Fischer and Michael DeMaria should provide some captivating experiences in the space in its second year of installations.
 
The first year has one exhibit left: Deep Space, a nontraditional installation by Amy Lynch, Joel Masters and J.D. Loughead that provides an environment for creativity rather than presenting its finished products. It aims to be an “indeterminate space, a nebulous nurturing envelopment where creativity can thrive unencumbered.”
 
Deep Space will open with an event during Over-the-Rhine’s Final Friday on Oct. 30, finishing out the first full cycle of one of the three main People’s Liberty grants. The first two Globe Gallery projects were Jason Snell’s Good Eggs (March-June) and C. Jacqueline Wood’s Mini Microcinema (July-Sept. 3).
 
People’s Liberty launched a little over a year ago to provide opportunities for “new philanthropy” in Cincinnati. Founded by Eric Avner and Amy Goodwin via the U.S. Bank/Haile Foundation and Johnson Foundation, the philanthropic lab invests in individuals and human talent rather than the traditional model of foundations making grants to nonprofit organizations.

“I think this model gives us the opportunity to advance someone’s career,” says Aurore Fournier, a program director at People’s Liberty. “Sometimes we can even help them figure out what they want to do next.”
 
She expects People’s Liberty to continue expanding its marketing to reach an even wider pool of potential grantees.
 
“We want to strive toward even more great applicants,” Fournier says. “We want people to come from all over the I-275 beltway area.”
 
Fournier encourages everyone with an idea to apply for two upcoming grant opportunities. The first, due Wednesday, Sept. 9, is the Project Grant, which gives each winner $10,000 to complete a short-term project in Cincinnati.

The previous round of projects ranged from a cultural dance event to real-time arrival signs at Metro stops. Several of that group of grantees have their own milestones coming up this fall.

Alyssa McClanahan and John Blatchford just published the first issue of their Kunst: Built Art magazine with a series of events in Over-the-Rhine. Mark Mussman’s first class of Creative App Project students will premiere their finished Android apps at the Globe Building on Sept. 14. Giacomo Ciminello’s Spaced Invaders had a successful first test in Walnut Hills recently.
 
The Project Grantees aren’t the only ones making progress.

The first two recipients of the full-year $100,000 Haile Fellowship are also coming to the culminating stages of their projects. Brad Schnittger will soon launch the MusicLi platform to help connect local artists to music licensing opportunities, while Brad Cooper’s Start Small tiny homes project is due to break ground in October.
 
The application for next year’s Haile Fellowship will be open until Oct. 1, with a variety of opportunities for applicants to consult with People’s Liberty staff about their ideas.
 
Fournier sees the Haile Fellowship and Project Grants as a way for individuals not only to realize their ideas but to learn and grow in the process.
 
“This is not just a learning experience for us,” she says, “but also a learning opportunity for the people we fund.”
 
People’s Liberty staff members are proud of the work they’ve done and the people and projects in which they’ve invested so far. The five-year project will continue until 2020, when the team and funders will take some time to reflect on their work, its impact and what might be next.
 
“We’re extremely happy with the results,” Fournier says. “The opportunities are endless, and I think only time will tell with People’s Liberty.”
 

Unpolished Conference aims to be source of inspiration for entrepreneurs


Unpolished, a grassroots collective of startup leaders based at Crossroads Church, will host a national conference Sept. 17-18 focusing on the intersection of faith and entrepreneurship.
 
“There is an incredible lineup of speakers and teachers,” says Matt Welty, executive producer at Crossroads. “I think everyone who attends will walk away inspired, encouraged and motivated to jump into their work. People will hear surprising things about how faith and entrepreneurship overlap in very meaningful ways.”
 
“Unpolished came about when a few entrepreneurs who were attending Crossroads were gathered together by senior pastor Brian Tome,” says Unpolished co-founder Tim Brink. “He had seen us working out of the atrium. He was curious what we were doing, why we were there and if there was anything Crossroads could do to support us.”
 
Weekly meetings led to creating “place where we can talk about the things that are hard about being an entrepreneur: co-founder issues, health and space,” Brink says. “You spend so much of your time pitching — investors, employees, customers — you’re constantly trying to sell and put your best foot forward. Unpolished provided space for the other stuff.”
 
As word of the informal group spread, attendance grew, culminating in an event last January that drew 3,500 attendees.
 
“When that happened, something clicked,” Brink says, “This isn’t just a localized interest, there is a real DNA level thing going on here and our hunch was that it was broader than Cincinnati. That planted the seed for this conference.”
 
Unpolished aims to engage a wide range of entrepreneurs.
 
“Entrepreneurship very easily gets defined as tech,” Brink says. “But that is such a small piece of it. Most of the people we have speak at our Unpolished events are not tech — they’re just great creators of products, businesses and services.”
 
Andrew Salzbrun, managing partner at Agar, describes Unpolished as suited for everyone: “The tech startup who has big ideas they’re dreaming about bringing to life; a small business owner who needs to be encouraged and filled with great content; corporate innovators who are expected to lead the way and push boundaries; and students of entrepreneurship from regional colleges.”
 
The two-day conference features mainstage speakers as well as break out sessions and networking opportunities. Conference keynotes include Kirk Perry, President-Brand Solutions of Google; television producer Mark Burnett; and Wendy Lea, CEO of Cintrifuse. Other presenters include photographer Jeremy Cowart, Choremonster founder Chris Bergman, attorney Calev Myers and Chris Sutton of Noble Denim. The event will be hosted at Crossroads’ main campus in Oakley; tickets are available here.
 
“We have two days of highly interactive and engaging content that explores and discusses different facets of faith and entrepreneurship,” Salzbrun says. “Unpolished is based on the idea that entrepreneurship is one of the loneliest jobs on the face of the planet. Some of today’s best leaders will provide context on how to do work that is meaningful and with purpose.”
 
In addition to formal presentations, attendees can visit Startup Village “featuring startups and small businesses representing technology as well as people who are makers,” Welty says. “It is going to be a really cool opportunity to show off the Cincinnati entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
 
Participants can also apply to the second class at Ocean, also hosted at Crossroads, or take part in a contest where attendees can record a brief video pitching an idea to the conference. The other participants will be able to vote on which ideas are the best; winners will receive $2,500-$5,000.
 
The event is working with entrepreneurs and leadership from regional accelerators, including The Brandery, UpTech, Ocean, Mortar and Cintrifuse.
 
“A big desire of mine is to find ways for the Cincinnati startup ecosystem to gel and come together,” Brink says. “There is often a sort of competitive, parochial view of the world, but we're competing with San Francisco and New York, not each other. There is a chance to have something really special here.”
 
“Crossroads is really passionate about being a source of inspiration,” Welty adds. “To create a place where entrepreneurs can gather and be who they really are while being encouraged in their faith and in their businesses. Our hope is that through the ongoing Unpolished group that meets here in Cincinnati, we can begin to develop an even bigger community of people who are connected to each other beyond just one conference.”
 

Spaced Invaders uses play, retro video games to re-energize blighted spaces

                                     
Designer Giacomo Ciminello uses play to help spark ideas. In his People’s Liberty grant project, Spaced Invaders, he wants to use it to re-invigorate blighted spaces.
 
Ciminello’s concept uses the aesthetic of vintage video games like Space Invaders to create large-scale interactive games in blighted spaces in Cincinnati in order to help people interact with and have fun in those spaces.

Ciminello has a long history of using play in creative ways. A Cincinnati transplant from Philadelphia, he graduated with a bachelors and then a Design for Social Change masters from the University of the Arts in Philly. While working in advertising and with corporate clients, he helped found PlayPhilly, an organization that aims to energize concrete “grayspaces” through creativity and play.
 
He has helped start a similar organization, PlayCincy, since moving here but has also noticed big differences between the two cities.
 
“On the East Coast we were working with concrete alleys and sort of spaces between buildings,” Ciminello says, “whereas out here there are entire abandoned blocks.”
 
Those large blighted spaces are part of what inspired Spaced Invaders. The project is Ciminello’s first large-scale, tech-heavy enterprise in Cincinnati. Previous projects, like PlayCincy’s Lite Brute and Maxx Chalkers, use simple materials that reminded players of childhood toys and games.
 
Spaced Invaders also gives participants and spectators a sense of nostalgia for games but uses a much more sophisticated setup and set of technology resources.
 
The game features a huge light projection into the space and software that tracks players’ movements, allowing them to become a part of the game. The setup hearkens to the wildly popular Lumenocity light show, but with an interactive element.
 
It’s also part of the growing popularity of vintage video and arcade games from the 1980s seen in institutions like 16-Bit Bar+Arcade, which opened their Cincinnati location in Over-the-Rhine a few months ago. But this version of the nostalgia will require participants to actively play.
 
“You can’t do this standing still,” Ciminello says. “You have to do 20-yard sprints.”
 
According to Play Theory, that kind of activity changes the way you think and gives individuals a totally different experience in the blighted spaces Ciminello wants to re-energize.
 
“It's a workout!” exclaimed the first player to try the game in the project’s first public test Aug. 27 at Brew House in Walnut Hills.
 
Some logistics of the setup have yet to be finessed. Last week’s test, for instance, was delayed slightly to allow for de-bugging the software and setting up the technology.
 
But once the program was up and running, it inspired wonder and curiosity in everyone present. As volunteer players raced around the Brew House parking lot in reflective vests, defending from pixelated alien invaders, the small crowd egged them on, rejoicing their accomplishments and commiserating with their losses.
 
Ciminello hopes to continue building from this test, recognizing that People’s Liberty has been supportive in pushing the project to be bigger and better. Next steps for Spaced Invaders will involve more events in other spaces and developing other games, even site-specific games that use the landscape features in particular areas.
 
He also hopes that Spaced Invaders will not be the lone project to make use of these concepts.
 
“It's all going to be open source,” he says of the software. “We’re not going to lock it away.”
 
The idea is that the Spaced Invaders base and available software will inspire other local designers and DAAP students to build upon the concept and develop new ways to use play theory to transform spaces.
 
“This should be something that helps people stretch their imaginations,” Ciminello says.
 
If you want to stretch your own imagination, sign up at fighttheblight.org and follow #fighttheblight to learn more.
 

Children's study finds higher rates of childhood illness in poor neighborhoods across Hamilton Co.


New research from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center reaffirms the connection between neighborhood resources and health issues.
 
Dr. Andrew F. Beck, assistant professor in UC’s Department of Pediatrics and attending physician with the Department of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital, studied bronchiolitis and pneumonia cases in children across Hamilton County and mapped out hospitalization stays over the course of the study period. He calculated hospitalization rates by census tract, which in essence parallel neighborhood boundaries.
 
“Bronchiolitis is a very common lower respiratory tract infection among children age 0 to 2 and pneumonia is one of the most common infectious conditions across childhood,” Beck says. “We found some of the same disparities across our community as we have seen in our research on asthma and life expectancy study published by the Health Department. There is a lot of data suggesting that there are disparities in chronic conditions, and now we’re seeing these disparities in acute infections as well.”
 
The study indicates that hospitalizations for bronchiolitis and pneumonia infections vary widely across Hamilton County, and those differences appear related to neighborhood socio-economic conditions. The study reported hot spots with higher hospitalization rates in high-poverty areas of the inner city, with equivalent cold spots in the more affluent northeastern suburbs.
 
“The depiction of these disparities is a call to action on multiple fronts,” Beck says. “There is a strong desire here to understand difference and disparities within our neighborhood settings across a wide breadth of diagnoses. The related desire is to begin to understand the characteristics of those communities: what are the risks within those communities and what are the assets, resources and potential partners within those communities that we could then leverage moving forward.”
 
Beck and his Children’s colleagues have a strong track record of pursuing research and intervention in tandem.
 
Over the past few years, Children’s has worked closely with Freestore Foodbank to address food insecurity in families with infants, providing not only medical intervention but also educational opportunities and resources to improve quality of life. Children’s also partnered with the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati to launch the Cincinnati Child Health-Law Partnership, providing legal council and assistance to families struggling with legal issues related to housing and income or health benefits.
 
“I like to consider myself an expert in child health,” Beck says. “But I am not an expert in housing or hunger or air pollution or those factors that may be exacerbating the well-being of the kids I’m treating. So it behooves me to think through who are those key community partners that might actually drive more health improvement than I might as the pediatrician. That’s why we really value collaborations with community agencies that are those experts.”
 
The recent research by Beck and his colleagues on hospitalization rates for bronchiolitis, pneumonia and asthma shows there is a relationship but not a causality between these illnesses and poverty. Beck anticipates additional research will be done to examine the possible sources of the disparities.
 
“We need to do a better job understanding why some of our kids are doing worse than others and then think through what the best next steps are and how this data can spawn action,” he says. “(It’s important) both as a hospital trying to provide the best care we can to every kid within our community and in every neighborhood within our community and also to help start conversations with some of these community experts and agencies that may play an even larger role than we could.”
 
Health statistics are often provided on a macro level, with rankings of the most and least healthy regions, states or counties. Beck and his colleagues are examining the data at more micro level.
 
“Even if there are big disparities between County X and County Y, you need to look at a smaller, more granular place,” Beck says. “Because within County X, there may be disparities that need to be narrowed. So we’re trying to understand how we can help our kids do well across communities, not just as an aggregated community.”
 
Beck and the Department of Pediatrics at Children’s are open to new collaborations to build on the success of their relationships with Legal Aid and Freestore Foodbank.
 
“The list goes on and on for potential partners who are truly the experts in the social determinants that are perhaps driving the disparities that we see across all these conditions,” Beck says. “We need to think through our complimentary strengths, our complimentary needs and how can we collaboratively provide a better service than we could in isolation.”
 

Hello Home project tries new way to welcome residents into civic participation


Nancy Sunnenberg wants to create a broad, proactive way of welcoming people when they move to a new neighborhood. She’s been thinking about the questions of “How do we attract and retain people who are residents?” and “How do people become more active citizens?” for a long time.
 
After moving to Roselawn in the early 2000s, Sunnenberg joined the Community Council to become more involved in her new neighborhood. She became a trustee and officer, and her work with the group got her thinking about how to get more people involved in that kind of community work.
 
Like many organizations, Sunnenberg says, “we were looking for (people with) the energy and physical wherewithal to do things.” So in 2006 she started researching how a proactive welcoming of people to a neighborhood might cultivate them to be active participants in civic life, hoping to find ways to engage more people.
 
Now Sunnenberg is exploring the same question through her People’s Liberty grant project, Hello Home.
 
It felt like a perfect funding opportunity, she says, for a project that didn’t fit neatly into an existing nonprofit’s mission. The People’s Liberty grant allows her more flexibility than a traditional organizational grant.
 
The goal of Hello Home is to create a united “welcome packet” for Walnut Hills, East Walnut Hills and Madisonville, which Sunnenberg chose because they connect along one of the city’s major transportation corridors in the city, Madison Road. The packets will contain offers from and information about ArtsWave, Cincinnati Museum Center, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Metro, Cincy Red Bike, local businesses and much more.
 
The crux of the project, however, is not the packet itself but how new residents will receive it. Sunnenberg is training Neighborhood Ambassadors to actively meet and greet recipients; community councils and organizations and signature neighborhood businesses have helped her connect to volunteers in the three target areas.
 
The process starts with a note left on a new resident’s door, allowing that person to contact the Neighborhood Ambassador. They then meet for conversation at a local coffee shop or similar neighborhood hub. The Ambassador acts as a host, welcoming the newcomer to the neighborhood, and the packet is delivered through that active process of welcoming.
 
“The process is part of the package,” Sunnenberg says, adding that the real idea is human contact and personal engagement will help inspire and empower people to get involved in their new neighborhood communities.
 
“People do not recognize how much resource they carry within themselves,” Sunnenberg says.
 
Neighborhood Ambassadors were trained last week at People’s Liberty HQ in Over-the-Rhine. Once the packets have been launched for a few months, Sunnenberg, the Ambassadors and participating organizations will come together to evaluate how the process is going and identify opportunities for growth and change.
 
“There are a lot of opportunities to expand the project based on ‘how do we help people connect?’” Sunnenberg says. “I hope that what will come out of it will be the conversation that expands the idea. I am even more of a fan of the creative process than I was coming into this.”
 

Toms Shoes executive to discuss corporate responsibility at second annual Social Enterprise Week


Social enterprises, businesses that exist to accomplish a social good, are rapidly gaining popularity in the U.S. Companies like Toms Shoes and Warby Parker are known for their outstanding social impact — as well as their enviable profit margins — and their influence is evident in the growing number of businesses directing profits toward the greater good.

Last year, FlyWheel Cincinnati introduced the first-ever Social Enterprise Week as a response to that trend. The main focus of last year’s event was a showcase of local businesses with a social element to their business plan.

This year, the team behind the event has created a Social Enterprise Week with a broader national scope.

The week kicks Sept. 1 off with a Social Enterprise Summit at the Cincinnati Museum Center, where keynote speaker Sebastian Fries, Chief Giving Officer at Toms Shoes, will be joined by several local movers and shakers in the social enterprise realm. Fries will discuss his efforts to scale Toms’ giving practices to over 130 NGOs in 70 countries.

In addition to his input, the panel discussion welcomes Dan Meyer of Nehemiah Manufacturing, Dr. Jason Singh of OneSight, Joe Hansbauer of Findlay Market, Allen Woods of Mortar and Brett Smith of Miami University's Institute for Entrepreneurship, who will touch on everything from job creation for disadvantaged workers and community involvement to entrepreneurship and sustainability.

The Social Enterprise Showcase will be held Sept. 2 on Fountain Square, a lunchtime learning session highlighting more than 30 local businesses that support a variety of causes across the region.

Another new element to this year’s event is a networking event called Cincy Celebrates Social, which takes place Sept. 3. The event will open with a tour of La Terza coffee roasterie and a series of inspirational speeches from local entrepreneurs, followed by an hour of networking for those interested in becoming more involved in the social enterprise realm.

The week wraps up with Buy Social Saturday on Sept. 5. Several local companies will be offering special promotions on their products and services; the full list of the participating companies can be found here.

Though many of the week’s events are free and open to the pubic, those who wish to attend the Social Enterprise Summit must purchase a ticket — they're available online at $35 for general admission, $20 for students and $65 for VIP.
 

Big Pitch finalists ready to rumble, excite and blow minds on Aug. 27

 
Eight local small businesses will take the stage at ArtWorks’ Big Pitch next week, with $20,000 in funding and services at stake. But the Big Pitch isn’t just about prizes.
 
“The finalists put themselves in the position of opening themselves up to feedback because they want to grow,” says Rachel Rothstein, creative enterprise marketing coordinator at ArtWorks. “From the start, they’re working with their bankers and mentors to refine and develop their business plan. The prize money is awesome, but it’s just the icing on the cake.”
 
The 2015 Big Pitch finalists are a motley bunch, as evidenced in interviews with Soapbox published throughout the summer. Click on each company to read its Soapbox profile:
Brush Factory
Butcher Betties
Cityscape Tiles
Cut and Sewn
Grateful Grahams
Original Thought Required
Roebling Point Books & Coffee
We Have Become Vikings
 
“We had a really high quality group of applicants this year,” Rothstein says. “They were aware of who the finalists were last year, so they knew what they were getting into. The 2015 applicants knew what to expect and what they wanted to achieve, so it will be really exciting to see their pitches. The finalists are great representatives of the diverse ecosystem of entrepreneurs in greater Cincinnati.”
 
The Big Pitch finale is Aug. 27 at downtown’s Cincinnati Masonic Center, where the businesses will compete for two cash awards.
 
The top $15,000 prize will be decided by a panel of judges who will review the finalists’ business plans and evaluate their live pitches. Judges are Corey Asay, attorney with Dinsmore and Shohl; Roger David, president and CEO of Gold Star Chili; Maggie Paulus, strategy director at LPK; Rachel Roberts, owner of The Yoga Bar, Bija Yoga Schools and RAKE Strategy; and Max Sullivan, CPA with Clark Schaefer Hackett.
 
Judges will consider the potential impact, value and sustainability of the eight businesses as well as the founder’s/founders’ energy, passion and conviction.
 
Another $5,000 prize will be awarded by Big Pitch audience members. After the finalists complete their five-minute pitches, which may include a visual presentation and one “wild-card” prop, attendees will vote for their favorite finalist. Those ballots will be collected and tallied by Clark Schaefer Hackett.
 
The winner of both prizes will be announced at the event. It’s possible the same business could win both prizes, although last year saw two different winners.
 
At the event, ArtWorks will also provide a “where are they now” update on its 2014 finalists, including a video from Noble Denim’s Chris Sutton, last year’s $15,000 winner.
 
The Creative Enterprise division of ArtWorks is further celebrating Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial community with three videos produced by six summer apprentices. Led by 2014 Big Pitch finalist C. Jacqueline Wood, the apprentices interviewed, shot and edited the short films highlighting the supportive resources for people starting a creative sector business in Cincinnati.
 
Going into the Aug. 27 Big Pitch final, “there is no clear winner,” says Caroline Creaghead, ArtWorks director of creative enterprise. “We are very excited to see the pitches and how the voting goes.”
 
Tickets are still available for the event, which will be emceed by Mark Perzel of WGUC-FM and WVXU-FM. ArtWorks moved the event this year to Cincinnati Masonic Center in anticipation of 400-600 attendees. In addition to the pitches, attendees will have an opportunity to network with the finalists and each other both before and after the presentations.
 

Evanston Community Council, Xavier and ArtWorks partnership produces more than a mural


Public art is used in Evanston as an innovative tool to bring people together and build community, as evidenced by this summer’s ArtWorks mural project on Duck Creek Road. It’s the fourth public art collaboration between the Evanston Community Council (ECC) and Xavier University’s Eigel Center for Community-Engaged Learning.
 
“Through partnerships and collaboration, the murals have really focused on energizing our community,” ECC President Anzora Adkins says. “They help spread our mission, that we are dedicated the well-being of all residents and to the development of the community through education, business and spirituality. We are really pleased with our efforts and the partnership with ArtWorks and Xavier.”
 
Eigel Center Director Sean Rhiney says when he first met with the community council in 2011 to discuss possible collaborations, they agreed to focus on art.
 
“Access to art in the community is a powerful tool for engagement and is multi-generational,” Rhiney says, “so it works great when you have folks of all backgrounds and ages getting together.”
 
One of the first partnerships between ECC and the Eigel Center took place when Evanston participated in the Contemporary Arts Center’s 2011 Inside Out project. As one of the neighborhood sites, Adkins and Rhiney brought community members together with Xavier faculty and students.
 
The success of that project resulted in a collaboration between Evanston Academy, Walnut Hills High School and Xavier to design a pig for the 2012 Big Pig Gig. Each partnership built trust and relationships within the community, leading to an even larger project in 2013.
 
“Mrs. Adkins and I reached out to Keep Cincinnati Beautiful to talk about the redevelopment of the Flat Iron building in Five Points and the opportunity to create a mural there,” Rhiney says. “With funding from Safe Routes to Schools, we created a mural about education.”
 
“What is so beautiful about this partnership is that we engage the college students and involve people from our community,” Adkins says. “Evanston is the ‘educating community,’ where one can obtain an education from pre-K to a PhD. Public art has a teaching value, and the mural helps us tell the history of our community.”
 
Adkins and Rhiney began talking to ArtWorks last year about replacing an existing mural on Duck Creek Road at the Dana/Montgomery exit from I-71 north. The original mural, designed by local artist Jymi Bolden, was completed in 1992 and was showing its age. Adkins wanted a new mural that “paints a picture of what is actually going on in our community.”
 
As part of the design process, Rhiney says, “we did programs with some of the kids form Evanston Academy as well as community-based charettes with residents.”
 
Out of those sessions, Adkins says, came the themes for artist Jimi Jones to include in the mural: “Emphasis on the importance of family, education, spirituality and recreational activities.”
 
The location of the mural is a bit symbolic. The construction of I-71 in the 1970s resulted in the demolition of many Evanston homes and businesses and effectively divided the neighborhood in half.
 
“We focus on the positives,” Adkins says. “We’re looking toward the future and revitalizing our community. I hope the mural will draw some attention and that drivers will take that exit and really look at the mural.”
 
“We knew this was a very visible site,” Rhiney says. “We want the mural to be a piece that people could really engage in. There is a lot of detail that can only be appreciated when you get up close.”
 
As the mural nears completion, Evanston is still working to raise funds to support the project through an ArtWorks matching grant on the Power2Give website. The goal is to raise $5,000 by the end of the month, when the matching grant could bring the total to $10,000.
 
“The website helps us reach out to individual donors,” Rhiney says. “It helps us engage the community and give them ownership of the project.”
 
“We plan to have an official dedication of the mural,” Adkins says. “We hope that the artist and the ArtWorks apprentices who worked on the mural will be able to be there and really explain the process.”
 
Power2Give donors will also receive invitations to the event.
 
“It takes collaboration, partnership and of course money to do all these things that we would really like to see happen in our community,” Adkins says. “We encourage everyone that resides in the community who is able to do so, to get involved. Working together is very important. We have had our challenges, but we’re working toward making change.”
 

11th annual Bold Fusion event encourages Cincinnati YPs to get up and move forward


Hundreds of young professionals from across the Tristate will gather for Cincinnati HYPE's 11th annual Bold Fusion event at Horseshoe Casino on Thursday, Aug. 13. The team behind the event is bringing together a group of speakers who truly encapsulate the theme of moving forward, both as individual professionals and as a city.
 
The lineup includes a keynote address from Robert DeMartini, CEO of New Balance athletic shoes/apparel. His message promises to encourage attendees to not only "move" and stay active but also have the courage to "move and shake" within their communities by getting involved.
 
The event's ambassador speakers are all local indivuduals who plan to further highlight DeMartini's message.

Mark Jeffries, founder of GoVibrant, will talk about his company's message of getting out and moving within your community. Dr. Chalonda Handy of Children's Hospital Medical Center will also speak at the event along with Chris Moore, creator of the transit app Bus Detective.
 
Bold Fusion is and always has been half networking opportunity, half professional enrichment seminar. Over the last decade, however, the event has evolved along with the city itself. The dozens of young professional happy hours and network events we see every week were few and far between in 2004, when Bold Fusion announced its first event.
 
Julie Bernzott has been involved in the program since the beginning. At that time, Bold Fusion was the result of a brainstorm by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and focused primarily on drawing young professionals into local leadership roles.
 
"So much has happened in Cincinnati in 10 years," says Bernzott, senior manager of HYPE (Harnessing Young Professional Energy) programs for the Chamber. "Today, young professionals have a much stronger voice in the community."
 
Unlike 2004, Bernzott and her team don't have to find a speaker who offers young Cincinnatians a voice. In 2015, they already have one.
 
"We look for speakers that have a powerful message about career opportunities, community involvement," she says. "As a part of the HYPE initiative, we want to put on a great event for people to meet other people and connect."
 
The Chamber's HYPE program focuses on retaining young professionals in the city. With the many positive changes happening across Cincinnati's urban core, it's becoming easier and easier to convince talent to stay in the area.
 
"My job was a lot harder in 2006," Bernzott says. "Being excited about being here was a lot harder of a message."
 
Bernzott sees this year's event as sign of Cincinnati's rapid progression over the past several years, specifically since 2008. The speaker selections also mark a shift in focus from previous years.

"For the past couple of years, we've had authors as speakers," she says. "It's a totally different feel this year — (DeMartini) will actually share how he manages a company."
 
With Cincinnati's entrepreneurial spirit in full swing, his message will likely be well received.
 
Get more information about or register for the Aug. 13 Bold Fusion event here.
 

Mortar accelerator teaching its second class, planning expansion


At their weekly meeting Aug. 3, members of Mortar’s current startup class christened themselves “Second to None.”
 
The 17 entrepreneurs are the second group to go through Mortar’s nine-week course of classes and mentorship. They’re now five weeks into the program, modeled after a similar effort from partner Launch Chattanooga, and many are already benefitting from the guidance and education.
 
Started in 2014 by Derrick Braziel, William Thomas II and Allen Woods, Mortar is not your average business accelerator. The Over-the-Rhine based organization focuses on non-traditional, minority and low-income entrepreneurs, seeking to provide resources to individuals often left out of “renaissances” like OTR’s.
 
“A year in, we’re starting to see that it is possible,” says co-founder William Thomas.
 
Along with its course, Mortar supplies entrepreneurs with mentorship from organizations like SCORE and legal guidance through a partnership with University of Cincinnati’s School of Law. It also has a pop-up storefront, Brick, next to its Vine Street offices, which gives new businesses a chance to experiment in a real-world context. Even after graduation, Mortar stays in touch with participants to serve as a resource, a networking tool and an inspiration.
 
Dana “Nyah” Higgins, founder of JameriSol, which makes vegan and vegetarian Jamaican/Soul food, graduated from Mortar’s first class in April after learning about the program through CityLink. Through the Mortar program, Higgins went from creating dishes out of her home for family and friends to conversations with Findlay Market and a national food chain.
 
“Initially when I started the class, JameriSol was only an idea that I had had for way too long,” Higgins says. “The men at Mortar — Allen, Derrick and William — gave someone like me, with little experience, the foundation and skills needed to take JameriSol from dream to reality.”
 
Lindsey Metz is a participant in the new Mortar class. Much like Higgins, she came to the course with an idea: Fryed, a french fry walk-up window in OTR. Although she has food service experience, Metz appreciates the support and the visionary mentality of Mortar’s founders as much as the nuts-and-bolts business advice in the classes.
 
“I never would have dreamed I could actually do this, but the Mortar founders themselves and the resources they’ve connected me with have shown me I can,” Metz says. “They are extremely knowledgeable guys, but beyond that they are ridiculously supportive.”
 
The class also includes businesses that are already established but wish to grow. Mike Brown wants to take his business, Brown Lawn Care, from part-time to full-time, adding more clients and employees.
 
“I’ve really been cultivating all the creative aspects I touched on before, now I’m getting to know them much deeper,” Brown says. “My relationship with clients is really taking off.”
 
Mortar itself is also taking off. For the second class, the organization received 50 applications, a significant increase over the first class.
 
“This time it feels real,” Thomas says.
 
But the Mortar founders aren’t content with the success of the class and Brick in OTR and are thinking of expanding and replicating their model in other neighborhoods. Whatever they do next, it will be visionary.
 
The “Second to None” class will present its business plans to the public in early October. You can follow Mortar on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for details and updates.
 

Butcher Betties gets to the meat of why local startups need mentoring and funding

 
Most people wouldn't think pin-up girls, rockabilly and butchery go together, but that trio is a winning combination for Butcher Betties.
 
When Allison Hines lost her job as a corporate chef, she decided to pursue her interest in butchery.
 
“I wanted to learn butchery but there was no school to go to,” she says. “They don't teach whole animal butchery in culinary school any more.”
 
After getting a scholarship through Grrls Meat Camp and attending their workshop in Northern Kentucky, Hines approached Avril Bleh & Sons Meat Market on Court Street about becoming an apprentice.
 
“I walked in and offered to work for free so I could learn the craft of butchery, and they took me in like their family,” Hines says. “I want to be able to create a scholarship or a paid internship so someone can come to my shop or I can send them to the first ever butchery school opening in September in Chicago. I think it’s important to give back and pay it forward.”
 
That idea led Hines to apply to ArtWorks’ Big Pitch mentorship program. She was selected as one of eight finalists and will compete Aug. 27 for $20,000 in cash and services.
 
Hines had planned on an 18-month apprenticeship with Avril Bleh, but when presented with the opportunity to open her own shop at the Friendly Market in Florence she grabbed the chance. Combining her pin-up girl style with her new trade, she created Butcher Betties.
 
“Women in my family, going back to World War II, have served in the Navy, including myself,” Hines says. “We've embodied strength and femininity. I want other women to know that they can be strong and still be feminine and attractive, and that's what a pin-up girl represents. When you come in to Butcher Betties, you will see me carrying out half a hog and I could be wearing a skirt.”
 
In addition to a unique brand, Hines also differentiates Butcher Betties from a typical meat counter in her methods and service.
 
“One of the things that sets us apart is that we’re working with our farmers and producers on finishing off beef with non-GMO grain,” she says. “No one else in town is doing that.”
 
As much as possible, Hines locally sources all her products, buying whole animals and processing them on-site.
 
“We make everything in house,” she says. “Salads, goetta, bourbon bacon, bacon burger (bacon ground in with the hamburger meat) and a lot of seasoned burgers like KY Wildcat and Black & Blue burgers.”
 
Hines is also passionate about educating her customers.
 
“I use my chef’s background to assist customers with how to cook things and how to use the whole animal,” she says. “I want to teach people that they don’t need to be squeamish. I bring customers back behind the counter to explain the parts of the animal so they can be comfortable with it and learn to cook from the whole animal, to use things like the trotters because they’re beautiful, wonderful pieces that people are just not familiar with.
 
“If you want good clean food, you have to do it honor and justice by using the whole animal, not just getting steaks and chops. Only one tenderloin comes out of the whole cow.”
 
Butcher Betties has big plans over the next couple of months, including an expansion into Ohio; raising two hogs for Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic with friend and collaborator Tricia Houston, The Farm Girl Chef; and completing the ArtWorks Big Pitch program.
 
“I have a team of mentors helping me,” Hines says. “I meet with them weekly and they’re helping me keep things focused and moving toward the future while helping me prioritize. Our product line is part of the focus for the Big Pitch. We want to be able to brand some of the things we do — the rubs, sauces, the Bombshell Bacon Marmalade — and it’s been a great journey so far.”
 
In case you need additional incentive to attend the Aug. 27 ArtWorks pitch night, Hines offers this enticement: “The Big Pitch will be large and spectacular and exciting because that’s me and that’s what I do. I don’t do anything small or quietly.”

Soapbox is profiling each of the eight finalists in the 2015 ArtWorks Big Pitch, a 10-week mentorship program that offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes and professional services. The program concludes Aug. 27 with the finalists giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges and an audience; tickets are on sale now.
 

UpTech's new interim director raises the bar


UpTech announced the end of an era last month, when longtime Program Director Amanda Greenwell stepped down from her multi-functional role at the Covington-based accelerator.
 
Greenwell saw 22 companies pass through the program since its founding in 2013, with nearly $1.5 million in startup investment. The program produced several companies that have already seen significant success, including Tixers, Citilogics and Hello Parent.
 
Replacing Greenwell is JB Woodruff, commercialization director at ezone and UpTech's first Entrepreneur-in-Residence. Before stepping in as interim director, Woodruff met with each of the UpTech startups for one hour per week to act as a mentor and guide through the business development process. As a resource for everything from graphic design, branding and marketing to web development and business strategy, he was chief motivator for these growing companies.
 
His new title, however, allows the Cincinnati native to do much more than motivate.
 
"We're looking for a bigger push to solidify the informatics element (of UpTech) and create a niche for ourselves," Woodruff says.
 
To do so, he hopes to re-establish a standing relationship with NKU's College of Applied Informatics and plans to provide mentors for the new class of startups by creating partnerships with area corporations. He'd also like to expand the accelerator's reach beyond Northern Kentucky.
 
"We want to have roots in Kentucky, but we also recognize that you have to become a national player to be a successful accelerator," Woodruff says.
 
To meet that goal, UpTech is currently recruiting its fourth class from across the country and the world. The accelerator received 77 applications from all over the U.S. as well as Chile, Thailand, Spain and Italy. They've narrowed down the pool to 16 or 17 startups with the goal of keeping 10 or fewer.
 
"We're looking for investable companies, ones that have the right team in place," Woodruff says. "We're also striving for a full house to really get the vibe going."
 
Woodruff hopes to use his new position to address two primary shortcomings he saw in past UpTech classes: time commitment and skill sets.
 
"In order to make a startup work, a 100 percent time commitment has to be made," he says. "In the past, a lot of our founders were working other jobs and the commitment was not really there. We want folks basically living at UpTech so that they can do everything in their power to drive success in their business."
 
The key to finding that drive is necessity, Woodruff says. When choosing UpTech's fourth class over the next month, the selection team will look for a full-time commitment from at least one team member.
 
Woodruff is also concerned with a lack of technical skills. In the past, UpTech didn't require that a startup have a team member with tech skills, instead depending on help from NKU's Applied Informatics students. Woodruff is now pushing to make tech skills a hard requirement for admission into the UpTech program.
 
"We want to help build the students' skills, not depend on them," he says.
 
Once selected, this year's class of startups will have access to multiple mentorship opportunities. Investors like Brad Zapp of Connetic Ventures already have weekly appointments with UpTech startups. UpTech alumni who still use the Pike Street workspace will also be available to offer their unfiltered advice.
 
Update: The members of UpTech's fourth class were announced on Aug. 18, with their six-month program scheduled to begin in early September. 
 

Original Thought Required encourages young talent, creates community


Over-the-Rhine business owner James Marable sees his limited edition retail shop, Original Thought Required (OTR), as much more than a store.
 
Marable has had an enterprising spirit since he was a child, but with a background in marketing, advertising and graphic design he’s a creator as much as an entrepreneur. In fact, Original Thought Required grew out of Marable’s own T-shirt line, aTYPICAL sOLE, influenced by the originality of sneaker culture.
 
“The ethos behind that T-shirt line was really about being yourself,” Marable says, “about being unique and having that sneaker or piece of clothing that really speaks to you, that’s not what people are typically used to seeing.”
 
The store, which opened in 2010, continues that emphasis on new ideas by highlighting young, up-and-coming designers, both local and national.
 
“We’re always trying to find that next talent and figuring out how we can get that to work out,” Marable says. “We’re at the point now where we’ve seen quite a few different designers who come through the store and become bigger outside of us. We’ve been able to be a springboard to help people check it out or take it to the next level if that’s what they want to do, just to give people that option.”
 
Now he’s hoping his business will be the next talent that ArtWorks Big Pitch Competition invests in. Marable appreciates the mentorship provided by ArtWorks as well as the community of small business owners who have made it to the final stage along with him.
 
“I wanted an opportunity to learn from people who have been doing it longer than me, to think about it differently and learn more steps we can take to really grow the business,” he says. “Even connecting with other contestants and creating a community that helps us all grow.”
 
Winning any of the up to $20,000 in business grants OTR is competing for will also help the shop grow both by taking on more new artists and by moving to a larger location.
 
“We have limited edition products, but we also want to reach a wider audience,” Marable says. “Each brand we bring in speaks to different individuals.”
 
Marable wants to see Original Thought Required expand to more than a retail outlet. He’s seen the business become a cultural center. By working with new designers and maintaining close partnerships with the local hip hop music scene, OTR has become a place people can come for conversation, to meet others with similar interests and be inspired.
 
“That’s something I never really considered before opening, and that’s what’s kept us going, being a centerpiece for the neighborhood and the city,” Marable explains.
 
Original Thought Required is trying to take that influence as wide as possible. As the store expands as a business, Marable hopes to also expand its community work, including the informal meeting place in the store and the opportunities provided to youth and artists. OTR frequently partners with Elementz and highlights young artists in its Final Friday shows.
 
Marable wants to provide even more programming.
 
“We want to give youth that opportunity, that exposure, positive reinforcement,” he says. “It’s really about connecting with that individual and seeing that talent and seeing how we can work with that and keep them from giving up.”

Soapbox is profiling each of the eight finalists in the 2015 ArtWorks Big Pitch, a 10-week mentorship program that offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes and professional services. The program concludes Aug. 27 with the finalists giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges and an audience; tickets are on sale now.
 

Communications startup Cerkl flips the traditional model of email newletters


Tarek Kamil and Sara Jackson, co-founders of Cerkl, want their “smart newsletter” technology to help organizations transform their communication strategy into an engagement strategy.
 
“Cerkl flips the traditional model of communication — of sending one message and guessing what everybody wants to hear — on its head,” Jackson says. “We ask the audience what they want to hear, what they like and what are their skills in order to empower organizations to personalize their communications.”
 
Jackson says Cerkl is targeting universities looking to engage alumni, students and parents; churches seeking better communication with their congregations; nonprofit organizations building better relationships with their audiences and donors; and corporations wanting to improve internal communication with their employees.
 
Organizations who use Cerkl upload their email lists and create topics customized to their mission and work. Each person on the list gets a welcome email asking them to select the topics that most interest them and to create a profile. Individuals can also choose to receive newsletters from other Cerkl organizations.
 
The Cerkl software encourages individual customization though smart tags and prompts.
 
“We understand that people’s needs and interests evolve and change over time, so we watch that on behalf of the organization,” Jackson says. “Unlike other newsletter platforms, where all you have is a name and an email address, with Cerkl you know who is on your list and what their interests are. So an organization can search for specific interests and reach out to people based on that.”
 
The depth of information and customization has prompted some organizations using Cerkl to request integration with donor management software. That feature is currently in development, and Jackson anticipates it will be available in a few months.
 
Cerkl also allows organizations to earn money with their newsletters.
 
“With open rates three to four times higher than the national average, our organizations can demonstrate they’re reaching and engaging their audience,” Jackson says. “When that happens, businesses want to get in front of those audiences and organizations can choose to monetize their newsletter. So instead of newsletters costing you, they're generating revenue for you. Our goal is that organizations wouldn't have to pay for Cerkl, that their newsletter would earn them money.”
 
In June, Cerkl graduated as part of the Ocean accelerator’s first class. Jackson and Kamil each have experience with other accelerator programs but say Ocean is the “Disneyland of accelerators.”
 
“We were in full sales mode and sprinting hard when Ocean began,” Jackson says. “The program confirmed a lot of best practices, connected us to an abundant network to help get us to the next place we need to be faster, helped us put processes in place and prepared us to be able to scale. In addition, the exposure, that Ocean/Crossroads connection, helped us build our profile.”
 
Ocean also appealed to Cerkl because of its faith-based focus.
 
“The faith voyage, which happens simultaneously to business voyage, is not necessarily a religious thing,” Jackson says. “It is about unearthing the values, passion and purpose-driven work behind your business. From a marketing perspective, it’s important to keep those qualities top of mind — people are more compelled to lean into products with values.”
 
The Cerkl co-founders are big supporters of Cincinnati’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem.
 
“We believe this is the best place to build a business,” Jackson says. “You don’t have to leave Cincinnati to go to Silicon Valley to build something great, you can do it right here, and organizations like Ocean, who support those efforts, are the reason for that.
 

TEDx and NewCo host outstanding conferences dedicated to Cincinnati's innovation activity


Cincinnati innovators took the spotlight at two major events earlier this month, starting with TEDxCincinnati, which packed downtown’s Cincinnati Masonic Center July 9 with 1,000 attendees.
 
“We definitely had a mix of participants, from first timers to repeat attendees,” TEDxCincinnati Director/Organizer Jami Edelheit says. “We sold out in three weeks even with a larger venue, and our waiting list was close to 200 people. We already have some exciting things in the works for the next main stage event.”
 
The five-hour event, emceed by Local 12’s Bob Herzog and Atlanta-based actress Allison Wonders, featured 23 presentations, including TED talks and performances. A mix of local and national speakers covered subjects ranging from hope and perseverance to new technologies and human trafficking.
 
TEDx talks were presented in two two-hour blocks, separated by a dinner break and the opportunity to explore Innovation Alley, where participants could get a Thai Yoga Massage, touch a snake from the Cincinnati Zoo, get a taste of the Maker Space at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, write a love note to Cincinnati, experience virtual reality with the University of Cincinnati and take part in activities presented by event sponsor United Way of Greater Cincinnati.
 
Among the highlights of the evening:
• Social justice advocate Jordan Edelheit’s live webcast with Dan from the Marion Correctional Facility to talk about poetry and TEDx events at the prison;
• A cheetah visit from the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden;
• Four Chords & a Guy, who performed decades of popular songs in a few minutes accompanied by simple music and a great sense of humor; and
• Aidan Thomas Hornaday, a 14-year-old philanthropist who speaks eloquently about the need to give and plays a mean blues harmonica.
 
Edelheit is thrilled with the response to TEDxCincinnati.
 
“It was awesome having Alex Faaborg come from Google Virtual Reality,” she says. “We had a line out the door for registration, and the first 100 people received a Google CardBoard Virtual Reality Glasses. Ed Smart and his Operation Underground Railroad met with Cincinnati Players before the event to discuss modern-day slavery. They’re now talking about collaborating on a program later this year.
 
“We loved including the some of the children from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and The Aubrey Rose Foundation in the finale with Eliot Sloan from Blessed Union Souls singing his hit song, ‘I Believe.’ As a result of that performance, Toby Christenson, Chris Lambert and Chris Lah are collaborating with Eliot to do a fundraising CD for Cincinnati Children’s Charitable Care Fund. They plan on involving community kids and Children’s Hospital patients. How exciting for this to be one of the many positive outcomes from TEDxCincinnati.”
 
Videos of all the TEDxCincinnati talks and performances will be available online in August.
 
On July 23, NewCo Cincinnati offered the field-trip version of a TED-type program, with 85 companies across the region hosting nearly 900 participants. From Northern Kentucky to Blue Ash, NewCo hosts brought attendees into their offices, breweries and factories for a unique and personal experience with Cincinnati innovators.
 
NewCo hosts were primarily startups but also included agencies, nonprofit organizations, higher education institutions and a couple of large corporations. Attendees could build their own schedule by geography, field of interest or subject.
 
A VIP reception to kick off NewCo Cincinnati was held July 22 with over 200 attendees.
 
The next day’s main NewCo event was divided into six one-hour sessions, with 30 minutes of travel time allotted between each session. Attendees trying to get from West Chester to OTR may have scrambled, but many sessions were located in the urban core and plenty of NewCo participants took advantage of Red Bike to move from session to session.
 
NewCo sessions varied greatly in content and style.
 
At the OTR Chamber of Commerce session, held in the Crown Building adjacent to Findlay Market, short presentations from the Chamber, Findlay Market and Red Door Project were followed by audience questions and discussion.
 
SpiceFire took participants on a tour of its stunning offices in SangerHalle on Race Street, gave a brief presentation, then broke up the group for a hands-on activity that provided a taste of its client experience.
 
Rockfish gave a short presentation, then let attendees try out Google Glass and Oculus Rift or just enjoy the view of downtown from their Mt. Adams perch.
 
A panel discussion by Cerkl, Activate Cincinnati, Starfire, Girl Develop It and Bad Girl Ventures looked at the local startup ecosystem from a female perspective.
 
At the end of the day, NewCo hosted a wrapup party at the Christian Moerlein Taproom for all attendees and hosts to do some networking while sharing their experiences of the day.
 
Both TEDxCincinnati and NewCo Cincinnati did an outstanding job of highlighting innovative activities taking over the region, not just in the startup community but in nonprofits and the arts as well. Yet, as the organizers of both events have said repeatedly, the 2015 hosts and presenters were by no means an exhaustive representation of Greater Cincinnati’s exciting entrepreneurial growth.
 
The depth and breadth of creativity in the region will ensure that the 2016 versions are just as compelling to attend. As word gets out about these events, expect those tickets to sell out even faster next year.
 

Cut and Sewn founder/designer living her childhood dream


Jenifer Sult has wanted to sew for a living since she was a child. When she was 10, she bought a vintage sewing machine from a yard sale with her allowance and used it for many years after that.
 
To make her dream into a reality as an adult, she studied fashion design at the University of Cincinnati, where she now teaches. She eventually became a designer, pattern maker, seamstress and entrepreneur.
 
“There was the fear of sacrificing a regular paycheck for something unknown and potentially erratic,” she says, “but my need for creative freedom compelled me to pursue my childhood ambition.”
 
Sult has built her passion for sewing and design into a successful business, Cut and Sewn, over the course of more than 15 years of creating for clients. She began by taking on work in her own home, designing and sewing products for small businesses and garments for individuals. As the business grew, though, Sult realized she would need a new workspace.
 
“I had reached the point where my client base and manufacturing jobs were taking over not only my home studio but my living room, dining room and even my kitchen,” she says. “I had to either upscale my business or scale it way down, and you can guess which one I picked.”
 
So in June Sult moved her studio and business into a storefront on Hamilton Avenue in Northside.
 
“I have employees now!” she exclaims.
 
In the Northside space, Sult and her team are able to provide design, pattern-making and production services to more small business and corporate clients in Greater Cincinnati.
 
”We provide ethical and sustainable manufacturing and designing while helping a new generation of trades people and business owners,” Sult says. “We provide a low-barrier to enter into the designed soft goods market in Cincinnati through working individually with our clients.”
 
Cut and Sewn focuses on small batch and unique manufacturing to make local businesses’ ideas into tangible, beautiful products.
 
But Sult is nowhere near done growing her business. In fact, she’s a finalist in ArtWorks’ Big Pitch contest for small business grants.
 
“ArtWorks itself is such a proponent of small, local businesses,” Sult says, “it wasn’t hard for the Big Pitch to catch my eye as a glittering opportunity for Cut and Sewn.”
 
If awarded a grant, Sult will use it to continue to grow her business in its new iteration as well as try a few new things.
 
“I really want to use my pattern-making skills to create a new line of commercial sewing patterns that are artisanal, well designed and beautifully curated,” she says.
 
Sult sees the current culture of do-it-yourself creativity as the perfect opportunity to publish this kind of product. She hopes her quality sewing patterns would enable others to participate in this wave of “maker” culture.
 
Even if she doesn’t receive a grant in the Big Pitch competition, Sult appreciates the opportunity to receive business mentorship and advice about maintaining and growing her business.
 
“(My mentors) Mike Zorn and Lindsay Kessler have been super supportive and responsive to my business goals as well as my personal ones,” Sult says. “They are great listeners, and I feel that with their notes and criticism I can go far.”
 
Considering how far she has already come, Sult will likely continue growing and trying new things for her business, fueled by her love of design and sewing.

Soapbox is profiling each of the eight finalists in the 2015 ArtWorks Big Pitch, a 10-week mentorship program that offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes and professional services. The program concludes Aug. 27 with the finalists giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges and an audience.
 

Grateful Grahams founder displays gratitude along with desire to grow business


Rachel DesRochers takes the name of her business, Grateful Grahams, very seriously.
 
“For my family and I, something that we talk about every day is this idea of gratitude,” she says. “Just taking a second every day to think, ‘Whoa, look at all this amazing stuff in my life.’ That’s just how I live my life.”
 
DesRochers wanted to share this value with the world and decided to do it through cookies. She came up with the idea while a stay-at-home mom for her two children at the time.
 
“I was doing some baking and had an awesome recipe and we had an awesome message, so I combined them both and they worked,” she says. “I called my husband at work and I said, ‘I think I’m going to start this graham business called Grateful Grahams.’ And he said, ‘Of course you are, honey.’”
 
In the eventful five years since that day, DesRochers has held onto her core values and her vision of creating food with integrity. She still makes her grahams in small batches and uses no dairy, eggs, soy, GMO ingredients, high fructose corn syrup or dyes in the cookies. The vegan recipe is a nod to her father, a cancer survivor who went vegan during treatment.
 
With every bag sold, she hopes to spread her family’s message of gratitude. When Grateful Grahams sells their wares, they ask customers to write about what they’re grateful for on paper tablecloths. Their website has an entire page devoted to “Sharing Your Gratitude,” and on Facebook they often encourage followers to tag friends and family to express their appreciation for one another.
 
DesRochers wants that message — and the grahams — to travel far and wide.
 
“I started it with a huge vision,” she says. “I started it with the mission that I want to be across the country selling my product.”
 
Now that Grateful Grahams is a finalist in ArtWorks' Big Pitch competition, the Covington-based company might get a big boost toward that distribution goal. The cookies are currently available at about 45 stores across the country and sold online, but winning part of the Big Pitch’s $20,000 in grant money would allow DesRochers to go to food shows to increase her wholesale business.
 
“I really appreciate that ArtWorks is willing to look at food producers,” DesRochers says, “because food is slow money and it takes a long time to really build big companies. There are lots of different resources and programs for tech businesses in Cincinnati, but being in the food industry is a different niche.”
 
DesRochers knows how slow and difficult it can be to start and grow a food company. Now she wants to pass on what she’s learned from the process to other entrepreneurs. In 2013, she started the NKY Incubator Kitchen, renting workspace in her commercial kitchen space to other food companies and sharing experiences, tips and advice along the way. NKYIK is one of 80 local companies presenting at the first NewCo Cincinnati July 23, and it’s helped launch Skinny Piggy Kombucha, The Delish Dish and other startups.
 
NKYIK is only one of many community projects DesRochers is involved in. She has also helped co-found the Good People Festival and is working on an event called Grateful Plate to celebrate women farmers, food producers and chefs in Northern Kentucky.
 
For her, all the giving back comes from gratitude.
 
“I love my life,” she says. “I wake up every day and I’m so absolutely grateful that I get to create really cool things. There’s always gratitude for the fact that this is my life and I’m really happy to have these choices to make every day and to teach my kids that you can do whatever you want with your life!”
 
Soapbox is profiling each of the eight finalists in the 2015 ArtWorks Big Pitch, a 10-week mentorship program that offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes and professional services. The program concludes Aug. 27 with the finalists giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges and an audience.
 

Improved DCI app helps visitors navigate downtown


Just in time for the All Star Game, Downtown Cincinnati Inc. (DCI) is launching a new version of its Downtown Cincinnati app.
 
The original app, released in 2011, had started to become ineffective for users.
 
“The app was out of date, and we’re really excited to add more functionality to it,” DCI Director of Marketing Tricia Suit says. “Two things have changed since the first app was released. First, the technology of apps has improved significantly, which has increased people’s expectations about what an app can do. Second, we have more and better information in our data center. So people will be able to sort information in different ways, which makes it more useful.”
 
DCI worked with US Digital Partners to redesign the app, based on user feedback and USDP’s digital expertise.
 
“Everyone who has seen the beta version of the new app has been really excited about its usability of,” Suit says. “Our testing has been really positive.”
 
The app features four primary content areas — eat, shop, stay and play — to match the functionality of DCI’s website.
 
The original app “had categories like ‘full fare,’ ‘daytimers’ and these words that described a restaurant but didn't match how people searched for a place to go eat,” Suit says. “In the new version, you can search by type of cuisine, brunch, happy hour — much more about what the user would be looking for in a search.
 
“Also, the listings will show all open hours for a business with the current day in bold. There’s nothing worse than when you’re looking at a place and it just shows their hours for today when you’re planning to be there tomorrow.”
 
Other new features for the revamped app include links to tours and major events from the start page.
 
“When you first open the app, the screen lists the big events that are happening — right now it’s the All Star Game — as well as three or four other seasonal features,” Suit says. “Each of those listings gives you the option to see a complete list of events that is updated weekly.”
 
The front screen also features a “tours” button to connect content from the DCI website tours page, including a public art map and itineraries. There are links to Queen City History Tours, Segway Tours and other tour options for experiencing the city.
 
The app covers the entire urban basin area from The Banks to Findlay Market, including Downtown, Over-the-Rhine and the West End.
 
“There are defined Central Business District boundaries,” Suit says. “But when people come downtown, they come downtown. They go to a Reds game and eat at Fountain Square and grab a drink at The Lackman. They don’t think about whether they’re at The Banks or in OTR or the CBD — they’re just downtown. So we include everything that’s downtown.”
 
DCI developed the app with visitors and residents in mind.
 
“The app is usable if you’re standing in the middle of Fountain Square trying to decide what to do,” she says. “But if you live in Cincinnati and don’t come downtown often, it will give you walking directions from where you park to the restaurant or store you look up.”
 
DCI is working closely with the hospitality community to ensure the 200,000 visitors coming for the All Star Game know the app is available, as well as promoting it on an ongoing basis to conventions, meetings and visitors.
 
“If you know you’re going to be visiting Cincinnati, you can download the app and make some plans, see what’s going to be open on the day you’re going to be here,” Suit says. “See what tours are available and actually use it for trip-planning as well as the ‘day of’ tool.”
 
In addition to helping promote downtown businesses, the app may also help DCI with its annual perceptions survey.
 
DCI typically uses its e-newsletter and website to encourage residents and visitors to complete the survey. According to Suit, “there is certainly an opportunity for us to reach out to app users to take the downtown perception survey this year in a way that was not possible with the previous version.”
 
Survey results are used by DCI to inform its annual work plan and performance measures while tracking data that can be used to evaluate business development.
 
The new Downtown Cincinnati app is available for both Android and Apple products.
 

Look Here to reveal layers of Over-the-Rhine's past


Historic preservationist Anne Delano Steinert wants people to discover the layers of Over-the-Rhine’s past. Her place-based public history project, Look Here, will mount historic photographs around the neighborhood as close as possible to the vantage point from which they were originally taken, comparing historic views to the view of that location today.
 
“There are layers of the past around us in the built environment all the time,” Steinert says, “and it’s really important to me to give people the skills to read the clues to those layers. This is my way of giving the people in Over-the-Rhine a way to connect to the past.”
 
Steinert’s fascination with the layers of the past actually began in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. As a teenager in the 1980s, she would take the bus downtown from her home in Clifton.
 
“OTR was definitely low-income then and there was a lot of urban decay, but it was also still really rich,” Steinert explains. “There were a lot more (historic) buildings standing in 1982 than there are today. So it’s where I really got a sense of the power of the past to speak through the built environment.”
 
Now she wants to help a wide range of residents and visitors in the neighborhood hear those voices, too. Recipient of a People’s Liberty Project Grant, Steinert is using her own background and several other projects as inspiration to make Look Here into an experience that can reach viewers from all economic classes.
 
A simple design of presenting photographs on street signs with minimal explanatory text will allow people to create their own meaning from the similarities and differences between the historic present landscapes. Brightly colored borders will grab people’s attention and hopefully pull them into the images and into parts of the neighborhood they may not have explored before.
 
The signs are meant to create a “serendipitous, sudden, unexpected experience of connection to space,” Steinert says, by giving people a glimpse of the past from their exact location. She also hopes they’ll help add a dimension of history to the cultural vibrancy already existing in the neighborhood.
 
As Over-the-Rhine goes through a period of intense transition, Steinert observes, “something gets lost in the remaking, so these signs are really an attempt to remind people some of what’s being lost, that we have to be mindful of what came before.”
 
Look Here’s historic photographs will provide people a chance to meditate on what came before and decide for themselves what it means. The People’s Liberty project grant will allow Steinert to make tools providing deeper meaning and engagement.
 
Before receiving the grant, she’d identified more than 320 possible photographs (although only 40-70 will be in the final exhibit) and knew she wanted to display them on aluminum signs similar to “No Parking” signs. The People’s Liberty funding allows her to create programming around the signs — a launch event, resource packet for teachers, curator-led tour of some of the photograph sites and a website with a map of all images and more information about each one. The website will also provide viewers a way to have a dialogue with the curator.
 
“We’re encouraging people to send me their experiences,” Steinert says, “take photos of themselves looking at Look Here and share the stories of how they’re interacting with the signs.”
 
Steinert hopes the interactive elements may even inspire other neighborhoods to set up similar exhibitions. She also hopes that positive feedback on the project might make it easier for those neighborhoods to complete such undertakings.
 
“This project involves coordinating an unfathomable number of small details and particularly small logistical details,” Steinert says, “and many of those are contingent on the city’s policies.”
 
Since Steinert will be using city-owned poles to mount the photographs, she is in the process of obtaining installation permits. Once she does, Look Here will be the first exhibit to obtain permits of this kind in Cincinnati.
 
If these layers of the past prove meaningful, it may make it easier to reveal more layers all around us.
 

Blue Seat Media says "Play ball!" with new Gameball app


Cincinnatians are passionate about baseball, especially Blue Seat Media co-founders Chris Hendrixson and Jeffrey Wyckoff. The long-time friends and business partners are such Reds fans that the name of their company is a tribute to Riverfront Stadium, where the blue seats were closest to the field in the multi-hued stands.
 
In 2012, Hendrixon made a simple app just for fun that showed the Reds lineup a couple of hours before each game. The Cincy Lineup app was released around Opening Day and let users know via push notification when each lineup was available.
 
“The push notifications are fun and different because they feel like they’re written by a Reds fan,” Hendrixon says. “They’re not your standard Major League Baseball push notification.”
 
The positive response to Cincy Lineup, particularly to the on-point push notifications, made Hendrixon aware of an opportunity, he says, “to make a baseball game interactive and fun while creating a deeper engagement with the game.”
 
“In August of 2014 we decided to go all in,” Hendrixon says. “We had both been in and out of full-time jobs and had bootstrapped everything with no outside investment. We realized we had to go full-time and had to find investors.”
 
Blue Seat Media ended up in the first class at Ocean, the faith-based accelerator program at Crossroads Church.
 
“Ocean really changed everything for us,” Hendrixon says. “We came in, just Jeffery and me, and within a week hired an iOS developer, Nathan Sjoquist, and a few weeks later hired Brandon Kraeling, a web developer who also runs the Red Reporter blog.”

During their time with Ocean, Blue Seat Media developed — and is now beta testing — an expanded and improved version of Cincy Lineup called Gameball. The new app is a modern version of the sports tradition of giving a game ball to the player who contributed the most to his team’s win.
 
Gameball users will choose their favorite team and receive their team’s starting lineup before each game. Users vote for which player will get the game ball that game. Making a prediction before the game starts is worth 1,000 points. Users can vote after the game begins or change their prediction, but, just as in pub trivia contests, points decrease with each minute of play.
 
Blue Seat Media uses an algorithm of Gameball user votes to determine which player will be awarded the game ball. Users who predicted the winner are awarded points for voting correctly, and the points are used to create an average for each user, similar to how a baseball batting average works, allowing them to compete with each other for rankings. As in baseball, Gameball users can miss a few games and remain on the leader board.
 
Eventually Blue Seat Media will allow users to select friends and family groups that will work like traditional fantasy leagues. Blue Seat Media currently is focusing on the beta testing of Gameball, with plans to release the full version prior to Opening Day 2016.
 
The Blue Seat Media team has a couple of hurdles to overcome as they work toward the app’s official launch.
 
“One of our biggest challenges is scaling Gameball to all 30 MLB teams,” Hendrixon says. “The technology is hard, but we know what to do. The push notification content will be a challenge. Our hope is that we can find true fans in each market to write notifications.”
 
They’re also hoping to build a relationship with Major League Baseball around Gameball.
 
“Baseball is at an interesting place right now,” Hendrixon says. “A lot of people feel it has been fading and losing younger fans. We’re really trying to make baseball fun again for young people and to move past the steroids era.
 
“Baseball is a great game with a rich tradition that’s woven into the history of our country. What we’re trying to do is help people appreciate the game and its complexities as well as bring optimism and positivity to the game. But it can be a challenge to write positive push notifications when the Reds have lost six in a row.”
 
The Blue Seat Media team has big plans for the still-young company.
 
“We’re really trying to build the next great baseball technology company,” Hendrixon says. “Our focus right now is building Gameball, but the vision is to have a company and product studio building high-quality design-focused products for every level of baseball.”
 
Although their start-up budget doesn’t include tickets to the July 14 All-Star Game, the staff and supporters of Blue Seat Media are planning to watch it together on television and celebrate the progress they’ve made this year.
 

First Batch welcomes new class of manufacturing companies


Cincinnati's only manufacturing accelerator program has selected its 2015 class of companies, and they’re already hard at work.
 
“Our goal with the program is to say that First Batch is your first step, and probably not the final step, for the companies or their manufacturing partners,” says First Batch founder Matt Anthony.
 
After reviewing applications from across the country as well as from Germany and Estonia, four regional candidates were selected:
 
• Laura Koven’s company AVA will be producing a device geared to help hot yoga practitioners with grip as well as reduce the amount of equipment needed for a class.
 
Beluga Razor, created by Zac Wertz, is a high-end straight-blade razor with a linen-impregnated handle providing extra grip when wet. Wertz recently completed a $200,000 Kickstarter campaign and has 2,000 pre-orders.
 
• Ron Gerdes started Mortal Skis to manufacture skis that fit the icy, man-made, often less-than-ideal snow conditions typically found on Midwest slopes. Mortal Skis will also be looking at ski supplies, like wax, that could also be better adapted to Midwestern conditions.
 
Paper Acorn, a six-year-old company run by Jessica Wolf, has been selling folded paper objects through Etsy and Crafty Supermarket and is expanding into producing DIY kits.
 
Each First Batch company is facing a different challenge. Fortunately, First Batch staff and advisers are well networked in the Cincinnati manufacturing and business communities and ready to help their new class.
 
Paper Acorn, the most established company, is looking at diversifying and expanding their product line.
 
“Manufacturing won’t be that difficult,” Anthony says. “The question will be how to transform the business to fit a new model.”
 
Although Beluga Shave Co. has funding and customers lined up, Wertz has struggled with navigating the manufacturing process. Anthony is confident First Batch can help.
 
“There is a lot of metal industry in Cincinnati, especially in machining,” he says. “I don’t think we’ll have an issue finding someone here to do this.”
 
Mortal Skis might have the most daunting challenge — finding a local company to manufacture skis. But after working with Ohio Valley Beard Supply in 2014, First Batch does have connections to companies who could help produce a Midwest-friendly ski wax.
 
First Batch had initially hoped to have six members for its 2015 class and is considering modifying its business model for the two remaining spaces.
 
“Usually we have to pick someone far enough along on the prototype and capable of doing their own production work, where it’s ready to go to manufacturing,” Anthony says. “We’ve had people apply where the idea isn’t far enough along, it still needs a lot of work or more steps than the First Batch timeline can support. We also have people who are too far along for First Batch.
 
“We’re exploring how we can support everyone in this region by supporting start ups that don’t fit our current profile. Are there other ways that we can provide ongoing support, provide connections, create spots that are more of a long-term support?”
 
This year, First Batch and its parent organization Cincinnati Made will conducting more outreach during the accelerator program.
 
“So many times I talk to people about the program and hear, ‘I didn’t know anyone still made anything in Cincinnati’ and it just drives me crazy,” Anthony says. “People drive down Spring Grove Avenue but assume the factories are all abandoned. It’s a big goal for our program to talk about our relationship with the manufacturers.”
 
Cincinnati Made started offering manufacturing tours this spring to showcase local manufacturers, including National Flag Company, New Riff Distilling and Steam Whistle Letterpress. Members of the 2015 First Batch class can take part in the tours. Their program will also include topical presentations as well as speakers who are able to provide one-on-one advice to each company.
 
First Batch participants had orientation last week and are now being matched with mentors. Each company will have two or three mentors to provide advice and guidance throughout the program. Mentors will also help make sure the companies are on track with the manufacturing plan they establish with First Batch staff.
 
At the end of their five-month program, the class of 2015 will have a final Launch Day, “which is not quite the same as a demo day,” Anthony says. “We hope the final production run is done, but in practice that often isn’t how it ends up happening. I hope we have lots of things to show, at least the production-ready prototype. The companies will talk about what they have done through the First Batch process, what they will produce in their first batch and where they want to go after that.”
 
First Batch is supported by Cincinnati Made as well as The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and TSS. It was highlighted by Dwell magazine in May as one of the country’s hottest design incubators.
 

TEDxCincinnati sells out July 9 event, looking to expand in 2016


Even before the speakers for the sixth annual TEDxCincinnati were announced, the July 9 event, themed “Accelerate,” has sold out. (UPDATE: speakers/performers are now listed here.)
 
“One of the things that’s interesting about TEDxCincinnati is that it’s not one speaker that makes a great event, it’s this combination of all different types of speakers and performers,” says TEDxCincinnati Director/Organizer Jami Edelheit. “It’s not like a demo day. It isn’t a company getting up and promoting what they’re doing. It’s not like a typical conference where there is a keynote speaker, then everybody else.
 
“It’s an event where every single story has some sort of impact or message. And it is the combination of speakers that makes it so fun and compelling.”
 
TEDxCincinnati speakers, still unannounced, will come from an array of disciplines, including technology, education, health, arts and social justice. This interdisciplinary approach encourages people to explore subjects and ideas that may be unfamiliar.
 
“TEDxCincinnati is about storytelling, sharing ideas, innovation, looking at things from a different perspective and opening your mind,” Edelheit says. “I am always amazed at the end of our shows when we ask people, ‘What was your favorite?’ If I ask 10 different people, I get 10 different answers because people are touched by different things. If you come to this and you aren’t touched by something, I would be shocked.”
 
This is the third consecutive sell-out year for TEDxCincinnati in increasingly larger venues. The July 9 event is being hosted at the Cincinnati Masonic Center downtown, next to the Taft Theater, with a capacity of 1,000 attendees. Given the interest, organizers might add seats to the hall and advise those without tickets to join the waiting list.
 
The conference is an off-shoot of the popular TED Conferences, though individual TEDx events are self-organized. Both Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati host student-run chapters.
 
Choosing the speakers and performers is an ongoing part of Edelheit’s work. TEDxCincinnati accepts speaker applications and nominations through its website and hold auditions at a special happy hour.
 
“Last year the (happy hour) event completely filled up,” she says. “We pick some applicants to audition in front of a panel of judges and an audience with a prepared 2.5-minute presentation. It’s not an open mike, it’s like a mini show.”
 
In addition to local applicants and auditions, TEDxCincinnati also brings in outside presenters and performers.
 
“I work with a lot of people in Silicon Valley and around the country,” Edelheit says. “I’m always looking for people we can bring in to share their stories with Cincinnati. We also have advisers in different sectors throughout the community who will refer people. That combination gives us a pretty great pool of presenters and performers.”
 
A new addition this year is TEDxCincinnati Youth, a group of 100 high school students from the region who will help with the program. A few will even present.
 
“We realized that many teachers are using TED Talks in the classroom,” Edelheit says. “The idea is to build a community of thinkers and doers among high school students and expose our youth to TEDxCincinnati, giving them the opportunity to talk with young professionals and other people. For them to see what the future holds — after all, it’s their future.”
 
As part of its 100th anniversary, United Way of Greater Cincinnati is the presenting sponsor of the 2015 TEDxCincinnati.
 
“They were in the audience last year and thought the different ideas and perspectives were amazing and that it would be really fun to expose their audience to TEDx,” Edelheit says.
 
For those lucky July 9 ticket holders, Edelheit recommends arriving by 3 p.m. for check-in. The event will start promptly at 4 p.m. To prevent disruption of the presentations, latecomers will have to wait to be seated.
 
The program starts with 90 minutes of speakers and performances, followed by a break for participants to explore Innovation Alley, where they can purchase food and drinks, network and explore.
 
“The idea is for people to have a bit of interaction,” Edelheit says. “Last year there was virtual reality, Google Glass, some robotics, things like that.”
 
This year’s Innovation Alley will include a Foundation Way to showcase the work of local organizations.
 
“The reality is that the people off the stage are just as important as the people on the stage,” Edelheit says. “There’s a wide range of participants in the audience, from students to CEOs. Innovation Alley is a time when you can just turn and start up a conversation with someone you would never have met before and time to reflect on some of the things you heard on the first half.”
 
The second half of the program will start promptly at 7:15 p.m. and wraps up at 9:30.
 
The entire July 9 event will be recorded and uploaded to the TEDx website in August. Edelheit encourages people to watch and share the videos, as each view raises the profile of Cincinnati speakers and performers and could draw the attention of the larger TED organization.
 
As the event continues to grow — from 300 to 1,000 attendees in three years — Edelheit is already considering options for the future.
 
“We need a full day like other cities have,” she says. “The question is, is Cincinnati ready if we did a full-day event?”
 

Startup to connect online shoppers with "made in Cincinnati" products and creators

                                     
Cincinnatians who want to buy quality locally-made products from the comfort of their own home at any time of day will soon be in luck. Colleen Sullivan and Maija Zummo, with the help of a People’s Liberty Project Grant, will launch Made in Cincinnati this fall as an e-commerce site connecting consumers to local products and the makers’ stories.

Featuring “products as unique as the people who make them,” the concept came from Zummo’s experience as a journalist trying to find local vendors and products to write about in CityBeat and other publications.
 
“One of the main issues was finding locally-made products to feature,” she says, “and the other part was finding where to buy it.”
 
Made in Cincinnati aims to solve that problem for shoppers. Zummo wants to put her storytelling background to work to connect consumers to the stories behind the products they’re buying. Sullivan’s background in marketing and digital media will help makers showcase their products and gain more exposure.
 
The platform builds on two different trends in consumer habits. One is the increase in e-commerce, and the other is the movement toward local, ethical products and the resulting rise of maker culture.
 
“Increasingly people want locally-made products,” Zummo says. “People want to know that it’s ethically sourced, responsibly sourced, there are no sweatshops — just being conscious consumers.”
 
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm around maker culture right now,” Sullivan adds, “and we really want to be able to harness that and put it in the online space to give people another way to reach out.”
 
Made in Cincinnati will combine the convenience of purchasing through a digital device with the social responsibility of knowing the contents of your “shopping cart” were made in your own backyard. Zummo and Sullivan see Made in Cincinnati as the logical next step for both practices.

There are a variety of short-term venues for Greater Cincinnati makers to sell their wares in person, like City Flea and Crafty Supermarket, in addition to getting picked up by a brick-and-mortar store. There are also national and international e-commerce options like Etsy. A platform focusing on local makers will be one of the first of its kind.
 
Zummo and Sullivan say they’ve been re-energized by the passion of People’s Liberty staff and their fellow project grantees. The connections and support provided by the program has also made an impact, with design assistance and the People’s Liberty launch weekend helping flesh out the idea of what the site will look like.
 
Zummo and Sullivan hope to use their own skills in digital marketing and storytelling to help make connections between consumers and makers. They want Made in Cincinnati to streamline the process for makers who might want to sell online but don’t have the time or skill set to create and manage their own web page. They also want to make it easier for buyers to find makers who may otherwise be difficult to track down at specialty brick-and-mortar stores.
 
“There are certain hurdles that consumers have to be willing to jump over to find some of these vendors,” Sullivan says, “and we want to bring it to a very centralized 24/7 location online where they can find whatever they need.”
 
To keep users’ interactions with Made in Cincinnati easy and enjoyable, Zummo and Sullivan are creating a curated online experience featuring vendors who are experts in their fields and restricting the number of makers selling on the site at any time. They don’t want the marketplace to be too overwhelming for shoppers.
 
“If you get to the site and there's 800 ceramics vendors,” Sullivan says, “it’s going to be hard to find exactly what you want.”
 
By creating a platform with quality products and a pleasant user experience, the founders feel they are creating a lasting outlet in the local maker market.
 
“I think this is how people are going to shop from now on,” Zummo says. “The internet’s not going anywhere, people making stuff is not going anywhere, so you can say it’s a trend but it’s more just moving toward a way of life.”
 
Made in Cincinnati plans to officially launch at a physical pop-up event in Over-the-Rhine on Small Business Saturday in November. Until then the founders are available at info@shopmadeincincinnati.com.
 

ArtWorks summer murals to feature Ezzard Charles, James Brown, breweries, high-profile restoration


ArtWorks has lots of exciting projects planned for this summer's mural program.

Work is already underway to restore the Homage to Cincinnatus mural on the Kroger headquarters at Vine Street and Central Parkway. ArtWorks is coordinating the restoration with the mural's original artist, Richard Haas, and the Thomas Melvin Studio.

Because of the swing-scaffolding that will be used on the seven-story mural, professional local artists have been hired to complete the project. ArtWorks apprentices, who usually paint the summer murals, will instead work with local filmmaker Lauren Pray on a documentary about the restoration project.

In the 30 years since Homage to Cincinnatus was completed, the mural-making process has remained largely the same in terms of execution, according to Christine Carli, director of communications at ArtWorks.

“The paint we use is a specific kind, NovaColor, which is a very durable paint for outdoor use,” she says. “After the mural is painted, we put on several clear coats to protect it from sun and rain damage. We expect the murals to last for at least 20 years.”

Preparation work is also underway for the Ezzard Charles mural at Republic and West Liberty streets in Over-the-Rhine. Once the wall is ready to go, ArtWorks apprentices will work with artist Jason Snell to transform the wall into an homage to the “Cincinnati Cobra,” as Charles was known to boxing fans.

This mural is part of the Cincinnati Legends series, which includes Snell's design of the Henry Holtgrewe mural on Vine between 13th and 14th streets. The Charles mural will be “more figurative and less illustrative” than the Holtgrewe design, Carli says.

“ArtWorks is really excited about the Ezzard Charles mural,” she says. “It will officially be our 100th mural, and we will be doing a lot of programming about that, including a celebration at the end of the project when we dedicate the mural.”

Charles was chosen for the 100th mural subject because of his “rich history in sports and Cincinnati and because he has so many ties to so many famous Cincinnatians, including Theodore Berry, who was his mentor,” Carli says. “We are excited to celebrate Ezzard Charles with this really beautiful image.”

A mural at Main and East Liberty streets will honor Cincinnati's musical heritage and the individuals who shaped the “Cincinnati Sound.”

“The image will be a really cool graphic portrayal of James Brown,” Carli says. “This is a part of Liberty where not a lot of people walk but where a lot of people drive by, so we wanted to choose one really stunning image.”

Cincinnati's brewing heritage will be showcased in two murals. The Over-the-Rhine Brewery District Community Redevelopment Corporation is sponsoring its second mural, this one located on the north side of the new Christian Moerlein brewery housed in the historic Kauffman malt house. The second mural will be located on the historic Schoenling brewery at Liberty Street and Central Parkway, now home to the Samuel Adams brewery.

“In the next three to five years there will be a nice cluster of public art in the Northern Liberties,” Carli says of the area north of Liberty Street.

In the fall, ArtWorks will add another mural to the Cincinnati Masters Series, the first female depicted is the series. A painting of artist Elizabeth Nourse will be done in collaboration with the Mercantile Library.

As ArtWorks completes its 100th mural this summer, are they struggling to find subjects? Carli says no.

“We never run out of ideas because a lot of them come out of the community and Cincinnati history,” she says. “Our work with communities and neighborhoods keeps everything fresh and evolving.”

The public and communities are able to get directly involved with ArtWorks mural projects by helping support a $25,000 matching grant given by The George and Margaret McLane Foundation. Five ArtWorks projects — including the Ezzard Charles, Cincinnati Sound and the Brewery District murals as well as a community mural in Evanston — are featured on Power2Give. Donors can choose which of the five projects they want to support with a donation.

“Depending on where you live or work or the type of art you're interested in, you can pick your favorite mural to support,” Carli says. “This matching gift and Power2Give gives us a conduit to empower communities to raise funds for the projects they're supporting. The matching grant gives people an immediate way to click and donate.”

ArtWorks and its community partners will be promoting the grant and matching opportunity through community council meetings, newsletters and social media.

People are also encouraged to engage with ArtWorks apprentices through social media and the ArtWorks walking tours.

“Last year we started using #ArtWorksHere for apprentices to document their experiences on the worksite,” Carli says. “We encouraged apprentices to share positive experiences, friends they've made, progress on the mural, something new they learned that day and to say thank you.”

Carli advises those interested in following the 2015 and hashtag that many of the apprentices use Instagram rather than Twitter or Facebook.

Apprentices also conduct two Saturday walking tours each weekend showcasing ArtWorks murals in Downtown (Cincinnati Genius Tour) and Over-the-Rhine (Spirit of OTR Tour). The ArtWorks apprentice program is “not just learning how to paint,” Carli says. “We provide training for public speaking, and by the end of the experience they grow up and become more poised and confident.”

As ArtWorks apprentices are busy with murals and media projects, the staff will be planning for next summer, their 20th year bringing art to Cincinnati neighborhoods.
 

Vora Ventures connects to local technology ecosystem with first Demo Day


Blue Ash-based private equity group Vora Ventures held its first Demo Day May 28 to showcase companies at various stages of growth and maturity receiving its research and development dollars.
 
“Vora Demo Day was different than a typical accelerator program,” says John Hutchinson, head of corporate development for Vora Ventures. “We presented exciting companies that are well-established and have a record of growth and innovation as well as some of our cutting-edge newer technologies. Our goal for this event was to connect with the local technology community and share the interesting work that we are doing at Vora. ... We have been focused on building our companies and are increasing our focus (now) on contributing to the great Cincinnati technology ecosystem.”
 
Vora Ventures was founded in 2006 by serial entrepreneur Mahendra Vora to acquire and support innovative technology companies. Vora himself is no stranger to the high-tech industry as the co-founder of Intelliseek (now merged with Nielsen Buzzmetrics), SecureIT (now part of VeriSign) and Pioneer Systems (now part of Unisys).
 
Vora came to Cincinnati in 1988 to join Intercomputer Communication Corporation, a firm established by his University of Michigan classmate Kevin O’Connor. After the sale of that firm, Vora launched his own effort to encourage technology innovation in the Greater Cincinnati area.
 
In 2005, Vora and attorney Tim Matthews transformed the 366,000-square-foot Champion Paper plant in Hamilton, Ohio into one of the most advanced technology parks in the country. Vora Ventures was established the following year with 10 employees.
 
As Vora Ventures grew, the company acquired the U.S. Financial Life Center in Blue Ash and developed the 43,000-square-foot facility into the Vora Innovation Center, providing a home to five of its own companies.
 
Vora Ventures now employes 2,000 people with offices in Cincinnati, Dayton and Hamilton, Ohio; New York; California; and Bangalore and Ahmadabad, India. The company was named “2015 Tech Company of the Year” at the Cincinnati Business Courier’s Innovation and Technology Awards.
 
“We are unique within the Cincinnati (entrepreneurial) ecosystem in that we have technology infrastructure, software and services companies and as a group we are equal parts innovator, investor and high-growth technology company,” Hutchinson says. “Cincinnati is a fantastic place to live and work, with a very manageable cost of living. We have many Fortune 500 companies (here), and there is a much richer pool of talent than people recognize. This allows us to attract and retain talent at a cost advantage to some of the more traditional startup communities.”
 
He points out that, despite the national perception that Cincinnati companies can’t compete in the broader technology market, several Vora companies are doing quite well. Vinimaya, for instance, facilitates procurement across 80 countries and boasts a blue-chip customer list featuring GE, Alcoa, Siemens, Visa and the U.S. Department of Energy. AssureCare has contracts to provide managed healthcare software for tens of millions of patients.
 
Vora Ventures currently has a portfolio of 12 companies providing software, services and infrastructure solutions. Six of the companies offered presentations and demonstrations of their products May 28 Demo Day, including:
 
Ascendum, a provider of global IT business solutions that recently acquired FMS, a subsidiary of Turner Construction Co. offering construction and facility management software
 
AssureCare, working with the medical community to help healthcare plans and providers coordinate data and patient care using its MedCompass software
 
CenterGrid, offering businesses IT solutions such as data storage and private cloud-based services
 
Vinimaya, a business-to-business cloud-based procurement system
 
Zakta, a platform promoting social intelligence and collaborative solutions
 
Zingo, an app and in-store experience that allows retailers to customize offers and interaction with their customers. When it opens, Clifton Market will be the first store in the country to use the full Zingo system
 
Other companies held by Vora Ventures include Blue Spring, cFIRST Be Sure, Koncert, Open Commerce and Talent Now.
 
“The response during and after the (Demo Day) was tremendous,” Hutchinson says. “The attendance far exceeded our goals, and the energy and excitement amongst the crowd was inspirational to our team. Many of those who attended were surprised to learn the breadth of technologies currently in the Vora Ventures portfolio as well as the growth and depth of some of our leading companies.”
 
Hutchinson credits community and business leaders for their efforts to promote Cincinnati’s startup, entrepreneurial and technology resources to national and international audiences.
 
“There are so many exciting things happening in the Cincinnati technology community,” he says. “We are enthusiastic about getting more involved and know that we can contribute, lead and benefit from an even stronger connection to the local community. We expect to produce several great technology companies here in Cincinnati in which the entire community can take pride.”
 

ArtWorks chooses Big Pitch finalists to enter mentoring program


ArtWorks has chosen eight local companies to compete for up to $20,000 in grants in August. The Big Pitch finalists are now a part of ArtWorks' 10-week mentorship program and will receive help from a business mentor and a U.S. Bank small business specialist to get their companies off the ground.
 
The eight finalists include two food-related companies, Grateful Grahams and Butcher Betties Meats and Sweets. Grateful Grahams is a nationally-recognized bakery specializing in handmade vegan treats. The founder, Rachel DesRochers, has already sold her products to Whole Foods locations nationwide as well as smaller specialty stores in Cincinnati and elsewhere. Butcher Betties Meats and Sweets is a female veteran-owned butcher shop providing local, grass-fed meats. The owner, Allison Hines, can be found serving up fine meats behind the counter at her Florence location.
 
Three finalists focus on design. Brush Factory, owned by Hayes Shanesy and Rosie Kovacs, uses regionally sourced hardwood to craft custom furniture. Jason Snell of We Have Become Vikings offers creative strategy and design help to small companies and community voices. Cut and Sewn, the brainchild of Jenifer Sult, hopes to help fellow entrepreneurs with their design, sewing and pattern-making needs.
 
The 2015 Big Pitch competition will also feature Hazel Brown Photography, offering photography and product development services. Founded by Jess Sheldon, it will also sell functional fine art pieces as retail.
 
Finally, two finalists have brick-and-mortar locations already established. Original Thought Required, a streetwear and fashion boutique opened by James Marable, features limited edition apparel from independent designers on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. Roebling Point Books and Coffee, located on Greenup Street in Covington, seeks to bring the neighborhood together under owner Richard Hunt's support of local authors and artists.
 
“This is an amazing group,” says Caroline Creaghead, ArtWorks' director of creative enterprise, “and the diversity of businesses that applied attests to Cincinnati’s growing need for small business support for working creatives. This is the type of creative talent that we want to retain and support.” 
 
Each of the eight finalists will present a five-minute pitch on Aug. 27 in the hopes of receiving the $15,000 grand prize and/or $5,000 “audience choice” prize. Previous grant-winners Noble Denim and Madisono's Gelato have used the money and the mentorship opportunities to expand their businesses dramatically over the last year.

The August Big Pitch event will be open to the public.
 

UP Cincinnati's next Startup Weekend to focus on female entrepreneurs

 
The Greater Cincinnati startup community is focusing on female entrepreneurs with Startup Weekend Women’s Edition May 29-31.
 
Organized by the all-volunteer UP Cincinnati team, the 54-hour marathon event brings together designers, developers, entrepreneurs and experts to develop and pitch a startup idea, with a focus on connecting and showcasing the talents of female entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs.
 
UP Cincinnati is part of the UP Global network, promoting entrepreneurship, grassroots leadership and community development in cities around the world. Programs include Startup Weekend, Startup Digest and Education Entrepreneurs.
 
“Startup Weekend is encouraging ‘edition’ events, specialized events for women, healthcare, education and many other areas depending on the unique traits and needs of a particular city,” says Startup Weekend organizer and Casamatic co-founder Alex Bowman. “We identified (female entrepreneurs as) an opportunity to potentially grow diversity in the Cincinnati entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
 
The tech industry has come under scrutiny recently for the lack of inclusion in the workplace. Encouraging women entrepreneurs with female-focused startup weekends is a relatively new development for UP Global.
 
“I think the industry as a whole is challenged,” Bowman says. “We’ve made great strides in Cincinnati already with amazing, established groups like Girl Develop It and Bad Girl Ventures. We hope that Startup Weekend Women’s Edition encourages more of this.”
 
Although the startup community often focuses on technology, Startup Weekend welcomes ideas for products and services as well, according to Bowman.
 
“Any and all ideas are encouraged,” he says. “And even if you don't have an idea, that's OK — come and listen to the pitches on Friday night and decide which idea you want to work on over the course of the weekend with a team. Remember, it’s about the experience building the startup, not the idea itself.”
 
The schedule for the weekend is intense, starting on Friday with idea pitches, team selection and role assignments. On Saturday the teams will continue their work, meeting with coaches and mentors throughout the day. The event culminates Sunday with final presentations and judging. Supplies and meals will be provided to registrants.
 
“We just ask that participants come ready for a challenging but exciting weekend,” Bowman says. “It can be exhausting, but it’s a ton of fun!”
 
Bowman and colleagues have recruited what he calls a “dream team” of coaches and judges from the Cincinnati startup community.
 
“Our coaches will be spending time with all of the teams on Saturday, helping them by drawing on their own personal experiences at their startup,” Bowman says. “Our coaches include the likes of Candice Peters and Amanda Kranias from Hello Parent, Becky Blank and Amanda Grossmann from Girl Develop It, Emily Cooper from The Brandery and many more. We are fortunate to have for our judges Wendy Lea (CEO of Cintrifuse), Johnna Reeder (CEO of REDI Cincinnati), Joan Lewis (former SVP of Procter & Gamble) and several others. We’re so excited to have all of them participating and helping out.”
 
In order to participate in the weekend — hosted at UpTech in Covington with lead sponsorship by Kentucky Innovation Network and ezoneregistration is required and spaces are limited. Student discounts are available. Men are welcome to attend, according to the event website, “if they find a female participant to bring them along.”

See a video trailer for Startup Weekend here.
 
For startup enthusiasts who aren’t able to commit to the entire weekend, a special ticket for the Sunday presentations and judging is also available.
 
This will be the eighth Startup Weekend presented by UP Cincinnati and its second special “edition” event, the first being the 2014 Open Data Cincy weekend. Past events have drawn hundreds of participants, and Startup Weekend alumnus Tixers went on to join UpTech and was recently acquired by Florida-based OneUp Sports.
 
Startup Weekend’s “regular” edition will return in November.
 

Start Small housing concept gaining big momentum


Nearly halfway through his year-long People's Liberty Haile Fellowship, Brad Cooper’s Start Small project is starting to gain momentum.
 
Cooper was awarded the grant based on his proposal to build two 200-square-ft. single family homes on an otherwise unbuildable lot in Over-the-Rhine as a model for net-zero, affordable infill housing. He presented an update on his project, along with information for potential buyers, at a public event May 13 at the Over-the-Rhine Community Center.
 
Since starting the program, some aspects of Cooper’s design and concept have changed. The houses will now be 250 square ft. in order to accommodate the city’s zoning regulations. The two houses on Peete Street will also be attached to leverage potential energy and cost savings as well as to better fit the historic character of Over-the-Rhine.
 
Cooper's initial plans for composting toilets and water reuse will also be modified to meet building codes.
 
“The building codes need to adapt, and I think they will, but it will take time and people calling for the change,” says Cooper, who presented his project concept and suggested code changes to City Council’s Education and Entrepreneurship Committee in February.
 
The houses will be net zero, with solar panels providing all electricity. Cooper is working with Sefaria, an application that supports high-performance building design, to optimize the homes’ HVAC systems. Each house will have monitors to track the occupants’ energy usage as well as energy production from the solar panels.
 
As the popularity of the tiny house movement grows, it’s also come under criticism.
 
“This project is not for everyone,” Cooper acknowledges. “Start Small is providing choice and creating thoughtful infill development.
 
“The idea that tiny homes encourage less density is a myth. Zoning regulations that require minimum lot sizes encourage less density. Zoning regulations that prohibit two tiny homes being on the same lot encourage less density.”
 
Although not currently permitted under zoning code, “small homes could be developed as accessory dwelling units, which add density to areas,” Cooper says. “Multiple homes on one lot is permitted in neighborhoods that have adopted Form Based Code, and here I would expect the same density to be met as with a traditional project.”
 
Cooper encourages residents with concerns about density and other zoning issues to review the draft of the Land Development Code and contact the City Planning Department with any input.
 
As tiny homes become more common and zoning codes are updated to accommodate their construction, Cooper predicts ongoing evolutions of the concept to make tiny homes more appealing. “
 
I expect to see tiny homes with shared resources,” he says. “A communal kitchen, shared waste remediation, shared energy production and other communal ideas are a challenge to figure out but would make tiny living more affordable.”
 
Since January, Cooper has been working to develop financing options for potential Small Start homebuyers as traditional mortgages may be difficult to obtain.
 
“The main challenge is the unconventional nature of the project,” he says. “There is not a lot for an appraiser to compare the homes to locally, so having a lender feel comfortable with the value of the home is critical.
 
“Additionally, most mortgages are not held by the initial lending institution but bundled and sold on a secondary market dominated by government-subsidized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Those entities require the home to be at least a 1-bedroom. The tiny homes will qualify not qualify as 1-bedrooms. I’m anticipating the need for a (local) bank or even an individual to step forward and provide a loan to a tiny homeowner. This institution would be willing to take the risk on something out of the box and hold onto the mortgage.”
 
Initially, Cooper projected the houses would cost $80,000, although it now seems they may list for $70,000. He hopes to have buyers in place before fall so construction can be completed before the end of the year, allowing residents to move in to the homes by early 2016. Cooper has partnered with Working in Neighborhoods to help potential buyers through the process.
 
Community engagement is a big part of the Start Small project. Cooper hosted a one-day exhibit called “Size Matters” at Assumption Gallery to invite the public to explore ideas about tiny living and affordable housing. In March, Cooper invited the neighbors to 142 and 144 Peete St. to introduce himself and his idea for the property. Keep Cincinnati Beautiful organized volunteers and residents to help clean up the lot in April.
 
Cooper has also solicited public feedback on the design and amenities of the tiny houses. He plans to hold additional presentations and information sessions in the coming months.
 
It’s looking like his Start Small project may in fact turn into something big.
 

OTR Chamber sets the pace with 5K & Summer Celebration, two grant programs

 
The Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce continues its community- and business-building efforts with three upcoming programs.
 
First up this weekend, the ninth annual OTR 5K takes place on May 16 with a new route this year.
 
“For the first time we’re crossing over Liberty Street,” says OTR Chamber President Emilie Johnson. “The new route allows for us to make way for the streetcar, but it also goes along with the mission of why the race was founded: to invite people to Over-the-Rhine to see the old, the new and what's coming up. It’s very appropriate that as the neighborhood continues to grow the 5K continues to grow, too.”
 
Runners and walkers are encouraged to register online before 5 p.m. Wednesday in order to guarantee receiving a race shirt. This is one of the few races in the area that welcomes dogs and child-occupied strollers. The fastest runners with a dog or stroller will be recognized at the award ceremony alongside running and walking finishers with the best overall times and the best times by age category.
 
Dogs and kids get special treatment during the race and at the post-race Summer Celebration in Washington Park. Canine runners can quench their thirst from dog dishes provided at the mid-point water station and the finish line. The League of Animal Welfare will be walking the race with some of their adoptable dogs and will have a tent in the park following the race.
 
After cheering on the 5K participants, children ages 3-5 will be invited to run their own race, starting just after noon on the Washington Park lawn. Child-friendly activities hosted by Necco will be offered at the Summer Celebration from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m.
 
City Flea and Art on Vine will showcase a diverse array of fine art and craft vendors in conjunction with the Summer Celebration, which will also feature two stages of live music from local bands throughout the day as well as food and drink from local vendors.
 
Volunteers are still needed for the 5K and Summer Celebration, and Johnson says “a fun way people can get involved this year is to make signs and support the runners at the cheering posts located at every critical turn along the route.” The cheer stations are a new addition this year to help runners navigate the new route and encourage more community participation.
 
In addition to the community-building 5K and summer party, the Chamber has two business building initiatives now underway.
 
Applications for the second round of Innovation Challenge grants for existing OTR businesses closed last week. Eighteen businesses are competing for the $1,000 grants, which required applicants to demonstrate creative ways to grow their business.
 
The Chamber awarded two Innovation Challenge grants last year.

Steam Whistle Letterpress and Design implemented its project immediately, buying display racks specialized for their cards and provided them to other OTR and downtown businesses that sell Steam Whistle products.

We Have Become Vikings had plans for a larger scale project it’s close to implementing, according to Johnson. The design firm is developing a street-level video game to showcase its business capabilities while providing an interactive activity for pedestrians.
 
The Innovation Challenge winners will be announced in the next couple of weeks. The program is supported by a grant the OTR Chamber received from Fifth Third Bank.
 
The OTR Chamber's other grant program, the Business First Grant (BFG), is accepting applicants through June 15. This larger grant program provides up to $20,000 in matching funds to a new business looking to locate in Over-the-Rhine.
 
The BFG “helps support sustainable businesses, but is really helping to animate the streets and sidewalks,” Johnson says. “The focus is on transformational businesses, which could mean locating on a block of OTR that needs an anchor business or opening on a critical cross street to better connect the OTR business districts or that the business offers a type of product or clientele that's not currently in the neighborhood.”
 
Previous BFGs were awarded to the businesses that helped establish Vine and Main streets as shopping and dining destinations: MiCA 12/v, Little Mahatma, Park + Vine and Senate on Vine and Iris Book Cafe and Original Thought Required on Main. Before Findlay Market was fully leased, the BFG program helped fund Dojo Gelato, Fresh Table and Pho Lang Thang there.
 
More recent recipients were The Yoga Bar on 14th Street, Picnic and Pantry on Republic Street and Hen of the Woods, which will open a storefront at the northern end of Main Street later this year.
 

People's Liberty announces first 8 Project Grants, final grant program to launch


People’s Liberty continues to redefine the mission and tools of philanthropy, announcing its first Project Grants April 24 at its new Globe Building headquarters in Over-the-Rhine. Like all of its grant programs, the Project Grants were awarded to individual area residents with innovative ideas to positively impact their communities and, in the organization’s hopes, disrupt the status quo.

Eight winners were presented by People's Liberty co-founders Eric Avner (Haile Foundation) and Amy Goodwin (Johnson Foundation) and asked to sign their contracts, which stipulate that each would receive up to $10,000 to complete their projects within the next 10 months. A second round of Project Grants will be awarded in the fall.

The winning projects represent a wide array of community engagement, from site-specific events to arts and culture to online community building to public transportation. They were selected by an external panel made up of local civic, creative and business leaders.

People’s Liberty has now launched all three of its intended grant programs: $100,000 Haile Fellowships, awarded in December to Brad Cooper and Brad Schnittger; $15,000 Globe Grants to activate the Globe Building's ground-floor gallery space, with the first exhibition, Good Eggs, on display through June 12; and these $10,000 Project Grants.

The Project Grant recipients are:

Giacomo Ciminello: Space Invaders
An interactive outdoor installation with a projection-mapped video game designed to activate Cincinnati’s abandoned spaces.

Anne Delano-Steinert: Look Here!
A site-specific public history exhibition to take place on the streets of Over-the-Rhine.

Quiera Levy-Smith: Black Dance Is Beautiful
A cultural event designed to showcase diversity in Cincinnati dance and encourage youth to pursue their passions and break down barriers.

Alyssa McClanahan w/ John Blatchford: Kunst: Built Art
A quarterly printed magazine featuring redevelopment projects of historic Cincinnati buildings.

Mark Mussman: Creative App Project (CAP)
A project to certify up to 20 local residents from a broad range of backgrounds during a three-month Android App Developers educational series.

Daniel Schleith w/ Nate Wessel and Brad Thomas: Metro*Now
A set of low-cost, real-time arrival signs for the Metro bus system to be installed in storefronts at or near bus stops.

Nancy Sunnenburg: Welcome to Cincinnati
A new tool is designed to effectively welcome newcomers to a community by connecting them with local organizations, businesses and civic opportunities.

Maija Zummo w/ Colleen Sullivan: Made in Cincinnati
A curated online marketplace to encourage shopping local by showcasing products created by Cincinnati’s best makers and artisans.

The eight grantees will have access to workspace, mentoring and design and communications support at People's Liberty starting May 30. Look for Soapbox profiles of each of these eight projects as they ramp up over the next few months.

Applications for the next round of Project Grants are due by Sept. 14.
 

Jewish Federation event asks nonprofit entrepreneurs to explain what "sparked" their life changes

 
Entrepreneurship and storytelling are popular topics in Cincinnati these days. “The Spark Behind the Change” takes a different approach to both April 29 at Japp's OTR, focusing on social innovation and exploring the inspiration that resulted in new organizations and programs.
 
The event, organized by the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, focuses on individuals who created innovative entrepreneurial projects that are registered nonprofits or not focused on making a profit, says Sammy Kanter, Mentoring Coordinator for the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati's Esther and Maurice Becker Networking and Mentoring Center.
 
“What is really exciting about the Spark presenters is that what they are doing is affecting our Cincinnati community directly,” Kanter says. “For the most part, their projects are based here and are for the people of Cincinnati.”
 
Several of the presenters come from the arts community, a sector not typically referred to as entrepreneurial — although that perspective is beginning to change.
 
“At ArtWorks we see a lot of our work within creative enterprise, especially Co.Starters and the ArtWorks Big Pitch, as a support and even an anchor for creative entrepreneurs,” says Tamara Harkavy, CEO and founder of ArtWorks. “One of our core values is we nurture emerging talent, artists and creative entrepreneurs, connecting them to corporations and the public at large in order to empower them to transform the region. Nothing comes from nothing — we take something great and make it better.”
 
In the nonprofit world, innovation often includes a call for social justice and personal discovery.
 
“We believe that art creates powerful change and often works toward social change,” says Kim Popa, Executive Director of Pones Inc., the local dance company and serendipitous art creator. “We hope to create awareness of issues that the community may not know about such as human trafficking in Cincinnati, homelessness and trans populations. Pones Inc. performers use their bodies to speak their minds.”
 
Other Spark panelists include:

• Barbara Hauser, founder The Red Door Project, a pop-up community art gallery showcasing the work of professional and hobbyist artists;

• Jordan Edelheit, who started the first TEDx at Ohio State and went on to organize the first prison-based TEDx series;

• Derrick Braziel, William Thomas II and Allen Woods, founders of MORTAR, an accelerator focusing on non-traditional entrepreneurs in underserved communities; and

• Rabbi Laura Baum, creator of the Our Jewish Community website that uses social media, YouTube and other technologies to meet the changing needs of the Jewish community on a national level.
 
The host and moderator of the event is Jake Hodesh, Vice President of People’s Liberty, the Over-the-Rhine-based philanthropy providing grants to individuals and organizations working to make positive changes in Cincinnati.
 
Spark organizers and participants hope this night of storytelling will generate ideas and inspiration in others.
 
Kanter would like “to see more people creating innovative projects that are locally based nonprofits, that are created with the goal of generating change and making the city a better place to live for all populations.”
 
“I think that the title of the event is my wish for an outcome,” Popa says. “I am most interested in opportunities where people leave inspired or questioning or moved to continue the conversation.”
 
“The Spark Behind the Change: An Evening of Storytelling and Networking with Cincinnati’s Biggest Social Innovators” is free and open to the public. Get more information or RSVP here.
 

1,500 local students learn architecture, construction basics through Design LAB program


Over the past four months, 1,500 students in 78 Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky schools have studied the basics of architecture and construction while designing a model dwelling. Their work is part of the 2015 Design LAB (Learn and Build), a program of the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati (AFC) in collaboration with the American Institute of Architects of Cincinnati (AIA), and is on display at the Main Public Library downtown through May 2.
 
“Design LAB encourages innovation by fully engaging students in the design process, broadening their perspective and asking questions that enable them to actively participate in the built environment,” says AFC Education Director Catrina Kolshorn. “With a focus on real world solutions, students develop and create unique approaches to a design challenge utilizing research, critical thinking, problem solving, creative expression and visual/verbal communication.
 
“As students create and model their projects, they build an awareness, knowledge and sense of community through sharing their ideas, gaining an appreciation of the built environment and understanding the interactive role they can play in shaping it.”
 
The Design LAB program is intended to adapt to many subject areas and grade levels. Participants this year include all grade levels in K-12 classes on architecture, art, biology, ecology, engineering, geometry, language arts, science and social studies.
 
The 2015 theme of “Dwelling” gave students the option of a rural or urban site to design a home for their chosen client. Each teacher shaped the project and client selection to fit with their class curriculum. Students have chosen Greek clients based on their study of The Odyssey as well as Maya Angelou, Picasso and Dr. Seuss, among many others.
 
Students typically work in teams to create a model and a tri-fold panel display that illustrates their design process. AFC expects at least 175 submissions for the Design Fair, where entries will be judged on both the model and the display.
 
Four awards will be given in each grade category: Build-Ability for the projects most able to be constructed in the real world; Sustain-a-Builder to the projects using the best green building technologies; Solution Builder to projects showing the most innovation and creativity in meeting the client's needs; and a Juror’s Choice award. The 30 jurors, as well as the 65 classroom mentors, are all volunteers.
 
Design LAB is a revamped version of Architecture by Children (ABC).
 
“The new name reflects the emphasis on design as well as the learning and building of the hands-on, project-based program,” says AFC Executive Director Kit Anderson.
 
ABC was managed by AIA Cincinnati volunteers for nearly 20 years.
 
“Over the last few years AFC has become increasingly involved as a collaborator and partner in the program and has been the primary financial sponsor of ABC for some time,” Anderson says. “As the program continued, it became clear that in order for it to grow and strengthen it required much more time and attention than a volunteer group could give it. We all agreed that AFC would manage, fund and implement the program in association with AIA Cincinnati.”
 
As a 501(c)3 nonprofit entity, the foundation was able to seek regional and national grants that ABC was previously ineligible for, increasing opportunities for professionalization and future growth. These changes are already generating results, with a grant from the Stillson Foundation supporting the 2015 program. Design LAB is also funded by contributions from the built environment community and AFC’s annual Apple Award Gala.
 
Those donations also provided the resources for AFC to hire Kolshorn to manage the program, recruit new participants and coordinate the many volunteers who work in-classroom with the students and as judges for the Design Fair.
 
The 2015 Design LAB Design Fair will be displayed in the first floor atrium at the Main Public Library all week, ending with a public reception recognizing program participants 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, May 2.
 

Ocean's first startup class sets sail at April 29 Demo Day


Ocean, the nation's first faith-based business accelerator, presents Demo Day April 29 at Crossroads Church in Oakley to showcase its inaugural class of 10 startup companies. Over the course of the six-month program, each Ocean startup received a seed investment of $20,000 as well as co-working space, intensive training, mentorship and legal and accounting services.
 
“Demo Day is a day,” Ocean Executive Director Genine Fallon says. “It's a wonderful day, it's a glorious day, but it's a day. We've been preparing since the moment our class stepped in here, and they've been preparing for it since the moment they conceptualized what they wanted to build.”

Fallon says that having Demo Day in the Crossroads auditorium commands attention and is the right place for the 10 startups to showcase themselves. She emphasizes that event is about community and is open to the public.

“As the first faith-based accelerator, we want investors, key leadership and city officials to attend, but we are also extremely pleased to be able to present in a space that is welcoming to everyone,” she says. “If I'm hoping for anything, past the normal things that an accelerator hopes for — positive feedback all around for our companies and success tenfold — it is also for that person who has felt that entrepreneurial charge to be sparked to say, 'Yes, I can do it! I'm in the right city. This is the right time. Startup Cincy is the right space for me to be.'

“Demo Day is deep and wide. The depth of what's going to be talked about is moving and is deeply profound, and it's wide because it will bring a wide variety of people who will come and join us.”
 
Participants in Ocean's inaugural class represent an array of content areas and experience.
 
Cerkl, one of the more established Ocean startups, provides organizations with personalized newsletter content.

“Demo Day is going to be a hallmark event to really showcase the Cincy startup movement and to celebrate,” says Sara Jackson, known as Cerkl's Distributor of Pixie Dust. “It will demonstrate that this is one of the best places in the nation to build your business.”

Jackson and Cerkl founder Tarek Kamil have been impressed with their accelerator experience.

“Ocean is itself is a startup,” Kamil says. “To watch the Ocean model has been really good for us. Here, there is no failure — there is success and there is learning. Ocean may be the new kid on the block, but they're right up there with other accelerators.”
 
Alex Bowman and Chris Ridenour started Casamatic in late 2014 to match buyers to homes they'd be interested in buying, manage their schedule of showings and allow them make an offer from its website, with the prospect of receiving a rebate check after the sale closed.

“We both bought homes last year, and the process was terrible,” Bowman says. “We were surprised how every other industry has innovated since 2008 but real estate has not. We had an original idea to completely change the way you buy a home. But over the first months of the accelerator we iterated and iterated and figured out through customer evaluation and meeting with people in the industry that the initial idea we set out to accomplish was crushingly impossible and not what the market wanted at the time. So we decided to refocus.”

Casamatic's focus is now on matching buyers with their “perfect home,” altering them when new homes hit the market and instantly arranging showings.
 
Chris Hendrixson of Blue Seat Media has been working on his baseball app company with partner Jeffrey Wyckoff for several years. Since starting at Ocean, they've hired two developers and plan to launch their product in July.

“Doubling our team has changed everything, and we did not expect to be able to do that so fast,” Hendrixson says. “Up until Ocean it felt like we were on an island and had to encourage each other. Coming into Ocean and the sense of community just ready and willing to help us has been amazing. The classes and mentoring have been great, but knowing there are so many people who have your back is really special.”
 
Lyfeboat recently launched a roadside assistance app for the iPhone, with an Android version to be available over the summer. Co-founders Michael Reha and Phat Le says they're “big into learning and personal growth” and felt Ocean's faith-based program “was a right choice to build a strong foundation as a team” and a great fit for the Good Samaritan attitude central to their company.
 
The rest of Ocean's Class of 2015 includes:

Arena19, a web platform for sponsorship and branding opportunities

benobe, a career exploration app for teenagers

Quality Renters, which helps landlords find tenants

RINGR, offering studio-quality sound recording over mobile devices

Searen, producing affordable water treatment technology for aquaculture and desalination

StreamSpot, which enables live and on-demand streaming for faith-based organizations

Seafaring metaphors abound at Ocean, where participants talk about setting sail on a journey and riding waves, while meeting rooms are named after ports on the Sea of Galilee — apt comparisons for new businesses setting a course for adventure and success.

So come aboard Wednesday, April 29, they're expecting you at Demo Day. Doors open at 12:30 p.m., and the program begins at 1:00 at Crossroads Church in Oakley. Entrepreneurs Elias Roman, co-founder of Songza, and Colleen Arnold, senior vice president at IBM, will also discuss their experiences launching and growing successful companies.

Admission is free, and tickets can be reserved here.
 

STEM Bicycle Club rolls hands-on learning into eight schools


Students at eight area schools will learn hands-on STEM skills while reverse-engineering a bike during a 10-week bicycle building workshop this spring.
 
The Greater Cincinnati STEM Bicycle Club is a demonstration project of the Greater Cincinnati STEM Collaborative (GCSC). Kathie Maynard, GCSC convener as well as director of community partnership at UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services, describes the collaborative as a “STEM education accelerator. It is really about innovating the types of education that we should be having: connected to the real world and to careers. We really want the programs we develop to have a partnership between the K-12 schools, business and industry and community partners.”
 
GCSC launched the Greater Cincinnati STEM Bicycle Club in 2014 as a partnership among Woodward Career Technical High School, General Electric and Time Warner Cable. Students worked with mentors in a weekly after-school workshop learning science and math skills, developing their mechanical abilities and writing about their experiences.
 
Results for the 2014 program were so positive that GCSC is expanding the STEM Bicycle Club to seven other schools in six local school districts: Aiken High School (Cincinnati Public), Amelia Middle School (West Clermont Local School District), Campbell County Middle School, Clermont Northeastern Middle School, Holmes Middle School (Covington Independent School District), Ockerman Middle School (Boone County Schools) and R. A. Jones Middle School (Boone County Schools). Woodward (Cincinnati Public) will continue its participation.
 
Maynard says the selection of participating schools reflects GCSC’s efforts “to be inclusive and representative of the region. We most certainly have a heavy emphasis on high-needs schools and at-risk students, but at the same time we really think STEM education (science, technology, engineering, math) is a larger problem than any single school or any single district.”
 
The expanded program also illustrates GCSC’s community-based approach. Walmart is providing funding and materials for the 2015 Greater Cincinnati STEM Bicycle Club and connecting seven of their stores with schools in the community. Maynard says that the hope is to “create the deep partnerships so that one day every kid every year has multiple and extended exposure with these types of authentic STEM experiences (science, technology, engineering and math).”
 
Time Warner and GE have each expressed a commitment to continue their involvement with Woodward and begin new relationships with two other schools, “a sign of success that we are creating lasting partnerships and places where business and industry can really hook into a school and provide help,” according to Maynard.
 
The 10-week program concludes with a May 30 celebration at UC for all eight schools along with business and community partners. Maynard anticipates several big announcements will be made at the event, including that all eight schools will participate in the 2016 program. GCSC hopes to expand the 2016 program exponentially — to 40 area schools — if funding and partners can be secured.
 
GCSC will also be announcing the details two other demonstration projects — one operating on the same model as the Bicycle Club but focused on 3D printing, the other a STEAM collaboration.
 
“Even though we don't always say STEAM (adding arts) we most certainly think that the arts are critical for the development of the whole child … bringing what the arts have to offer in the making, in the dialogue and in the design thinking,” Maynard says. “Those creativity anchors are critical to becoming a STEM innovator.”
 
Demonstration programs are one aspect of GCSC’s work.
 
“Our larger role is to get partners together and look for alignment,” Maynard says. “Convening a group and really starting to have those hard conversations around some of the larger problems, like lack of girls in STEM education, then dream about what the solutions are and create projects that address those answers.”
 
For the 113 kids participating in the STEM Bicycle Club this spring, their dreams of getting their own bike are about to come true — with some assembly required.
 

OTR Chamber hosts Star Awards April 7


The Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce holds its 2015 Annual Meeting and Star Awards luncheon April 7 to celebrate the individuals and organizations who are leading efforts to improve the neighborhood. 
 
The awards recognize individuals and businesses in 10 categories, including New Business, Nonprofit, Entrepreneur and Community Impact of the year. Nominations were solicited at the start of the year from the public through Facebook, Twitter and outreach to Chamber members, stakeholders and the media.
 
“We are really fortunate to have a neighborhood full of stakeholders who are truly passionate about Over-the-Rhine and excited about the momentum,” says Chamber President Emilie Johnson, “as well as the opportunity to nominate and potentially be awarded a Star Award.”
 
In addition to the Star Awards, the luncheon will feature Cincinnati Reds CEO Bob Castellini as keynote speaker.

“We always try to find someone who can share some unique insight and experience with the neighborhood for the keynote,” Johnson says. “This year Bob Castellini will give the big picture of things going in the neighborhood.”
 
Johnson will highlight the Chamber's accomplishments in the past year, including an update on the Business Innovation Challenge, a new Chamber program launched in 2014. The Chamber received 17 applications last year and awarded $1,000 grants to Steam Whistle Letterpress and We Have Become Vikings.

At the luncheon, Johnson will announce the opening of nominations for a second round of the Business Innovation Challenge.

“We have received some fantastic support, including from Fifth Third Bank, who will be a presenting sponsor for the program,” she says.
 
This as been a busy spring for the OTR Chamber, which recently moved its office from 13th and Clay to 14th and Walnut. The new office is located within one block of Vine, Main and Liberty streets.
 
The move was prompted, in part, by the Clay location becoming a “great connector corner,” according to Johnson.
 
“In any kind of urban planning or development the more active uses you can get on your corner, the more consumer-facing businesses, the better,” she says. “We were sitting on an important corner.”

The Chamber has moved offices several times over the years, responding to development needs in the neighborhood. Although a central location is ideal, the space the Chamber occupies within a building is even more important.

“We love to be on the street level,” Johnson says. “It's the nature of our work, and the stakeholders we support are also very much at street level.”
 
Members and neighbors will have an opportunity to check out the new Chamber office space at an open house later this summer.

The April 7 Annual Meeting and Star Awards luncheon begins at 12 noon at Music Hall, with doors opening at 11:30. Tickets are still available, with reservations required by March 31.
 

InnovateHER Cincinnati to recognize leaders in female empowerment March 9


Anyone who watched the Oscars last week undoubtedly remembers Patricia Arquette’s call to action in the name of female equality. Programs and competitions across the country have been held year after year to help bridge the gender gap that currently exists in the workplace.
 
Next week, Cincinnati is playing its part.
 
InnovateHER is a competition conjured up by the Small Business Association's Office of Women's Business Ownership to call attention to business owners who, through their products or services, show a commitment to female empowerment. On March 9 at The Brandery, a panel of judges will select up to 10 startups to represent Cincinnati at the national level. The Brandery and UpTech are hosting the event.
 
“The Challenge is looking for entrepreneurs to create a product or service that has a measurable impact on the lives of women and families, has the potential for commercialization and fills a need in the market place,” says UpTech’s Amanda Greenwell.
 
InnovateHER is accepting applications from startups through March 5. Startups will be asked to pitch their idea, much like they would on an accelerator’s Demo Day, and in doing so attract the attention of judges from The Brandery, UpTech, HCDC, Bad Girl Ventures and Viable Synergy.
 
The 10 lucky startups to reach the national competition will have the opportunity to pitch their idea in Washington, D.C. on May 8. The prize money totals $30,000.
 
To Greenwell, the success of InnovateHER rests on female business owners’ willingness to share their innovative ideas with the rest of us.
 
“These programs are only successful if founders take the chance to put themselves out there and apply to participate in these competitions,” Greenwell says. “If you know someone who has a great idea that can impact and empower the lives of women and families, tell them about our competition.  Lift them up, encourage them and urge them to apply for the opportunity to get valuable exposure and feedback on their idea.”
 
The winners of this year’s InnovateHER competition will be announced during the March 9 ceremony at The Brandery from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tickets are free, but registration is requested. Those who wish to pitch for the event should fill out the application online.
 

Hamilton County Development Center changes name, honors champion of minority entrepreneurs


The Hamilton County Development Company has rebranded once again. The Norwood center, which encompasses an incubator (the HCDC Business Center) as well as economic development and lending service providers, will now be known as HCDC, Inc.
 
"We are branding as a single entity instead of having three names for our three different economic development programs," says Bridget Doherty, marketing and communications director.
 
On the same day they announced the rebranding, Jan. 16, HCDC, Inc. honored Mel Gravely, longtime supporter of minority entrepreneurs, with the Larry Albice Entrepreneurship Award. The award is given yearly to successful entrepreneurs who have given back to the community and is named after former HCDC chairman and board member Larry Albice, who played a considerable role in the expansion of the Business Center and received the award in 1998.
 
Gravely, who is responsible for starting the Minority Business Accelerator, is a published author on the topic of race in business. His passion for supporting women and minorities in their business ventures has characterized his work for decades. He's currently the majority shareholder, president and CEO of TriVersity Construction Company, which specializes in construction management, contracting and design. He also founded the Institute for Entrepreneurial Thinking, a think tank for minority business initiatives. And he's the immediate past chair of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce. The list goes on.
 
"Mel is the type of leader who puts others in the limelight," says David Main, president of HCDC, Inc. "We thought we would shed some light on him and his outstanding contributions to entrepreneurship. He has dedicated his life to helping others innovate and achieve."
 
Gravely's recognition came at HCDC's annual meeting, where the organization presented its annual business awards, including awards for lending, economic development and HCDC resident company of the year. Startup Get Noticed Get Found received the resident of the year award, with lending awards going to Fifth Third, Huntington and Listermann Brewing Co.
 

ArtWorks and Cincinnati Metro transform bus shelters into photo exhibit

ArtWorks and Cincinnati Metro recently collaborated on a venture to transform Cincinnati's bus shelters into a photo exhibit. As part of FotoFocus 2014, the project features the work of acclaimed photographer Richard Renaldi, as well as four ArtWorks youth apprentices and two local professional photographers.
 
The idea behind Renaldi's project, titled "Touching Strangers Cincinnati," is to capture interactions between strangers using the public transportation system—in which he encourages the subjects to pose together—and examine the diversity within the community. 
 
Renaldi visited Cincinnati in June to complete the project, and Cincinnati Metro hopes it will encourage people to use public transit.
 
"One of the reasons we agreed to host this display of public art in our shelters is because we wanted to show on public transportation, people can become friends," says Cincinnati Metro public affairs manager Jill Dunne. "We think it's really cool to show that if you put two people together, anything can happen."
 
Cincinnati Metro is hosting a celebration Oct. 16, in front of the Chiquita Center, between 5th and 6th streets. 
 
"It's meant to dedicate and really show off the shelters to the public," Dunne says. "We have some photos that are inside the bus, as well as a wrapped bus with one of the images on it."
 
ArtWorks has provided a map showing where "Touching Strangers Cincinnati" will be displayed. In addition, ArtWorks is hosting a lecture and presentation, featuring Renaldi, at the 21C Hotel at 6 p.m.

Two Covington artists plan international collaborative project

Two local artists are preparing to leave for a collaborative art venture that will lead them throughout multiple countries.
 
Hilary Nauman and Michael Boyd of the Shrewdness of Apes Gallery + Boutique—which was recently selected as a CoSign Covington winner—plan to use their upcoming experience as a chance to connect to people around the world.
 
The idea for "You and Me Across the Sea" began when Nauman lost a family member, and because the duo was planning the trip, they saw it as a way to include people who aren't there or can't be there, Nauman says.
 
"Everything we plan to do, we're bringing some piece of us, a piece of our friends or people who know us, or people from our hometown across the ocean with us, or taking a little bit and sending it back."
 
For one of the duo's indiegogo perks, "Somebody's Watching Me," Nauman and Boyd will bring back a physical object from their trip to give to the donator.
 
"We're going to look around and find stuff, and we're going to take a photograph of where we found it, and mail it from that country back home," Nauman says. "It became one of those things like, 'How many people can we get involved with?"
 
Nauman and Boyd leave October 13, and plan to travel to Norway, England, Whales, Ireland and Scotland, among other places.  They will host their exhibition at Shrewdness of the Apes in Covington on November 22.
 
"I've never come back from a trip where I didn't find a new artist or new place or something that ends up inspiring you, and that's what I'm looking forward to," Nauman says.

Social Enterprise Week kicks off in Cincinnati

This week marks the first ever Social Enterprise Week in Cincinnati. The week features two prominent events on September 10 and September 13 with the goal of raising awareness about the idea of social enterprises and rallying support around them.
 
“Nonprofits are the cornerstone of providing social services in our communities,” says Bill Tucker, executive director of Flywheel Social Enterprise Hub. “But there’s been less and less funding available to nonprofits recently, so they need new ways to generate revenue. That’s where social enterprises come in.”
 
Social enterprises help fill the funding gap by increasing the capacity of nonprofits to fulfill their charitable purpose while generating revenue in support of their mission. The first event of the week will be the Social Enterprise Showcase on Fountain Square on Wednesday, September 10 on Fountain Square from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 pm.
 
“We want to capture the attention of the business community and rally their support around this idea,” Tucker says. “The event will showcase 24 social enterprises, and the causes that these enterprises support.”
 
Tucker and others involved with the organization of Social Enterprise Week talk about the “triple bottom line” as what really makes these businesses special.
 
“A social enterprise may have a double bottom line, which would be to generate revenue both for the business itself and for the nonprofit it funds,” Tucker says. “But a triple bottom line will also include a larger purpose, for example the Freestore Foodbank’s Cincinnati Cooks Catering. It helps with workforce development and community building as well. Those type of businesses are really our sweet spot.”
 
On Saturday, September 13, the city will celebrate “Buy Social Saturday” where social enterprises around the city will have different types of special offerings in an effort to encourage consumers to support these organizations and thereby improve the community around them.
 
“Cincinnati is starting to do a great job of supporting its entrepreneurs here, and we see these social enterprises as capturing that same entrepreneurial spirit and grit,” says Lisa Striker, event chair for Social Enterprise Week. “As that entire culture grows here, we need to keep supporting these entities as well.”
 
 

Museum Center hosts Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire

Power tool drag races, Ping Pong ball explosions, robots and … bellydancing? Yes, you read that right, and no, this isn’t “guess which one of these things doesn’t fit.” In fact, you can find all of these and much more at the Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire, taking place Sept. 13 and 14 at the Cincinnati Museum Center.
 
Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire is a community-organized event and is part of the national Maker Faire created by MAKE Magazine. MAKE describes the event as "the greatest show (and tell) on Earth—a family-friendly showcase of invention, creativity and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement."
 
“It’s about the act of creating, celebrating that, and getting people excited about science and arts as spectacle, in the same way they might get excited going to a sports event,” says Jason Langdon, founder of the Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire. “We’re bringing together different groups of creative types and cross-pollinating them, and you can never really know what’s going to happen.”
 
This year’s faire will feature more than 30 makers of all ages and backgrounds showing off their inventions, as well as focused workshops and communal interactive experiences. After a somewhat rainy Maker Faire last year outside at Washington Park, this year’s location at the Cincinnati Museum Center will further emphasize the idea of craftsmanship.
 
“This year, we find ourselves in a location with tremendous historical significance for the maker movement," Langdon says. "Cincinnati Museum Center shares our mission of providing a forum for discovery, creativity and invention, so we anticipate one incredible party."
 
The event is free, but tickets are required to be reserved by visiting http://www.cincymuseum.org/events/cincinnati-mini-maker-faire.
 
 

Noble Denim awarded top prize at Artworks Big Pitch

After 10 weeks of preparation, build up and excitement, eight local small businesses capped an exhilarating process on August 27 at Artworks’ Big Pitch, held at the American Sign Museum. Each of eight business, profiled throughout the summer on Soapbox, gave a five-minute pitch in front of a panel of judges, as well as an audience of well over 400 people.
 
In the end, Chris Sutton of Noble Denim was named the grand prize winner and was awarded a $15,000 prize, and Django Kroner of The Canopy Crew won the $5,000 audience choice award. First runner up and winner of $2,500 in professional services from Dinsmore and Shohl, Clark Schaefer Hackett and LPK was Matt Madison of Madisono’s Gelato, and second runner up and winner of $,1000 of services was Brian Stuparyk of Steam Whistle Letterpress.
 
“We were all rooting for each other. There was a lot of camaraderie,” Sutton says. “It was a really uplifting environment, and I honestly think everyone nailed it, anyone could have won. So to be picked, we just feel really honored, and it’s hard to feel like it’s even real at this point. ”
 
Winning the grand prize will allow Noble not only to hire on sewers in its Tennessee factory, but also begin to distribute products in Europe and Japan.
 
“This changes our trajectory a lot,” Sutton says. “To be able to move forward on this drops our production costs by a third without having to sacrifice quality.”
 
In addition to the prize money, all of the companies received a business mentor and a US Bank mentor to help in developing and updating the business plan and fine-tuning the pitch.
 
“Artworks did an amazing job on this whole thing,” Sutton says. “You can tell that they listened to the needs of small business and actually developed a program that would be helpful for all of us, and I was super impressed by that. The check-ins with our mentors were some of the most helpful parts of this whole process; I would have felt like I gained something just from that, even without winning the prize.”
 
For more information on Artworks’ work with small business, visit http://www.artworkscincinnati.org/creative-enterprise/.

Local architect Kickstarts her way to one of the world's largest art festivals

Local artist and architect Catherine Richards has been invited to build and exhibit Valance, a site-specific installation at this year’s ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Mich.
 
ArtPrize is an international art competition, taking place from September 24 to October 12, 2014. For 19 days, art from around the world will pop up in every inch of downtown, and it’s all free and open to the public. Two grand prizes worth $400,000 are awarded, along with eight category awards worth $160,000. More than 500,000 people are expected to attend this year’s ArtPrize.
 
Richards, who came to Cincinnati several years ago from Cleveland to attend UC’s DAAP program, was recruited to be involved with ArtPrize when participating in a separate competition.
 
“I was in a competition at the 21c Museum Hotel as one of five finalists,” Richards says. “I’d used rapid prototyping at DAAP to create these patterned mirrors, and at the competition I met a curator who asked me to use this idea for ArtPrize.”
 
 Richards committed to building the project, called Valance, but after pricing it out, she realized she would need some extra funds.
 
“I realized it’s going to be an expensive project; I’m working with industrial designers, a structural engineer and a mechanical designer on this,” she says.
 
So earlier this summer, Richards launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the Valance. In just three weeks, she raised more than $8,000 for the project.
 
“Valance will engage architectural theory, the problems of public space and the private experience of art,” Richards says. “The treatment of a mirror as textile is something I haven’t seen before, and this is going to be installed on Grand Rapids’ Blue Bridge, so there will be lots of pedestrian interaction with the piece.”
 
Richards will drive up to Grand Rapids on September 20 to install the piece. In the meantime, she continues to be dedicated to the Cincinnati community, teaching at DAAP, working on a project called Popup Cincy and Modern Makers

Bad Girl Ventures expands to Covington, opens next door to UpTech

Earlier this month, The Covington City commission unanimously approved a deal that allows Bad Girl Ventures (BGV) to expand its reach to Covington, Ky., where it will move into a space on Pike Street next door to the tech accelerator Uptech. The space will be used as office headquarters for BGV and as a hub of entrepreneurial support and advocacy for female entrepreneurs by offering co-working space to Bad Girls, access to mentorship, and workshop and networking events.
 
“We’ve been trying to find the right space for about a year,” says Corey Drushal, BGV Executive Director. “We noticed that 30 percent of our entrepreneurs were from Northern Kentucky; we even had some driving up from Louisville and Lexington. Covington is where we want to be.”
 
The BGV and UpTech co-working spaces will connect, allowing the entrepreneurs from both programs to collaborate in new ways and learn with entrepreneurs from different industries.
 
“BGV is excited to become part of another strong community where entrepreneurs of all kinds are being nurtured. With BGV, UpTech and BioLogic on the same block, entrepreneurs have every resource at their fingertips. BGV will better help female-owned companies find a stronghold in the community by expanding our presence to Northern Kentucky,” Drushal says.
 
Currently, BGV is active in Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland, and has trained 521 female entrepreneurs. In Cincinnati, they are going into their 10th class and have given out $510,000 in loans in the state of Ohio thus far.
 
“Now that we have our new space, for this next year we’re going to focus less on physical expansion of the program and more on expansion of our services, redeveloping curricula and providing more resources for our Bad Girls,” Durshal says.
 
 
 

Grand City Experiment aims to make inclusivity viral in Cincinnati

By now, anyone with a Facebook account and/or Internet access is familiar with the ALS ice bucket challenge. Now imagine a similar charitable idea but one that is instead focused on your specific city, community and neighbors. In just over a month, we’ll see such an idea come to fruition when the Grand City Experiment begins.
 
The Grand City Experiment (GCE) is an initiative started by 15 members of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s young professional leadership development program C-Change. Their challenge is to make Cincinnati a more welcoming city; they aim to do so by engaging Cincinnatians with daily activities that can have a large cumulative effect on the city.
 
“Each year we provide a guiding principle to our C-Change class,” says Julie Bernzott, manager of C-Change at the Chamber. “The idea of making our community more welcoming had been on the top of our mind for several months. We’d all read an article in the Enquirer about a woman who lived in Cincinnati for two years and didn’t feel like she made one close friend. That story got an unprecedented response from others who felt the same way about our city, and we knew we wanted to do something about it.”
 
The Grand City Experiment is one of several answers the C-Change class has come up with to tackle this issue. Right now, they are collecting email addresses at www.thegrandcityexperiment.com, and starting October 1, every person signed up will receive a daily challenge via email to take some action that can brighten someone’s day, build community, encourage diversity and strengthen the city.
 
“One challenge might simply be to ask some personal questions to a person in the service industry the next time you’re in a cab or a restaurant,” says Aftab Pureval, an attorney at P&G and a member of the C-Change class working on GCE. “Or simply to offer to buy coffee for the person behind you in line. We also have a some challenges that will deal with themes of culture, health issues and more, but the idea is to find small ways to have a large impact on someone’s day.”
 
Through social media and word of mouth, GCE’s initial push has garnered them more than 1,000 participants via email; their goal is to have 30,000 signups by the end of the month of October.
 
“I want people to challenge themselves to learn something new about another person or community,” Pureval says.
 
To find out more information about other C-Change projects and application materials, you can visit http://blogs.cincinnati.com/cchange/ or attend the C-Change information event on August 28 at Mt Adams Pavilion.

Artworks Big Pitch Profile: Misfit Genius

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

It’s not often that you find a business that wasn’t founded to create specific products or services, but instead simply to inspire. Many businesses have core values, but to make your core values into a business is something different. But then again, Cordario “Monty” Collier and Jason Matheny, founders of Misfit Genius, have never been too concerned with what everyone else is doing.
 
Misfit Genius can be summed up as a lifestyle brand, but the two founders are quick to point out that they mean something slightly different by that phrase than most other companies.
 
“Most companies that say that, it’s just based around clothing,” Collier says. “Yes, we sell clothes as well, but we’re more about community-building. The clothes are there to remind us of these values we live by.”
 
Collier and Matheny met in 2008 as students at Thomas More College, where Collier approached Matheny and asked him about a sweater he was wearing. This opened up the initial conversation about fashion, a common interest they both shared.
 
As a business, Misfit Genius was started in 2010. It has remained a very fluid process as Collier and Matheny have been working to find the best way to share their message.
 
“The last four years has really been like going to college for entrepreneurs,” Collier says. “We’ve been through a lot of failure and seen some success, too; the moments of success are what carry you through.”
 
After initial dreams of opening a retail store and creating their own fashion lines, the two men went back to the drawing board several times to find what would really work for them.
 
“We learned that it was more about the idea and the message,” Matheny sas. “The more we focused on that idea of challenging people to pursue their passions, we kept getting signs that that was where we should go.”
 
Now, Misfit Genius describes the clothes they offer as the “back end” of their services. The core of their business is based around five values: Passion, Loyalty, Intelligence, Confidence and Humility. Collier and Matheny have started giving motivational speeches around the area in schools and universities based on these values.
 
“The premise of Misfit Genius is that it’s the misfit in you that makes you who you are—you have to embrace that,” Collier says. “The five values we identified are what you use in order to take that difference and become the genius.”
 
Ultimately, Matheny and Collier want Misfit Genius to become a creative hub in Cincinnati, where ideas and inspiration are bred and real connections are fostered.
 
“At first we were thinking of our brand in a more competitive mode,” Collier says. “Now we’d rather work with other businesses and see how we can help each other to get further. We’re building community one person at a time.” 

Check out these other Artworks Big Pitch finalists:

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

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

New co-working space merges work and play

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

Artworks Big Pitch Finalist: Heather Britt, Heather Britt Dance Collective

Throughout the summer, Soapbox will profile each of the eight finalists in the Artworks Big Pitch competition, presented by U.S. Bank, which offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes, as well as pro-bono professional services. The competition concludes August 27 at the American Sign Museum with the eight finalists each giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges. You can read Soapbox’s article on the Big Pitch here.
 
Heather Britt is not a movement. She is movement. She is also one of those people you meet every now and again who, once you know who they are and what they do, it’s impossible to imagine them doing anything else in life.
 
Britt is a dancer and what she’s created here in Cincinnati, in addition to an impressive career, is an outlet for expression, creativity, energy and emotion through dance. She is the founder and operator of the Heather Britt Dance Collective (HBDC), which acts as the umbrella organization for her various projects including her dance class, DANCEFIX, choreography for the Cincinnati Ballet, flash mobs and more.  
 
“I’ve been dancing since I was 3. I went to the School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) in Cincinnati and have been dancing, teaching and choreographing ever since,” Britt says. “I’ve lived in San Francisco and Colorado, as well, but have been back here since 2000, and this year decided that I wanted to bring all the work I do together under the HBDC name.”
 
While in San Francisco, Britt became involved with a dance fitness class called Rhythm and Motion that changed her life.
 
“In San Francisco, I saw people of different, diverse backgrounds, who were not professional, but were passionate nonetheless, and I thought that that was it for me,” Britt says. “Dance has always been therapeutic for me. It’s also a great way to stay in shape, but I do it because I have no choice—I have to do it. When I saw other people like that, I came back to Cincinnati and I thought, ‘Cincinnati needs this.’”
 
So Britt brought the Rhythm and Motion concept back to Cincinnati, only she found that the community was different and the structure needed some changing to meet the needs of the people here. As a result, she adapted the program and changed the name to DANCEFIX.
 
“It’s all about making connection through dance and getting in shape in the process,” Britt says. “It’s all choreographed by myself and teachers I’ve trained; all different styles are represented in the class, and it’s been really successful so far.”
 
Currently, Britt has 10 teachers and 16 classes, both downtown at the ballet and in Kenwood at Yoga Alive. Britt hopes to continue growing into the surrounding areas including Northern Kentucky, the suburbs and eventually, perhaps, to neighboring cities. She hopes to use the cash prize from Artworks Big Pitch to help her with this growth.
 
“Everything so far has been word of mouth, but my hope is to be able to have someone to help out with marketing, social media and just general online presence,” Britt says.
 
When asked to compare her class to other dance classes in the area, Britt is quick to note the difference: “Zumba, for example, uses dance as a way to get fit and get in shape, which is great, but that’s not what I’m about,” she says. “DANCEFIX is more about dancing for the love of dance and creativity, and it just also happens to be an awesome workout. The class is open to anyone at any level. You don’t have to already be a dancer; we’ve become really good at meeting everyone at their own level.”
 
Britt is excited to continue working on her business throughout the weeks leading up to the Big Pitch and is appreciative of the opportunities afforded to small business in Cincinnati.

Check out these other Artworks Big Pitch finalists:

NKU attracts diverse group of student entrepreneurs for Jumpstart Camp

Last month, the Northern Kentucky University Center for Entrepreneurship hosted entrepreneurially minded high school students from 15 schools across northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati. This inaugural program, titled NKU Jump Start, focused on giving students hands-on experience in ideation, team building, opportunity validation and pitching.
 
Students spent the weekend in NKU dorms working with current NKU college students participating in the INKUBATOR. Together they came up with dozens of ideas before being asked to carefully boil down the number to four and then present to a panel of judges.
 
“Over the weekend, these high school students, who didn’t know each other beforehand, created apps, videos, logos and more,” says Rodney D’Souza, assistant professor of Entrepreneurship at NKU and founder of the INKUBATOR. “The judges, which included some of Cincinnati’s best known serial entrepreneurs, were blown away by these students.”
 
"I've judged a number of startup events, and these high school students were as prepared and as professional as the adults,” says Taerk Kamil, one of the judges at Jump Start and a local entrepreneur. “Their passion for entrepreneurship was evident. I only wish this type of event existed when I was in high school!"
 
First place at the event went to an idea called Medimaze, a medical system that changes any consumable medication into flavorless, scentless vapor. Using an innovative cartridge system, Medimaze is able to record when and how much medication the patient receives and automatically links it to the doctor. The winning team was made up of students Jake Franzen, Jane Petrie, Riley Meyerratken and Tori Bischoff.
 
The students were grateful for the experience and said they wished the camp could have lasted longer. Based on the feedback they received, D’Souza and his team at NKU are looking at expanding the camp to four days to show the students more of the campus and have more time to work together.
 
 “Both the students and the judges gave us some much good feedback; I think everyone was really impressed by the outcome of the camp,” D’Souza says. “It’s great for us as a university to attract young talent, and it’s also great for our region to be able to continue to grow and expand entrepreneurship on the whole.”

Adopt a Class and Sales Genesis team up to stoke young entrepreneurs

Increasingly, when we think of startups and the entrepreneurs behind them, we tend to think of tech-savvy people in their twenties sitting behind a screen working with datasets and codes. In Cincinnati, the Adopt A Class Foundation is proving that entrepreneurs can come in many forms—and ages.
 
Adopt A Class, a mentoring program that connects pre-K through 8th grade students with local businesses, teamed with local marketing company Sales Genesis to work with the 4th grade class at St. Peter Claver Latin School for Boys. By the end of the school year, the boys had their own small business, the Refreshing Lemon lemonade stand, complete with a business plan, business model, logo and marketing materials.
 
“We first met the boys in December 2013,” says Sales Genesis founder and CEO David Mentzel. “It was very interesting: We talked about what they were passionate about, and they all were very into the NBA, but instead of wanting to be basketball players, they dreamed of owning a team.”
 
After getting to know the students and their interests a little better, Mentzel and his team decided that the best thing to do would be to introduce them to the entrepreneurial process and just what it takes to own a business.
 
“We narrowed it down to a lemonade stand so that it was more feasible to start with,” he says. “Then we talked to them about company structure, showed them what a business plan looks like, and they voted each other into different roles and really adapted to them.”
 
The group went about setting a budget, determining costs and designing marketing materials. The project culminated when the Refreshing Lemon stand was put up for one afternoon in May on the corner of Main and Thirteenth Streets in Over-the-Rhine. In just an hour and a half, the stand earned more than $100. The earnings were then split up among the boys, who decided to donate a sizable percentage to their neighbors at the Mary Magdalen House on Main Street.
 
“We also talked to them about the importance of putting some away for yourself and saving for the future,” says Katie Burroughs, executive director of Adopt A Class. “We want them to feel that they have the skill set and knowledge to run their own business one day.”
 
Adopt A Class works with several schools and businesses around the city, but will continue the partnership between St. Peter Claver and Sales Genesis next year. 

Cincinnati Chamber's Minority Business Accelerator grows portfolio with three new firms

The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator (MBA) has had a busy year. This month, the MBA has announced the addition of three local corporations to the organization’s current portfolio of 34 companies, ensuring those minority-owned enterprises the MBA’s assistance with working with larger companies of substance. 
 
Additionally, two new MBA Corporate Goal Setters were unveiled today, joining the ranks of 37 regional organizations that have pledged a significant commitment to using a diverse group of suppliers.
 
Joining the MBA as Portfolio Companies are K-COR, LLC, a specialty subcontractor specializing in reinforced steel led by former Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Kevin Walker; PAK/TEEM Acquisition Company, Inc., a dust control technology leader; and Business Technical Services, LLC, an infrastructure company specializing in pipeline integrity management.
 
“The Cincinnati region is made up of somewhere around 20 percent minorities. We want to make sure that they, as individuals and companies, are given every opportunity to grow to their fullest potential,” says Crystal German, vice president of the MBA and economic inclusion at the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. “These three portfolio additions are not only examples of the measured growth of our MBA, but represent strong minority advancement in manufacturing, one of our region’s most significant industry sectors.”
 
In addition to this, the MBA announced last week at its 2014 Annual Stakeholder meeting that the Goal Setters companies spent $1.04 billion with local minority-owned companies in 2013, the highest level in the MBA’s 11-year history. Goal Setters are local corporations and nonprofit organizations that commit to an annual spend goal. Also announced at the meeting, average revenues for the MBA’s 34 Portfolio Firms reached $32 million in 2013, a 10 percent increase from 2012, and a 100 percent increase from 2009.
 
“Thirteen years ago, there was major racial tension here, and one of the biggest issues was a lack of opportunities for minorities, specifically in business,” says Lance Barry, public relations manager at the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. “To be able to say that now we have one of the leading minority business accelerators in the entire country is incredible.”
 
Indeed, since the MBA’s formation 11 years ago, the cities of Dayton, Ohio, Lexington, Ky., Greensville, S.C., and Charlotte, N.C., have all begun similar programs in their respective cities and have modeled them on Cincinnati’s MBA program

Xavier Partners with American Dreamers radio show to support entrepreneurs

X-Link, a Xavier University Williams College of Business initiative to support locally-owned business creation in Greater Cincinnati, is collaborating with the local radio show American Dreamers to profile local entrepreneurs.
 
American Dreamers airs every Sunday at 9 p.m. on 55KRC, 550AM and his hosted by Sun Ho Donovan and Tom Tasset. The hosts will feature a profile on a different member of the Cincinnati Independent Business Alliance (CiNBA) each week as a benefit membership of CiNBA.
 
“When I found out about CiNBA, I immediately became a supporter of their mission to aid small businesses,” Donovan says. “It’s absolutely the same thing we’re doing with the show, so it made sense for us to work together and support each other.”
 
The profiles will include on-air interviews with the featured entrepreneurs or discussion spots focused on their local businesses, as well as the impact of independent businesses on a community level.
 
“Our partnership with American Dreamers creates some unique benefits for CiNBA members,” says Owen Raisch, founder of the X-Link program and of CINBA. “Of course, radio airtime allows us to share our member stories, but we'll also be offering CiNBA members and supporters exclusive content online in the form of extended interviews that Tom and Sun Ho hold with different experts on the show. Soon, we expect the partnership to bring game-changing ways for local business owners to learn from each other online.”
 
Both CiNBA and American Dreamers agree on the fact that small business growth and entrepreneurship are the way to strengthening individuals, communities and cities.
 
“I was born in South Korea, and my parents have the classic immigrant turned entrepreneur story,” Donovan says. “Seeing their path has really strengthened my belief in the idea that business ownership and supporting small business is the way to change neighborhoods.”
 
In addition to this partnership, CiNBA continues to actively seek out new partnerships in an effort to grow entrepreneurship in the region.
 
“As we strengthen ties throughout more than 20 neighborhood business districts in the region, we're looking to develop strong partnerships with local financiers—ones committed to creating vibrant communities by funding local small businesses,“ Raisch says.
 
To learn more visit www.gcinba.org

UC grad's senior design project wins first prize at housewares competition

Amanada Bolton, a recent graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s nationally No. 1 ranked industrial design program, tied for first place in a student design contest put on by the International Housewares Association (IHA). Bolton was awarded first place for her B-PAC Kitchenware, which was designed to aid the visually impaired.
 
The impetus for the design came from an evening when her grandmother, Barbara, who had lost her eyesight, went to brush her teeth and accidentally used Bengay instead of toothpaste.
 
“That was an aha moment,” says Bolton, who now works at Design Central in Columbus, Ohio. “Most of the visually impaired community doesn’t read braille. So I started thinking about the idea of inclusivity in industrial design.”
 
After that, Bolton began doing research and empathy training with the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, including a three day period spent blindfolded during her final term at the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning.
 
“I realized there were a ton of issues,” Bolton says. “Precise measuring was difficult; safety was a big issue.”
 
In response, she created three products for her B-PAC line. A silicone collar or pot guard snaps onto a standard pot to prevent the blind from experiencing burns when checking on cooking food. When flipped down, the collar protects hands from hot surfaces. She also created a measuring cup that pops out buttons to indicate quantity as it is filled, food-storage container lids that feature embossed shapes indicating contents and date of storage.
 
“I learned from this project that it’s easy to impact people as a designer if your methodology is all about simplicity and tactile and intuitive cues,” Bolton says.
 
As a result of winning the IHA competition, Bolton was invited to present her designs and her findings to industry professionals in Chicago at the International Home + Housewares Show. She’s been able to secure patents on all three of her products and is in talks with manufacturers about developing a fully functional prototype, while still focusing on her career at Design Central.
 
“With B-PAC, the ultimate goal is to get it into the hands of people that can use it,” Bolton says. “However, even if the products don’t come on the open market, I’m getting interest from a lot of health groups that want to share these methods and open up a conversation about inclusive design. I’d love for my project to be the innovation spark for this idea.”

Food truck festival on Fountain Square grows, benefits local charity

Local nonprofit Josh Cares, an organization within Cincinnati Children’s Hospital designed to benefit hospitalized children who are alone or in need of support, will take over Fountain Square on June 18 for Food Truckin’ for Josh Cares: Presented by General Mills and Kroger.
 
The lunchtime event is set for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will feature more than 10 diverse food trucks from around Cincinnati including Eli’s BBQ, Dojo Gelato, C’est Cheese, Red Sesame, Street Pops, Blue Ash Chili and more. Frank Marzulo of Fox 19 will emcee the event, which culminates with a “Golden Spatula Awards” contest, with best entree and best sweet treat chosen by a celebrity panel that includes Elizabeth Mariner, co-publisher and creative director for "Express Cincinnati;" Ilene Ross, chef and editor of 513Eats.com; and Jeremy Lieb, executive chef at Boca. Judging will be headed up by Warm 98 hosts Bob Goen and Marianne Curan, who will be broadcasting live from the event.
 
“If you look at just how many people have come together to build this event and make it successful, it’s truly a testament to our city as a whole,” says Tom Howard, member of the Josh Cares Young Professional Council. “We also couldn’t have made this happen without the support of Rockfish, who selected us to be the recipient of $50,000 of pro-bono digital marketing and branding services.”
 
The Josh Cares program began as a grassroots initiative within Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Today, there are six Josh Cares Child Life Specialists at the hospital to ensure that no critically ill child endures a lengthy hospitalization alone, feeling afraid and abandoned. Food Truckin’ for Josh Cares has become the organization’s biggest public event and awareness builder.
 
“Last year, we raised $17,000; this year our goal is to more than double that,” says Joy Blang, executive director of Josh Cares. “The bottom line is that ,while it will be a great day celebrating the great food truck scene here, it’s really all about making these children a little happier.”

Want to learn more about Cincinnati street food? Check out "30 Must-Try Cincinnati Food Trucks."

Joe Thirty provides new format, opportunity for entrepreneurs to connect

In May, a new series of morning networking events called Joe Thirty kicked off on the 20th floor of the Cincinnati Enquirer building downtown. The series holds events every second Wednesday of the month at 8 a.m., and offers individual entrepreneurs/companies a chance to present to a group of their peers, make connections and receive feedback.
 
At each event, only one local entrepreneur is selected to speak. They are given six minutes to present and talk about any issues they are dealing with or help they may need. The remaining 24 minutes are reserved for community feedback (totaling 30 minutes for the entire event). The main organizers of the event are the Greater Cincinnati Venture Association (GCVA) and local startup and entrepreneurial partner Differential.
 
“GCVA and Differential have been getting together to think about how we could create a program that gathers together the startup community and gives one company at a time the chance to make a pitch to them, not for money, but for resources,” says GCVA volunteer Jake Hodesh. “Our goal is that hopefully by the end of that 30 minute event, that startup leaves with at least one, if not multiple, connections, whether they be to mentors, developers, beta testers or anything else.”
 
The next event will be held on Wednesday, June 11 and will feature Sue Reynolds of ArtifactTree. ArtifactTree is a tool that lets users log and track family heirlooms and other rare items in their possession. This tool is aimed to make it easy for families to share who has what, add notes, and even tap a network of specialists within ArtifactTree to have your possessions rated, commented on and appraised. 
 
“There’s still a very real need for startups to access mentors and connections in a general sense,” Hodesh says. “We held the first event, and we had a really good crowd, so it was pretty obvious that there are people who are still hungry to participate and to help.”
 
Since the first event, GCVA and Differential have received a flurry of inquires from various startups about presenting at Joe Thirty. Hodesh says they plan to roll out an application process to evaluate each company and determine whether or not Joe Thirty will be able to connect them with the resources they need.
 
“Cincinnati is a resource-rich environment for entrepreneurs right now,” Hodesh says. “The greatest opportunity is that there are so many opportunities. We’re just doing our part to connect people with them.” 

Xavier offers LaunchCincy entrepreneurship workshops in Spanish

Xavier University’s X-link program, a Williams College of Business initiative to support locally owned business creation in greater Cincinnati, has expanded its LaunchCincy entrepreneurship workshops to include a workshop for Spanish speakers called LaunchCincy Juntos.
 
Currently, LaunchCincy hosts free workshops in six neighborhoods including Madisonville and Price Hill in an effort to give new entrepreneurs the resources, guidance and network they need to start a business.
 
“The objective at a theoretical level is to help people active in the informal economy transition into the formal economy,” says Owen Raisch, founder of the X-link initiative at Xavier. “At a practical level, it’s about getting people with entrepreneurial interest to realize it and get started.”
 
The workshops take place in a four-part series, as they help participants take their businesses from idea to revenue. Partnering with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Transformations CDC, the new workshop is developing skills and ideas with 10 Spanish-speaking immigrants in Price Hill. To create the course, Xavier undergraduate students Gali Zummar, Laura Forero and Ronald Vieira translated the outline of the English workshop into Spanish.
 
“As a Jesuit university, it matches up with our mission to be reaching out to help communities that might not otherwise get the attention,” Raisch says. “The Hispanic population has disproportionately high rates of enterprise, and to create this program and have a chance for our students to be involved is really key.”
 
X-Link plans to expand its Spanish-speaking program into Carthage this fall, in partnership with the Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio and Su Casa Hispanic Ministries. They also plan to build the LaunchCincy curriculum into the university curriculum so that students will get course credit for designing and implementing the workshops through Xavier’s entrepreneurship program.
 

The next LaunchCincy workshop is Saturday, June 14, at Speckled Bird Cooperative in Norwood. Learn more and sign up for free. 


OTRimprov announces Cincinnati's first national improv festival

OTRimprov, the improvisational comedy troupe based out of Over-the-Rhine’s Know Theatre, announced last week that in the fall it will put on Cincinnati’s first national improve festival, IF Cincy, September 12-13, 2014.
 
The festival will take place at the Know Theatre and, in addition to shining a light on the improvisational talent here in Cincinnati, it will bring in some of the best talent nationwide from cities like Chicago, New York, Detroit and Louisville, with more acts still to be announced.
 
"We're excited to share the national acts OTRimprov is bringing in," says Tara Pettit, a cast member of OTRimprov and IF Cincy executive producer. "Between those groups, the local troupes doing great work, and Cincinnati natives who have been performing in other cities who are returning for the festival, it will be two nights of really amazing improv.”
 
The IF Cincy festival will take place around the four-year anniversary of the OTRimprov troupe, who joined together as a group of likeminded performers looking for more opportunities to create a scene around improv performance, similar to the culture that has been created by institutions like IO (formerly ImprovOlympic ) and Second City.
 
“We’ve been able to build up a regular schedule of shows, do some private performances and even some company training sessions,” says Kat Smith, OTRimprov co-director. “But what we really want to do is build an audience and a community that are excited about improv in Cincinnati. We want to make improv more visible in this city and do everything we can to support other troupes locally.”
 
Currently, the festival is pushing its Indiegogo campaign, where supporters can donate to help make the festival happen and receive exclusive benefits and rewards in return. Additionally, OTRimprov has been leveraging existing partnerships to create IF Cincy.
 
OTRimprov brought on local actor Kevin Crowley, who studied and performed improv in Chicago for years, often with Second City. After returning to Cincinnati, Crowley has continued teaching and performing improv. He recently opened a training and innovation company, Inspiration Corporation, that teaches the methods of improv to corporations and individuals.
 
The other key partner is the Jackson Street Market, a resource-sharing program run by the Know Theatre.
 
"The Jackson Street Market and Know Theatre have been there since the beginning,” Smith says. “Their impact on our troupe overall has been immeasurable. We wouldn't be planning the festival, or performing as a troupe, without their support."
 

Xavier partners with Colombian firm to offer Spanish project-management certificate

Xavier Leadership Center (XLC) will expand its project-management reach globally, partnering with Casmena, an executive education firm headquartered in Bogota, Colombia. Casmena itself is an international organization that provides executive education to corporations in a variety of industries, including automotive, IT, banking, education and production.
 
For the first time, Xavier Leadership Center will certify an industry-driven and internationally recognized project-management certificate series in Spanish outside the United States. Casmena, in partnership with XLC, will initially offer two project-management programs, Introduction to Project Management and Project Controlling and Earned Value, beginning in April 2014.
 
“From Xavier’s perspective, the partnership demonstrates XLC’s ability to support our clients globally and consistently, by overseeing the quality of the training by building a global network,” says Bruce Miller, director of the XLC. “For Casmena, the partnership instantly raises the visibility and credibility of their training programs in Colombia by having a recognized U.S.-based university partner.”
 
Casmena had been looking for a distinguished U.S. university to endorse and certify its programs.
 
“Xavier was selected due to our responsiveness, the flexibility in our proposed partnership model, and the Williams College of Business’ ranking/reputation in international business (currently No. 19 for 2014-2015 by U.S. News and World Report),” Miller says.
 
With this partnership underway, Xavier hopes to expand its reach both regionally and internationally.
 
“Our relationship with Casmena allows XLC to ensure the delivery of high-quality and high-impact project-management programs endorsed by Xavier internationally,” Miller says. “We anticipate replicating this model in support of our global clients with a growing portfolio of offerings.”
 
By Mike Sarason

 

Creatives can compete for cash and services in Big Pitch contest

For creative business owners looking to grow their business in Cincinnati, there is no time like the present. Announced this month, Artworks Big Pitch, presented by U.S. Bank, offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes, as well as pro-bono professional services.
 
Applications for the Big Pitch are open now and will be accepted through May 16. Applicants will then be narrowed down to eight finalists, each of whom will have five minutes to deliver their pitch to a live audience and panel of experts at the ArtWorks Big Pitch event on Aug. 27, 2014 at the American Sign Museum in downtown Cincinnati.
 
The business with the best pitch will be awarded a grand prize of $15,000 cash. The finalists also will have the opportunity to be awarded an additional $5,000 by popular vote. Two runners-up will be awarded professional services such as legal, accounting and branding support.
 
The Big Pitch is yet another transformative project presented by Artworks' Creative Enterprise division, which also manages CO.STARTERS (formerly Springboard).
 
“A stronger creative community builds a better Cincinnati,” says Caitlin Behle, Creative Enterprise manager for Artworks. “This funding is a huge stepping stone to supporting the greater Cincinnati community. So far the biggest hurdle for us is that it sounds too good to be true.”
 
To provide opportunities for interested applicants to ask questions in person, ArtWorks is hosting two events—the Creative Enterprise Open House on April 24, and ArtWorks Big Pitch Q&A Info Session on May 7.
 
“We’ve been seeing more and more opportunities for web/tech/app-based companies in Cincinnati, but we felt like the handmade creative community was getting overlooked,” says Katie Garber, director of Creative Enterprise for Artworks.
 
As a sponsor and collaborator on the event, U.S. Bank will provide each of the eight finalists with a mentor who will coach them for the 10 weeks leading up to the event. For more information on the event, visit http://www.artworkscincinnati.org/creative-enterprise/artworksbigpitch/
 
 By Mike Sarason

Open Data Startup Weekend pulls in new ideas, new entrepreneurs

Innovation, talent and resourcefulness were all on display this weekend in Covington as local accelerator Uptech played host to the Open Data Startup Weekend. This year, Cincinnati Startup Weekend partnered with Code for America, the nonprofit aimed at connecting citizens with better design and tech services, and Open Data Cincy, a regional initiative to use public data to encourage transparency, innovation and civic engagement.
 
The goal of the event was to foster social entrepreneurship by accessing public data to launch new ventures, analyze patterns and trends, make data-driven decisions, and solve complex problems in our community.
 
A diverse crowd of participants turned up for Startup Weekend, which asks participants to split into groups and create viable startup ideas over 48 hours. Among their ranks were high school and college students, lawyers, engineers, techies, and designers representing several age groups and varying experience levels, from complete newbies to previous Startup Weekend attendees.
 
“I enjoy the fact that people come from diverse backgrounds and working together really intensely,” says Racquel Redwood, who was participating in her second Startup Weekend on an idea called Potholer.
 
“While I work for a large company here, its great that there are opportunities here to explore the entrepreneurial space as well,” says Benjamin Danzinger, R&D engineer at Johnson & Johnson.
 
After spending the weekend refining their ideas, getting advice from the event organizers (who themselves also represent local startups like Choremonster, Lisnr, BlackbookHR and more), running focus groups and scouring data, each group presented Sunday evening to a duo of judges—Eric Avner of the The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and Elizabeth Naramore of GitHub, which provides powerful collaboration, code review, and code management for open source and private projects.
 
First place went to UMO, which addresses “the achievement gap” and is a platform for prospecting students to learn about the true cost of a college education at various universities based on scholarships available, average ROI of the degree they’re interested in and actual published attendance costs. For winning, they received six months of desk space at Cintrifuse, a meeting with a local venture capitalist, and a GitHub gold account—all things to help continue their startup. 
 
Second place was kNOwait, an app that publishes drive times along with wait times at local urgent cares, DMVs, etc. to help users determine the actual fastest option near them. They received desk space at Cintrifuse, legal advice from Taft, and a GitHub bronze account. The next Startup Weekend will take place in November; visit www.cincinnati.startupweekend.org to stay updated.
 
By Mike Sarason

Cincinnati Center for Adult Music Study opens this week

This week marks the opening of a new music education program in Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Center for Adult Music Study (CincyCAMS). Founded by Rachel Kramer, pianist, teacher and arts administrator, and her business partner Mary Chaiken, CincyCAMS will offer programs on all aspects of music in multiple venues around the greater Cincinnati area. 
 
Chaiken and Kramer have been friends for some time, having made music together as a part of Muse, Cincinnati’s Women’s Choir, until Kramer retired from the choir in 2013. In 2014, they’ve decided to become business partners.
 
“I had always wanted to start a program like this,” Kramer says. “Mary had just finished her last grant-based job in medical research—she is a molecular biologist—and was looking to do something new. We got to talking and CincyCAMS is the result.”
 
The programs offered include more traditional lessons, performance groups, lectures covering a wide range of musical topics and more. Programs are intended to be short (nothing more than six weeks) so students will not only cover several topics throughout the course of the year, but will also visit several different venues in various areas of the city.
 
“We want to be the community meeting place for people to come, make music and realize a dream come true,” Kramer says. “We want to enrich lives and inspire adults to make their own kind of music.”
 
CincyCAMS is also looking to collaborate with current music teachers and music professionals in the Greater Cincinnati area.
 
“We will be using our professional colleagues as facilitators,” Kramer says. “We also would like students of our community teachers to come to CincyCAMS for enrichment classes and performance opportunity, and we would like to send cincyCAMS participants who want further study to our area teachers.”
 
To that end, CincyCAMS has already partnered with the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music, as well as with Northern Kentucky University and the Music Teacher’s National Association.  
 
To learn more about the program, visit www.cincycams.com.

By Mike Sarason

The Carnegie takes inspiration from local farming, adopts Community Supported Art program

The Carnegie, Northern Kentucky’s largest multidisciplinary arts venue located in Covington, has announced the inaugural season of Carnegie Community Supported Art (Carnegie CSA), which will allow arts enthusiasts to buy “farm boxes” filled with works of art created by local artists.
 
Inspired by Community Supported Agriculture initiatives (CSAs), which allow consumers to buy food directly from local farmers, The Carnegie’s CSA program applies the same “buy local” ethic to art and seeks to enrich the experience for artists and collectors at all levels.
 
“We hope that this program will bring new collectors in and make it easier for collectors to discover new artists,” says Matt Distel, exhibitions director at the Carnegie. “We included a diverse array of local artists so that no matter what your level of experience buying art is, everyone will wind up with something new.”
 
Local artists whose work will be featured include Antonio Adams, Keith Benjamin, Carmel Buckley, Barbara Houghton, Casey Riordan Millard, Marcia Shortt, Michael Stillion/Katie Labmeier, Chris Vorhees and Joseph Winterhalter.
 
Individuals interested in supporting the Carnegie CSA will purchase a “share” for $350 and in return will receive a “farm box” consisting of nine pieces of locally produced artwork. Featured works could include items such as mixed media prints, a run of photographs or small original ceramics.
 
The actual works created will vary and will be kept secret until July when participants will pick up their “shares” during the Carnegie CSA harvest party. The program is modeled on a similar program created by mnartists.org and Springboard for the Arts in Minneapolis.
 
“It’s a very innovative way of thinking about how we create a community spirit that is supportive of local artists,” Distel says. “We’re looking to make this an ongoing program so that we can continue to include all kind of artists from the area and cultivate new collectors.”
 
Member shares for the Carnegie CSA will go on sale Thursday, May 1, 2014, and will be available for purchase by contacting (859) 491-2030. To learn more about the program, visit www.thecarnegie.com.  
 
 By Mike Sarason

Class is in Session radio program is Cincinnati's newest forum on education

Cincinnati has a new venue for public dialogue on the topic of education in our city. “Class is in Session” is a weekly radio program on 1230 AM every Saturday from 3-4 p.m., created through a collaboration between the Strive Partnership and Parents for Public Schools of Greater Cincinnati (PPSGC). 
 
The show, which began at the beginning of March, is set up to be an open forum where listeners are encouraged to call in and voice their opinions on issues related to education in the urban core.
 
“Our goal is to engage the community and create great discussions in the education sphere,” says Nia Williams, Community Engagement Coordinator for Strive. “This show creates a consistent space for dialogue and provides constant feedback for us that will inform our work.”
 
Strive, a partnership of Greater Cincinnati businesses, nonprofits, school districts and universities working to improve outcomes for every child in Cincinnati, Covington and Newport, reached out to PPSGC because of their experience engaging the community.
 
“We thought radio would be a good venue because we get to share what’s happening and people can offer feedback at any point during the program,” Williams says.
 
So far, topics for Class is in Session have included the achievement gap, poverty, parent involvement and more.
 
“Parent engagement in the education sphere is crucial,” Williams says. “It can fundamentally change how our education system works; we have to do a better job at reaching out to parents and making that happen. That’s why we’re working with PPSGC in the first place.”
 
Class is in Session will also act as a method of sharing positive developments that are happening in the urban core.
 
“We have a lot to talk about as far as early childhood education, the Preschool Promise and more,” Williams says. “We want listeners to be excited and learn how they can get involved.”
 
The Preschool Promise is a campaign to ensure that every 3-4-year-old has access to quality preschool. This promises to get more children ready for school, reading successfully by the end of 3rd grade, and graduating from high school ready for college and careers.
 
To learn more about Class is in Session, visit the Strive Partnership website.

By Mike Sarason

Cincinnati Preservation Collective creating framework to save historic buildings

Cincinnati Preservation Collective (CPC) officially has the designation of being the newest group of engaged local citizens passionate about preserving Cincinnati’s historic properties.
 
Founded in late 2013, CPC came together as a way for Cincinnatians who care about historic buildings not only to meet up and learn from one another about preservation in the city, but also to create a framework that provides a proactive approach to saving such structures.
 
“CPC was started in part because I was having a lot of conversations with people who were interested in preservation, many of them already involved in different neighborhood type organizations, but who didn’t actually have a way to proactively save buildings,” says co-founder Diana Tisue. “As a community, we’ve been through a lot of really dramatic battles saving buildings and I realized that part of the problem was that we were coming in too late. Our cause can’t be one building; it has to be advocating for preservation throughout the city.”
 
Already, the young group has set its sights on five “impact buildings” that have been selected because they are either in danger of demolition or are in need of considerable rehabilitation. Four of the properties are in Over-the-Rhine (including the Davis Furniture Building on Main Street) and one is in Walnut Hills (The Paramount Building on McMillan).
 
“For a lot of people, being labeled a preservationist carries a stigma with it; it’s anti-development or anti-progress,” says co-founder John Blatchford. “But I think what we’ve seen in Cincinnati, in areas like Over-the-Rhine and downtown, is that we’ve benefitted a lot from saving old buildings and making use of them. And it can be done in an economic, profitable way.”
 
In addition to its five impact buildings, CPC is also rallying the community around the idea of preservation in other ways. Last week, they held their first Pitch Party event at Venue 222, featuring 10 presenters each given five minutes or less to present their preservation related projects.
 
The winners were decided by an audience vote, which ended up as a tie between Brendan Regan of OTR ADOPT and Giacomo Ciminello of PlayCincy, who each were awarded $500 in seed funding. The organizers note that just as important as the seed funding was the social capital gained by presenting to a full room of preservation enthusiast; CPC hopes to host the pitch party annually.
 
The next CPC meeting will be on Tuesday, March 25 at Arnold’s and is free and open to the public. To learn more, visit www.preservethenati.com.
 
By Mike Sarason


Visually impaired 'Pixel Painter' from Super Bowl ad exhibiting work at UC

Hal Lasko, the 98-year-old visually impaired grandfather featured in a recent Super Bowl commercial, has brought a broad collection of his creations—landscapes, still life, abstracts—to the University of Cincinnati in February for the first solo exhibit of his pixel paintings. DAAP Galleries at UC is presenting "Hal Lasko: The Pixel Painter" at the Philip M. Meyers, Jr. Memorial Gallery from Feb. 3-March 30, with an artist reception on March 13 from 5-7 p.m.
 
Lasko’s Pixel Painter name is derived from his use of Microsoft Paint as a medium to create art. While to some it may seem like an antiquated program, Lasko's deft use of the program elevates the technique to a fine art.
 
“Hal started working with MS Paint in the 90s, so at the time it didn't seem outdated,” says Ryan Lasko, grandson of Hal. “Now, 15 years later, MS Paint is just a tool to him, like an artist would use a paintbrush and canvas.”
 
Lasko started out as a graphic designer, working in the military during World War II drafting maps. After his military career, he worked on creative projects for several companies and eventually retired from American Greetings in the 1970s. As his sight began deteriorating, it became harder for him to paint. Things took a turn though when his family bought him a computer on his 85th birthday; the computer came loaded with MS Paint.
 
"When I got the computer and saw what the Paint program offered, I started a whole new career almost,” Lasko says.
 
Lasko’s story has captured many people’s attention. A short film about his life made by his son and grandson led to the family being contacted by Microsoft and Lasko being featured in Microsoft’s “Empowering” Super Bowl XLVIII commercial.
 
Additionally, the video caught the attention of Aaron Cowan, program director of DAAP Galleries.
 
“I connected to the video and his work on an artistic, human and very personal level and believed others would as well,” Cowan says. “It also seemed to me he deserved recognition for his work in a formal gallery setting, and I wanted to make that happen.”
 
Learn more about Lasko’s story and the DAAP exhibit.

By Mike Sarason


This Land's Growing Value Nursery to provide sustainable food supply to Cincinnatians

This Land, a local nonprofit that aims to bring educational opportunities to the Greater Cincinnati area in permaculture, green building and sustainable living, is pushing forward its Growing Value Nursery. The nursery, located in Northside, offers more than 120 varieties of perennial edible plants, with the aim of giving permaculturalists and gardeners tools to create “abundant and resilient landscapes.”
 
Braden Trauth, founder of This Land and the Growing Value Nursery, firmly believes in the need to create a sustainable local urban environment and cites the tenets of permaculture as his methodology for how to do so.
 
“Permaculture looks at ecology, understands how ecosystems have worked for 2 billion years and looks at how we can model our human systems off of that,” Trauth says. “It actually pulls a lot of its theoretical framework form industrial design, which is what I’m trained in.”
 
Trauth was initially turned on to sustainable design in the early 2000s by Dale Murray, the coordinator of the Industrial Design Program of the School of Design, in the college of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning at the University of Cincinnati.
 
In 2007, after studying topics such as housing, energy, green business and permaculture around the world, Trauth noticed that Cincinnati was severely lacking in resources for these areas, particularly so in educating the population about them. In 2008, he began teaching permaculture classes in Cincinnati, and in 2011 went on to form This Land to continue to educate and disseminate ideas on how to create systems for sustainable living.
 
“The Growing Value Nursery spawned out of our permaculture courses,” Trauth says. “We realized that we didn’t have a supply line of good plants to supply homeowners, home gardeners, landscapers with diverse edibles; most of what you’d get is mail order, and most of the plants are small. We wanted to do something bigger.”
 
In 2013, the Growing Value Nursery received a $1,200 grant from Fuel Cincinnati, which allowed them to accelerate growth so the program could be more self-sustaining through the nursery and classes.
 
“You talk with Braden for a half hour and you realize that we have world-class experts on permaculture right here in Cincinnati,” says Fuel chair Joe Stewart-Pirone. “Fuel knew we wanted to help launch this project as soon as we saw it.”
 
For more info on the nursery or to schedule an appointment to visit, e-mail info@this-land.org

by Mike Sarason


Cincinnati Chamber launches $1.7M minority business funding campaign

The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator (MBA) announced the launch of the first phase of funding for the L. Ross Love GrowthBridge Fund. The MBA is the Chamber’s economic-development initiative focused on growing sizeable minority firms.
 
The fund will provide flexible debt capital to finance growth projects of established, highly competitive African-American and Hispanic-owned firms in the region. The average loan size will be $175,000. It is anticipated that three to four loans will be made per year. Once they are, they will be the first of their kind in the country.
 
“The combination of the target market, the geographic focus and the financial product makes the L. Ross Love GrowthBridge Fund unique,” says Crystal German, vice president of the MBA and economic inclusion at the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. “The fund will help us grow our impact, the number of firms we touch, and continue to help us fundamentally change the conversation about economic inclusion.”
 
The fund was named in memory of media owner L. Ross Love. The entrepreneur, philanthropist, former Procter & Gamble executive and founder of Blue Chip Broadcasting was dedicated to minority entrepreneurship. During his career, Love created Blue Chip Enterprises, a company that helped African Americans start their own businesses.
 
The fund has raised more than $1.7 million from 28 investors since being announced in June 2013, representing both corporations and private commitments.
 
“The opportunity to make the L. Ross Love GrowthBridge Fund come to fruition was seeded by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, who was looking for opportunities where they could provide financial investments that also created positive social impact,” German says.
 
Since its inception in 2003, the MBA has created 1,800 jobs in Cincinnati. The success of the Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator has served as a catalyst across the country including in Charlotte, Cleveland, Lexington, Dayton and Greenville, where MBAs have since been launched. Learn more about the history of Cincinnati's MBA and how it has become a model for other MBAs throughout the country.

By Mike Sarason

'Raise the Floor' initiative will prepare women for advanced manufacturing careers

Last week, the Workforce Solutions and Innovation Division of Gateway Community and Technical College in Florence, Ky., launched ‘Raise the Floor,’ an initiative designed to promote manufacturing careers to women and to prepare them for stable, highly paid, high-performance production jobs.
 
Raise the Floor has two primary goals: to help women improve their economic well-being and increase the pipeline of skilled workers—in this case women—to ease the current and projected manufacturing labor shortage. The program was developed by a group of women from a variety of employers including Duke Energy, Emerson Industrial Automation, NKY Chamber of Commerce, Northern Kentucky University and more.
 
“This new program was developed by women for women,” says Angie Taylor, Vice President of Workforce Solutions and Innovation. “A consortium of 26 female manufacturing executives and community leaders met throughout the summer and fall to pull the program together, with the assistance of our Dean of Workforce Solutions, Carissa Schutzman.”
 
A Raise the Floor pilot program is currently under way with a small group of women from other Gateway programs who are involved in an introductory class, which will conclude November 8. 
 
The training portion formally kicks off in January when a group of 10 to 15 women are expected to take the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council’s Certified Production Technician class. This four-credit-hour Gateway course ends in May and includes four assessments. When students pass all four assessments, they receive the nationally recognized Certified Production Technician certification.
 
“We are delighted to announce this new initiative that joins our existing efforts to promote manufacturing careers to high school students, displaced workers and veterans,” says Ed Hughes, Gateway President/CEO. “We now have recruitment efforts aimed at four of the five worker populations identified by the Northern Kentucky Industrial Partnership, and we are working to develop outreach to the fifth, which is senior citizens.
 
“The Raise the Floor initiative is a shot in the arm for our extensive manufacturing pipeline efforts,” Hughes continues. “We are very grateful to the United Way, which has co-sponsored this effort, Partners for a Competitive Workforce and all of the 26 women who so generously volunteered their time to develop this dynamic new initiative.”

By Mike Sarason

Financial Opportunity Center offers new model for social service in Cincinnati

The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), the nation’s leading community-development support organization, has developed a new model to help struggling individuals and family progress to a state of stability. The program is called the Financial Opportunity Center, and LISC has partnered with several area organizations, most of them with a specific neighborhood focus, to implement the model in and around Cincinnati.
 
While traditional social service organizations and models have revolved around simply helping neighborhood residents secure employment, Kristen Baker, Program Officer at LISC of Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky, says that a new paradigm is needed.
 
“A few years ago, just around the time of the economic downturn, the United Way had a one-day summit around the theme of financial stability,” Baker remembers. “One of the ideas that came from it was that people felt like the organizations in their communities weren’t doing enough, that a more multifaceted approach was needed to help people move up the economic ladder.”
 
The search for such an approach led LISC to apply for, and eventually receive, a grant from the Social Innovation Fund to develop what became their Financial Opportunity Center (FOC) model.
 
“The FOC is based on best practices from the Annie E. Casey Foundation centers for working families and includes three types of training for clients: employment placement and career improvement; financial education and coaching; and public benefits access,” Baker says.

Thus far, LISC has used the grant to institute FOCs at Cincinnati Works, the Brighton Center (in Newport, Ky.), the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati (in Avondale) and Santa Maria Community Services (in Price Hill).
 
From January to September of 2013, the four Greater Cincinnati Financial Opportunity Centers helped more than 480 individuals be placed in jobs, 150 people retain employment for one year, 78 individuals improve their credit score, 130 people improve their monthly net income and 66 people improve their net worth.
 
“The sentiment used to be that if we could just get people a job, they’d be able to advance,” Baker says. “Especially after the recession, we’ve seen that there are many other issues that have snowballed together. This model is about a long-term relationship with our clients and their communities—it’s about working with people after the initial crisis of being unemployed and developing new and positive habits for the clients.” 

By Mike Sarason


Meals on Wheels provider turns unused kitchen into incubator for local women-owned food companies

Senior Services of Northern Kentucky, located on Madison Avenue in Covington, had a challenge. A switch in the way they operated their Meals on Wheels program left them with an industrial-size kitchen that was hardly being used. So they set about searching for a tenant who would not only be interested in the space, but also in making a difference in the community.
 
Enter Rachel DesRochers, the founder of Grateful Grahams, a successful food manufacturer dedicated to high-quality vegan products and to supporting fellow women food-based entrepreneurs.
 
“We went through a process of vetting each other out,” said Ken Rechtin, Interim Executive Director of Senior Services. “She liked the space and we liked her, but she couldn’t single-handedly take on the cost of the kitchen.”
 
DesRochers then had the idea to bring in multiple vendors to share the kitchen, which would not only offset cost for Senior Services, but would also help others achieve their culinary dreams.
 
Part of DesRochers’ mission is to help empower women business owners; to that end she has already attracted many to join the collective kitchen incubator including companies Love and Fluff marshmallows makers, Delish Dish caterers, vegan Zucchini bread bakers Evergreen Holistic Learning Center, and Piebird Sweet and Savory Specialties.
 
“The space is being used almost seven days a week; it’s really neat to see all of that activity down there,” Rechtin says. “It’s really a win-win-win and has opened us up to some other thoughts of how our organizations can collaborate further. We’ve talked about sending a Grateful Graham out with every Thanksgiving meal as a way to give back, and we’ve got several more ideas we’re still working out.”
 
In addition to the kitchen, the Senior Services location has additional space still available in the building. Rechtin estimates that there is somewhere around 7,000 square feet of available office space.

“We’re very happy to host the kitchen incubator in our space and would love to have more people with new ideas come in to use our facility,” Rechtin says. 

By Mike Sarason


Promising University of Cincinnati student research turns coffee waste into biodiesel

In the long running quest to find alternative fuel sources, University of Cincinnati researchers are adding to the pursuit. They're in the early stages of scaling a process that converts coffee grounds into biodiesel.

Graduate student Yang Liu and doctoral student Qingshi Tu have been working on the project for nearly two years. Their research, which involves burning the grounds for energy after a purification process, was recently presented at the American Chemical Society's 246th National Meeting & Exposition in Indianapolis.

"We have three targets. First we extract oil from the coffee grounds, then we dry the waste coffee grounds in a process to filter impurities. Then we burn what's left as a source of energy generation (similar to using biomass)," explains Liu, an environmental engineering student.

The research is in the proof of concept stage, so it's proven promising in the lab, says Tu, also an environmental engineering student.

"Now we have to see how this will work on a large scale … in the next two years," he says.

The students are working with UC professor Mingming Lu on the process, which began in 2010. The project began small, starting with a five-gallon bucket of grounds from the campus Starbucks.

The project was one of four awarded a $500 UC Invents initiative grant last year. The grant supports campus innovators.

With the magnitude of coffee drinkers in just the U.S., the researchers have plenty of material to experiment with. It's estimated that one million tons of coffee waste is generated in the U.S. alone each year. Most of that sits in landfills.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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Scott Belsky kicks off Cincinnati Mercantile Library's new lecture series October 21

Cincinnati's Mercantile Library is reaching into the past with its new 2035 Lecture Series.

The annual series, which kicks off in October, taps forward-looking business leaders to talk about the "future of business, management, design, philosophy, science, and technologies and the ways those will shape the economy of Cincinnati and its region."

"It's a nod to those guys who started up the library," says Mercantile Marketing Manager Chris Messick. "The library was founded in 1835 by young clerks and merchants who were the startup pioneers of their time."

This year's inaugural lecture features creative entrepreneur and best-selling author Scott Belsky who will speak October 21 at 6:30 p.m. downtown at the library. Tickets are $20. You can purchase them here.

Belsky co-founded Behance, a platform that allows creatives to show and share their work online. Adobe acquired the company in 2012, and Belsky is Adobe's vice president of products-community, according to his bio.

His lecture will be based on his book, "Making Ideas Happen," which walks readers through the process of making a creative idea a reality, Messick says.

"We have a lot events where authors speak, but this is something new. A lot of people in the design world use his site to display portfolios online, and we have a lot of activity around marketing and design downtown. I think this will get a lot of interest," Messick says.

The Mercantile is city's oldest library, with a mission "to make a difference through literature and ideas, advancing interest in the written word, and celebrating the best in literary achievement." A diverse group of authors including Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Saul Bellow and Salman Rushdie have spoken at Mercantile events.

The year 2035 marks the Mercantile's 200-year-anniversary, and this lecture series reflects the historic library's mission to remain a relevant part of the city's creative and business community. The library is supported by membership fees, with memberships starting at $55. The library's blog, Stacked, is popular in local literary circles.

Kroger, dunnhumby, and Murray Sinclaire, Jr./Ross, Sinclaire & Associates, LLC are the inaugural sponsors of the 2035 lecture.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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New commercial real estate firm fills gap in targeting minority-owned businesses

During his 15-year career in commercial real estate, J.R. Foster didn't see many faces like his in the industry.

As an African-American, Foster found the lack of diversity in commercial real estate particularly striking, considering the changing global marketplace. In many industry sectors, supplier and corporate diversity is considered a business advantage.

"Corporations are spending a great deal of money with minority- and women-owned businesses, but there is virtually zero spend in the corporate real estate space. There are very few minorities who go out and form their own companies after growing their knowledge base," says Foster, who's spent much of his career at Jones Lang LaSalle (formally The Staubach Company), Lehman Brothers and JP Morgan.

That's why this year Foster went out on his own and co-founded Robert Louis Group. The firm is one of the only Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) certified commercial real estate firms in the country.

Foster's background includes corporate real estate leasing assignments, sales, acquisition, financing and M&A transactions. The company has a working partnership with Colliers International to provide its clients services globally.

Foster and his co-founder David Hornberger are working with independent real estate contractors and are in the process of growing their leadership team.

Just as corporations depend on diversity in hires and suppliers to grow their businesses, Foster believes diversity in commercial real estate can help companies reach an increasingly diverse consumers base.

The firm offers brokerage, marketing, financing, property management and other services.

"We're not only focused on real estate, but the way our clients do businesses. We take into account the design of space, strategic locations and business objectives," Foster says.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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World traveler Luisa Mancera lands in Cincinnati, joins Roadtrippers

Chicago, Mexico City, London, Argentina, Spain. Despite what it may look like, this is not a bucket list of cities/countries to travel to. Rather, it is a list of all of the places that Luisa Mancera has called home before returning this past June to Cincinnati to work as the lead designer at Roadtrippers, a Cincinnati-based startup that helps users discover, plan and book the best road trips customized to their own individual preferences.
 
“For many years, I was always the one in my friend group that was leaving,” Mancera says. She lived in Mexico City for the past three years, working as a designer for a few different companies before eventually teaming up with her cousin to start their own branding and design studio there called Malaca.
 
“Life in Mexico City was very fast-paced, and I enjoyed befriending people from all over the world,” Mancera recounts. “But it was also very transient, and I think that’s what got to me. I wanted something a little more stable.”
 
Having grown up in Cincinnati from age 8 through 17, Mancera considers her roots to be here in Cincinnati. “I was back in April for a wedding, and at that point I was considering coming back to Cincinnati for the summer, working remotely and just getting the lay of the land to see how I felt here.”
 
One of the things she put on her to-do list while in town was to check out the Brandery, which she had not only read about online, but also heard good things from friends.
 
“I spoke with (Brandery office manager) Mike Bott, and he offered me a free place to work at their office because he thought I could potentially be a resource to the startups there,” Mancera says. “Soon after that ,James Fisher, who started Roadtrippers, was looking to hire a designer and went through the Brandery to look. Mike put us in touch and it just snowballed from there.”
 
Fast forward to the present, and Mancera is now living in Cincinnati for the first time since her teenage years. “Even though I was excited to come back, I was also a little bit weary,” she admits. “I thought that it might be a little boring or uninteresting, but it’s been very much the opposite. There’s a diversity of experience here that I was not expecting.”
 
“The biggest surprise is just how incredibly welcoming people are here. … And I think that’s the biggest difference between Cincinnati and anywhere else I’ve lived,” she says.
 
Mancera has jumped right into the thick of things with Roadtrippers and is happy to be part of a team that is constantly developing new ideas that challenge her along the way.

“Right now, we’re doing a lot of user interface design, which is actually new to me, but James knows a lot about it. It is really exciting work, and we’re growing very quickly. It’s neat to be a part of that. I think it will be a cool process to be a part of the transition from scruffy little startup to something that’s a little more structured, organized and grown up. I feel like that’s sort of what I’m going through as a person too,” Mancera says with a chuckle.
 
Mancera is also looking forward to witnessing the continued growth of the city and hopes that it continues to bring more young people into the fold. “I’d like to see people from other parts of the country moving to Cincinnati. I think it adds to this scene," she says. "If someone from a city like Seattle is moving to Cincinnati, it’s a big deal because it means there’s something here that’s catching the interest of people on a national level. It’s exciting to think about.”

If and when that person makes the move, you can count on Luisa to plan them the best road trip possible.

By Michael Sarason

Merx 2013 encourages local businesses to think globally

Members of the local business community convened at the METS Center in Erlanger, KY, to discuss the intricacies of conducting business overseas at the summit known as Merx 2013.

Derived from the Latin word for trade or commerce, “Merx” is hosted by the Northern Kentucky International Trade Association (NKITA). The purpose of the event is to encourage growth in local businesses’ ability to maintain their affairs outside of the US.

The event catered to two lines of thought for entrepreneurs: marketing and operations. With dual panel discussions split between two conference rooms, this approach helped professionals across the board to maximize their chances of successfully implementing their businesses in countries other than the United States.

Topics of conversation included marketing to locals, how to set up an entity abroad, getting the most from trade shows, partnerships and acquisitions, online marketing, and general security precautions to take when working in another country. Business leaders from the area’s most successful companies moderated the panels, which were open to attendees for discussion.

With Cincinnati’s startup community gaining momentum in the business world, events such as Merx 2013 help to ensure that businesses old and new have the chance to not only conduct business around the globe, but also promote Cincinnati in the process.  

Click
here for a list of all businesses involved at this year’s summit.

The Happy Maladies want YOU to write their next album

The Happy Maladies has issued an open invitation for composers of all levels to submit original pieces of music for the band to interpret.

The project is titled “MUST LOVE CATS,” and it will be an album of five compositions. The tunes will be featured not only on a professional studio-produced album, but in performances across the Midwest (including Cincinnati). A booklet will also be made, which will profile each of the five selected composers.

“We’ll be accepting any kind of composition until January 1, 2014,” says violinist and vocalist Eddy Kwon in the band’s recently released YouTube video that officially kicked off the exciting new endeavor.

The band, which is comprised of founding members Benjamin Thomas, Peter Gemus, Stephen Patota and Kwon, utilizes the violin, double-bass, guitars, mandolin and banjo.

“We really don’t want composers to try to ‘fit’ our sound, or limit themselves to what they think these instruments sound like,” says Kwon. “We’re really willing to do anything.”

Jazzy, folksy and classically trained, the unique group is hard to classify, but infinitely easy and enjoyable to hear. In the band’s five-year career, they have explored so many genres that they’ve developed an omnipotent musical identity.

“All of us are really, really supportive and advocates for new music,” says Kwon. “We are hoping this project can be a new model for the way composers and bands and performers interact and work together.” 

By Sean Peters

Share local history with Touritz

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

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

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

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

By Sean Peters

 

CincyMusic Spotlight hits airwaves

CincyMusic Spotlight is a new radio show dedicated to highlighting new and exciting music in the Queen City. Featured on The Project 100.7 and 106.3, the show’s format provides a much-needed outlet for local musicians. Hosted by veteran band promoters and DJs Venomous Valdez and Joe Long, the show’s end goal is to help expose new local artists to the general public.

“The Project already has added a handful of bands hailing from Cincinnati in their established playlist," says Valdez. "If a song does really well on the show, it has the ability to live in regular rotation. The Project would love nothing more than to help break a Cincinnati band."

Valdez, who is known by just about every venue owner as the booking agent and promoter for Wussy and The Sundresses, is a longtime ally to Cincinnati musicians.

“Cincinnati has a deep, rich musical history," she says. "For many generations, this has been a music town, so it’s in our blood. We have more genres available, more venues catering to original music than most cities larger than us. Overall, I think we have a great support system with musicians, promoters, booking agents and venues that encourages and nurtures the creative outlet."

Listeners can tune in Sunday nights at midnight on The Project 100.7 FM and 106.3 FM. Podcasts will be available on cincymusic.com and cincinnatiproject.com.

By Sean Peters

Grupo Xela offers Hispanic insight

Grupo Xela is a marketing research agency that specializes in Hispanic demographics. Founded by Jose Cuesta in 2003, the company found success in Cincinnati by communicating an authentic and carefully researched Hispanic perspective to Procter & Gamble and QFact, among other locally owned businesses.

Originally from Colombia, Cuesta earned a BA in industrial engineering at Javeriana University. He came to Cincinnati in 1998, where he earned an MBA from Xavier University. Cuesta’s mother is originally from Cincinnati, and he was prompted by his family to move to the Queen City.

“You don’t go to Cincinnati unless you have a reason,” Cuesta says. “But there’s always a reason to go.”

After earning his degree from Xavier, Cuesta began working for Cincinnati Bell as a manager for various departments.

Cuesta founded what would eventually become Grupo Xela with his brother-in-law. Their first business attempt was as coffee distributors for regional restaurants, but their work in the city helped them realize the Hispanic community’s marketing potential. Prompted by the fact that Hispanics were the most rapidly growing minority in the country, Cuesta knew he could offer a very important perspective to P&G—Cincinnati’s powerhouse corporation.

By interacting with Hispanic panelists sourced from Cincinnati, Columbus, Louisville, Indianapolis, Chicago, Atlanta and Miami, Grupo Xela’s chief concern is gathering qualitative market research.

The company has since gone international, with a United States' headquarters in Cincinnati, and a Colombian office in Bogota, with plans to expand into more cities and countries soon. 

By Sean Peters

UC's new MENtorship pilot aims to develop male nurses

As our aging population grows, they're asking more of our healthcare providers.

Nurses increasingly are being asked to fill healthcare needs and are growing their skills and knowledge through higher education. Still, an untapped resource of nursing talent remains: men.

About 94 percent of nurses are women, and that creates challenges for men who are entering the field, as well as patients who aren't always comfortable receiving treatment from a male nurse.

These are some of the reasons that local medical and educational partners, including a University of Cincinnati College of Nursing student organization, started MENtorship, a program for male student nurses.

The nursing program has partnered with Cincinnati Children's Medical Center and UC Medical Center to develop MENtorship.

The six-to-eight week program is just wrapping up, with a group of 12 undergraduate nursing students. In addition to being mentored by professional nurses, higher ranking students also mentor younger students. So students are both mentors and mentees, says UC MENtorship faculty advisor Gordon Gillespie.

"The junior and senior mentors can tell the freshmen and sophomores what the student nursing program is really like and the commitment that it takes, so the students aren't surprised," says Gillespie, who has been a nurse for 17 years. "They could be less likely to drop out."

The program was initially inspired by a 2013 American Journal of Nursing article, "Men in Nursing: Understanding the Challenges Men Face Working in this Predominantly Female Profession,” that identified professional tribulations experienced by men in the nursing field.

Students are mentored on educational challenges and expectations, but also on dealing with challenges they'll face after school, Gillespie says.

"How do you approach intimate care for a female patient?" he says. "There are higher concerns about inappropriate touching with a male nurse. There are some cultures where it is taboo. When there are violent or aggressive patients, they were automatically assigned to me because I am the man. We talk about those issues and how to deal with them."

The MENtorship program will be evaluated this year, and there are plans to offer it again based on feedback from this semester's participants. If given board approval, it will be offered for a full year starting with the 2013-2014 academic year.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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Blink makeup studio offers hand-mixed body care, makeup in Northside

During their careers as professional makeup artists, eventual best friends and colleagues Niki Mcclanahan and Megan Kelly felt their industry was straying too far from its roots.

"We felt it was becoming more about how much product you could sell," Mcclanahan says. "It was getting away from being fun and creative, and helping people find a look they never thought they could achieve."

She and Kelly joked off and on for a few years about striking out on their own, but by last spring, the joke became serious. After careful research and planning, they started Blink makeup studio. The freelance makeup artists have a shop in Northside International Airport, an eclectic retail, arts and entertainment space.

Blink sells its own line of handmade soaps, shower gels, lotions, bath bombs and essential oils. The shop also features an essential oil bar.

"We started from scratch, and did a lot of research on how essential oils and natural oils work," says Mcclanahan. "If a customer comes in to our oil bar, we can mix a custom blend right in front of them."

Among their most popular products is a brown sugar lip scrub. "People have really started using it all over their bodies because it's a very gentle exfoliant," she says.

Blink has recently expanded into the founder's first love—makeup. They've worked with an outside company to develop Blink's artistry makeup line. They're starting out small, offering products for eyes, lips and cheeks.

For their more environmentally-conscious clients, Blink offers mineral-based eyeshadows, a line they plan to expand.

Cincinnati is taking notice of Blink. It's was recently featured in CityBeat's 2013 Best of Cincinnati issue and in Cincinnati Magazine's Bridal Buzz blog.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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Novak Consulting Group moves to HCBC

Novak Consulting Group was started on a dare.

Egged on by her husband and friends, Julia Novak felt compelled to earnestly pursue starting her own consulting business for leaders in government and non-profit communities. She began her solo venture at home, and has since hired staff around the country and progressed to working out of the Hamilton County Business Center. There, her consulting firm continues to serve clients all over the country.

While consulting with governments and nonprofits in public works, public safety, human resources, finance, planning and IT sectors, Novak Consulting Group aims to service more fields than other firms by working with a skilled team whose members offer a broad range of expertise.

With a background in city management, Novak has found success serving local governments across the United States. Having her own Cincinnati-certified small business has allowed her to take her talents to different types of clients. But her emphasis is in personalized service that suits each situation’s needs.

Expanding the office to the HCBC means dedicated meeting and collaboration space as well as increased support from other local ventures and small business advocates.

By Sean Peters

City wins 'Oscar' of community development for Village at Roll Hill project

Last week, the City of Cincinnati was awarded one of 10 annual Audrey Nelson Community Development Awards for its contributions to the renovations of the Villages at Roll Hill, formerly called Fay Apartments. The development was in need of renovations because it had fallen into disrepair, and was known as a police hotspot.
 
“It’s a very prestigious award within the community development profession,” says Cincinnati’s Department of Community Development Director Michael Cervay. “We consider it the ‘Oscar’ of community development.”
 
The development is the largest LEED-certified renovation of affordable housing in the country. Though there are other affordable housing developments in need of renovation, construction work hasn’t begun and the U.S. Green Building Council hasn’t certified these projects as meeting LEED standards, Cervay says.
 
The City contributed $3.19 million in HOME loan money to the project; additional financing included $31 million from a HUD-insured first mortgage and $1 million in equity from the developer, Wallick Hendy. The project totaled out at about $35 million.
 
The Audrey Nelson Community Development Achievement Award is a national community development award that is presented by the National Community Development Association. The award recognizes exemplary uses of the Community Development Block Grant program and the partnerships between local government and nonprofits to assist low- and moderate-income households.
 
Construction began on the Roll Hill development in Oct. 2010. It’s considered the largest green renovation of an affordable housing development in the country, Cervay says.
 
Renovations included reducing the total number of units from 893 to 703, demolishing 17 buildings, adding new landscaping, planting trees and installing new playgrounds. On top of that, police personnel from District 3 added recommendations to the plans that increased the cost of the project by about $800,000, Cervay says.
 
These recommendations included perimeter fencing, extra security lighting, surveillance cameras, first-floor window bars, rear doors that open out and additional security personnel. In addition, the Villages at Roll Hill purchased a license plate reader that will notify police in real time if a stolen car or a car registered to someone with an outstanding warrant enters the premises.
 
Audrey Nelson was the first Deputy Executive Secretary of NCDA. She grew up in a neighborhood in inner city Chicago that was a target area for the local Model Cities Program. The award stands for Nelson’s commitment to her neighborhood, local program efforts and service to low-income households. She died of cancer at the age of 29.
 
By Caitlin Koenig
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Vegan Roots translates Cincinnati’s culinary faves

The hardest thing about being vegan, according to Caitlin Bertsch, isn’t figuring out where and what to eat; it’s other people’s reactions. “They’re worried I’m judging them, or think they don’t eat correctly.”

Bertsch, the founder of Vegan Roots, launched her business with the creation of a vegan goetta that has garnered a lot of incredulous responses, but, Bertsch says, is loved by vegans and omnivores alike.

“What I’m trying to do with Vegan Roots is to address that and say, 'Hey, there’s a lot of good stuff out there that can be made vegan.' Just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s not tasty.”

Bertsch is a Xavier University grad who studied math and sociology before earning her master’s degree in anthropology. A travel addict, she’s studied abroad and worked in international development overseas and in Washington, DC. When she moved back to Cincinnati and settled down in East Walnut Hills, she set out to find a job locally.

“It’s hard to find international-related work in Cincinnati, so I needed to find another creative outlet,” Bertsch says. She enrolled in ArtWorksSpringboard program, which helped her settle on goetta as her first product. She’d developed the recipe by gathering pork-based recipes, raiding her spice cabinet for just the right combinations and testing, testing, testing. When she brought her final creation in for Springboard classmates to taste, the vote was nearly unanimous: this could be the foundation of her business.

Bertsch hopes to expand her footprint, and is anxiously searching for rentable, commercial kitchen space that would allow her to crank out larger batches. She currently supplies vegan goetta to the Brew House in Walnut Hills, which offers it as a salad topping, and Bella Vino in West Chester, which plans to add mini vegan goetta sandwiches to its menu.

By Robin Donovan

Sweaty Bands kick knockoffs to the curb in Linwood

Donna Browning was a fitness teacher with an annoying problem: hair in her face and headbands that would not stay put. Today, she’s selling her solution to that problem, dubbed “Sweaty Bands,” to women who’ve embraced her company’s tagline: “OMG…they don’t slip!”

An endorphin addict—she’s taught everything from Pilates and yoga to sculpting classes and cardio sessions—Browning loved to exercise, but hated hair accessories that didn’t work with the microphone she wore to teach.

Sure she could solve the problem, she borrowed a sewing machine from a friend, grabbed supplies from a craft store and churned out headband after headband until she found an adjustable, elastic band that stayed in place.

Soon, she was toting a bag full of the headbands in her gym bag and selling them to friends at the gym. After driving up to Cleveland for some training from Ladies Who Launch, an organization that helps women become entrepreneurs, she launched Sweaty Bands.

“I didn’t want it to be a preppy ribbon-in-the-hair thing," Browning says. "I wanted it to be a kick your butt, sporty accessory." With a range of styles, including custom options, she says the company’s product has become so popular that now they’re noticing knockoffs popping up.

Still, Browning says, few competitors rival her team of in-house designers: “We’re constantly meeting, looking at magazines, going to the mall, and checking out upcoming trends so that what we have, nobody else will have.” These days, she’s focusing on custom orders for clients as large as John Freida, Pantene and Skinny Girl—or as small as a single headband.

By Robin Donovan

Body Boutique fitness classes pump up Hyde Park

Candice Peters doesn’t reach for platitudes when asked what she wishes women knew about working out. Her goal is simple and straightforward: “That they can lift heavier!” The trainer and founder of Hyde Park Body Boutique has carved out a niche just a few miles north of downtown with her women-only workout facility.

Unlike the typical gym, there are no ellipticals and no treadmills; the primary services offered are various workout classes, as well as in-home personal training provided by Peters and her staff. It can be hard to identify the most popular class because they’re usually booked with young professionals in the evenings and, often, new or stay-at-home moms in the mornings, but Peters says TRX and Spincinnati (think of a spinning class with light weights and pumped-up music) classes fill up quickly.

“We cater to women of all ages,” Peters says, noting a concentration of young professionals ages 25-34, especially those who recently got married or plan to have kids soon. Still, she adds, “We have athletes, we have people who haven’t worked out in years and we have people who are looking to lose 150 pounds.”

Peters’ staff comprises an office manager and five part-time trainers who help local ladies get stronger. Peters isn’t a proponent of crash dieting or even protein powder in particular, and she says that she reminds all of her clients that 80 percent of their fitness is due to nutrition, not working out.

Another 80/20 rule she follows is her advice about effort levels. “In general, if you have to be doing great things 80 percent of the time, the other 20 percent of the time you can slack off. You have to give yourself a break.”

She should know; Peters works an 80-hour work week, and plans to launch Over-the-Rhine Body Boutique in June. Along with her training and teaching, she’s fundraising with SoMoLend and planning a social media campaign to raise crowdfunding for new equipment. For a woman on the move, it's just one more way to stay active.

By Robin Donovan

Red Brick builds foundation for best college fit

“Helicopter parents are very apparent—no pun intended,” says Jessica Donovan, founder of Red Brick College Consulting. “A lot of parents tend to be that way, but there are some on the other end of the spectrum as well. I get both.”

According to Donovan, anxious parents often relax once they see a plan and a timeline for their child's college planning. Once everyone is comfortable, she turns her attention to each student’s strengths and weaknesses, and helps suss out which college might truly be the best fit.

“A big part of consulting is getting the parents and the students to talk to each other,” she says. “Mom and Dad have an expectation and Sally or Joe has a different expectation.” In these cases, Donovan says she’ll help students identify their strengths and goals, then give them data to discuss with parents.

A former assistant dean at the University of Cincinnati, Donovan launched Red Brick last October to advise students and parents during their college search. Donovan, who is “part student advocate, part counselor, part admissions guru,” meets first with students and their parents to identify broad goals and gather ideas. After that, she keeps in touch with students in person or via Skype— and both parties leave each meeting with homework.

For Donovan, having an academic background sets her apart from her peers, many of whom have guidance counseling or psychology backgrounds. Her services range from evaluating academic records and course schedules to recommending co-curriculars and test-prep services. She offers services bundled as a package deal, a la carte or hourly, including timelines, preparation for college visits, essay critiques and even detailed lists of scholarships by institution.

Still, when it comes to completing applications, Donovan says she expects students to take the lead. “I don’t write the essays, fill out the FAFSA or fill out the application. The student owns that process.”

Donovan says students as young as middle school age can start taking the steps toward finding the right college for them. Although she says a student’s sophomore year is an ideal starting point for her services, she’ll work with students, including transfer students, at any point in the process.

Donovan is currently accepting students for her fall caseload and advises families to begin their work with her during the summer months.

By Robin Donovan

Univision Marketing VP: If you want to grow your business, target Latino consumers

With the explosive growth of the United States' Latino population, marketers can no longer think of Latinos as a niche market. If businesses want to grow, Latino customers must be integrated into all stages of marketing, not added as an afterthought.

That's the message Chiqui Cartagena, VP of corporate marketing at Univision, brought to the January luncheon of the Cincinnati Chapter of the American Advertising Federation. The luncheon was held at the Covington Radisson.

She brought a few stats to back her up:
  • Latinos saw 56 percent population growth since the last census
  • 1 in 4 births today is to a Latina mother
  • 100 percent of population growth of adults 18-49 in the next 10 years will come from Hispanics
"There are 1.5 million new Hispanics joining the marketplace every year," Cartagena says. "Hispanics are now 17 percent of the population and soon will be 30 percent. The general market is the Hispanic market."

Univision, with major operations in New York and Florida, has the largest Spanish-speaking television audience in the world. The growing station often rivals the country's major television networks and is available by cable and satellite.

Cartagena is the author of "Latino Boom! Everything You Need to Know to Grow Your Business in the U.S. Hispanic Market." The 25-year marketing and media veteran has developed, launched and lead some of America's successful Spanish-language consumer magazines, including People en Espanol.

Instead of reaching out to Latinos at the end of the marketing process, successful marketing really integrates Latino consumers into all parts of marketing, including product development and messaging, says Cartagena. This is a major shift from the past.

Major brands, including Walmart, have dramatically shifted their marketing mindset, she says. Recently, the company said it expected 100 percent of its growth will come from multicultural markets, with plans to double its advertising spending in that area.

It takes much more effort than translating an ad or packaging into Spanish to create loyalty in the Hispanic market, Cartagena says. Among her recommendations were to:
  • Examine if your products and services are culturally relevant
  • Create culturally relevant themes in the marketing
  • Support your efforts with sufficient and consistent funding
  • Define and track success

"Embrace the similarities and the differences between the Hispanic and general market," she says. "It's really about growing your business. You need to present (products or services) that are culturally relevant to Latinos, then invite them in."

By Feoshia H. Davis
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Private-session Pilates in Mt. Washington appeals to all ages

Nancy Trapp has very few excuses for not getting in regular workouts. The Pilates instructor and owner of Studio NT works from her home, which is equipped with mats, machines and plenty of space to stretch.

Trapp grew interested in Pilates after lower back and hamstring tension left her seeking a fix. Yoga didn’t work, but she found relief with classical Pilates. After six weeks, she says, “I was standing up taller. My husband didn’t have to remind me not to slouch anymore.”

Trapp’s typical session lasts 55 minutes and she recommends clients come twice a week. She offers group mat classes to supplement individual sessions. She earned her certification from the Pilates Method Alliance after completing a 600-hour training program in May 2012.

Pilates (and especially classical Pilates) is different from yoga in that it focuses not just on mat exercises, but also involves a range of equipment that facilitates exercises promoting core strength, balance and stability. Some modern Pilates instructors offer mat-based classes for practical reasons, but Trapp, who often works with clients one-on-one, prefers the mental work of figuring out which exercises best fit each individual.

“I have a client who is 75 and has never exercised in her life who comes two days a week," says Trapp. "Now, she says, ‘I can’t miss a day because I feel great.' "

And the senior client is not alone. “I’m loving my older clientele, my 60s, 70s and older. I’m getting some more referrals for people that age. I like to teach everybody, but they can feel the difference quicker than somebody who might be doing all different types of [exercise].”

For Cincinnatians looking to stretch themselves in a new way, Studio NT may be just the place to start.

By Robin Donovan

Inna's Harmony assuages mid-life health woes

Although Inna Aracri describes herself as “a regular person” in her health coaching work—she is not a nutritionist or a dietician—her approach to coaching incorporates techniques that might puzzle a mainstream medical practitioner.
 
Ukraine-born Aracri is the proprietor of Inna’s Harmony LLC, a health consultancy that takes a holistic approach to improving people’s overall wellbeing. The bulk of Inna’s Harmony clients are looking for help with common problems such as losing weight or improving energy levels, but what sets Aracri apart is her approach, which mixes nutrition, general health counseling and spirituality.
 
So, while Aracri might spend the bulk of her time teaching people how to eat healthy and prepare nutritional meals, she also offers crystal healing and reiki along with raw food training, recipe tips and cooking demonstrations.
 
"If people are open to the alternative modalities, I always offer energy healing as a part of the package,” says Aracri, who offers package deals to encourage clients to try her other services. “People are more familiar with health coaches or food counselors versus energy healing. But by learning how to deal with their body—there’s more to it than muscles and tissues and bones—they open new doors to learn how they can help themselves through spiritual development.”
 
For Aracri, advising her clients means not only talking about healthy eating habits, but also teasing out the reasons they’re not thriving. For some, she advises more time outdoors; for others, she discusses the importance of healthy relationships.
 
And while she’ll work with people of almost any age, Aracri says she sees lots of people in their 40s. “They have family, career, finances, but they’re not happy because they don’t feel good,” she says. “They neglect their bodies because they feel fine when they’re younger, but when people reach their 40s, they may start not feeling good. The body can only serve so long without breaking down on the wrong fuel that you put into it.”
 
By Robin Donovan

No-show Keysocks keep feet happy in heels

Shelby McKee had had it with the bulky shoes and socks that cold Cincinnati winters require. Heading to a Bengals game one crisp evening, she reached into her husband’s sock drawer and nabbed a pair of dress socks. With a pair of cute flats in mind, she cut oblong holes in the tops of the socks that revealed just the tops of her feet when she slipped on her shoes.

Mike Crotty, a family friend who has been in the textile business for years, was able to source out Keysocks in China, and help McKee find the right factory. “We probably had 45 prototypes made in all, and all the factories were puzzled, wondering, ‘What do you mean? A sock with a hole in it?’” McKee says with a laugh.

Several years later, with her multi-talented family and friends helping out with everything from IT to PR to sourcing a manufacturer, McKee’s Keysocks—a name coined by her friends at the Bengals game—are hitting retail shelves.

The business earned an early, fortuitous bump in sales when the product was featured in Real Simple, a consumer magazine that offers hip ways to make life easier. Today, the product is in about a dozen retail stores, mostly small boutiques. “The reason why we didn’t go straight to retail like Target or department stores yet is because no one has ever seen this product before, and if it sat on a shelf, nobody would know what it is,” McKee says. “We started with the Internet and getting it out on social media.”

Although the socks were designed not to show, their open-foot design has spread in popularity from women, like McKee’s friends, to girls, who started asking for fun colors and patterns. Currently, Keysocks are available in black and nude hues. Brown is on its way, along with turquoise-and-gray stripes. Girls' socks in turquoise and a navy/raspberry stripe are also in the works.

Like some small businesses, McKee doesn’t take returns, but she doesn’t do it to save money. In fact, McKee says she encourages any unhappy users to pass along the product, figuring it will easily find a happy home. “I just want everybody to be comfortable.”

By Robin Donovan
 

Etsy success spurs event planning business

Rachel Murphy grew a fan base by launching an Etsy store for her jewelry and décor, such as personalized wire letters, hair accessories and wedding favors while she worked full-time at a consuming nonprofit position. When she launched Rachel Lynn Studio, an event planning business, she decided to try to join the two customer bases.

“I don’t do catering, entertainment or photography, and I don’t rent out facilities,” she says, but it takes her a minute to come up with that list because there are so many services she does provide.

Unlike a typical event or wedding planner, Murphy will not only meet with individuals or groups to choose a theme, set colors, coordinate vendors and be there on the big day, she also makes many of the props and decorative elements these events require. Murphy offers her services a la carte—think bouquets or centerpieces—or at a flat rate for corporate events, weddings and other happenings.

Murphy says she enjoys working with couples who don’t want a cookie-cutter event. “I wish people knew that anything is possible,” she says of wedding planning in particular. “People get so nervous they’re not going to fit a certain mold of what they expect to see at traditional weddings.”

One tip Murphy says she offers for weddings and corporate events alike is to create a schedule that keeps moving and isn’t expected. Getting married at 6 p.m.? Offer a cocktail hour before the ceremony, or even some live music and dancing. “Make sure there’s not time when people are just standing around waiting,” she says.

To keep a wedding’s timeline flowing, Murphy advises couples to take pictures before the wedding, which she says limits the pre-dinner lull. “It can also take away some of the nerves to see each other beforehand,” she says.

And while she can craft invitations, bouquets and centerpieces, Murphy doesn’t shy away from special requests. For example, when a lesbian couple wanted a wedding with only vendors open to their relationship, Murphy vetted each one. Whether she’s designing earrings for the bride, running the show or tracking down vendors, there are few tasks this planner won’t tackle.

By Robin Donovan
 

Olivetree Research helps large companies grow their brands

Big, established brands can get stale, so in the fast-changing and hyper-competitive consumer products market, rapid, results-oriented market research is a real asset for large brands.

Olivetree Research in Hyde Park builds on founder Carol Shea's decades of experience in consumer marketing research to help brands shake things up a little. Olivetree helps find new answers to the perennial question: What do consumers REALLY want?

Shea started Olivetree Research about 11 years ago, not long after Sept. 11, 2001.

"It was the right time for me to make a split from my former company," she says. "I'd been in marketing research for 25 years, and had been thinking about starting my own business for a long time. Sept. 11 was a wake-up call for living every day the way you want."

Additionally, Shea served as adjunct faculty of the Williams College of Business at Xavier University as a former member of the Advisory Council to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Olivetree works with large and mid-size local firms that are looking to solve marketing and sales challenges that stunt growth.

"We're working with companies that are committed to positioning new product development that meets the needs of their consumers," Shea says. "We work with companies who want to spend time up-front on research, understand what positioning is and are willing to engage in that process."

Through her work, Shea has helped brand everything from pickles to neighborhoods, all by finding what customers want and what the company needs to do to market and meet those needs.

Companies often come to her when their marketing efforts are flagging, they have a decline in sales or a new competitor enters the market. With Olivetree, companies look to strengthen their brand, reinforce customer loyalty, expand into new markets or develop new products and services.

The market research process takes about three to six months, and can continue over years as a company evolves. In addition to consumer products, Shea often works with healthcare and financial services agencies.

This year, Shea is growing her own business by starting an online training company that will offer courses for new market researchers.

"It will help them understand what techniques work best in certain situations," she says. "The training will help them have confidence in their position. It can be very difficult for someone new in market research to speak with authority on how you should proceed based on the (research) results."

Shea plans to launch the new company sometime later this year.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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Ignite connects philanthropists, benefactors

Susan Ingmire is frank about the type of philanthropists she works with. “The vast majority would not be a good fit.” As president of Ignite Philanthropy Advisors, a “niche player,” Ingmire works with individuals and organizations who need help giving money away.

Some have inherited money and want to do a good job giving it away charitably. Others want help identifying their priorities, then mapping out a strategy that allows them to give according to certain goals, such as promoting education or supporting the arts. “It’s sometimes hard for people to say no when asked to give. If you have a strategy, then you can say we give in the areas of arts, education or health care. It’s how people learn to say no, or we say it for them,” Ingmire says. She teaches these investors to decide what to give and to whom, and even how to research organizations that pique their interest.

The firm mainly works on a retainer basis with Cincinnati-area clients giving away at least $25,000-$50,000 a year and up, with her smallest foundation gifting about $100,000 annually. Most business comes through referrals, especially from local attorneys and accountants. They provide advice, demystify the giving process and even offer administrative support, such as preparing agendas for foundation board meetings, writing checks and processing mail.

Ingmire started in the field as a serial volunteer, working as a foundation volunteer, mentor and with arts and housing programs. She also spent a decade with Fifth Third Bank’s trust department. And her idea of doing “less than I used to” means staying involved with the YWCA, Social Venture Partners Cincinnati, United Way and her church. And after spending so much time in the trenches, she embraces the joy in helping others support nonprofits. “When we can call up somebody and say, you’re getting $30,000 and here’s why, it’s a real joy.”

By Robin Donovan

Moving for Love fuels those who move for passion, not profession

Moving for Love harnesses a trend that arose from the recession’s rising unemployment and job dissatisfaction: people moving to follow their passions, rather than their professions. Owner Robin Sheakley, a third-generation member of the Sibcy family (her dad is Rob Sibcy, president of Sibcy Cline Realtors), created the company. She built on her own 15-year career in real estate and relocation, offering relocation assistance to people moving to follow a partner, a passion or favorite place.

“When you deal with a family business, it’s fun to try to put your mark on it,” Sheakley says, citing the growth of super-specialized online dating sites (think dating websites for farmers, for example). “I started thinking there are all these people dating online who may say, ‘You know what, I haven’t found anyone here, but I’ve always wanted to live in Chicago or Miami.’ But what happens if they find someone?”

She created Moving for Love to answer that question. The web-based service connects people ready to move with Personal Move Assistant and provides a secure online portal where both parties can upload documents and information from service providers, such as a moving company. The company’s services range from short-term rental assistance and realtor recommendations to moving estimates, cost-of-living comparisons and even personalized reminders, such as suggesting that it’s time to find a local physician to manage a medical condition in the new location.

The company is separate from its parent, Sibcy Cline, but shares some resources. However, the marketing budget has been scant since the website launched last July, Sheakley says. “I always like to walk before I run, so we have done no paid advertising. We are strictly organically getting our message out there. It’s been a slow start that we’re going to kick in from the beginning of the [2013].”

Moving for Love charges a flat fee, then provides services for up to 12 months, giving passion-prompted movers a chance to compare several potential locations before making their transitions.

By Robin Donovan

UC, local industry partner for game-changer in solar-powered refrigerator

A virtual trade mission taken by University of Cincinnati MBA students and local industries has turned into a very real product that could put a dent in food shortages across India.

Next year, new solar-powered refrigerator products will be tested on an aloe farm in the developing country early next year. If successful, the SolerCool could be a reality for Indian farmers, just in time for summer.

The product is a self-contained cooling unit that relies on the sun for power. It's a box that measures 10' x 7' x 11', and is topped by solar panels. SolerCool was developed through a collaboration between former and current UC students and local industries, including SimpliCool Technologies International LLC in Waynesville.

The idea for the technology came after the MBA students and SimpliCool attended a "virtual trade mission" to India in July 2011. The mission was part of a Business Law for Managers class taught by Ilse Hawkins, an attorney and adjunct professor of accounting at UC. The mission virtually brought Cincinnati and Indian businesses together to find ways of partnering to better preserve Indian produce.

Today, 30 to 40 percent of produce in India is lost to spoilage because of lack of refrigeration options, Hawkins says. India, with 1.2 million people, faces chronic food shortages.

"While we were doing the mission, we had this tiny, insulated structure that kept audio visual materials at proper temperature," Hawkins says. "We thought, 'Why couldn't we create a structure powered with solar panels like that that could be put anywhere on a farm?'"

Shortly after that meeting, Hawkins took a group to India where the idea was further flushed out. Eventually, a collaborative effort led to the creation of the SolerCool unit.

MBA students worked on a business plan, helped with the initial feasibility calculations and networked with Indian businesses who might contribute to the product.

Mohsen Rezayat, chief solutions architect at Siemens UGS PLM Software and adjunct professor in UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, primarily worked on the engineering of the solar panels in the SimpliCool-manufactured cooling cube.

UC does not own the product, and therefore won't be profiting from its sales, Hawkins says. However, SimpliCool has vowed to contribute to UC's College of Business to fund further travel to India if the idea is successful, she says.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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Cincinnati entrepreneur's BoojiBEE offers casual clothing for young women

When it comes to fashion for young girls and women, sometimes what's cool and what's appropriate aren't a match.

Natasha Andrews, a native Cincinnatian with a passion for fashion, decided to build a new business dedicated to cute clothes for ladies.

"I decided to do something in fashion because in this day, young women are so fascinated by new and different fashion styles," Andrews says. "So instead of the half shirts, the booty shorts and short mini skirts, I decided to focus on looking good, feeling comfortable and making a positive statement."

That's the philosophy behind BoojiBEE, a casual clothing brand that carries Andrews' signature high-fashion bee logo. She created a rough sketch of the logo, which was polished by her uncle. He's a Cincinnati-based graphic designer and co-owner of Rare Earth Graphics, LLC.

Andrews started the online boutique in 2011, selling T-shirts, totes and a myriad of custom jewelry. She attended the University of Cincinnati as a criminal justice student, but was inexperienced in running a business. She credits her aunt and uncle, as well as the Greater Cincinnati Microenterprise Initiative, with helping turn her idea into a viable startup.

"When I first started out as a new entrepreneur, I didn't have a focus or a target market," Andrews says. "It took me a while to figure out 'what is BoojiBEE?' I started out blind with graphic tees. I thought I had the bomb site, but had no clue what a website should consist of. I changed it at least four times; it was a mess."

She pared down the business this year, streamlined her site and now is exclusively focusing on her brand, the bee.

"I'm no longer doing handmade custom jewelry," Andrews says. "I love it to death, but it's too time consuming and it moves really slow. And on top of that, I didn't feel it had anything to do with BoojiBEE and the message I was trying to get across."

So who is a BoojiBEE?

"BoojiBEE is a definition of a true hard worker. A girl who loves life, [is] inspired by great things and is pretty inside and out. The BoojiBEE has a positive image that is reflected in her style, her character and how she lives her life."

The site features tops, hoodies, leggings, tote bags and yoga pants. She buys the clothing wholesale, presses her logo and works with a local business to add branded tags.

Andrews has just relaunched her site, and is offering a $5 credit for new customers through the holidays. Her plans are to grow the brand and eventually open her own brick-and-mortar shop.

"I'm getting my name out there, and pushing the business," she says. "My plan is to grow into multifaceted fashion company."

By Feoshia H. Davis
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Business growth through diversity topic of local leadership symposium

Job growth is looking up in Cincinnati, and the region is ripe for even more.

"In the last year, we created 29,000 new jobs, ahead of the growth in most of our peer markets," says Chris Kemper, PR director at the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.

A host of variables have spurred our region's growth, including a talented workforce, a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem, a reasonable cost of living and an innovative culture that permeates large institutions to small startups.

But there's one area that's proven to boost the bottom line that more Cincinnati companies can tap into: diversity and inclusion.

Companies that encourage diversity—in hiring, in suppliers, in board appointments and in investment—are among the world's fastest growing. In fact, a 2011 Forbes study found that 85 percent of 321 large companies (with at least a half-billion dollars in annual revenue) believed diversity played a vital role in fostering innovation.

Cincinnati businesses will get a chance to learn more about the perks and importance of inclusion. The real dollars and sense of growth through diversity is the topic of The Diversity Leadership Symposium 2012. The morning event is co-hosted by Vision 2015 and Agenda 360, the region's strategic planning organizations.

"Our overall goal is to discuss diversity and inclusion as a way to drive business growth," says Kemper.

It's a timely topic as our country—and therefore consumers—becomes more diverse and our economy is increasingly global, with buyers and sellers connecting across countries.

The conference's featured speaker is Andres Tapia, international thought leader on diversity and inclusion, president and CEO of Diversity Best Practices and author of The Inclusion Paradox.

The symposium is Dec. 12 at the Duke Energy Convention Center downtown, registration starts at 7:30 a.m, and the symposium ends at noon. The cost is $110 per person, or $150 for a cocktail reception on Dec. 11 featuring Tapia. You can register on the Cincinnati Chamber website.

Diverse by Design: Meeting the Talent Challenge in a Global Economy, a report commissioned by Agenda 360 and Vision 2015, will also be unveiled at the event.

The symposium wraps up with simultaneous sessions. Attendees can pick one of the following:
  • Workplace: Attracting and Retaining Diverse Talent
    Panelists will share best practices in creating and maintaining employee resource groups to engage and retain a diverse talent base.
  • Marketplace: Minority Business Investment as a Strategy for Increasing Inclusion
    Learn how diversity spending can advance a company’s diversity and inclusion efforts while also having a ripple effect in the community.
  • Marketplace: Creating a More Inclusive Community
    Panelists will share strategies for cultivating a welcoming community outside of the workplace to increase diverse talent retention for the region.
By Feoshia Davis

Community classes coming to The Brandery

The Brandery is known for its 14-week program that prepares entrepreneurs for the launch of their startups. But for the next two months, they’re trying something a little different. The Brandery will be offering community classes that cross a spectrum of themes. The classes are relevant to anyone with an idea, working for a startup or with the goal of re-envisioning some of the work they do, says Chelsea Koglmeier, program coordinator at The Brandery.
 
The sessions will be from 5:30 to 7 pm and will include a presentation followed by a Q&A. Each class is $20 per person, per event.
 
Sign up for a class below:
By Caitlin Koenig
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Instagram-inspired Booth FX launches in O'Bryonville

“A digital spin on the traditional photo booth” is Kelley Andersen’s super-short explanation of Booth FX Photo Booth Company, which she launched with her partner, Allison Gates, last month. The pair built the idea for their company on a love of photo booths, two creative personalities and their vision for a photo booth that was more than a traditional, space-limited box.

“We first looked at the booths you can buy, and they were nice, but not what we were looking for," Andersen says. "We wanted something that was more digital. I love Instagram, and was trying to figure out how we could do that as a photo booth."

The booth they custom-built--“with a lot of time and a lot of mistakes,” Andersen adds--measures 1.5 feet by 1.5 feet, is 5.5 feet tall and incorporates software that allows photos to be viewed, edited and shared.

Rather than expecting participants to hop inside, the booth houses the photography equipment. Participants gather in the space around the booth to snap a photo in front of customized backdrops the women create for each event with input from hosts.

Features of the booth include a wireless remote and a touchscreen for viewing images on the back of the booth. This allows attendees to view photos, use filter effects (much in the same way as one would with Instagram) and upload images to social media immediately. The co-founders provide wireless internet with a mobile hotspot.

Booth FX launched last month, and both founders still have full-time day jobs--Gates as a designer and Andersen as an insurance analyst. So far, they’ve been commissioned for fundraising events and they plan to reach out to local brides- and grooms-to-be to expand their business into weddings.

By Robin Donovan

Cormier Creative crafts logos for budding businesses

Some people work four 10-hour days for perks like saving on gas and three-day weekends. Others, like Sara Cormier, cram in a second job on the side.

Until last April, Cormier was juggling a design gig with Cincinnati Magazine and healthy freelance traffic. When her daughter, Carmen, entered preschool, she decided it was time for a change. “I was kind of going crazy,” she says, noting that she doesn’t regret those hyper-scheduled days: “At least for me, I couldn’t quit my job without having built [my business] up. I wasn’t financially in a place to do that.”

Cormier, who graduated from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning in 2002, launched Cormier Creative in April, and specializes in helping small businesses with branding, logos and promotions. Her services can help young companies, or those without a budget for an in-house designer, she says.

“I’ve always really liked working with a business that’s just getting off the ground and starting from scratch," she says. "Once they invest in that initially, then they’re really excited about how their stuff looks." She encourages businesses not to wait to start branding themselves. “You need a logo right off the bat. It doesn’t take long to get one, and I think the sooner, the better.”

Because she’s worked with so many newly launched businesses, Cormier has curated a few tips for proprietors, too.

Along with advising that any business that is doing business needs a logo immediately, she advises businesspeople to find a designer they trust and then relinquish control. “You’re not hiring a professional designer to recreate your sketch so much as to help you with the entire identity.”

Cormier offers custom design services for all sizes of businesses as well as custom stationary – she calls herself “a paper snob” – that’s popular among local brides. Her design aesthetic favors clean lines and clever graphics.

"I love all my brides, they’re really really fun," Cormier says. "We try to come up with something really custom."

By Robin Donovan

UC part of education collaboration with Iraqi universities

A group of University of Cincinnati faculty and students will go to Iraq in November as part of a collaboration between U.S. and Iraq university to strengthen educational and economic opportunities in the Middle East county.

Starting Nov. 2, representative from UC's College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services (CECH) and the UC Career Development Center (CDC) will go to Salahaddin University-Hawler in Erbil, Iraq.

It's the latest in a series of trips between the two universities, which are in the third year of a U.S. State Department-sponsored linkages program geared toward undergraduate Iraqi students. Originally scheduled to end this year, the collaboration was given a six-month extension, says Laura Dell, academic director of distance learning for the UC School of Education.

"I'm going to be teaching a two-week long seminar on education research. We'll also be observing teaching in classrooms and providing peer feedback," Dell says.

The universities will also plan a joint spring conference.

UC faculty will lead career development workshops, providing feedback on research courses, discussing literature and exploring future opportunities for post-doctoral students.

Theresa Aberle, adjunct instructor and program coordinator for the UC Career Development Center, will help lead a conference on creating career centers.

"I'll be there with four Iraqi universities and four U.S. universities. We'll be sharing information on how to set up career centers, how to do presentations and marketing, and all the different pieces of what a takes to get a career center working," Aberle says.

As Iraq is transitioning into a more democratic government form, privates businesses are moving in and looking for a workforce. It's a cultural shift for the country that encompasses many important topics, including career development.

"They've never had to have a career center before; it's a whole new venture for them," Aberle says.

UC is among only five U.S. institutions picked to partner with five Iraqi universities. The partnership fits in with UC's 2019 strategic plan to expand international partnerships and overseas research collaborations.

"It's part of the mission to help wherever we can," Dells says.

Salahaddin University-Hawler is in the Kurdish region of Iraq, where many natives speak English as a second language, Dell says. That's made it much easier for each side to communicate and work together. Located in the Northern part of Iraq, it's also not as subject to ongoing violence. This is Dell's second trip there.

"What we see of Iraq on the news is violence, and upheaval. It's been really nice to see the other side of the Middle East. People are excited to talk to Americans and very nice," she says.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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Sprout Insight hones in on multi-ethnic consumers

“People always say, ‘Be careful working with your best friend,’ but we’ve never had those negative experiences. Our relationship and the way we know each other has been such a strength,” says Lisa Mills, a psychologist, and co-founder of research consultancy Sprout Insight, of her 22-year friendship with co-founder Kathy Burklow.

Mills and Burklow became friends as graduate students in psychology, working together first at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. In 2006, frustrated by the disconnect between scientific advancement and community engagement, they left Children’s to launch Harmony Garden, a nonprofit community research center focused on improving the health of Cincinnati girls.

Building on the idea of helping community members be heard and understood, the duo pivoted last February, launching Sprout Insight, a market research and insight consultancy. These days, the leverage decades of clinical and research experience while work closely with companies, hospitals, nonprofits and branding firms that target African American, Latino and Asian shoppers.

“Unless [companies] get better at collecting information about racial and ethnic minorities, they’re going to continue to miss opportunities in their industries,” Mills says. “There are a lot of consumer insight and market research companies, but very few are looking at consulting with businesses and corporations about gathering insights from racially and ethnically diverse populations.”

Accordingly, the women help organizations identify what types of data they need and how to gather it, both quantitatively through customized surveys and qualitatively, often through focus groups that allow the pair to gain deeper insight into consumers.

In practice, that might look like tweaking an existing survey to avoid leading questions or to gather more specific data. It could also mean setting up focus groups at a church or recreation center (rather than the typical observation room) to allow meaningful feedback and insight to flow. “Taking [people] out of their community, you may get answers, but they may not be relevant answers,” Mills says.

And so Mills and Burklow keep bringing new voices to the conversation between companies and consumers, hoping for the same goal sparked their friendship decades ago. “Kathy and I are really about the bridging of the gaps,” Mills explains.

“For our society to work together, everybody needs to be knowledgeable on some level so that they can sit at the table, and communicate.”
 
 By Robin Donovan

SocStock readies for relaunch, plans to make Cincinnati home

SocStock, a web-based company that lets people fund their favorite small businesses in exchange for double the amount back in products, services or experiences, is set to relaunch today.

SocStock, a graduate of the latest Brandery accelerator class, will officially be back online today. On Oct. 25, the company will hold a launch event, SocStock Community Pitch Night, at the Know Theatre in Over-the-Rhine. SocStock and Cincinnati businesses that use the platform will be there to talk about the creative financing option.

"This is a way for small businesses to raise zero-interest cash by reaching out to customers and community members for a cash advance to help their business grow," says SocStock Senior Associate Jillian Zatta.

SocStock allows businesses to raise funds quickly from people who truly support them. At the same time, it gives customers a buy-in through investments in a favorite local business.

"It's a very good consumer engagement tool, and it makes customers feel more connected to the small businesses they frequent," Zatta says. "It's also a way for customers to really help a business by doing more than buying from them."

For every $1 invested, the business will pay back $2 in a combination of company products, services or experiences.

SocStock also can serve as a valuable marketing tool.

"They can give customers access to a special collection, invite them to a fashion show, a personal styling session or discounts," Zatta says.

Zatta and SocStock's founder Jay Finch have finance backgrounds and relocated to Cincinnati from New York, where they worked at Goldman Sachs. They plan on making Cincinnati SocStock's home.

"We want to stay here. We want Cincinnati to be our home. There's definitely a place for us here," she says.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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Sugar cookies from Mt Lookout Sweets match any occasion

Imagine the work that goes into a batch of cookies: mixing, rolling, baking, decorating and washing. Now imagine baking 1,000 cookies per month. That’s how many Debbie DeGeer typically creates at Mt Lookout Sweets, a bakery she runs from her Mt. Lookout home – complete with a commercial kitchen in the basement – each month.

That’s 12,000 cookies a year, but DeGeer isn’t counting. Baking helps keep her hands busy and her creative mind active while she cares for her aging mother, who helping instill in DeGeer a love of floury hands and blustery ovens. DeGeer’s mother lives with Alzheimer’s, and the duo spends their share of quiet nights at home. 

Baking started as “a kind of therapy,” and DeGeer often arrived at Comey Shepherd, the real estate agency where she works, laden with cookies. Her creations with the company logo on them were particularly popular for the company’s open houses, and from there, the requests grew.

DeGeer specializes in hand-decorated sugar cookies that are part art and part dessert, and she has a design for everyone. When Keidel, a Cincinnati-based plumbing, cabinetry, appliance and lighting contractor, celebrated its 100th anniversary, DeGeer created confections in the shape of bathtubs, light bulbs and even toilets.

“I never thought in my life I would make a cute toilet, but I did,” DeGeer says.

Active with other cookie pros, dubbed “cookiers,” on Facebook, DeGeer has about 1,200 Facebook fans for her business, and says it’s a top source of referrals, along with word-of-mouth.

Mt Lookout Sweets averages three to four orders per week, with DeGreer's capacity filling up quickly around the holidays and in late spring or early summer as couples plan their weddings. DeGeer typically requests a week’s notice for each order and more during busy seasons.

By Robin Donovan

Network of Executive Women brings inspiration to Villa Madonna

The Network of Executive Women, or NEW, reached out to Cincinnati area students with a real-life story of leadership by bringing a history-making general to Villa Madonna Academy.

U.S. Army Gen. Becky Halstead (retired), spoke to 7th through 12th graders this month at the Northern Kentucky school, sharing her experiences as a military leader in Iraq, highlighting discipline, service and higher education.

Gen. Halstead, who retired in from the Army 2008 after 27 years, was the first women in U.S. history to command in combat at the strategic level. As the senior commanding general for logistics in Iraq, she lead more than 200 multi-disciplined units across 55 bases, providing supply, maintenance, transportation and distribution support to more than 250,000 personnel serving in Iraq.

She also coordinated directly with high-level organizations such as the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Department of State, U.S. Congress, U.S. ambassadors and equivalent foreign military and civilian organizations.
The crucial message she wanted to get across to the students is that self-discipline is a must for strong leadership.

"They must lead themselves first before they can lead others, and they only way they can truly accomplish that is if they discipline themselves," she says.

Halstead is a West Point grad, and credited her academy experience with developing her early leadership abilities, based on personal discipline.

The Greater Cincinnati Chapter of Network of Executive Women, a consumer products and retail industry professional organization, says Halstead's perspective on leadership meshes with its core mission to educate and develop future industry leaders.

"We want to plant those seeds about leadership, and to make that connection about going to college," says Amy Armstrong Smith, NEW chair and national account manager at Brown-Forman.

The Villa Hills event is just one of others planned to reach out to students at area high schools and universities, Smith adds.

Gen. Halstead is a nationally known motivational and leadership speaker who's worked with organizations including Procter & Gamble, Lead America and Columbia University.

Though she has been in command of thousands during her career, she says it's important to serve first to become a great leader.

"That's what trains you to be obedient, and also really indicates that you care about others. If you don't care about others, if you're not willing to serve other people, then how can you expect them to follow you?" she says.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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FENNOfashion founder tackles many roles

Megan Fenno doesn’t just have a radio spot, a jewelry business and a writing gig with CincySavers. She also has a few tips for women looking to stay on trend this fall.

“Anything that’s glitzy and has a shine to it, that’s really popular right now,” she says, noting that sparkly rhinestones are trendy. Color blocking with deep hues such as navy or burgundy set against brighter accents (think bright yellow), she says, are also popular this fall.

A Cincinnati native, Fenno moved to Tallahassee, Fla., as a teen, then attended the Savannah College of Art and Design. She moved to Austin, Texas, after graduation, where she launched FENNOfashion, which features vintage-inspired necklaces, bracelets and jewelry. “I loved Texas, but nowhere is home like Cincinnati,” she says.

Her collection this season highlights a few of her own favorite design elements, especially a vintage “found” look and antiqued gold. Fenno says that sites like Pinterest have led to a surge in popularity of stacked bracelets, sometimes called “arm candy,” that she’s having trouble keeping them in stock.

As much as Fenno is an accessories designer, she’s also something of a free spirit, and encourages others with creative startups to resist the urge to plan each step or to stick rigidly to a business plan.

“Five years ago, I had no idea that I’d be back in Cincy working on my favorite radio station, but that all derived from starting my own business," she says. "It’s OK. Opportunities present themselves throughout your business career that you can’t predict.”

By Robin Donovan

Brandery's Demo Day hits one out of the park

At the Brandery's third Demo Day Oct. 3, a packed house at Great American Ball Park looked forward to a home run, but not from the field below. 

The stadium's Champions Club had been transformed into a space where founders of 11 startups paced, shook hands and smiled as they prepared to offer their practiced pitches that they knew could net them millions in investment dollars.

This year, there were more than twice as many applicants for the seed-stage startup accelerator in Over-the-Rhine as both of its earlier years, combined, according to Brandery General Manager Mike Bott. 

Only 10 percent of those applicants were local, Bott says. The companies selected for the intensive four-month session in Cincinnati hailed from Seattle and Brooklyn, from Cleveland and San Francisco. One local business, REPP, made the final cut.

As its name implies, The Brandery focuses mostly on consumer products and services. Its strength is in its location and its expertise: the branding giants of Cincinnati help make The Brandery attractive to entrepreneurs from around the world. The latest startup session included plenty of mobile and social applications. 

An example? The first startup to present on Demo Day: CrowdHall.

Crowdhall, a free social platform, collects questions and ideas from a single crowd and helps the members of an audience organize and prioritize them democratically. Matthew Dooley, founder and CEO of Cincinnati's dooley media, made a bold prediction about this startup, which has already created "crowd halls" with NYU prof and Earth Institute leader Jeffrey Sachs, Dhani Jones and PG Sittenfeld. 

Dooley's tweet: "Impressed with @crowdhall pitch at #brandery2012 #demoday. Will be bought out by Twitter within a year. #boldprediction @brandery @jbkropp."

You've read about this Brandery class in Soapbox for months now, from Sostock, which planted roots and intends to remain in Cincinnati, to REPP, the latest big idea from Cincinnatians Michael Bergman, his wife BreeAnna and David Volker, formerly of LPK (where Bergman also formerly worked).

Find a full list of startups here. And more coverage of The Brandery on Nibletz, "the voice of startups everywhere else."

By Elissa Yancey
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Environmental forum assesses 'state of the city'

Green Cincinnati. It’s ubiquitous these days, with our civic progress appearing both in national headlines and at eye-level, in the bike-shares and local markets that seem to spring up almost daily.

If you’re struggling to keep up with all this change—in a good way, of course!—or if you just have two cents to share, head to Northside Tavern at 6 p.m., Oct. 10 for the free, public “State of the City” environmental forum.

The forum, organized by Cincinnati Green Group, hopes to recreate the success of last year’s event, which saw over a dozen city council candidates fielding questions—on everything from curbside recycling to fracking—from more than 150 attendees.

This year will feature WVXU’s Ann Thomson as facilitator, with speakers Mark Fisher from the Cincinnati Zoo and Neil Seldman from the DC-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Cincinnati council members will be on hand once again for Q&A.

Larry Falkin, director of Cincinnati’s Office of Environmental Quality, will deliver the State of the City address. Falkin plans to highlight recent strides in the areas of energy, green building and waste management, as well as a number of transportation solutions—such as the forthcoming Zip Car auto-share program—making Cincinnati debuts in 2012.

Falkin points to the Green Cincinnati Plan, an 80-point sustainability blueprint officially adopted by the city in 2007.

“We wanted to use less energy, more renewable energy, and we had a series of strategies for how to get there,” he says. “In five years, city government has done energy efficiency retrofits on 70 city buildings and installed solar energy systems on 20 city buildings. We’ve created a nonprofit organization and gotten funding for them to do work in the private sector, and that organization, the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance, has completed energy retrofits on more than 1,000 homes.”

As a city, Falkin says Cincinnati reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 8.2 percent, surpassing the goal outlined in the 2007 plan.

Falkin also plans to discuss Cincinnati’s energy aggregation program, which now provides 100 percent renewable energy for 60,000 residents and small businesses.

Despite recent progress, there is still room for improvement, particularly in recycling and adoption of zero-waste strategies that other cities use.

“There are communities around the nation and around the world that have made zero-waste pledges,” says Melissa English, Development Director for Ohio Citizen Action, an 80,000-member coalition that canvasses the state promoting environmental consciousness. “[These cities] pledge to send as little as possible of their waste streams to landfills or incinerators, and instead recover those materials—which is essentially money, it’s resources that we’re choosing to bury in the ground—and put that back to work in our economies.”

The environmental group leader points to the Rumpke landfill as an example of how much waste the region still discards ineffectively.

“We have the nation’s sixth-largest landfill in our county, in Colerain Township, and it’s not just the city of Cincinnati that’s filling it up,” English says. “Any sort of zero-waste strategy will be much more effective and farther-reaching if it is [adopted as] a regional strategy.”

Find out more:

Post questions in advance of the event.

RSVP for the State of the City environmental forum.

Download the city’s sustainability plan.

By Hannah Purnell



Family historians help preserve memories of a lifetime

Kristi Woodworth and Jennifer Sauers tell stories for a living, but they’re not performance artists or members of the media. In fact, they’re licensed oral historians. The business they launched together, Beyond the Trees, offers design and printing services for small runs of books, many of them celebrating milestone accomplishments or memories of a lifetime.

“You get really close to people,” Woodworth says, describing how she becomes enmeshed in family stories while working with groups of people to compile photos and written memories.

“It’s sort of a privilege for us to be that close to the lives of these people, because what they’re doing with these books is creating a gift of love to honor the people in their life, and it’s a thrill to help them do that.”

Moving to the Norwood-based Hamilton County Business Center in 2009 helped grow the budding business, says Woodworth. “We could kick ideas around more easily,” she says. The duo also received business coaching in speed sessions during morning mentoring sessions at the HCBC.

The women are currently working on products that will allow people to complete their own projects, such as legacy letters to one’s descendants, or other projects. The company offers Cincinnati-based workshops, for example, and skills taught in these classes are now being leveraged into products that anyone can use, regardless of their location.

Services provided by Beyond the Trees include tribute books that can be purchased as gifts for milestone occasions, such as graduations, birthdays or anniversaries.

The company issues invitations by email or standard post to friends and family of the honoree, then compile the resultant memories and photos into a bound book. Beyond the Trees also provides self-publishing services for authors who want to print and sell books of prose, poetry or other creative work.

Woodworth says the trend she sees now is how much easier it is to self publish. When the company began, it was something of a novelty, and Woodworth’s partner, Jennifer Sauers, took materials to Staples to have them printed, then downtown to be hand-bound. Still, the family cookbooks she produced were a smash hit, and, soon, other people were asking about having books made.

“What we’re adding to it is the value of the service. We are adding the advice and the guidance through it and the design of the product,” says Woodworth. 

By Robin Donovan

Cybervise fixes web development impasses

Small businesses looking to maximize their marketing often invest in professional web development. But what happens when the developer steps away and the business takes over?

All too often, it’s complete inaction, says Carmen Krupar, web developer and founder of Cybervise. (She advises revisiting your website content at least quarterly, by the way.)

Before the launch, Krupar was working with a company that rolled out website after website, shrugging off client requests for ongoing maintenance and updates. Krupar began doing the work herself, first during the evenings after work and, later, out of her Hamilton County Business Center office, where she says she already networks enough each month to cover the rent -- and then some.

Cybervise fills the gap between the creation of a website and the ongoing maintenance needed to keep it ranking well on search engines and up-to-date for clients and customers. Sometimes, this means creating new pages or reorganizing a site, but it might also mean simply fixing glitches left behind by other web developers. It can even involve some interpersonal work.

“Folks that call us have an existing website, but their web developer has let them down,” Krupar explains. “Usually, the project’s taking too long to finish; they’re at an impasse where nobody can compromise – everyone’s stuck on their own idea of what the website should be, or they’ve lost touch with developer. We’re doing things like updating information, fixing broken functionality and creating graphics (like buttons added to the site), as well as code cleanups for search engine optimization.”

Krupar, who is available on retainer, says the best way to avoid needing her services is to build your initial site with room for expansion, and to avoid free, quick-fix tools. Her favorite content management system is WordPress, though her team can handle nearly any system, she says, noting that most people with computer skills can learn to use it, and it’s search-engine friendly.

“Ranking for search engine optimization is hard enough -- don’t make a site that search engines aren’t going to move through easily,” she says.

By Robin Donovan

NKY Community Action Commission 'Rekindles' micro-enterprise development

By its very definition, entrepreneurship involves personal and financial risk. But it doesn't take millions to make every entrepreneurs' self-employment dreams come true.

An emerging program of the Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission (NKCAC) aims to support entrepreneurship and small business ownership: the Rekindle Micro-Enterprise Development Program.

NKCAC supports micro-enterprise -- generally a business with five or fewer employees -- by offering technical, financial, marketing and other resources to Northern Kentuckians who want to create their own economic opportunities.

"We started the program about a year ago, with a focus on low-income people," says Robert Yoder, NKYAC Micro-Enterprise/Small Business Development project director. "This is a place where they can test their ideas, understand what it means to run a business and see the challenges they could face ahead of time."

The program is free for those who meet income eligibility requirements, with a $35 material fee for others. After an assessment, applicants go through a six-week business development course that includes training in entrepreneurship skills, obtaining financing, learning about accounting and tax issues, financial literacy and marketing and writing a business plan.

Program graduates can apply for $5,000 in low-interest loans to start or expand their businesses. Potentially, grads can access up to $500,000 in financing though Rekindle financing partners.

The program has worked with new and existing businesses, Yoder says. He mentions the success story of barber Devin Pinkelton, who came through the program after first cutting hair in his home, then moving to a 10-foot by 12-foot space that held a single barber chair.

"We worked with Devin to update his business plan, develop cash flow projections and provided advice on site selection for his new location that had excellent visibility and parking. Once everything was in place, Devin applied for $5,000 from the Rekindle Micro-Enterprise Revolving Loan Fund to remodel and purchase fixtures for the barber shop," Yoder says.

In June, Pinkelton opened a three-chair shop in Florence.

"His new location has much better visibility and his business is really growing," Yoder says.

New Covington eatery WhackBurger, fast becoming a local favorite, is also a Rekindle graduate, Yoder adds.

The next class starts Aug. 16. Find out more at the Rekindle website.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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SoMoLend, CircleUp investment sites team to extend reach

Two innovative online investment startups, one in Ohio and one in California, are teaming to expand each other's reach.
Cincinnati-founded SoMoLend (short for Social Mobile Lending) and CircleUp, based in San Francisco, are among the newest places where smaller investors and company owners can meet to do business. They both offer alternative financing and investment opportunities outside of traditional banking and investment arenas.

Through SoMoLend, a peer-to-peer lending site, entrepreneurs can borrow up to $35,000 through the secure, patent-pending platform. Borrowers create a profile and loan application through the SoMoLend site. SoMoLend is the brainchild of Cincinnati attorney Candace Klein, also founder of Bad Girl Ventures, a micro-financing organization geared toward women-owned businesses.

CircleUp is a similar platform, but for businesses willing to also offer equity in their companies. Co-founders Ryan Caldbeck and Rory Eakin, who have backgrounds in finance and business consulting, launched CircleUp in April. CircleUp focuses on retail and consumer businesses.

"We work with companies that have tangible products on the shelf, and are looking to scale their businesses," Eakin says.

The companies' founders met through their mutual work in supporting the recently approved federal JOBS Act. Among other things, the law allows non-accredited investors to invest or spend small amounts of money to businesses with some restrictions. The legislation was vital to the growth of sites like SoMoLend and CircleUp.

"CircleUp is one of the first players in this space," Klein says. "We found ourselves in the same places; we were approached by some of the same investors. When 30 people tell you tell you should be talking to someone, you start to listen." 

Initially the partnership will be more informal and consist of both companies referring potential investors and companies to one another, depending on which funding mechanism works best.

"We have complementary services, and want to work with SoMoLend because we were looking to partner with a great company with similar technology and services," Eakin says.

Eventually, the companies plan to serve investors and business owners through a single site, sharing resources on the back end.

"We have a strategic alliance, with an eye toward aligning as many products and services as possible," Klein says.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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Fashion design project includes medical innovation

When you think “compression garments,” you normally think “grandma hose,” not “high fashion.”

But a team of fashion designers at UC have joined with medical professionals that treat a genetic disease that affects connective tissue to change not only those perceptions, but the lives of those suffering from the condition. 

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) affects hundreds of thousands of Americans, limiting their mobility and endurance. The multi-system disease creates joint instability, dizziness and unrelenting severe pain. Even pulling on jeans can cause someone with EDS to dislocate a shoulder.

When physical therapists approached Margaret Voelker-Ferrier, of UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, with the problems that people with EDS experience when simply putting on clothes, she knew she could put her 30 years of bodywear design experience to good use. 

"I started as bra designer," says Voelker-Ferrier. "That has always been a passion for me, engineering things to solve a problem. Making things that are both beautiful and functional."

She gave the project to fashion design students in her bodywear class, explaining the challenges of EDS sufferers as well as the basics of clothing design. "The students loved the project and I think they did a marvelous job," she says.

Voelker-Ferrier worked with Brooke Brandewie on design solutions, which have been highlighted as part of the Cincinnati Innovates competition.

The clothes they designed – from dresses and pants to an evening gown -- support and stabilize body joints and ligaments. Made from high-tech materials, they provide comfort and style simultaneously. One shirt, for example, has adjustable straps that help hold shoulders in place. 

“The fact that they are designing clothing that is functional and therapeutic and beautiful and doesn’t look like a medical device is exciting,” says Candace Ireton, MD, who suffers from EDS. She saw the clothes during the Ehlers-Danlos National Foundation Learning Conference, which was held in Cincinnati this month. 

Both Brandewie and Voelker-Ferrier attended the conference to gather measurements of EDS patients and collect data as they continue to develop their designs. While designed for EDS, the same fashions could be adapted for use by people with autism, MS and arthritis. 

"It was really wonderful to be able to meet people and talk with them about this," Voelker-Ferrier says. "It’s kind of amazing." 

For now, she's working on collecting more data, finding some popular sizes to work with and eventually leading an interdisciplinary studio at UC to design prototypes. Eventually, the design maven hopes to turn her problem-solving fashion sense into a small business that will target the needs of people with chronic medical conditions as well as Baby Boomers. 

Fashion, after all, can provide a mental, as well as physical, boost, says EDSer Ireton. “Some of the clothing is sexy,” she says. “You can feel better, keep your ribs in place and look cute, too.”
 
For more information about the design project, visit their Cincinnati Innovates submission.

By Elissa Yancey


Camp Washington artist salvages, creates stained glass

Whether you realize it or not, Cincinnati is full of stained glass. It's part of our German heritage, says Gillian Thompson, the proprietor of Gillian Thompson Glass.

She meets with property owners throughout the Cincinnati area, restoring old glass designs, repairing age-damaged leading and designing new stained glass projects.

Stained glass can encompass either colored or clear designs and projects can be artistically complex or as simple as a clear patterned glass that provides privacy.

Repairs to stained glass are typically needed to salvage old pieces or repair cracks. After decades, window bowing, called deflection, can occur as the soft light between glass disintegrates as it is exposed to moisture. Thompson says this deflection can be mistaken for an artistic style; actually, it's just damage.

Thompson began her career as an apprentice for Architecture Art Glass in Pleasant Ridge (now located in Milford) and worked her way up, eventually launching her own studio a little more than four years ago, when a Camp Washington studio space opened up. She says the neighborhood's old factory buildings offer her the perfect combination of natural light and space.

"My style is all over the place," she says. "I really love traditional styles, but also have fun with contemporary work."

Although Thompson took advantage of a SCORE mentor, she raves most about the entrepreneurial support she gained through the SpringBoard program.

"Springboard focused me," she says of the ArtWorks-sponsored business development program. "(What) I really got from them, was learning to turn on the knowledge base in my community, just looking around at the people I know. Through friends, I've just got a web developer.”

Her next stop, she says, is using that website to grow her client base.

By Robin Donovan

MamaDoc designs products to ease pregnancy discomforts

A friendship between two Cincinnati mamas led to new doctor-designed garments and products designed to help other mamas more comfortably get through their pregnancies.

MamaDoc, founded in 2009, is the effort of Dr. Somi Javaid, an ob/gyn at the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine and Kim Howell, a certified yoga instructor with a sales and marketing background. The company was born out of Dr. Javaid's everyday interactions with women suffering from various pregnancy-related discomforts like lower back pain, swollen feet and ankles and breastfeeding issues.

"Day in and day out, she was hearing the same complaints," says her business partner Howell. "She knew what was on the market to address (those problems), and their shortcomings."

The catalyst for their first product, the Nox compression bra, was a conversation between the two friends, who'd met through their daughters. Howell was having problems weaning her son. In particular, she found the conventional chest compression process to suppresses lactation very uncomfortable.

Dr. Javaid told Howell about her idea for a full-coverage compression bra with adjustable straps ($59.99). The bra has pockets to hold speciality ice packs and is made out of moisture-wicking bamboo. Howell encouraged her to make the product a reality.

Howell says this product, like their others, have been designed with a women's curvature and anatomy in mind. For instance, the compression bra is designed to support the often sore suspensory ligament of the breast under the armpit.

"There's nothing like it on the market. It's a very user-friendly garment," Howell says.

Among their other products is the BellyUpIt, a maternity support band aimed a relieving back pain. The adjustable band ($49.95) wraps around the belly and lower back, giving women compressed support. It's also made of bamboo.

MamaDoc also sells speciality ice and heat packs, pregnancy socks, a gown that can be worn through pregnancy and delivery and Organic Bamboo Fleece diapers.

MamaDoc was the most recent Bad Girl Ventures (BGV) microloan recipient. BGV awards loans and provides business support to women-owned companies across Ohio in a competitive process that includes a nine-week business course.

MamaDoc sells to some individuals, but most of their buyers are wholesalers. MamaDoc is working to expand that network and get their products on more shelves.

Howell says the loan will allow the company to revamp its website, stock more product for fast delivery and improve its marketing.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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Social Cincinnati: By the numbers

Mashable, the go-to site for techy trends, in 2011 named Cincinnati the most social city in the world in honor of Social Media Day.

It seems the city's social butterflies are working to keep that coveted, if unscientific, designation. Local Social Media training company Social Media Bootcamp has compiled some facts and figures about the Queen City's online connections.

The figures, which you can see in graphic form on the Boot Camp Digital blog, give a snapshot of Cincinnati's Social Media landscape. For instance:

• There are 807,360 people in the Greater Cincinnati area on Facebook (within a 25 mile radius of Cincinnati)

• There are more than 88,000 Cincinnatians on LinkedIn

• 475,000 Twitter accounts mention Cincinnati in their titles

In the business realm, figures show:

• 81 percent of Cincinnati brands participate in social media

• P&G, a leading global marketer headquartered in Cincinnati, aims to be “the most digitally enabled company in the world”.

• 63 percent of Cincinnati businesses are prepared to respond to social media inquiries within hours.

• 77 percent of businesses handle social media internally, yet only 30 percent have training
,"
"We were pretty surprised by some of the statistics that we found," says Krista Neher of Boot Camp Digital. "The infographic especially shows that Cincinnati businesses are highly active on social media (81 percent) yet also, surprisingly, they don't have a lot of social media training, and most businesses don't have a policy,"

Additionally, social media pros are abundant in Cincinnati.

• There are more than 13,000 people in Cincinnati with social media in their Twitter profiles

• There are more than 1,000 groups on LinkedIn for Cincinnati.

• 50 percent of business professionals in Cincinnati are using social media in a professional capacity.

• 74 percent of Cincinnatians have access to social media at work (although only 43 percent have a social media policy)

By Feoshia Henderson Davis
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Bunbury gets Techbury twist this weekend

As world choirs make their exits and the inaugural Bunbury Music Festival launches July 13-15, visitors can supplement their music fix with new technologies and a celebration of entrepreneurial talent – from app developers to DJs – during Techbury, which takes place in a large air-conditioned tent just west of the L&N Bridge.

Like other music festivals that combine music with technology (SXSW, Coachella), Bunbury launches with a tech partnership that features the combined talents of seed-stage funder CincyTechUSA and R&D from digital marketing brand-makers at Possible Worldwide.

The Techbury tent will house interactive games, cool consumer products to demo and stage programming that includes local technology startup pitches, local band interviews and local DJ competitions. And did we mention air conditioning? And beer. Yes, beer.

“Possible Worldwide was very eager to get involved with the festival because our agency is all about celebrating the relationship between creativity and technology,” says Meghann Craig, associate communications manager at Possible. “That's our sweet spot.”

“For CincyTech, participating in the Techbury portion of Bunbury is about showcasing the startup innovation happening in our region with the tens of thousands of people who attend,” says Carolyn Pione Micheli, CincyTech communications director.

With programming both on and off-stage in the tent, Techbury offers a cool place to experience the festival in a more hands-on way. “Techbury allows you to engage with the Festival in a more intimate setting and provides an experience that is unique and different from traditional music festivals,” says Craig.

Techbury highlights include:

• Possible Labs’ “interactions gallery” with Human Pong and other Microsoft Kinect-based games.

• Friday’s Startup Pitch Wars, a battle of 16 local startups that deliver “rocket pitches,” with the winner determined by crowd vote and prizes offered by The Greater Cincinnati Venture Association and Bunbury.

• Saturday’s All Night Party Local Band Showcase, featuring interviews with local bands moderated by Chelsea VandeDrink of WVXU and aired on the station.

• Sunday’s Bunbury Battle of the Cincinnati DJs, which pits four local DJs against each other.

By Elissa Yancey
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NKY Chamber pairs American business mentors, African leaders in Innovation Summit

The Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce will be part of a nationwide Innovation Summit and Mentoring Partnership that pairs African leaders with American business mentors.

An Innovation Summit started June 14 in Washington, D.C. and featured sessions with business leaders and entrepreneurs. The program is part of the Obama Administration's President's Young African Leaders Initiative, which identifies and fosters relationships with young African leaders. It's aim is to "promote business innovation, investment and social responsibility activities in Africa."

Starting this week, the African youth with fan out across the country learning about American culture and the workplace. In addition to Northern Kentucky, they'll travel to Seattle, Charlotte, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Miami, Huntsville, Denver and Chicago.

The Chamber, in conjunction with the Greater Cincinnati World Affairs Council, will sponsor 21-year-old Mwaka Mukwasa, spokeswoman for the Young African Leaders Initiative or YALI. Her organization's mission is to "engage, support and empower Zambian youth and young leaders to enhance civic engagement through promotion of education, good governance, principled leadership and business skills."

Starting June 25, Mwaka Mukwasa will be spending a few days with the Chamber and a couple of days with Junior Achievement of Cincinnati, which develops youth workplace, entrepreneurship and financial literacy skills.

"She'll be here learning about engaging young women and girls," says Amanda Dixon, manger of workforce talent solutions at the Chamber. "She wants to better connect them with career information and sources of education. She'll be looking at what we do at the Chamber, the resources we provide, and will have a set of best practices to take back home,"

By Feoshia Henderson
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SE Indiana entrepreneur's station feeds abandoned kittens, puppies

Matt Hess is a dog breeder whose new product – a feeding station for motherless puppies and kittens – solved his own puppy feeding challenge.

"I had nine English Mastiff puppies who lost their mother due to mastitis (an infection)," says Hess, who lives in Southeastern Indiana. "I was feeding them one by one. By the time I finished with the last one, it was time to feed the first one again. I thought, 'There has got to be a easier way to do this.' "

The result is Hess' Pet Nursing Station, which can feed three puppies or kittens at a time. The station securely holds baby bottles, attached to the back of a cradle where the animals lie, stomach down, to drink. The cradle is slightly angled and the puppies look up to suck their bottles.

"Once I created this system, it took me a half hour to feed the puppies," Hess says.

The Pet Nursing Station is for small- to large-breed puppies as well as kittens. It's designed for newborns to use up to four weeks old, or until they're weaned.

"It's designed to care for orphaned puppies or kittens if the mother has passed away, or, if for whatever reason, the mother doesn't produce enough milk. The Pet Nursing Station comes in as a temporary or full-time mother," Hess says.

Hess first used the station at home, then sent it to friends and acquaintances to further test. He received good feedback, and decided to start selling the stations in 2011. He, his mother and father make the metal stations in Hess' garage. He's working on a plastic mold for them, which will make the station lighter and more affordable.

"When I made the Pet Nursing Station, I didn't think it would go anywhere. After I shared it with friends, who said it was good idea, it kind of took off," he says.

He's sold the station to animal rescues, breeders and individual pet owners. He's talking to pet stores and catalog sellers to find a wider distribution for the product.

"We have one company who is interested but wants to see the product go further before they sell it," he says.

The Pet Nursing Station is one of the entries in the ongoing Cincinnati Innovates invention and business competition. You can see more ideas, or enter your own here.

By Feoshia Henderson
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UC collaboration leads to biodiesel research

Fueled by a US EPA grant, University of Cincinnati faculty and students are leading an effort to transform cooking grease into biodiesel on a regional scale.

This project is a collaboration among UC, the Cincinnati Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) and Bluegrass Biodiesel of Falmouth, Ky. The partners will test three methods to extract oil from the grease, including one the University is planning to patent.

Longer term plans are that this oil could be used in a biodiesel mixture to power diesel equipment and vehicles.

Grease hauling is an industry vital to restaurants, which pay haulers to dispose of used cooking grease. But the grease has to disposed of, usually in landfills.

"MSD receives grease from haulers," says project leader Mingming Lu, UC associate professor of Environmental Engineering. "The grease -- a mix of solid and liquid -- are from restaurant grease traps. MSD also has grease from the waste water it receives. The two kinds of grease are mixed, skimmed and condensed. This is called trap grease. It's stored in a pond and then sent to a landfill."

The EPA awarded the biodiesel effort an $87,000 grant during the the 8th Annual National Sustainable Design Expo on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in May. The project was chosen from among 300 presented by college and university innovators across the country.

Up to seven UC students will be involved in the effort, Lu says. It's set to start in September and should last two years. It will include pilot demonstrations and a 100-gallon pilot treatment facility in collaboration with MSD.

"This is technology verification. We will try several technologies and see which one is the most effective for MSD," Lu says.

By Feoshia Henderson
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UC Forward grants $140K for collaborative classes

What co-op was to the 20th century, UC Forward is to the 21st. So goes the theory, and practice, behind the latest iteration of experiential learning at the University of Cincinnati, birthplace of cooperative education.

UC Forward, an initiative of UC’s Innovation Collaborative, describes a wide array of new and existing courses that combine students, and faculty, from multiple disciplines, across colleges and campuses, to work together to solve real-world problems.

Some of these classes have existed for years.

For example, the Niehoff Urban Studio has been tackling community problems, like increasing neighborhood green spaces and improving communities, with design-thinking since 2002.

The Livewell Collaborative has been putting students on the frontline of product development for Baby Boomers—because of strict confidentiality agreements with potential manufacturers, the joke around campus is that participants can tell you all about the new ideas and products they have developed, but then they have to kill you.

The Medical Device Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program has been creating partnerships between budding industrial designers and biomedical engineers and University doctors in need of new devices to address pressing needs in the emergency room and beyond.

And those are just a few of the existing programs that now fall under the UC Forward umbrella.

This school year, the office of the provost issued a call for proposals for new multi-disciplinary courses that include students and faculty from diverse disciplines, use collaborative teaching and learning methods and expand the educational model by focusing on real-life solutions—deliverables that not only help students learn and grow, but that can help them land jobs.

Fourteen courses received first-year funding for a total of $140,000 in new funding, a significant investment in a new way of teaching, learning and preparing students for the future. It’s a move that fits with the Research 1 University’s new academic master plan, and aims at helping shift the higher education narrative to meet the needs of a new century.

Look for stories about individual UC Forward initiatives, as well as new programs and certificates developed to foster creative problem-solving, in future issues of Soapbox.

By Elissa Yancey
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Cincinnati's CrowdSpark makes online contest creation easy, affordable

Online contests allow businesses and brands to find new customers, increase awareness and engage with followers through social media.

"This is a really a fast-growing space used to create media exposure to engagement," says Cincinnati entrepreneur Elizabeth Edwards, founder of the Cincinnati Innovates business competition.

But paying someone to create a custom contest can get pricey, and there's not much guarantee you'll get the results you want. So Edwards launched a new web product, CrowdSpark, designed to make contest creation more effective and accessible for businesses on tight budgets.

"A custom-designed platform and a management platform could cost $15,000 to create," she says. "Instead of paying a web developer to create a contest, for as little as $250 you could create your own."

Developers can also use CrowdSpark so that they can spend less time on code, and more time on creating a great contest, Edwards adds.

"We make it easy and economical to create and run those contests," she says.

Edwards is using CrowdSpark, now in Beta, to run the ongoing Cincinnati Innovates Contest, which wraps up July 15.

"I've learned a lot in the last four years of running Cincinnati Innovates, which has become of the most successful regional online contests in the world," she says. "But one of the things I learned not to do is spend a lot of money to get the results you want."

CrowdSpark offers social media plug-ins, analytics, contest entry forms, custom legal rules, tech support and options to create a custom domain and accept paid entries. There will also be a best practices guide focusing on creating and managing contests.

It costs between $250 and $2,000 to start using CrowdSpark, depending on the options it includes. Hosting fees range from $100 to $200 each month the contest runs.

By Feoshia Henderson
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New loan funding helps property owners increase energy efficiency

A $3 million boost from a national foundation may soon help make local church pews and nonprofit offices a lot more comfortable, and a lot more energy-efficient.

The innovative new approach to making energy-efficient upgrades profitable for both loan recipients and lenders combines the efforts of the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance, the Cincinnati Development Fund, and the Calvert Foundation, which typically invests in real-estate secured loans and has never before invested in Cincinnati.

The new fund, the Better Buildings Performance Loan Fund, leverages federal and foundation money for loans at competitive interest rates that can help institutions renovate buildings and increase their energy efficiency at the same time, says Al Gaspari, GCEA finance director.

While GCEA's focus has been on helping homeowners with energy-efficient upgrades, this new initiative expands its role in the region.

"We're initially targeting nonprofit organizations and multi-family dwellings," Gaspari says. Churches, arts organizations and schools rank high on the list of prospective loan applicants. For example, an inner-city church with a 60-year-old furnace could apply for a loan, invest in a new energy-efficient furnace and save 20 percent on energy costs. Plus, the new system could make existing spaces accessible year-round--even during hot summer and cold winter months--thus allowing for expanded programs and services.

"From our perspective, our grant is not dollar-in, dollar-out," Gaspari says. "The goal of our grant is to get people involved and lower their initial risks."

For lenders flirting with the idea of investing in energy-efficiency, the new fund provides a potential sustainable model. "Our overall goal is to show that there is a market for these loans and show that they do perform," Gaspari says.

While the new fund is not yet up and running, he says the GCEA expects to underwrite loans, which will be offered through the Cincinnati Development Fund, before the end of 2012.

As part of the fund, the GCEA will track the energy savings that improvements allow. For investors at the Calvert Foundation, the forward-focused program offers a chance to invest in a program that ultimately conserves energy, reduces pollutants and saves money.

By Elissa Yancey
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Define My Style recruiting 500 fashionistas

Define My Style, a Cincinnati startup and an online community of next-generation designers and fashionistas, is seeking 500 Design Assistants from across the country to discover and share their sense of style and design, create and publish fashion-oriented content, interact with other members of the community and bring their designs to life.

The program is looking for young women ages 14-22 who are passionate about style, want to become a part of fashion and have a drive to help others. ??Young women can participate from home and the program is accepting nominees on a rolling basis.

?Design Assistants should be highly motivated and eager to share their opinion. They will:

•    Lead and influence more than 50,000 DefineMyStyle.com members;
•    Connect with fashion-industry professionals, including stylists, designers, models and bloggers;
•    Be granted first access to trends, tools and brand partnerships;
•    Develop a personal brand;
•    Write blog posts, snap design-inspiring photos, submit videos and contribute to social media;
•    Build their resume for college.

In return, Design Assistants can earn points, badges (credits), swag and free bags from DefineMyStyle.com.??"I'm so excited to be one of the first Design Assistants,” says Kate Richey, a Cincinnati high school sophomore and a DMS Design Assistant. “We're getting to learn about fashion and design, and then we are given projects around what we've just learned. It allows us each to be creative and have fun. It's great to know that what we say and do makes an impact on the entire community.” ??

Define My Style Design assistants each will receive an elevated page on the DMS website where their accomplishments and profile will be housed.

The idea for Define My Style came to founder and CEO Kristine Sturgeon in 2007, when her oldest daughter was getting ready to head back to school. Unable to decide on a school bag that gave her the functions she needed and was a design she loved, Sturgeon’s daughter was at a standstill. She knew exactly what she wanted out of a product – as most consumers do – but brands sold commercially weren’t interested in listening to her desires. Sturgeon saw a business opportunity.

The website has now grown into a robust community of more than 50,000 members that allows teens to bring their ideas to life as they determine the role they want to engage in social commerce: including buyer, designer, marketer, critic and influencer of products. ??“The Design Assistant program offers a unique ability to play a role in fashion and influence the DMS community,” says Sturgeon. “At Define My Style, our goal is to provide right tools and connections to this creative next generation of leaders and influencers in the world of fashion. We are excited about all we have in store in the coming months.”

??If you know a teen you think would be perfect for the program, you can nominate them for the program.

Or, young women who want to directly apply to be a Design Assistant can submit their applications through the Define My Style Web site.  

By Sarah Blazak for CincyTech

TEDxCincy explores the intersection of technology, artisianship

The First TedxCincy, in October of 2010, presented inspiring speakers from varied career paths talking about their passions. On May 10, the second TedXCincy event explores the theme: "Plugged and Unplugged: The Crossroads of Technology and Artisanship."
 
"It's always nice to have a topic that has some kind of friction or tension," says David Volker, TedxCincy organizer. "We wanted to come up with something that shows the entire spectrum of Cincinnati." 
 
The search for speakers starts with the organizing team's personal networks and then grows from there. The team consists of Volker, Emily Venter and Michael Bergman, all from LPK, and Mary Riffe of Procter & Gamble. 
 
"We try to search through our networks and find people who are off the beaten path," Volker says. "A lot of times, conferences focus on the cool, new, tech-based things, but we want to also explore what people are creating with their hands." 
 
Volker and the rest of the team are bringing in artists like Jesse Mooney-Bullock, a puppet maker from Northside, Renee Koerner, a local caviar producer, Queen City Project, a  group of photographers and designers showing Cincinnati through a different lens. Also on the schedule are Christopher Erb, vice president of brand marketing for EA Sports, and Steve Fulton of GE Aviation. Soapbox Managing Editor Elissa Yancey will kick off the afternoon of talks.
 
"We work really hard to uncover some of the gems in the city that may be otherwise passed over," Volker says. 
 
While there will be videos, swag and other activities for attendees, Volker says that the speakers make the event what it is. 
 
"We work really hard to make it a diverse line up of speakers," Volker says. "There will be over 500 attendees and we want to have at least one speaker that connects with each person that attends." 
 
By Evan Wallis

Nonprofit Symposium gives national perspective on best social media practices

Social media is all the rage, but for time- and resource-strapped nonprofit organizations, maintaining a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest seems like just another hassle in a long list of more urgent priorities.

But a local social media expert says effective, strategic social media usage actually can help a nonprofit's bottom line. It can help build an engaged network and drive donations in less time that you might think.

"More people check Facebook every day than read newspapers or listen to radio, and if nonprofits want to remain relevant, they need to be more involved in social media," says BootCamp Digital Founder Krista Neher. "When done correctly, social media becomes an efficiency booster."

Neher, along with Dayton author Randall Moss, have organized their first Nonprofit Symposium to help organizations better use social media tools.

Moss and David J. Neff, authors of The Future of Nonprofits: Innovate and Thrive in the Digital Age, will be among more than 15 events speakers. Other speakers include Ehren Foss from HelpAttack!, a social media fundraising site, and Danielle Brigida, social media outreach coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation.

"We'll be showing other nonprofits have used social media successfully. Our goal is education and inspiration. We'll overview what technology and tools out there, talk about soliciting donations online and how to use social and digital to achieve goals," Neher says.

The Nonprofit Symposium is May 17, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m, at the Red Cross building on Dana Avene. A networking event follows. The cost is $97 and includes lunch and the networking Happy Hour.

By Feoshia Henderson
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Global 2 Local blends translation and technology

A Cincinnati-based interpreting company has been providing translations and interpreting service to companies worldwide, and recently won a contract from the City of Cincinnati to provide interpreter services for all of the Health Department locations in the city. 
 
Global 2 Local Language Solutions was founded by Grace Bosworth back in 2009, but she didn't really start working on her company full-time until November of 2010. G2L specializes in technical document translation, which is possible through their database of over 300-400 interpreters and translators. 
 
After helping another woman start a language service business out of a house, and eventually broke off of the company to travel for a year, and upon returning to Cincinnati, she founded G2L. With previous experience starting a similar type of business, Bosworth was able to hit the ground running. 
 
G2L provides service including everything from website localizations, meaning the website is designed and programed in several different languages to technical document translations to in-person interpreting. 
 
"Translators and interpreters are special people," Bostworth says. "They have to have a complete grasp of both languages they area working with as well as a background in the specific matter they are translating." 
 
Besides the translation and interpreting services, G2L also provides web design, graphics and database administration. This blend of technology and translation is a departure from what many language service businesses offer.  One major hurdle G2L faces is finding new clients. Bosworth started 2012 with the goal of gaining 25 new contracts, a large number for a company with only four full time employees. 
 
"Finding new clients is one of our biggest challenges," Bosworth says. "Gaining contracts like this one with Cincinnati is a great way for us to bridge the gap to bigger contracts. You can't get experience until someone let's you have it." 
 
With the momentum of winning the contract from the City of Cincinnati, G2L is now in the running to win a larger contract to provide interpreter services for all of the hospitals in Dayton. 
 
Business will continue to grow for G2L as they obtain more clients and Bosworth believes more people will see the need for providing their services to a non-English speaking customer base. The Ohio Department of Development has a grant right now that gives companies money towards developing their website and marketing materials into other languages in an effort to increase exports from Ohio.
 
"Sometimes people don't think about it, but if you want to get your product out to other languages you need to make marketing materials in other languages as well as get your website available in other languages," Bosworth says. "We are able to do all of that for companies." 
 
By Evan Wallis
 

Public Allies grows local leaders

Mildred Fallen is something of a Cincinnati historian. A local journalist, you can often see the product of her verbal explorations of Cincinnati's hip-hop scene in the pages of CityBeat and other publications. Her pieces often reflect something that's been lost to time or merely overlooked. And it's with this perspective that Fallen approaches her other, newer calling: social work.
 
In fall of 2011, Fallen joined Public Allies, a non-profit organization under the umbrella of AmeriCorps and a program of the local nonprofit Bridges for a Just Community. Allies' goal is to turn socially driven, passionate people into the next generation of leaders. Allies partner with other non-profits in Cincinnati to help with programming, training and community building.
 
"I had never heard of the program," says Fallen, who joined in 2011. But she was swept up in the movement. "They believe in enticing young people to approach leadership in their own way. It's not a cookie cutter or corporate way."
 
Fallen was placed with two non-profits after joining Public Allies — The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and Bridges. She splits her time between the two groups, focusing her energies on engaging the broader community. She manages social media, like the organizations' Facebook and Twitter accounts, blogs for both organizations and circulates information to demographics that could benefit from the organizations' resources.
 
Fallen also is a natural master of the "teachable moment." After the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida teenager killed in February 2012, she helped organize a race forum at Woodward High School called "What's Race Got to Do With It?" that allowed residents to have a broad discussion about race and class in America. Fallen says that by engaging the region, you develop a more just community.
 
"People talked about how violence affects people like Trayvon, but also other people in Cincinnati as well," Fallen says.
 
During her tenure at the Freedom Center, she also has helped organize a capacity event with activist and author Angela Davis that attracted nearly 800 people — 600 in person and another 200 tuned in on UStream. She also pioneered a blog within the Freedom Center called "Queen City Conductor" that explores the little-known accomplishments of Cincinnatians of color.
 
Fallen says she wouldn't have been able to accomplish what she has in the last year without Public Allies. "The biggest component that people don't know about Public Allies is the training we receive," she says. "This is the first time I've really had a lot of peer support. I'm looking at myself professionally. I've been able to do a lot in a short amount of
time."
 
Fallen also is part of a community service project in partnership with the Strive Partnership. For the last two years, Cincinnati has won the America's Promise Alliance award, which means that the city in considered one of the 100 Best Communities for Young People. Together with her team, she is hosting community conversations to find out the public's opinion about Cincinnati's accountability in areas where we were noted as being excellent.
 
Fallen's term of service with Public Allies ends June 30, and her experience has given her a lot for look forward to when she moves on. She says her experience leading up to and throughout Public Allies has made her want to be a social historian of the city while maintaining service projects and engaging the larger community.
 
"I can actually say things like I have time management skills," Fallen says. "I'm successful at completing these projects. I'm confident that once I leave Public Allies, these are strengths I can really be excited about sharing."

By Ryan McLendon

RAW: Cincinnati showcases emerging artists

If you’re a natural born artist, RAW: Cincinnati is looking for you.
 
Coming to Cincinnati in May, RAW natural born artists makes its debut as a showcase for emerging indie artists, including visual arts, film, fashion, music, performing art, hair and makeup artistry and photography. RAW: natural born artists is an independent arts organization that began in Southern California and operates in 32 cities across the United States. Its mission – to provide independent artists with the resources and exposure to expand their careers on both a local and national level (and have a fabulous time in the process).
 
It works like this. Artists can visit RAW: Cincinnati online to submit creative work for consideration. Once accepted, the artists’ work is featured in online profiles on the RAW website, and becomes part of a monthly showcase that combines work from artists across all disciplines in one event, on one night. The events are held at venues where creatives can be loud, expressive and social as they introduce their work to patrons both new and familiar. Clearly not the average gallery show, the Cincinnati version of RAW begins May 18 at Luxe Cincinnati and continues on the third Friday of each month.
 
“Expect RAW: Cincinnati to showcase visual art, live music, designer hair and makeup, and a fashion show,” says Melissa Sideris, director. About 20 to 25 artists will be featured each month in events from May through November, which means there is ample opportunity for indie artists to introduce themselves to wider audiences.
 
“RAW helps emerging artists by providing a platform to showcase their work that they might not otherwise have,” says Sideris. In addition to the public exposure that RAW events provide, on-site photographers and videographers capture each artist’s story in a three to five-minute video that the artists keep to use for creative or promotional purposes.
 
Not only does RAW provide a local platform, artists have the opportunity for exposure on the national level. The November showcase features the top artists of the year, which are entered into a national competition culminating with a year-end awards ceremony held in Southern California.
 
“One of the most exciting things about RAW is that it allows a fun platform where many art forms come to life in one night,” says Sideris. “We are currently looking for artists for our June showcase."

For more information, go online.

New Innov8 For Health accelerator taking health IT startup applications

A new health IT startup accelerator is taking applications for a 12-week business development program that includes $20,000 in startup funds.

The Innov8 For Health Startup accelerator is an outgrowth of Cincinnati's Innov8 For Health initiative aimed at creating jobs, attracting and retaining talent and improving health outcomes through innovation.

"This goes back to the Innov8 for health theme. We want to identify people who have ideas and support and incentivize them down the path of innovation," says initiative founder Sunnie Southern, also founder of ViableSynergy.

The accelerator will take applications until April 30. It's open to any early-stage startups grounded in health IT. Companies outside of Cincinnati must move to the city during the program. It starts June 11 with eight companies.

"The focus is on providing better health care at a lower cost. The range of solutions can be everything from making it easier to select high-quality healthcare providers to making doctor and patient interaction more efficient," Southern says.

Each company selected will receive $20,000; in return, the accelerator will own six percent of the company. Startups will also work with mentors and tackle business development aspects including sales and marketing, branding, technology and operations and navigating government regulations.

Innov8 For Health partners include GE Aviation, C-Cap, Queen City Angels and the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati.

The Greater Cincinnati area is particularly suited for healthcare IT innovation, because many health providers here are further along in adopting paperless records and sharing secure, electronic patient information, Southern says.

"We have one of the most mature health information exchanges in the country, Health Bridge. It's really a cornerstone of what makes Cincinnati different; we have this deep expertise in sharing and exchanging data," she says.

By Feoshia Henderson
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Linkage Ventures, CincyTech invest in aging-related startups

Linkage Ventures and CincyTech have formed a unique strategic partnership to create and co-invest in startup companies whose technologies can help people as they age.

Cincinnati-based CincyTech is a public-private seed-stage investor that has invested since 2007 in 35 startup companies in IT and bioscience. Linkage Ventures is a newly created venture arm of Linkage, a Mason-based nonprofit organization whose members are senior living providers throughout the US. Linkage has hired investment banker and former technology company executive John Hopper as managing director of Linkage Ventures.

CincyTech and Linkage are partnering in order to identify, evaluate and invest in early-stage technologies that startups can take to market to benefit the aging population either directly or through care-giving organizations.

“This partnership is about promoting whole-person wellness and providing solutions that help people age successfully wherever they chose to do it,” says Scott Collins, president and CEO of Linkage Ventures.

The deal is unique in that it closely aligns the sources of “deal flow” – entrepreneurs with aging-related technology – with sources of capital that can help them grow and go to market. Linkage has 600 member communities in 39 states who are frequently approached about concepts and products that can help their 134,000 residents and 16,000 employees. With that deal flow and funds available through Linkage Ventures and CincyTech, the path for great solutions becomes easier to navigate.

Linkage also provides a rare opportunity to identify the needs of people as they age. “Our communities have built and earned a trust with this population that allows us to talk directly to them about their needs and desires,” Collins says.

This reach and relationship-building provides the ability to conduct truly transparent market research, says Mike Venerable, CincyTech’s managing director of digital, software and health tech.

“We can quickly validate the economics of a product or idea through their population,” he says.

Adds Collins: “It’s not just the investment. We’ve got the domain expertise internally, and we can do quick beta testing that marries well with the CincyTech network and expertise.”

By Sarah Blazak for CincyTech

Whirlybird launches line of local granola

Research the history of granola and a couple different accounts surface. Who thought of it first—a health spa owner or John Harvey Kellogg? From healthy snack to diet staple, granola’s popularity gives it staying power beyond its early “hippie food” advocates.

For Mariemont’s Christy White, 27, the love of granola reaches beyond yogurt topping and trail mix. She’s taken her passion for local ingredients and entrepreneurial spirit and launched Whirly Bird Granola in April 2011. After seeing granola for sale at local flea markets, she spend six months testing and perfecting her recipes for three signature varieties: original, chocolate and vanilla berry.

One of White’s main focuses while testing recipes was finding a local, high-quality maple syrup. The name of her company evolved directly from the sugar maple tree’s seed, which many people refer to as “whirlybirds” or “helicopters.” She settled on Ohio’s Snake Hill Farm. “They produce organic maple syrup and it was delicious,” White says. “It is family-run and the people were amazing. We wanted to support such a great family with a great product.”

WhirlyBird is all-natural, and 40 percent of its ingredients are organic. White uses dried cranberries, dried blueberries, flax seeds, sunflower seeds and more. “I’m trying to get as many organic and local ingredients into my recipes,” White says. “Sometimes it can be hard because of cost.”

Currently, White, has only sold her granola at the City Flea. She’s in the process of finding a certified kitchen so she can expand beyond her Mariemont home and make larger quantities.

White also takes orders by email and even delivers them to customers around the city.

“I’m trying to meet what every customer needs,” she says. For now, that includes a special gingerbread-flavored granola for the holiday season.

By Evan Wallis

Permaganic meets Kickstarter goal, pedal-powered cart a go

Dozens of donors have spoken, contributing more than $4,000 to a Cincinnati urban gardening program for a custom, pedal-powered produce cart that will move food from the garden to the market.

The nonprofit Permaganic Eco Garden has just exceeded its $4,000 goal through the Kickstarter fundraiser website. The organization's Eco Garden Youth Internship Program pays youth in Cincinnati's urban core to grow, harvest and market produce in the city. The program aims to help youth develop job skills like punctuality, self-motivation, focus and accountability.

The program takes on about 20 student interns each year, who take ownership of the garden, from planning and planting to maintenance and marketing. The harvest is sold Saturdays from 8 am to 2:30 pm in the Findlay Market Local Farm Shed, and Wednesdays from 4 to 7 pm at the Northside Farmers' Market.

Husband and wife Angela and Luke Ebner, DAAP grads, operate the program. The idea of a tricycle-powered cart has been about two years in the making, and is finally becoming a reality. The cart is being designed and built by Robert Grossman, a freelance designer and governing member of MoBo Bicycle Cooperative.

"We wanted to find a way to reduce the carbon footprint of our organization, and we spend a lot of money on many trips getting produce from here to Findlay Market," Angela Ebner says. "My husband really wanted a fossil-fuel-free alternative, and he wanted to work through MoBo, so that's how we got linked up."

The heavy-duty, tricked-out tricycle holds a insulated box that can handle about 200 pounds of produce. It will also have a collapsible display stand, retractable awning, drawers and a signage display, creating a space where the produce can be sold once it gets to market.

The Kickstarter fundraiser had 67 donors from Cincinnati and as far away as Guadalajara, Mexico. Donations came from individuals and groups including Fuel Cincinnati, which donated $1,000 to the project. Many of the donations were in the $25 to $50 range.

The organization hopes the design will serve as a template for others who want to use this type of transportation, and the cart should be out on the streets by May, Abner says.

By Feoshia Henderson
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Cincinnati State, AK Steel team for advanced manufacturing training

Cincinnati State’s Workforce Development Center in Evendale has teamed with AK Steel to provide a new advanced manufacturing training program for the company's workers.

The 400-hour Electronic Repairman Training program is one of the latest the Workforce Development Center has developed in response to local employer demand. The center has developed programs for Procter & Gamble and GE, among other major Cincinnati area employers.

AK Steel is headquartered in West Chester with major operations in Middletown, Mansfield, Coshocton and Zanesville. The company is a worldwide manufacturer of steel products for the automotive, infrastructure, manufacturing, construction and electrical power markets.

This is the Workforce Development Center's first partnership with AK Steel. The training program is about three weeks in, will last 15 months and train approximately 16 workers, says Larry Cherveny, the center's Industrial Maintenance and Green Technologies business manager.

Steeped in math, controls and electricity, the program is designed to train workers in modern manufacturing. Course titles include: motor controls, industrial electronics, industrial controls and instrumentation, motion control and AC & DC drives.

The Workforce Development Center offers a variety of certifications and programs for working students as well as modifies and creates programs for employers, Cherveny says.

"Companies come and ask us to develop these very specific programs, and we're able to customize them to fit what the need is. We see it sort of as a challenge. For instance, we weren't doing the DC drives training before, and through some donations, we were about to get about $7,000 worth of training equipment," Cherveny says.

The center works to meet company and worker demand in a fast-changing economic atmosphere. Courses are held at the Evendale Center as well as on company campuses. The center has even taken training programs across the country and to Mexico, Cherveny says.

"We are flexible and change quickly," he says. "As they come to us with new needs, that tells us the direction that we need to look into."

By Feoshia Henderson
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Workshop gives companies tips on government grants

The Environmental Protection Agency, CincyTech and Dayton Development Coalition are teaming up to host a workshop to inform small businesses how to apply and obtain Small Business Innovation Research grants. 
 
The SBIR is a government-wide organization, coordinated by the Small Business Administration, that has more than $2 billion in funds to assist small business to stimulate innovation and increase small businesses in federal research and development through the SBIR grants. 
 
The SBIR grants come in two phases. The first phase is the Proof of Concept, which gives companies $80,000 to prove the feasibility of their approach or concept over a six-month period. Successful phase one companies can then apply for phase two grants, which are grants of up to $300,000 for up to two years. Phase two looks to continue research and development and ultimately, commercialization of the environmental technology. 
 
The workshop will be held March 26 and is geared toward businesses that are creating environmental technologies that address high-priority EPA needs. Those needs range from water to green building, to waste monitoring. A new area being added this year is a Sensor App for air pollution control, which could come in the form of an app that can monitor air quality and send data back to be studied. 
 
The workshop gives companies the opportunity to discuss their proposals and improve their chances of obtaining SBIR grants. Companies will also learn from the review process and past vendor experiences. Last year, the EPA's SBIR gave out 25 grants to a pool of more than 400 applications -- three were to companies in Greater Cincinnati, all of which attended the workshop. 
 
"This is a huge opportunity for small businesses," says April Richards, program manager of the EPA's SBIR program. "It's a fairly complicated application process, and this workshop can help people not make silly mistakes." 
 
Applications for grants open after March 15 and typically close around two months after. The applications are normally accepted once each year. 

More information on the workshop can be found here.
 
By Evan Wallis

Local startup bridges gaps between tech, business

Beth Robeson and Sharon Hall have been working on a business that drives innovation in Cincinnati since last year. In January, they launched Bridge2Tec.

Pairing their experience in both IT and consulting, Robeson and Hall plan on helping businesses use the technology they already have while finding technology to give them the highest return on investments.

“We run into situations where companies aren’t taking full advantage of the technologies they have,” Robeson says. “Business can be harmed, in terms of opportunities and wasted resources, because the pace of technology is changing so rapidly.”

Bridge2Tec is designed to help businesses by first finding out what kinds of challenges they face when adapting to new technologies. The company plans on establishing a resource portal to help create and support collaborations, while also hosting inspirational and educational events. The TecTuneUp on April 17 will bring together local tech companies such as Boot Camp Digital and Mindbox Studios, as well as global companies like IBM and Microsoft, so businesses can hear about the most up to date technological trends and ideas.

“What we are most passionate about is helping businesses to adopt more agile business models,” Hall says. “The only way to stay on top of those trends is to have the technology community involved in the conversation.”

Bridge2Tec will also serve as a conduit between the businesses and the tech world to help tech companies understand what businesses need. A perfect example is a recent conversation Hall had with a data center company that helps startup incubators and their companies have a place to store and transfer data. Hall asked the data center if they take the time to inform the startups they work with exactly why and how the data center is beneficial to their companies. The idea never occurred to them.

“That’s exactly what we want to do for both communities,” Hall says. “We have to help find gaps that can be filled and benefit both the technology industry in the region and give businesses a chance to find technologies that suit their needs at the lowest possible cost.”

By Evan Wallis

Mobile coupon innovator Samplesaint gains traction, creates jobs

Just six months after moving from Chicago to Cincinnati, mobile coupon innovator Samplesaint continues to catch major consumer brand and retailer attention. The startup's evolving technology is fueling its growth from eight to 25 employees since coming to the Queen City.

“We've had tremendous growth in product development. In terms of hiring, we've brought on a lot of IT and marketing folks. We have 25 employees, but we're not done yet,” says company founder and CEO Lawrence Griffith, a Cincinnati native.

Samplesaint was built on its mobile phone couponing technology that allows coupons to be easily scanned. It bypasses the more cumbersome process of printing digital coupons or requiring retailers to manually enter coupon codes from a phone.

Samplesaint is more than couponing. It offers a range of mobile marketing, consumer insight, research and experience services. Samplesaint's technology also includes access to a database that ties to retailers' point-of-service, allowing then to immediately identify and determine the redemption and expiration dates of coupons.

The company has already worked with major consumer brands, including Lipton, Breyers, Dove, Hellann's and Ragu, Griffith says.

“The integration of three pieces are what companies are most excited about: our ability to acquire content, geotargeting and data collection,” Griffith says. “And we can work within their existing systems.”

Samplesaint, which still has an office in Chicago, moved to Cincinnati after a $250,000 investment from CincyTech. It was one of the first companies that CincyTech investment attracted from out of state, as well as the first African-American owned company in which CincyTech has invested.

Rahul Bawa, director of digital/IT for CincyTech, says the venture development firm recruited Samplesaint from Chicago because of its unique approach to mobile marketing.

“Samplesaint has pioneered innovative mobile technologies,” says Bawa. “The company offers new ways of delivering content for consumer-focused companies and their brands. There’s a growing need in the marketplace for mobile-based marketing, and Samplesaint continues to explore ways to serve it. And with our emphasis on consumer marketing in this region, a company like Samplesaint belongs here.”

By Feoshia Henderson
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Eileen Weisenbach Keller directs NKU Entrepreneurship Institute

Northern Kentucky University professor Eileen Weisenbach Keller brings years of on-the-ground experience in the business world to her new role as director of the NKU Fifth Third Bank Entrepreneurship Institute.

She takes the helm of the growing, nationally recognized institute after coming to NKU in 2006 as an assistant marketing professor teaching marketing principles and marketing strategy. She has her business bona fides as well. Before coming to the university, Weisenbach Keller spent nearly 15 years in the private sector working in the pharmaceutical, manufacturing and consumer goods industries, including two years as senior product manager for Mr. Coffee.

Weisenbach Keller earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Indiana University, a master’s in business administration with concentrations in finance and marketing from the University of Chicago and a doctorate from Kent State University. She continues to serve as a consultant for small and Fortune 500 companies.

She honed some impressive skills during that her time in the private sector that will no doubt serve her well in this new role, including new product development, marketing and supply chain and budget management.

"Just this week I met with two companies and had quick rapport with their leaders due to our common experiences in the areas of profitabiltiy, product development and management, promotion and marketing communication," she says. "These relationships will allow us to quickly incorporate local entrepreneurs and business people into the Entrepreneurship Insitute for mutual gain. The companies will help us incorporate realistic application of the fundamental principles students must learn and we will help the companies by creating more capable students for internships, and graduates for jobs or new ventures."

The NKU Institute has been recognized by both Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine for its undergraduate and graduate entrepreneurship programs and outreach. There are plans for expansion of programs including a new entrepreneurship course next fall that will be open to students from any major at the university.

"For 10 years the Institute has created value in our region by combining the efforts of the university faculty, administration and staff wtih those of the very generous and innovative local business community," Weisenbach Keller says. "One goal is to continue and enhance that cooperation for one primary purpose: to strengthen the knowledge and skill set of our student graduates so that they are an ever-increasing positive force in the economy. Enhancements such as more internships and increased mentor relationships will play a very important part."

By Feoshia Henderson
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Choremonster's apps combine learning, rewards

Two Cincinnati natives have developed Choremonster, a Web-based service and mobile app that lets parents and children interact to complete and actually enjoy housework by combining digital gaming trends with the traditional concept of an allowance.

Choremonster co-founders Chris Bergman and Paul Armstrong are capitalizing on the fact that in 2010, 51 percent of children between 4 and 12 years old owned digital devices. Many children receive their parents’ early-generation iPhones, iTouches, Androids and laptops when their parents upgrade.  

“Technology is a huge part of family life these days and can give parents an advantage that my parents didn’t have when trying to get me to do chores,” says Bergman, CEO of Choremonster.

The two, who also were partners in running Over-the-Rhine-based Wiseacre Digital, are creating two separate applications: one for parents and one for children. The parents create a chore list for their children and assign real-life rewards that can be obtained by trading in Choremonster points.

The children use the application to mark their chores completed, gain points for real-life rewards and collect monsters. The randomized collection of monsters then interact with users, play games and teach children lessons on responsibility and completing tasks.

The company also will look at the market potential of the product as a mix of both online (software and virtual) and physical goods, similar to how Rovio is now marketing Angry Birds with t-shirts and plush toys.

Choremonster and its co-founders are graduates of the 2011 Brandery accelerator class, which graduated eight companies from all over the nation in October. Choremonster is the first of those companies to receive seed funding.

CincyTech led Choremonster’s seed-stage funding round with a $200,000 investment. The $350,000 round was completed by private angel investors.

The investments will go toward product development and growing the application’s user base.

“Bergman and Armstrong are a strong team that has executed multiple major digital and design projects for everyone from Maker’s Mark to Facebook,” says CincyTech Managing Director Mike Venerable. “We have a lot of confidence in their abilities, their passion and their product.”

By Sarah Blazak for CincyTech

UC students create trash compactor for environmental competition

As part of a global environmental concern about trash, a University of Cincinnati team proposed the “Renew Trash Compactor,” a new product and service that reduces trash, increases recycling, improves sanitation and generates income for the Padli Gujar village in India.
 
Mark Schutte, Carmen Ostermann, Morgen Schroeder and Autumn Utley, all University of Cincinnati students, headed to Minnesota to present their compactor in the next round of the Acara Challenge.
 
The competition is organized by the Acara Institute and administered by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, with the mission to mold students into a new generation of leaders by providing them with insight into global issues and how to influence change.
 
The environmental challenge given to students came through “Take The Challenge for Sustainable Design and Development,” a multidisciplinary course offered as part of the University Honors Program at UC. The course is taught by Rajan Kamath, associate professor of management, and Ratee Apana, associate professor-educator of management/international business.
 
“The course encourages students to think boldly and break with convention and rules,” Apana says.
 
First-round winners from all competing universities are fine-tuning business plans in the second-round of the competition, where four winning teams will be awarded a $5,000 scholarship and the opportunity to attend the University of Minnesota Acara Summer Institute in Bangalore, India.
 
The UC team, one of six in the country from colleges such as Duke University, Cornell University, Arizona State University, is paired with industry mentors to create business plans for their ideas.
 
“The compactor was designed to be simple and affordable,” Utley says.“The waste collection service, which accompanies the compactor, will generate 29 well-paying jobs for the community and additional household income.”
 
If the team makes it to the summer institute in India, members will meet with top entrepreneurs and capitalists to further develop their idea and help secure funding.
 
By Evan Wallis

Infintech, The Cure Starts Now team up for electronic payment program

Infintech, a Cincinnati-based electronic payment company, has teamed up with the nonprofit  The Cure Starts Now Foundation to launch a new service that can save companies money and contribute to cancer research.

Infintech, in Sharonville, announced its new SeCURE Payments program that it says could save companies more than 40 percent on their payment processing. In addition, Infintech will donate 25 percent of the net processing revenue from this new program to The Cure Starts Now.

“We believe in the cause, and we want to do what we can to benefit this nonprofit,” says Infintech President Ryan Rybolt.

The Cure Starts Now is located in Cincinnati and was founded in 2007 by Keith and Brooke Desserich, whose daughter Elena died of a rare brain cancer at age six. They created the foundation in her memory and to support pediatric brain cancer research.

“Every nine minutes a child is diagnosed with brain cancer,” says Keith Desserich. “Brain cancer is the deadliest of all childhood cancers, yet the most underfunded. We’re thrilled to partner with Infintech to create an easy way for businesses to fund groundbreaking research and innovative treatments for these children.”

Rybolt says SeCURE payments is part of Infintech's business mission to be part of the community and support area nonprofits. As a founder of Give Back Cincinnati, Rybolt says it was the innovative and service-oriented nature of that nonprofit that stoked his own entrepreneurial drive.

Any company that accepts credits cards can sign up for SeCURE payments. Infintech promises to at least match a participating company's current processing fees. Before signing up, Infintech will provide companies with a free, no-obligation cost analysis of their current processing fees.

Among companies that have already signed up for the service are the COIT Cincinnati/Dayton franchise, Abstract Displays and RestorAid.

Infintech continues to grow as well as give. The company, which has 25 employees, is planning to expand its space and hire 20 new employees, starting this month.

By Feoshia Henderson
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SpringBoard diary: an entrepreneurial journey

Editor’s note and full disclosure: This is the first in a series of posts from Megan McAuley, a participant in the current SpringBoard session at ArtWorks. Megan is also a former UC journalism student of Soapbox Managing Editor Elissa Yancey, who is one of those nagging, I mean, encouraging, voices in the customer line at Coffee Emporium.

I am a 24-year-old political science graduate from the University of Cincinnati. I live in Over-the-Rhine and work down the street at a coffee shop called Coffee Emporium. I, like many other 20-something’s with a liberal arts degree, am barely getting by as I ponder my next big move. In college, I wanted to leave the country and save the world, but somewhere between there and here, I fell in love with OTR and decided it needed some saving, too.

My job at Coffee Emporium was supposed to be temporary. An enjoyable one to two-year stint as I mapped out my future. A future that entailed things like law school, working for a non-profit in foreign country or moving to some progressive city like Seattle or Boulder. Nothing about my future involved opening up a rock climbing gym in Cincinnati or creating an outdoor educational program for inner-city youth.

My path to budding entrepreneurship has been oddly comparable to my first time driving around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. It has been, at times, overwhelming, intimidating, and directionless, yet navigable, exciting and pleasantly challenging. A series of unforeseen events culminated in my participation in the SpringBoard business planning and development program. On the first night of class, when asked how why we had pursued the program, I responded, “Because ArtWorks put up so many flyers in my café.”

My idea was like a seed, tossed into the air, half-jokingly, where it landed in an environment unexpectedly conducive to its growth. Since day one, Coffee Emporium has been a wealth of information, encouragement, networking and motivation for me. In OTR, I have found a community of people who truly believe in the potential our neighborhood has to grow and flourish. I have made genuine friendships with my customers and co-workers who have continually poked and prodded me to pursue an idea I once considered laughable.

In Tony and Eileen, my bosses, I have found the inspiration to create a workplace where customers and employees flock because there are still people on this planet who value doing things the right way. And in SpringBoard, I have found a group of facilitators and co-entrepreneurs who are providing me with the tools to make my idea a reality.

I am immeasurably excited to see what happens over the course of the next 8 weeks as I glean every bit of information I can from the SpringBoard course to pursue my business idea. Please join me for the ride.

Cincinnati sports blogger ups his game with The Sportsfan Journal

Cincinnati sports enthusiast and blogger Eddie Maisonet has upped his game with The Sportsfan Journal, a website devoted to all sports news.

The publication launched about two months ago, and expands on Edthesportsfan.com, Maisonet’s edgy, fast-paced personal sports blog. He maintained (the now dimmed) blog with help of two writing partners. Those partners, Kenny Masenda, of Dallas, and Phil Barnett, of Bakersfield, Calif., have joined Maisonet in this new endeavor, which is updated more frequently and now has a cache of a half-dozen writers.

“We are a full online sports and culture publication. The site is updated multiple times a day; it’s more interactive and keeps pace with the changes in the sports news world,” says Maisonet, also a regular contributor to SLAM basketball magazine.

The Sportsfan Journal features a mix of news, columns and video revolving around sports as varied as football, basketball, hockey and wrestling. It also features Maisonet’s ongoing, one-hour Unsportsmanlike Conduct show on Blog Talk Radio Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST.

Like Edthesportsfan.com, Maisonet’s describes The Sportsfan Journal as a place where sport is the star, not gossip about athletes' private lives or the latest off-the-field antics.

“It’s not salacious like you might see in a lot of other well-read sites. We don’t want to go that route. That might lose us some readers, but that’s not what we’re about,” says Maisonet, whose site had 25,000 unique page views last month.

While the site is expanding, it’s also increasingly hitting a little closer to home. Maisonet is planning to write more about Cincinnati’s sports culture and stars. He is also working toward bringing is Blog Talk Show to the Cincinnati airways, as well as pitching the site to potential advertisers.

“There are some good sports writers here, but I think there is room for more voices than are currently reflected in the city of Cincinnati,” he says.

By Feoshia Henderson
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Future Shock brings classical music with modern rock edge to CAC

If you’re wondering where you can find some of New York’s brightest contemporary classical musicians, look no further than Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center. Jan. 21, the CAC presents Future Shock, an evening of electro-acoustic chamber music featuring artists William Brittelle, Clarice Jensen and Nadia Sirota.  
 
Composed by William Brittelle for ACME, the American Contemporary Music Ensemble, Future Shock promises to enchant the ears and provoke the intellect of concertgoers. The music combines elements from conventional classical music with contemporary drum programming and synthesizers to create a futuristic sound for a new millennium.
 
“Future Shock is really a survey of the type of music that is being created and performed in Brooklyn right now,” says Brittelle. “The show features music you can think about and feel. It’s amazing to open the world to this type of music in a very exciting way.”

Set to make its New York premiere in spring 2012, Cincinnatians can take advantage of a special opportunity to see Future Shock in the backdrop of the Contemporary Arts Center.
 
\William Brittelle is a composer of “electro-acoustic art music” whose work on the albums Television Landscape and Mohair Time Warp has been the subject of critical acclaim in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, NPR’s All Things Considered and more. Brittelle has performed all across the United States and is the co-director of New Amsterdam Records and New Amsterdam Presents, a recording label and presenting organization based in Brooklyn, NY.
 
Cellist Clarice Jensen holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from The Juilliard School and is currently the artistic director for ACME. She has performed with an impressive list of artists, including the New Juilliard Ensemble, the International Music Ensemble, the Avian Orchestra and Columbia Composers, in addition to pop and rock musicians such as The National, Grizzly Bear and Silversun Pickups. She has recorded with the likes of Arcade Fire, Ratatat and Hole among many others.
 
Violist Nadia Sirota also holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The Juilliard School. She is a founding member of ACME, yMusic, and Wordless Music Orchestra, and has commissioned and premiered works by composers Marcos Balter, Caleb Burhans and Nico Muhly. Her impressive and extensive credits include performances with Max Richter, Johann Johannsson and Stars of the Lid among others. In addition to her classical performances, Nadia’s work can be heard on albums by The National, Grizzly Bear and Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs.
 
Future Shock features no vocal performances. The audience can expect to hear modern works by Nico Muhly, Missy Mazzoli, and Judd Greenstein, as well as a world premiere by William Brittelle.
 
Tickets are $10 general admission, or $8 for CAC members. To purchase tickets, visit www.contemporaryartscenter.org.
 
By Deidra Wiley Necco

Deaconess Medical Monitoring helps seniors age in place

Deaconess Medical Monitoring is marketing a suite of products designed to allow senior citizens to be more independent as they age.

These products, developed in partnership with Guardian Medical Monitoring, come as Deaconess continues to evolve from a hospital to a senior services and product provider.

Products currently available include the Personal Emergency Response System (PERS), which alerts a personal emergency responder if a person falls or faces a home security breach. Subscribers wear a necklace or wristband that they can activate in an emergency.

There's also the Medication Management System, an electronic medication dispenser that helps people manage multiple prescriptions or complex medication schedules. Users can load a month's worth of medication at a time, then be alerted when it's time to take correct doses. After they take their medicines, users hit a blue button on the device to signal they've taken the medications. If they don't hit the button after a certain time, the device withdraws the medicine and notifies a person identified as a first responder.

The goal of the new products is as simple as it is necessary. "We are trying to help people age in place and stay independent in their own homes as long as possible," says Deaconess Medical Monitoring Coordinator Holly Williamson.

Other products like internet video monitoring and GPS-powered personal location devices help seniors and caretakers transition from a hospital to home. Lack of a successful transition often means repeat trips to hospitals, which translates into seniors more likely to lose their independence while racking up higher healthcare costs.

Deaconess Medical Monitoring products are being marketed to individuals, hospitals and senior living facilities, and there are more products being developed, Williamson says.

Deaconess Medical Monitoring is an affiliate of Deaconess Associations Foundation. Deaconess Associations, Inc., the parent company for all Deaconess affiliates, owns and operates Deaconess Long Term Care facilities in Ohio, Kansas and Missiouri.
 
Deaconess Hospital closed in 2010, and has evolved into a  health care campus with health-oriented products, services and resources. The hospital building is leased to University of Cincinnati Psychiatric Services; Regency Rehabilitation Hospital ( a long term rehabilitation hospital); and other other private offices and research facilities.


By Feoshia Henderson
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DIY competition inspires guerilla projects for public good

NOTE: Comment on Facebook in the space below to tell us what site-specific guerilla art project you'd like to see in the city! Soapboxes on Fountain Square? Train car seats surrounding Union Terminal? Get creative and you'll have a chance to be featured in an upcoming Soapbox story.

We’ve seen shipping containers used as temporary art installations and pigs decorated in city hotspots. We’ve enjoyed pianos in public and colorful yarn bombs en plein air as well.

Now you’re invited to propose your own do-it-yourself urban art project as part of a first-of-its-kind competition sponsored by the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati and the University of Cincinnati Niehoff Urban Studio. The DIY Urbanism in Cincinnati Competition grew out of a fall forum focused on grassroots, collaborative and innovative “guerilla projects” that can change the way we view and use the urban spaces around us.

In his presentation last November, Niehoff Studio Director and UC professor Frank Russell quoted David Harvey, author of “Right to the City,” as an inspiration for discussion about how to create opportunities for artists, architects, planners and members of the local design community, including students, to reinvision the city. “The Freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights,” according to Harvey.
 
Submit your ideas for a temporary exhibition for the public good and you will be eligible for cash prizes and to have your work exhibited at the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati. Entering costs just $10 and the top prize is $500. Find complete competition guidelines by visiting the Niehoff Studio online.  

By Elissa Yancey
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Crowdfunding, consignment help business at Smartfish

Alisha Budkie is on a mission to ensure that Cincinnati’s thriving artist community is well served by providing access to hard to source supplies and materials. Smartfish Studio & Sustainable Supply, located at 1301 Main Street in the heart of Over-the-Rhine is at once a supply store, workshop and display space easily accessible to the University of Cincinnati’s DAAP program, the Art Academy and the School for Creative and Performing Arts.

Budkie opened her store in August, and for the past four months has seen her business evolve and change according to the needs of the community. Word of mouth has played a big role. “I am fortunate to be a part of the independent design community, and I was also a student here,” says Budkie. A graduate of UC’s DAAP program in industrial design, Budkie knows both the community and what it’s like to search for the right materials. “I understand the needs of students and can help track down supplies and materials that can’t be found locally,” she says.

To better accommodate artists’ needs, Budkie has made use of some innovative and non-traditional business practices that put artists in touch with the things they need to create. At Smartfish, tools can be rented as dictated by a particular project, keeping costs low. In addition, students can bring in used supplies that are no longer needed for store credit, or consignment.

Budkie made use of crowdfunding to help finance her startup, which utilizes independent monetary contributions from community members and supporters. If you visit her shop, be sure to check out the wall dedicated to individuals who contributed to the Smartfish startup through crowdfunding. In addition, she has become a unique part of OTR, participating in community events such as Final Friday, where she uses her storefront window space to showcase student artwork.

Not only is Smartfish Studio a place for artists, it also serves as vibrant workshop for Budkie herself and her line of made-to-order handcrafted shoes, Smartfish Footwear. Made by hand on site, styles include ballet flats, boat shoes and loafers. Clients can choose their materials and colors, as well as purchase gift certificates for shoes to give as holiday gifts. Smartfish also features both pre-packaged and custom gift bundles featuring items that you just can’t find anywhere else.

Look for Smartfish Studio to incorporate a series of workshops in 2012 including one on the art of shoemaking in mid-January, as well as one on fiber reactive dyes. “I’m interested in learning what people want to see in a workshop,” says Budkie.

To learn more, visit Smartfish Studio & Sustainable Supply online at smarterthanagoldfish.com, or connect with them on Facebook. Inquiries may be directed to hello@smarterthanagoldfish.com or call 513.910.8845.

By Deidra Wiley Necco


connXus.com's seed funding boost to supplier diversity

A Cincinnati-based web service that helps corporations connect to small, minority-owned businesses has secured seed funding from a group of private angel investors.

ConnXus.com launched in December 2010 by Entrepreneur Rod Robinson, founder of Accel Advisors, a procurement and supplier diversity consultant firm and Chris Downey, founder of the popular weight loss site Sparkpeople.

ConnXus.com works as a matchmaker between corporations looking to up their supplier diversity and woman- and minority-owned service and product providers. Investors include including John E. Pepper, Jr., former CEO and chairman of the board for P&G, who is also on the connXus board of advisors. The company declined to disclose the amount of seed funding it secured.

 “This early round of funding allows us to continue to improve the site and extend our marketing,” Robinson says. “Every week, we see our membership grow as small, minority- and woman-owned businesses discover the millions of dollars in access to real business opportunities connXus membership provides.

Since its launch, corporate buyer members have posted more than $75 million in contracts. There are nearly 1,000 registered suppliers. Recent posted job opportunities include construction, advertising and media planning, social media and marketing services, IT services, business card printing and bus charter services. Companies and organizations that have posted jobs on the site include Macy's, Kent State, IGC Commerce in Philidelphia, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and Jones Lang LaSalle.

The site is designed to offer a wide variety of opportunities for small, medium and large service and product suppliers. With a basic membership, companies, which join the site as buyer members, and minority-owned and women-owned businesses can join for free. There are more than 100 service and product categories available from legal, accounting and other professional services to transportation and manufacturing.

To help assure supplier quality, customers can add performance ratings to a supplier's profile through the site's propriety rating system. The better the supplier's rating, the higher it will rank in a corporate buyer's search. ConnXus earlier this year was awarded a $40,000 CincyTech Imagining Grant to help it develop the technology.

By Feoshia Henderson

Innov8 for Health Challenge spurs innovation, jobs

It's a tall order to create jobs, improve health and retain talent through a healthcare innovation challenge, but the new Innov8 for Health Challenge aims to do just that.

Designed as an annual occurrence, Innov8 for Health will hold three community-wide events promoting healthcare innovation to solve a specific problem. The initiative involves developing a solution, building a business plan around it, and a shot at receiving startup funding to make the idea a reality. The challenge is already underway, and Innov8 is currently accepting ideas that address "transitions in care" this December.

"We already have incubators and accelerators here in Cincinnati, and there is a lot of healthcare innovation going on. But we want to build on what is already here, and specifically help spur the healthcare innovation infrastructure," says one of the event's organizers Sunnie Southern, founder of ViableSynergy.

Criag F. Osterhues, health care manager for GE Aviation, is also helping organize the event. Other planners include reps from C-Cap, and Queen City Angels, Biostart, Taft law firm and the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati.

Innov8 hopes to uncover tech-based solutions to problems that arise when a person moves from one care setting to the next -- from a hospital to nursing home, from the hospital to home, from high school to college. They can include difficulties with cooking, medications or even personal safety. Lack of a successful transition often means repeat trips to hospitals, which translates into higher healthcare costs.

"It's a very big issue for the country,” Southern says. “A study in 2004 in the New England Journal of Medicine showed it cost Medicare $17.4 billion."

The Innov8 for Health Challenge is accepting ideas to solve transition to care problems through Nov. 28 at its website. Open to students and entrepreneurs, the best ideas will be part of a public Innov8 Idea Expo and contest Dec. 2. Winners will be selected to participate in a Business Concept Expo next spring. Finally, the top concepts will be pitched to a panel and potential investors during the Launch Pad event in summer 2012.

By Feoshia Henderson

Teens discover social innovation at UCREW

Small groups of teens huddled together, talking about companies they admire. Apple, Google, Facebook top the lists. They spend the rest of the evening listing what makes good companies great, and what makes non-profits successful. The 60 youth come from high schools throughout the region. Together, they represent the latest class of UCREW: Cincinnati.

Formed as a school-year based student advisory board, UCREW is an outgrowth of the non-profit UGIVE.org, which gives students and young people opportunities to learn and grow through volunteering. Now in its fourth year, UCREW will create an awareness building event called AMPLIFY and, for the first time ever, launch a social business.

A the second group session of the six-month program, UCREW teens brainstormed about business ideas and causes they would love to support. From healthy living to employment training, their wide-ranging social concerns give a hint as to their awareness of the needs around them. Business ventures ranged from online services to a series of fitness classes for teens that could raise funds to support similar classes for inner-city youth.

"I'd never heard of social entrepreneurship before," says Grace Kennedy, 17, a senior at Lakota East High School. "(UCREW) really made me interested in business, which I have never been before."

In addition to planning a social business, UCREW teens take part in volunteer efforts as a group. They participate in planning and mentoring sessions, all geared to prepare them to become long-term philanthropists as well as well-rounded citizens. An added benefit? Since teens come from a wide range of high schools, UCREW offers like-minded peers opportunities to build not only a business, but also cross-town friendships.

By Elissa Yancey
Follow Elissa on Twitter.

Photo of Grace Kennedy, Joe Hansbauer and Mimi Shiba by Elissa Yancey

Clifton's Cliqq and Sip connects communities

After 10 years of working in corporate America, Toyia Montgomery decided to follow her dream of being an entrepreneur and open up her own coffee shop.

Montgomery’s café, located at 261 W. McMillan in Clifton, Cliqq and Sip, was not only created to serve coffee and pastries. It also serves as a place where the community can come together.

With free Wi-Fi, laptop rentals and meeting space, C&S was designed so that people of all backgrounds to have a place to meet, create and learn.

“The idea was to put people’s talents and strengths on a pedestal,” Montgomery says. “So many of us get caught up in doing something we don’t like or want to do just to pay the bills.”

Montgomery sees her shop as a place where people who don’t have Internet access can go to access the world as well as a community-oriented resource. For example, she hosted meet-and-greets with new Cincinnati police chief, James Craig, judges and City Council members.

C&S also hosts a group, called Connext, which meets each week to discuss how to start and run non-profits. Group members hold each other accountable for the goals they set and push each other to pursue their ideas.

Montgomery’s civic-mindedness caught the attention of the YWCA. As a woman-owned coffee shop, Cliqq and Sip seemed an ideal location for a reception for a YWCA’s event October 27,which highlights the U.S. Department of Labor’s new organization, Women in Apprenticeships and NonTraditional Occupations (WANTO). WANTO aims to recruit, train and retain women in nontraditional careers, such as electricians, plumbers and carpenters. The goal is to get 100 women in Cincinnati entered into registered apprenticeship programs.

By Evan Wallis


EcoContainer adds sustainability to Factory Square

This weekend in Northside, there will be giant sculptures by internationally acclaimed artists, cool exhibits inside shipping containers and giant toys. But the inaugural Factory Square Fine Arts Festival also plans a sustainability showcase in the Eco Container, a space designed and sponsored by the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance, The Sustainability Partnership of Cincinnati and the Green Umbrella.

“ParProjects wanted to make their site and their festival as environmentally conscious as possible,” says Sustainability Partnership member and realtor Libby Hunter. “They want to be good stewards of the site they are leasing.”

The EcoContainer, which like other containers is eight-foot by eight-foot by 20-foot, will feature a demo of a green roof and rain barrels, supplied by Green-Streets LLC. Inside, festival-goers will find materials about a wide range of sustainability initiatives, from geothermal to solar power to LEED-certified real estate.

Outside the container, People Working Cooperatively will install its EcoHouse, an eight by 10 foot portable house that features a solar panel and other environmentally friendly elements. In addition, EcoEnvironments will have a truck with a working geothermal unit on-site during the festival.

Hunter says ParProjects’ objectives for the festival, and their plans for a community arts center, excited members of the sustainability partnership, a consortium of businesses that focus on initiatives from law to building materials and stormwater management to real estate. “Everybody wanted to be a part of it,” she says. “We’re looking to more permanent and substantial installations for their big opening in the spring of 2012.”

By Elissa Yancey    


CincyTechUSA sponsors grant-writing training

Entrepreneurs, mark your calendars. A two-day intensive workshop, sponsored by CincyTechUSA, is scheduled for Oct. 26-27 at the Ft. Mitchell Country Club. It will cover all aspects of preparing a competitive SBIR/STTR proposal from strategic planning to proposal writing, submission and post-submission follow-up.

When it comes to strategic planning, doing your homework in advance makes a major difference. The workshop guides you to learn how to research SBIR/STTR program details and Technological Innovation and Commercial Merit, develop strategies to help your proposal meet agency requirements and do intelligence work before you write your proposal.

In addition, you’ll learn how to craft a fundable proposal, including gathering the right tools, understanding the review process and following step-by-step instructions. You’ll even get a glimpse into common errors and pitfalls so that you can avoid them.

The workshop also features chances to learn about how to submit government grants, from the NIH to the DoE and DoEd.

For more information or to register: Call or email Dorothy H. Air, PhD, 558-7339, or dorothy.air@uc.edu.

By Elissa Yancey

Red Cross takes gold and opens Green Umbrella

At the latest gathering of 140 local sustainability advocates, members of the newly forming group known as the Green Umbrella shared best practices, brainstormed ideas for the future and experienced fellowship in the first Gold LEED certified Red Cross headquarters in the country.

Located in Keystone Park in Evanston, and clearly visible from I-71, the Red Cross headquarters has a rooftop garden that, along with a bioswale, helps the nonprofit reuse 90 percent of the water that falls on the property. “They also add beauty to our building,” says Sara Peller, CEO of the Cincinnati Area Chapter of the American Red Cross.

The building, which came in $1 million under budget, was a joint project between the Red Cross, Neyer Properties and emersion DESIGN. “It’s functioning extremely well for us,” says Peller, who notes that 120 volunteers helped with the building design process.

In addition to energy-efficiency elements and minimizing construction waste, the building allowed for the Red Cross to incorporate a Disaster Operations Center, a long-time community need that could not be met at the old headquarters downtown. Now the Cincinnati area Red Cross, which services 36 counties, can serve as the information hub in case of emergency or disaster. “Many ills have been cured by this building,” Peller says.

As for the Green Umbrella, the ongoing initiative to create a comprehensive network of sustainability initiatives around Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky continues to gain steam and support. Working groups focus on areas as diverse as urban agriculture and corporate sustainability. The ultimate goal, to create a single resource from which all sustainability-minded residents can learn, moves ever closer to reality with website development and continued cooperation between local businesses, nonprofits and educational institutions.

By Elissa Yancey

Tech job incubator nurtures talent, growth

Silicon Valley. Boston. Austin. When it comes to technology jobs, those familiar locations top the list.

Unless you consider a report issued in February by Dice.com, a career site with more than 8,000 customers who advertise or post their tech jobs nationwide. Based on the number of job postings that month, three Ohio cities -- Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus -- ranked second, third and fourth, respectively, in the percentage increase in job opportunities over the previous year.

Silicon Valley ranked 10th.

While those Ohio cities dropped out of the Dice.com top 10 this summer, similar reports by those like Monster.com and BusinessWeek indicate that one or all are consistently in the mix for new IT job opportunities. And with average salaries ranging from $66,000 in Cleveland to $74,000 in Columbus -- at least among employers posting on Dice.com -- those opportunities are significant, say those who follow Ohio's economy.

Alice Hill, Dice.com's managing director, says part of the surge is related to a recovery that has not yet come to many other economic sectors.

"A lot of jobs were on hold due to the recession," she says. "Hiring managers are now more confident. We saw that start in California, spread to New York and then we started to see the recovery happening in technology segments in smaller cities."

The Northeast Ohio Software Association (NEOSA) notes in its 2010 IT report that both 2008 and 2009 were difficult for tech firms in the region because of the economy. That turned around last year, when nearly 60 percent of firms surveyed said they planned to increase staff. And NEOSA's report for the second quarter of 2011 found that 66 percent of IT firms surveyed plan to hire in the next 12 months.

"The fact that we're seeing growth in IT jobs is really not surprising at all because there's this pent-up demand for the new equipment, new software," says Bill LaFayette, a former economic analyst for the Columbus Chamber who recently launched his own economic consultancy, Regionomics, LLC. "But in terms of why Ohio, the important thing to understand is that IT jobs are not simply in IT companies, they are pervasive. "

By Gene Monteith

Cincinnati Innovates winners tackle chores, more

Twelve new local innovators  will collectively save stroke victims from brain damage and death, save travelers from missed flights, keep firefighters safe in the line of duty, help parents get kids to chores and help fantasy sports fans draft better teams thanks to support from the Cincinnati Innovates Awards Celebration.

More than 250 people turned out to see the third annual Cincinnati Innovates Awards Celebration at Northern Kentucky University, where winners received $115,000 in grant awards.

In the past three years more than 1,000 entrepreneurs have participated in the Cincinnati Innovates competition. Since the competition's inception, 100,000 votes have been cast and the world is paying attention. Online, Cincinnati Innovates has received almost 1 million page views from more than 50 countries. A total of $250,000 in grants have been awarded to local entrepreneurs in the past three years through the generous support of 23 sponsors.

Past winners have gone on to raise over $3.5 million in follow-on capital, have been featured in national media and are changing the world with their ideas.

The 2011 Winners include:

CincyTech Commercialization Awards:
$25,000 ChoreMonster
$25,000 Acceptd
$10,000 DraftOpt

Taft Legal/Patent Awards:  
$10,000 Ischiban
$5,000 Plan B Flights

LPK Design & Branding Award:
$10,000 SmartyTags

Round Pixel Web Development Award:
$10,000 Simple Golf Outings

Northern Kentucky Vision 2015 Award:
$5,000 Ischiban

7/79 Video Award:
$5,000 FoxFire

Northern Kentucky ezone Award:
$2,500 All Decked Out

Cooney, Faulkner & Stevens Get Started Award:  
$2,500 SavingsMatic

HYPE Community Choice Award:
$2,000 WantBug

GCVA Partner Participation Award:  
$1,000 UC DAAP Industrial Design Program

Cincinnati Innovates is made possible through the generous support of The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, The Health Foundation, Cincinnati Children's Hospital, Fort Washington Capital Partners, CincyTech, Taft, Soapbox Media, LPK, 7/79 Video Production, Northern Kentucky Tri-Ed, Round Pixel Studio, Bare Knuckle Marketing, Vision 2015, the Greater Cincinnati Venture Association, HYPE, the Northern Kentucky eZone, Cooney, Faulkner & Stevens, and the Cincinnati Inventor's Council.

By Elizabeth Edwards

ToolBank adds power to community efforts

Community building takes time, energy, and, sometimes, power tools.

“Having the right tools is the biggest barrier for non-profits and schools to do community-building work,” says Joe Hansbauer, a veteran of Give Back Cincinnati and now UGive executive director.

He has participated and led many clean-up/fix-up efforts and knew of stores of tools warehoused by Give Back Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Parks and other local groups.

“At Give Back Cincinnati, we wash every paint brush,” says Hansbauer, a fan of conserving funds and resources at the same time. “Tools have great longevity.”

He wondered how the equipment, out of commission for most days of the year, could be available to schools, non-profits, neighborhood business associations and even neighbors who wanted to host a street-clean up.

A chance mention at the end of a business meeting led him to contact ToolBank, an Atlanta-based non-profit designed to meet the same community needs. ToolBank inventories tools and allows volunteers minimal-cost access to a wide range of them, from cordless drills and ladders to rakes, shovels and circular saws.

Hansbauer’s timing was perfect. As he gathered local business and financial support, ToolBank started adding affiliate programs – one in Charlotte, one in Baltimore, and, starting next year, one in Cincinnati.  ToolBank offers the infrastructure to manage tool storage and distribution, as well as non-profit status.

Preliminary financial support from UPS, the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, Ethicon and Toyota already amounts to more than $100,000. Once the local ToolBank board of directors, including Hansbauer, raises $125,000,  they can begin a search for an executive director.

By Elissa Yancey

Bad Girl Ventures graduates third class

Cincinnati-based micro-lending organization Bad Girl Ventures graduates its third class of entrepreneurs this week. On Aug. 31 at the Cincinnati Art Museum, it will send 10 women into the field with lots of start-up know-how, including business plans, marketing and financing.

The classes include one-on-one consultations with accountants, lawyers and business experts and teach student business owners how to craft marking plans and financial projections among other business strategies.

To date, 18 women-owned businesses have made use of the organization’s lending efforts, resulting in approximately 45 jobs created in Greater Cincinnati and a 100 percent repayment rate on loans, says BGV founder Candace Klein.

“We’re very proud of what we and the women have accomplished,” she says.

The graduates of Bad Girl Ventures third cycle of Cincinnati classes’ run the gamut from the food industry and farming to retail and construction.

“This class has a good range of businesses that have yet to launch to businesses working for several years,” says Corey Drushal, strategic initiatives coordinator for Bad Girl Ventures.

Business skills were not the only thing the classes taught, however, says Brinda Chatterjee, class member and founder of the retail cosmetics website MakeupHaulic.com.

“For me it was two-fold, both the actual business skills imparted in the classes as well as the connections to real-world business people who are willing to give their time to help you,” Chatterjee says. “Literally, three months ago I had no idea any of these resources were available.”

Chatterjee praises Klein for her work in starting Bad Girl Ventures and its contribution to local entrepreneurs.

“Candace has done an amazing job of pulling all these things together to create a launching pad for business and innovation in Cincinnati … and now beyond,” Chatterjee says.

Lu Anne Van Kleunen, founder and owner of Premium Sealcoat, an asphalt sealing and maintenance business, says she was drawn to the classes offered by Bad Girl Ventures through a television appearance by Klein.

Van Kleunen and her husband decided to start their business in 2009 after both lost their jobs of 30-plus years.

“Candace described what her vision was for BGV – helping women business owners with the challenging issues that prevent them or impeded them from being successful,” Van Kleunen says. “Specifically, Candace talked about women who used personal funds or credit cards to fund their business. That is me.”

What Van Kleunen has learned through the classes will only strengthen her business, she says, and she plans on using the micro-loans to purchase a truck, tank and other required equipment to support Premium Sealcoat's growth.

“Candace and BGV helped make my business acumen stronger, resulting in more opportunities for me and Premium Sealcoat,” Van Kleunen says.

The classes helped illustrate to Toni Winston, founder and president of Tiburon Energy/Tiburon Construction – a construction company focusing on energy-efficiency, water usage and sustainability efforts – how important financial practices and marketing was to her company’s efforts.

“Since the BGV classroom instruction, I review my projections and financial templates weekly,” Winston says. “I didn’t realize how important a web presence and participation was to growing a business. I now spend time on social media and am working on refining my message and my branding.”

Winston also feels that the focus shouldn’t only be on the 10 finalists graduating from Bad Girl Ventures, but on everyone who took part.

“I think there should be some recognition for the other 40-plus women-owned businesses that showed up weekly to take advantage of the classes and the mentoring,” she says. “We are all Bad Girls!”

By James Sprague

GiveCamp aids nonprofits' tech needs

Organizers of the second annual Southwest Ohio GiveCamp plan a slight expansion over last year's event where more than 100 volunteers met for a weekend to tackle area non-profit tech needs.

"We hope to have more people involved this year," says co-organizer Ryan Cromwell, a Dayton area software developer. "We also extended our nonprofit registration until the end of the month, and we are hoping to get 11 or 12 nonprofits involved. We had 10 last year."

The Southwest Ohio Give camp is part of GiveCamp.org, a national volunteer initiative of technology professionals founded in 2007. Since its beginnings, GiveCamp has donated more than $1 million in services to more than 150 charities and other nonprofits nationwide.

Volunteers last year created websites from scratch, rebranded organizations, set up email networks and created an online auction site.

"We did just about anything you can think of," Cromwell says.

Last year's nonprofits and volunteers came from Northern Kentucky, Greater Cincinnati, Dayton and Oxford. Participating nonprofits included Civic Garden Center, Diabetes Dayton, Hamilton Living Water Ministry and Seton Family Center.

Southwest Ohio GiveCamp is in the process of selecting this year's nonprofits, which have until Aug. 30 to submit proposals for consideration. The GiveCamp is looking for projects that can be completed within a weekend. Nonprofits and volunteers can register here.

This year's GiveCamp will be Oct. 21-23 at the Miami University Voice of America Learning Center in West Chester.

By Feoshia Henderson

You can follow Feoshia on Twitter @feoshiawrites

Local social media entrepreneur picked for national marketing boot camp

Jeremy K. Smith, founder of social media marketing company Authentic New Media, is getting hands-on national marketing experience as part of The Marcus Graham Project's 3rd annual iCR8 Summer Boot Camp.

Smith is one of 11 young professionals picked from across the country to participate in the program, aimed at encouraging minorities to consider marketing, PR and advertising careers. The Dallas-based network of marketing professionals identifies, mentors and trains people from ages 16 to 34, exposing them to a wide range of marketing opportunities.

Smith has been in Dallas since the end of May for the 10-week intensive boot camp, working on with its signature program: a real-world marketing communications firm. The firm, Bippitus, is working on campaigns for well-known national brands, including AT&T, lifestyle website  Neo Soul Cafe and Grammy-winning singer John Legend's The Show Me Campaign, an anti-poverty initiative.

Smith is the agency's brand manager and digital strategist, promoting Bippitus and clients in the digital sphere.

"This is real experience with agencies and clients you've always dreams of working with," Smith says. "There is no way I would have been able to work with John Legend to further his nonprofit otherwise. I'm getting exposure to big brands that I can take back to my own company."

The iCr8 Summer Boot Camp is sponsored by 4A's, Deutsch Inc., The Omnicom Group Inc., Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, RAPP, TPN, Wieden+Kennedy and Y&R.

To share the experience, the boot campers are documenting the 10-week experience, and sharing it via a live Ustream show called The Drum and YouTube web series called The Us. The Drum is broadcast live at 2 p.m. every Friday. It's interactive, and viewers can call and live tweet questions during the show.

By Feoshia Henderson

You can follow Feoshia on Twitter @feoshiawrites



Healthy Kids Fast! mixes tech, marketing and health

Beth Robeson's new venture, Heathy Kids Fast!, has been a long time coming. As a principal with Robeson Marketing and Design, she has spent much of the past decade focusing on communication, marketing and PR campaigns.

But in her spare time, she's been nurturing another mission: helping families become healthier.

"It goes back to my passion," she says of Healthy Kids Fast! "If I didn't have the business, I would do this anyway."

Robeson has been conducting seminars on nutrition and healthy cooking with parents and children for a number of years. Along with learning how best to cook with toddlers ("which can be insanity," she says), Robeson began collecting tips, suggestions and practices that could help parents address common problems: picky eaters, children who won't touch vegetables or the chaos and expense that can surround a family outing to a restaurant.

She's combined these lessons into Healthy Kids Fast!, a 30-day interactive program of short, daily lessons designed to help both parents and children make better choices when it comes to healthy eating. She's developing the program to have strong interactive components, both in the form of workbook/cookbooks for families to complete together and in the use of podcasts and an online magazine to build a community of health-conscious parents.

"I want this to be interactive, with parents and kids learning to talk with each other," she says.

The project has garnered attention: Robeson was picked as one of the finalists in micro-lending organization Bad Girl Ventures' third class of women-owned startups. After completing a series of business-skills classes, Robeson will compete with her fellow finalists for a $25,000 startup loan.

Robeson says she's excited about the potential for Healthy Kids Fast! Not only does it leverage her many years of work on the subject, but she says it appears to be in line with parents' growing awareness of the implications of healthy lifestyles on their families.

"I think there's a wealth of information out there," Robeson says, adding that she's also excited to use a career's worth of marketing skills to make the program a reality.

"I've been marketing for other people for 11 years," she says. "It's been great, but to be able to do exactly what I think is the right thing to do, it's going to be exciting to see how that plays out."

By Matt Cunningham

Follow Matt on Twitter @cunningcontent



New startups reflect The Brandery's growth, reputation

Cincinnati startup accelerator The Brandery, named a Top 10 startup accelerator in the nation and a member of the TechStars Network, reported a 40 percent increase in applications for its second class of hopeful startups, versus its inaugural class in 2010. This year's applications came from 22 states and seven countries, including India, Germany, China, Italy, Croatia, Canada and Spain.

The 2011 program begins Aug. 1. Over the course of 12 weeks, it will cover a range of startup-related topics such as Why Design Matters for Startups, Social Media Boot Camp and 10 Legal Mistakes that Startups Make. And the nine startups selected to participate in this year's class -- Bitcasa, ChoreMonster, Keepio, Meruni, Receept, RentShare, Roadtrippers and Wellthy -- benefit from not only the programming, but the location of the Cincinnati-based program.

"Cincinnati is not only home to 10 Fortune 500 headquarters, but it's a hotbed for marketing, branding, design and advertising service companies," says The Brandery co-founder J.B. Kropp. "I can't think of a better place for creative, ambitious, young professionals to launch their ideas."

CincyTech is The Brandery's investment partner, providing $20,000 grants for each of the companies going through the program. CincyTech President Bob Coy says The Brandery is helping CincyTech meet its goal of growing jobs in the region.

"The Brandery has demonstrated its ability to attract talented entrepreneurs from around the country and the world to Cincinnati to capitalize on the region's consumer marketing strengths," says Coy. "Our hope is that they will become embedded in the community and enrich the region's entrepreneurial talent base. And of course that means they will help to invigorate our economy by creating jobs and wealth and bringing new perspectives from other regions of the U.S. and the world."

By Sarah Blazak for CincyTech

Growing Edthesportsfan.com caters to the thinking sports fan

Are you one of those sports fans who'd rather see your favorite player on reality TV than on the field? Do you devour the latest tawdry gossip on your favorite baller's private life?

Then Edthesportsfan.com is not for you.

"Some of the popular sports blogs rely on salacious news, rumors and conjecture, and those things just aren't important to me," said the blogzine's founder Eddie Maisonet, of Walnut Hills. "I don't care who's dating who, or who's doing something on reality television. I care about the sport. I love sports; it's the ultimate reality TV. It's got comedy, horror, sci-fi, history. It's got it all."

Maisonet's passion for all things sport is evident in his writing and on Twitter, where you can catch him Tweeting about a live college football, NFL or NBA game, draft picks, the latest sports news or links to his latest thought-provoking post. The articles are written in a brief, readable essay 2.0 style, often accompanied by videos or photos.

The 'zine has a Cincinnati flair, with articles about University of Cincinnati, Xavier, the Bengals and the Reds, but the site is national in scope with a little good humor thrown in. Some of the most popular headlines are "Five tips to help women survive football season," "Forgotten powerhouses of college football series," "The Prototype: The baddest women covering sports," and "The real ten best NFL running backs of all-time."

"Sometimes it's philosophical, or we talk about the lifestyle, or the culture of being a fan. We don't try to be experts. We're just fans; that's the only perspective we know," Maisonet said.

Along with Maisonet, there are two other contributors Kenny Masenda, of Dallas, and Phil Barnett, of Bakersfield, Calif. Together they reach 1,500 readers a day. Going multimedia, the trio also hosts the Unsportsmanlike Conduct show on Blog Talk Radio Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST.

Maisonet started the site three years ago when he was in between jobs. He's now working in consumer market research for The Nielson Company, but Ed The Sports Fan is thriving. It was named the 2008 and 2099 Best Sports Blog by the Black Weblog Awards Association and the Best Black Blog by Best of Black Cincinnati.

Maisonet has contributed to several sports websites and magazines including one of his favorites SLAM Magazine, which he's read since he was a kid.

Soon the Ed The Sports Fan team will further contribute to the sports wring world with the launch of a sports fan journal, which is set for a June debut. It will feature sports writers from across the country, guest commentary and more. While Edthesports.com has one update a day, the sports journal will have up to a dozen daily articles that will tackle not just sports, but music, culture and fashion.

Writer: Feoshia Henderson
Source: Eddie Maisonet, founder Edthesportsfan.com

You can follow Feoshia on Twitter @feoshiawrites

CincyChic goes digital with new online show in OTR

Four years into breaking new ground with a local, online women's lifestyle publication, Cincy Chic founder Amy Scalia is taking the publication multi-media with the Cincy Chic show.

The weekly program will be broadcast online each Monday as part of the content offered in the weekly Cincy Chic publication. Along with different guests, it will feature Scalia, producer Ilene Ross, and bar owner and bartender Molly Wellmann, who serves up a signature cocktail each show.

"We've been a publication for the past four years, and when you have a multi-media component, it really helps the stories come alive," said Scalia.

The chat show will feature local business and products, fashion tips, and food and drink ideas. Recipes for drinks that Wellmann mixes during the show are posted online in the show's credits.

The program is shot in Over-the-Rhine in a loft in the Gateway Quarter.

"I love the feel of these urban lofts. When we looking for space, it gave us the feel that we were looking for. They have a lot of natural light, and just offer a great space," Scalia said.

The program marshals local resources to bring it all together with the help of businesses that provide food, flowers, makeup and wardrobe. Production company Barking Fish Entertainment shoots the 20-30 minute show, which is currently seeking out sponsors, Scalia said.

The show is another way for readers to get to know the people who make up Cincy Chic, and to promote local events and business owners, Scalia said.

"This is a way to get to know us as people. Some people think Cincy Chic might be a franchise, and just one of many publications. But we want them to know this is by local women, for local women. And we want them to be a part of the show," she said.

You can watch the show by subscribing to the free Cincy Chic newsletter, or online.

Writer: Feoshia Henderson
Source: Amy Scalia, founder Cincy Chic

You can follow Feoshia on Twitter @feoshiawrites

Cincinnati Boomerang Effect organizer wants more African-American voices in marketing

On March 12 a nearly 40-person strong Hip Hoppin' flash mob emerged at Newport-on- the-Levee. The unexpected and quickly choreographed three-minute dance routine garnered attention, cheers and applause, but it was just a small part of a nationwide social media experiment.

The dance gave a glimpse intp Cincinnati's part of The Boomerang Effect II. It's a partnership of volunteer initiative SERVE 60™ and The Marcus Graham Project, which develops diverse talent in the advertising, media and marketing industry. The two national organizations came together for The Boomerang Effect II, a 60-hour mashup of networking, social media and community service.

The Boomerang Effect takes its name from the early '90s movie Boomerang, where Eddie Murphy played an advertising executive. In that vein, among the aims of the weekend was to open the world of advertising and marketing to African-American and other minority professionals and students.

This was the first year Cincinnati joined The Boomerang Effect; it was organized by local social media marketing entrepreneur Jeremy K. Smith. He quickly pulled the weekend together with help from a number of local resources. Eleven other cities participated, including Detroit, New York, L.A., Miami and Milwaukee.

Smith was formerly and sales and recruiting and has used social media for several years as part of his work. He recently started his own social media marketing company Authentic New Media. He believed the event was a good way to showcase a diverse crowd interested in social media and marketing. He estimates over 200 people participated over the weekend.

"I think it was fantastic. Coming into it, some people didn't think there would be support for something like it. That mainstream professionals wouldn't show up. But I was very pleased at how it played out. Everyone who decided to participate had fun," Smith said.

It kicked off Friday night with a networking event at The Bowtie Café, opened by Bengals' player Dhani Jones. The mixer also featured P&G Global Brand Manager Hamilton Brown and LebronJames.com Digital Media Manager Jay Bobo. Saturday was the flash mob event, with music provided by DJ Band Camp. Sunday the video was part of a Tweetathon, where the video with the most Tweets, views and likes was awarded $1,500 to support a nonprofit. Cincinnati didn't win, but the video has received more than 600 views.

Writer: Feoshia Henderson
Source: Jeremy K Smith, president and CEO Authentic New Media

You can follow Feoshia on Twitter @feoshiawrites



E'lon Cosmetics targets global, emerging women of color market

Yolanda Webb's idea for a line of makeup products designed for women of color came after years of frustration over finding the right shades for herself as a young model.

"Twenty five years ago, I started in the modeling industry. Back then there wasn't makeup for black women," said Webb, a Detroit native who moved to Cincinnati and raised a family.

Not much had changed over the years, she found, when her daughter was looking for just the right shades for herself.

"When my daughter was in the 12th grade, she had this same problem," she said. "We're talking about 10 years ago."

Webb decided to take matters into her own hands, she developed and began selling her own line of high quality makeup E'lon Couture Cosmetics. The line, founded in 2002 and sold exclusively on the web, includes powder, cream and liquid foundation, bronzer, blush, eye shadow, lipstick, liners and more. The line also includes a skincare line for all skin types.

The line is sold internationally to women of color in dozens of countries, a growing group of women who increasingly want to spend money on beauty products, Webb said.

A look at the web site gives a peak into the international reach of E'lon Cosmetics. The site can be translated into just over a dozen languages including Afrikaans, Arabic, Chinese, Italian, Spanish, French and Swahili.

"You have a larger contingent of black women than ever who have disposable income and want to do something with it including purchasing makeup products," Webb said.

E'lon Cosmetics tagline, "Celebrating The Beauty And Inner Strength Of Today's Black Woman," carries over into the company's E'Lon Couture. The magazine covers global beauty and fashion, of course, but digs into deeper cultural issues. Recent headlines include "The State of Being Black in America" and "Little Girls Lost" on the costs of fame at any price.

The magazine, which began as a blog in 2009, has an international view like the cosmetics line. It caters to women who have traditionally been left out of business, fashion and culture, and want to be heard, Webb said.

"We felt like it was time do this magazine, you have to know about other cultures and people. If you want to do business here in Cincinnati, you have to know who these people are who live outside the US," Webb said.

Writer: Feoshia Henderson
Source: Yolanda Webb, founder E'lon Couture Cosmetics, E'lon Couture Publishing

You can follow Feoshia on Twitter @feoshiawrites

Greater Cincinnati World Affairs Council website offers one-stop shop for international orgs

Like any successful metro area, Greater Cincinnati has a strong and growing international community making a mark on local culture, business and education.

Now the Greater Cincinnati World Affairs Council has launched a website to link those organizations, and their work. The site, "Global Cincinnati: Gateway to the World" aims to offer a one-stop shop for the region's international and interethnic organizations, as well as to give them wider exposure throughout the community.

"Globalcincinnati.org is a way for any citizen in Cincinnati to get in touch with global resources and engage in global forums to improve their business, coursework, or career," said GCWAC Executive Director Erika Dockery. "Greater Cincinnati World Affairs Council is the center of excellence for international education and citizen diplomacy in the Tri-state."

The site includes links to foreign chambers of commerce, businesses and trade associations as well as non-profit and educational organizations.

There's also a section listing local experts with knowledge of specific fields, like history or language, along with their contact information. They can be reached for media interviews or speaking engagements.

Perhaps the most dynamic portion of the site is the events calendar which will be constantly updated with a wide variety of international educational, cultural and business events across Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

The Greater Cincinnati World Affairs Council is a longstanding, non-partisan organization founded in 1923 to build "global understanding and promotes international awareness through education, information and exchange of people and ideas."

The site is just part of the council's web outreach. You can also follow the organization on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Writer: Feoshia Henderson
Source: Greater Cincinnati World Affairs Council

You can follow Feoshia on Twitter @feoshiawrites

Local couple brings taste of urban shopping to Cincinnati with The City Flea

Nick and Lindsay Dewald are Cincinnati natives who've lived in the urban centers of Chicago, L.A., and New York City. They loved living in bigger cities, but always had a place in their hearts for the Queen City.

Last summer they returned to Cincinnati when Lindsay left a teaching job in New York. After being away for several years, they found a more vibrant downtown than the one they'd left behind.

"We were pleasantly surprised to see what was going on. There were a lot of new small businesses and restaurants," said, Nick, a  DAAP architecture grad who lives with his wife in Prospect Hill.

Their surprise has turned into action, and the couple is working to create a place where talented entrepreneurs can come together once a month to sell and create in a fun, outdoor environment. They're calling the endeavor The City Flea, inspired by a giant weekly market in New York called the Brooklyn Flea that started in 2008.

"Coming from the Midwest experience, flea markets were far different from what Brooklyn flea is about," Nick said.

The Brooklyn Flea has more than a hundred vendors who sell vintage and handmade jewelry, vintage T's, ethnic fabrics and cuisine, bicycles, fine chocolates, ceramics, specialty coffee drinks and more. There are also local musical acts on hand to set the mood for the day.

Cincinnati is ready for its own version, Nick believes.

"There is a whole community that is slowly building downtown and in Over-the-Rhine. We are trying to create a hub for those residents, entrepreneurs and one and two-person organizations who are making jewelry or making waffles," he said.

They also see it as a way to draw in people who don't spend a lot of time in the city on the weekends.

Nick and Lindsay are working to secure an outdoor spot for The City Flea, but are hoping it will be somewhere along Central Parkway, near downtown and Over-The-Rhine. There are four markets scheduled, June 4, July 9, Aug. 6 and Sept. 3. They have contacted some possible vendors and are seeking out sponsors. They envision the market hosting food trucks and vendors, vintage goods, clothing, antiques, and arts and crafts.

If The City Flea goes well, the couple will soon hunt for an indoor spot for a winter market.

If you're interested in being a sponsor or a vendor you can contact Nick or Lindsay through The City Flea website. You can also connect with them on Facebook.

Writer: Feoshia Henderson
Sources: Nick and Lindsay Dewald, founders The City Flea

You can follow Feoshia on twitter @feoshiawrites

ConnXus.com aims to boost supplier diversity through the web

Increasing supplier diversity is something businesses often want to do, but sometimes find difficult to achieve.

Entrepreneur Rod Robinson found that out during his time as chief procurement officer for Cincinnati Bell. He also worked to solve that same problem working with large corporations, when he founded Accel Advisors, a procurement and supplier diversity consultant firm, in 2005.

Today, Robinson, along with diet fitness website founder Chris Downie, has now turned to the web to more efficiently link professional minority and women-owned suppliers to the companies looking for their services and products.

Robinson and Downie, founder of the popular Sparkpeople, have recently launched connXus.com, which aims to link corporate buyers and diverse suppliers quickly and affordably.

"The reason connXus exists is because there really isn't anything out there like this. Rod spent years cultivating strategic resources and procurement programs for Fortune 500 companies, and many records out there are incomplete and fragmented. It's really hard to find good resources," said Sandi Straetker, a spokeswoman for the company.

ConnXus is working to bridge that gap. The site, which launched in December, has posted more than $10 million in bid opportunities. The company estimates they'll post 100 to 150 supplier opportunities, worth $40 to $60 million, by year's end.

The site is designed to offer a wide variety of opportunities for small, medium and large service and product suppliers, Straetker said. Companies join the site as buyer members, and pay a $19.95 a month membership fee. ConnXus is currently offering a 60 day fee-free trial offer for new members.

Minority-owned and women-owned businesses can create a free profile. There are more than 100 service and product categories available from legal, accounting and other professional services to transportation and manufacturing.

To help assure supplier quality, customers can add performance ratings to a supplier's profile through the site's propriety rating system. The better the supplier's rating, the higher it will rank in a corporate buyer's search. ConnXus recently was awarded a $40,000 CincyTech Imagining Grant to help it develop the technology.

"With connXus.com, companies can easily integrate supplier diversity into their normal sourcing process, reduce costs and increase quality," Robinson said in a release announcing the site.

Writer: Feoshia Henderson
Source: Sandi Straetker, PRiority Public Relations LLC

You can follow Feoshia on twitter @feoshiawrites

Growing European Chamber's 2011 plans include increasing exports, attracting international YPs

Since 2007, when Cincinnati's French Chamber transformed into the European-American Chamber, the organization has focused on a central mission: forging ties between Cincinnati and European companies.

"We are not a traditional chamber. We stay 100-percent focused on programs and resources that help develop business connections and open up markets in Europe," said Anne Cappel, EACC Executive Director. Cappel, originally from France, moved here after studying at the University of Cincinnati where she met her husband. Cappel has lived in Cincinnati for 23 years.

That focus appears to be paying off. The Chamber has a record number of corporate memberships, now standing at 115, representing 850 active members. Since its beginning, the Chamber's total member programs have jumped from 17 to 52. Attendance at those events has increased by more than 30 percent.

"We started in the middle of an economic crisis, and every year have broken our own records. We’ve increased our engagement with the community and program development," she said.

Those programs include social networking events, partnerships with the city's other ethnic chambers, sessions on doing business in specific European countries and meeting with international trade officials.

Coming into the New Year, the Chamber is planning to build on that momentum, with a major focus on increasing exports to Europe in line with the Obama administration's plan to double American exports in the next five years. The Chamber was recognized with the Governor’s Excellence in Exporting Award in 2010.

"(Exports) do drive economic development for the state of Ohio," she said.

According to the International Trade Administration, more than one-quarter (25.9%) of all manufacturing workers in Ohio depend on exports for their jobs.

The European-American Chamber is also awaiting approval to launch a J-1 visa program. This program will allow Greater Cincinnati employers to host college students and YPs from European partners.

"The J-1 visa program is a huge deal for us," Cappel said. "We will be able to secure the documentation for students or young professionals to bring them to work at local companies. The companies will get the benefits of accessing some talented students and young professionals. And it will expose them to a different work culture, and how business is done in the United States."

Writer: Feoshia Henderson
Source: Anne Cappel, EACC Executive Director

You can follow Feoshia on twitter @feoshiawrites

Mashup Cincinnati encourages diverse YP networking to bridge corporate divide

A new after-hours networking event aims to take Cincinnati YPs out of their comfort zone, introducing them to people who may think and look a little different from themselves.

MashUp Cincinnati is a joint effort of Blackbook EMG and HYPE (Harnessing Young Professional Energy), an initiative of the http://www.cincinnatichamber.com/cham.aspx Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.

MashUp (a word referring to bringing divergent songs, technology or applications together to form something new), is working to bring together YPs from different business and ethnic backgrounds in a fun and fresh way.

"There are a lot of networking events in this city, but MashUp is about celebrating diversity across the corporate and cultural divides," said Stephen Samuels, Blackbook vice president of client experience."There is a need for that. Some of our clients, for instance, have a number of groups within their corporate organizations that don't even reach out and collaborate with each other."

Blackbook is a growing startup tech company whose Compass technology matches employee performance with local events, venues and businesses. Among its clients are Macy's, Procter & Gamble, Ethicon, TriHealth and LPK.

Rodney Williams, an assistant brand manager at P&G, is one of MashUp's hosts. He moved to Cincinnati from the Washington, D.C. area about two years ago, and was on one of the original proponents of the MashUp concept.

"I came to Cincinnati and quickly saw the need to collectively gather Cincinnati's diverse young professionals as they were the segment most vulnerable to isolation. There were a number of Young Professional groups but they all lacked diversity and remained somewhat in their segmented ethnic groups," Williams said.

MashUp started with its first event its first networking event in October. A second one is planned for Dec. 15, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the new Lunar nightclub on Fifth and Elm downtown. Register here for tickets.

The first event was held at Below Zero Lounge in Over-the-Rhine , and more than 200 people showed up. There was a DJ who played a wide variety of tunes. There was also food and a salsa and hip hop dance group. Blackbook also introduced the Poken ™, an e-business card technology popular in Europe, to the group.

"MashUp is a unique and fun way to bring together people from a lot of different backgrounds," Samuels said. "Really, at any time, anything could happen."

Writer: Feoshia Henderson
Source: Blackbook vice president of client experience Stephen Samuels

You can follow Feoshia on twitter @feoshiawrites


Cincinnati Chinese Chamber celebrates five years, looks to expand into Midwest

The Greater Cincinnati Chinese Chamber of Commerce is looking to bring more Chinese investment to the Queen City.

For nearly five years the Greater Cincinnati Chinese Chamber of Commerce has set itself apart as the only Chamber of its type in the Tri-State area. It's often the go-to place for small- and medium-sized business that want to do business with Asia, which now boasts the second-largest economy in the world (following the U.S.)

This fall the Chamber is marking its unique past, and looking into the future as part of an anniversary celebration set for Nov. 8. The Chinese Chamber's Five-Year Anniversary Gala starts at 4:30 p.m. with a networking event, followed at 5:30 p.m. by keynote speaker Jim Rogers, president and CEO of Duke Energy. Rogers will speak on "Energy and the Environment: Challenges and Opportunities for US - China Cooperation." The gala will also feature members of the Liuzhou, China, General Chamber of Commerce Business Delegation. The event will be downtown at the Duke Energy Convention Center.

The event is not just celebrating the Chamber's five-years of connecting Cincinnati and Chinese companies, but is also serving as a coming out of sorts for the 115-member organization said, board chairman Ben Zhang said.

"We want to let Greater Cincinnati know we are growing, and where we are going," he said.

"We have been making some steady progress in the last three years, but we are ready to do something new to take our organization to the next level," he added. "We want to significantly raise the service level for our members."

Zhang joined the Chamber nearly three years ago, and is a vice president at Duke. The Chamber, which has historically relied on volunteers, has hired its first full-time director and is working to recruit larger corporate companies as members.

"Right now most of our members are small- or medium-sized companies, Zhang said. "We would really like to recruit more high-profile companies to be members."

The Chamber currently sponsors trade missions to China, has support from the Chinese Embassy and Chinese Consulate General, and has developed strong relationships with several growing Chinese provinces.  It offers a host of services to members including translation, business referral, development and promotions.

The Chamber has several big goals for 2011 and beyond, including upping its professionalism, strengthening ties with the Chinese business community and forging deeper relationships between larger Cincinnati and Chinese companies.

The Chamber is also working to expand its influence throughout the Midwest, working with business leaders in Columbus, Indianapolis and other Midwestern cities.

"We want to work with companies outside the Cincinnati area. Some places have organizations similar to ours, but they do not have the structure and organization of the Chamber," he said, adding, "We want to help bring investment from China to the Midwest."

To find out more about the Greater Cincinnati Chinese Chamber or to register for its 5th Anniversary Gala, go here.

Writer: Feoshia Henderson
Source: Greater Cincinnati Chinese Chamber Board Chairman Ben Zhang

You can follow Feoshia on twitter @feoshiawrites