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Thrive Impact Sourcing's disruptive methods impact local employment rates


Since Thrive Impact Sourcing started in January 2016, the company has connected 35 unemployed and underemployed local residents with high-quality IT careers.
 
Kelly Dolan and Michael Kroeger started the company to address three realities in our region:
 
  1. Greater Cincinnati has a shortage of IT professionals; there are 3,000 unfilled positions at any given time. Many organizations have looked to offshore IT services or bring offshore resources onshore to fill this IT talent gap. 
  2. This creates a number of challenges in itself, and the challenges are likely to grow exponentially with policies being discussed under the new presidential administration.
  3. Cincinnati has an alarming poverty rate, with one in four residents living in poverty due to unemployment or underemployment.  
Dolan explains that when you look at these three factors combined: “Creating a business to be used as a force for good in being part of the solution is a no-brainer.”
 
Last year, Soapbox explained the disruptive “urban impact sourcing” model that Thrive uses to create high-quality opportunities in low-employment, urban areas. Thrive partners with nonprofit IT trainers Per Scholas — which has 20 years of experience — to give individuals free training they couldn’t receive anywhere else, as well as ongoing mentorship from senior IT professionals.
 
Using this model, Thrive brings a competitive and competent pool of IT talent to the marketplace.
 
“Thrive is fortunate to have mission-aligned, client partners who were early adopters of this disruptive business model,” says Dolan. “Our services also met a real need for their growing organizations.” CareSource and Crossroads are two area employers that have partnered with Thrive in its first year of business.
 
Dolan points to personal stories from Per Scholas graduates as evidence that the program, one of only two of its kind in the nation, is working to transform lives.
 
“I was living my dream as a stay-at-home mom when I found myself widowed at 31 with five young children to raise,” says Thrive software QA analyst and Per Scholas graduate Kelly K. “I had a few part-time jobs paying around $10 per hour and was getting increasingly distressed because I didn’t have any marketable skills to find a job that pays a sustainable wage. The Per Scholas software testing course was my ‘hail Mary,’ and now that I’m working at Thrive, I have a bright future and my family’s lives are changed.”
 

2017 Neighborhood Summit will feature how-to workshops that prompt big ideas


Greater Cincinnati's distinctive neighborhoods are growing at a remarkable pace, and it's thanks in part to events like the upcoming Neighborhood Summit.

The 15th annual Neighborhood Summit, which will take place March 11 at Xavier's Cintas Center, is presented by Invest in Neighborhoods, in partnership with the City of Cincinnati, the Community Building Institute, LISC and the CDC Association of Greater Cincinnati.

The event attracts hundreds of community leaders and volunteers, city officials and nonprofit professionals for a day of discussions focused on helping groups work more effectively to improve the quality of life across Greater Cincinnati. The summit also features grants and awards for community members whose projects and efforts are making a difference or bringing a neighborhood together in a new way.
 
Last year’s Neighborhood Summit drew more than 600 attendees, with the theme of “Making Your Place” that highlighted community gardens, arts festivals, neighborhood beautification projects and other placemaking initiatives.
 
According to Summit chair Elizabeth Bartley, event planners send out a community survey each year in late summer to gauge what is topically important. A steering committee made up of various Cincinnati leaders then compiles that feedback into guideposts for selecting speakers and sessions.
 
“Like everything else, the Summit evolves and changes to fit what’s going on in our city,” Bartley says. “When it was first started, many neighborhoods simply did not know how the city worked and what was available to them.”
 
Bartley says the Summit has evolved to feature a series of how-to workshops where participants can learn about everything from grantwriting and applying for city services to getting insurance. Breakout sessions are subdivided into seven key areas: health, housing, economy, transportation, education, infrastructure and safety. Click here for more information on this year’s workshops.
 
“Anyone can join in at any time to any topic, roll up their sleeves and work in small groups toward brainstorming ideas and identifying actions that can be taken, whether large or small,” Bartley says.
 
Bartley thinks that level of knowledge sharing among leaders is what makes the Summit impactful. “I have heard many exclamations of, ‘I didn’t know you were doing that! What a great idea!’ and that’s the spark that builds collaboration,” she says.

The Summit is free to attend, however registration is encouraged. Click here to RSVP. Anyone wishing to attend the kickoff dinner Friday, March 10 can purchase tickets here
 
Vendor tables are available to non-profits, city departments, and community organizations for $135.
 

Nonprofits to pitch goals and strategies to the public at SVP's Fast Pitch


On March 1, 10 area nonprofits will compete for $30,000 in award money at Social Venture Partners’ fourth annual Fast Pitch competition. Much like startup pitch nights and Demo Days, the event will pit the organizations against each other in three-minute presentations.

You can read about last year's winners here.
 
SVP is part of an international network of 3,500 partners that invest their time, talent and grant money in innovative ways to help strengthen local nonprofits. The organization’s goal is to enable its investees to make the region a stronger and more vibrant community.
 
The event helps the public learn about different nonprofits and what the innovative work they’re doing in the community. The Fast Pitch program begins with 25 local nonprofits, which were chosen from a total of 45 applicants. After three and a half weeks of practicing their pitches, the nonprofits competed in the semi-finals, and 10 nonprofits were left standing.
 
Those 10 groups have been working on their pitches with D. Lynn Meyers, the Cincinnati Ensemble Theatre’s producing artistic director, and Jay Shatz, an Emmy-award winning report.
 
The nonprofits that will present at the Fast Pitch finals at Duke Energy Convention Center are:
 
Adopt-a-Class, Price Hill: A group mentoring experience that connects businesses and civic groups with students, inspiring a corporate culture of teamwork and philanthropy while giving hope and a vision of what is possible for the youth of the future
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Over-the-Rhine: Each year, its education program sees 50,000 students from 200 schools in three states.
Cincinnati Union Cooperative, OTR: Partners with individuals and organizations to create worker-owned businesses that sustain families and communities.
Circle Tail, Pleasant Plain, Ohio: Provides service and hearing dogs for people with disabilities, at no cost.
Crayons to Computers, Norwood: Serves the educational and imaginative needs of kids in Greater Cincinnati by providing donated items from businesses and the community to teachers for use in their classrooms.
Drug Free Clubs of America, Glendale: A voluntary program where high school students, with parental permission, submit to voluntary drug testing.
Faith Community Pharmacy, Florence: Provides necessary medications and pharmaceutical care to those who are unable to pay for it.
Per Scholas, OTR: Opens doors to technology careers for people from often-overlooked communities.
Women’s Crisis Center Green Dot, Northern Kentucky: Focused on preventing power-based personal violence.
Wordplay Cincinnati, Northside: A community of experts, artists, volunteers and donors who strive to equip K-12th graders with learning programs that focus on reading, writing and communicating.
 
Since its inception, the Fast Pitch finals has grown from 100 attendees to 550 last year; this year, they expect about 750 people to come. With that growth, there will be something new at this year’s event: the audience will get to vote for an Audience Choice Award.  
 
Tickets are $45-60 and can be purchased online; doors open at 5:30 p.m., and the event starts at 6:30 p.m. There will be a cash bar, small bites and an after-party for everyone who attends.
 

Sustainability advocate Rob Richardson joins Cincinnati mayoral race


Amidst a period of unprecedented growth for downtown, Over-the-Rhine and Cincinnati as a whole, sustainability advocate Rob Richardson, Jr. recently announced that he will join the 2017 mayoral race. His "One Cincinnati" platform emphasizes innovation, inclusion and a personal belief in the city motto of “Juncta Juvant” (Strength in Unity).
 
“Rob’s ultimate goal,” says campaign manager Daniel O’Connor, “is to leverage the expansive variety of talent and resources our city offers to provide and expand opportunities to all people that live here, regardless of race, gender or neighborhood.”
 
As chairman of the Board of Trustees for UC — the second-largest university in the state and the city’s largest employer — Richardson has forged relationships with leading sectors that include business, education, local startups, technology, community activism and more. It's an integrative approach that has allowed him to move outside the political realm, and one that he feels will enable him to leverage Cincinnati’s ever-growing pool of talent.
 
A teacher once told a 13-year-old Richardson that he was not intelligent enough to go to college. In response, his mother instilled in him the belief that limited expectations don't matter, reminding him at every turn that, “You define yourself, for yourself, by yourself.”

How does Richardson define himself? As an innovator and a person who actively pushes back against the status quo to find unique and effective solutions to any problem.
 
Richardson reinforced that conviction at the press conference where he announced his decision to run. He said that the election is not about the streetcar, west side vs. east side or a battle between political parties, genders or races. Instead, Richardson said, the election is about the type of city that we want Cincinnati to be, now and in the future.
 
To learn more about Richardson — the person and the candidate — visit www.robforcincinnati.com or his campaign’s Facebook page.
 

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


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

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

Learning to treat nonprofits as more than charity cases


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

People's Liberty hosts Globe Grant info session, accepting applications for 2017


People’s Liberty hosted “Globe in the Dark” June 24 to introduce Julia Fischer’s Play Library, the second of three winners of its 2016 Globe Grants that award exhibition projects $15,000 and six weeks in its Globe Gallery storefront across from Findlay Market.
 
Fischer’s Play Library is exactly what it sounds like, a “library” that loans toys and games instead of books. Through donations, memberships and the help of volunteers, the project aims to make a variety of toys and games accessible to people of all ages to encourage the benefits of creative play.
 
For visitors who might be inspired by Play Library’s opening to ask themselves what they’d do with the gallery space, Globe in the Dark came at a perfect time — the 2017 Globe Grant application process is now open.
 
“We are extremely excited about the next round of Globe Grants,” says Jake Hodesh, People’s Liberty Vice President of Operations. “We have high hopes for 2017, and we think the applications will be as strong as ever.”
 
For applicants who want to learn more about Globe Grants, People’s Liberty is hosting an information session at 6 p.m. June 28 at its Over-the-Rhine headquarters. Like all People’s Liberty grants, winning projects should be fun and engaging but also have a lasting impact on the community.
 
“The best applications to date have given the public a reason to come back to the Globe storefront again and again,” Hodesh says. “We’re looking for individuals in the Greater Cincinnati area who have exciting ideas to transform the storefront. This isn’t just an opportunity to hang artwork — this is a chance for someone or a small group of folks to create a one-of-a-kind unique experience.”
 
People’s Liberty staff members are available for one-on-one informational meetings with potential applicants July 5-19. The final deadline to apply for a 2017 Globe Grant is July 20.
 

SE Cincy launches Elevator program to accelerate social enterprises


Flywheel Social Enterprise Hub and its Social Enterprise Cincy program continue to make big strides and take local social entrepreneurs with them. Now the organizations have added another tool for supporting and growing nonprofits and businesses with a “double bottom line” that aim to do good and earn revenue at the same time.
 
Flywheel moved into Cintrifuse’s Union Hall building on Vine Street several months ago, linking the organization even closer to the #StartupCincy community.
 
Flywheel Executive Director Bill Tucker and staff have been able to see first-hand how programs like The Brandery, Ocean and UpTech make a substantial impact on local startups. These accelerator and incubator programs inspired SE Cincy to start a similar resource and support program for social enterprises dubbed Elevator.
 
“Our move to Union Hall in March really helped accelerate that because we were immersed in the community and those organizations are interested in what we’re doing,” Tucker says.
 
According to Tucker, many social enterprises face similar challenges as new for-profit startups, and it made sense that they could benefit from a similar program.
 
With collaborators and inspiration from Design Impact, United Way and elsewhere, SE Cincy is currently taking applications for its new program, dubbed an “elevator” to set it apart from accelerators and incubators. Like an accelerator or incubator, the program will provide social enterprises with classes, resources and mentorship to help them get their footing and raise capital.
 
“Unlike the other accelerators, we don’t have a financial reward at the end,” Tucker says. “Our focus is on getting people in front of impact investors and ready to be investable.”
 
Using this “teach a man to fish” model, SE Cincy Elevator will use curriculum and mentorship to position participants in front of funders who see their return on investment as both financial and having social value.
 
SE Cincy Elevator will differ from other accelerators and incubators in a few other ways as well. To tailor the program to social entrepreneurs, SE Cincy has formatted it to fit the schedules of individuals working full time — meaning much of the 20-hour-per-week, eight-week-long commitment will take place on evenings, with options for online curriculum.
 
Applications are open until July 4 for the program’s first round, and only five social enterprises will be chosen for this pilot run. SE Cincy is looking for enterprises that are market-tested (either through market research or taking the solution to market), can have a substantial impact on the Cincinnati region and are viable, scalable and ready to grow. Incorporating technology would be helpful but isn’t a requirement.
 
Tucker says that the most important requirement of any applicant is a team of dedicated, passionate people willing to work hard for eight weeks in preparation for Demo Day at the Social Enterprise Cincinnati Summit on Oct. 3.
 

Bad Girl Ventures graduates first "Launch" class of women entrepreneurs


Bad Girl Ventures will hold a graduation event for its first “Launch” class at New Riff Distilling on Wednesday, June 15. The eight graduating businesses have just completed the “Launch” segment of BGV’s revamped “Explore, Launch, Grow” program, meaning they’re women entrepreneurs already somewhat established in their businesses and ready to take them to the next level.
 
BGV Executive Director Nancy Aichholz explains that the new format of Launch classes provide participants with a smaller, more intimate and more focused experience than they would have gotten in BGV’s previous class formats.
 
“We saw extreme growth from the day they started in Launch,” Aichholz says. “We were so impressed. This group was very supportive of each other, but they were all business. There was no messing around — these women were serious.”
 
The graduation event will give attendees a chance to learn about the companies, both through conversational networking and short 30-second pitches given by each business. The event will also feature tours of New Riff Distillery in Bellevue, refreshments and the presentation of a $25,000 investment loan award to the winning participant’s company.
 
Although BGV doesn’t directly fund all the participants of its classes, it does set them up to fundraise for capital on their own. The organization is also trying a new peer-to-peer fundraising platform on its Facebook page to encourage individuals to fundraise and become funders.
 
In addition to the pitches and awards, the event’s keynote speaker will be Kenton County Judge Executive Kris Knochelmann, speaking about the innovation and entrepreneurship boom in Northern Kentucky. The choice of speaker is particularly appropriate as BGV is preparing to move into its new permanent facility in downtown Covington in about a month.
 
“We really want it to be a resource center for all female entrepreneurs,” Aichholz says of the new Pike Street space. “I think it’s going to be very exciting.”
 
Aichholz says the space will allow BGV to continue to expand, including fully kick-starting its “Grow” workshops in the fall. Those workshops, the final puzzle piece of the “Explore, Launch, Grow” system, will offer la carte classes and discussions of issues of interest to women entrepreneurs but, unlike most of BGV programming, will also be open to men.
 

TEDx Cincinnati Main Stage event aims to open minds and share ideas


TEDx Cincinnati’s seventh annual Main Stage event will take place June 16 at the Cincinnati Masonic Center downtown. The theme is “LEAP,” inspired by the fact that 2016 is a leap year.
 
“It’s really about what are the big leaps in the future,” says organizer Jami Edelheit. “How do we advance? How do we grow? As a community, as a people, as technologies?”
 
These themes are evident in the signature element of any TED or TEDx (independently organized) event — the series of short talks given by people passionate about a wide variety of ideas. This year’s speakers include a mixture of local names and national personalities, and the topics they’ll cover range from virtual reality to stem cell medical technologies to music and acrobatic movement, just to name a few.
 
But Edelheit emphasizes that the Main Stage event is about more than the individual speakers. It’s an entire experience created by combining speakers and the earlier Innovation Alley happy hour prior and the conversations sparked by both.
 
“We try to have a bunch of different themes that are kind of like a puzzle when you’re putting it together,” she says. “These are all short talks, and it’s all woven together into a production. I just find it fascinating.”
 
The production begins with the interactive Innovation Alley at 5 p.m. (registration begins at 4:30), curated with the help of Xavier University’s Center for Innovation, where attendees will be able to see and learn about a variety of innovations and ideas. The happy hour event will include food and drink and serve as the venue for the Greater Cincinnati Venture Association to present its GCVA Recognizes awards.
 
Following Innovation Alley, 15 speakers will present in the theater. For Edelheit, though, this doesn’t mean stopping the evening’s participation, only changing it. She hope the talks will spark new ideas in Cincinnati makers, doers and thinkers and encourages audience members to be present, engage with the ideas and talk with each other.
 
“The main thing is to be open, just be open,” she says. “You’re not coming to get lectured at. Have fun and meet new people who are thinkers and doers.”
 
Tickets to the Main Stage event are available here.
 

Arts Atlas data tool to help local arts organizations target programming to underserved communities

 
ArtsWave has created a first-in-the-nation model with the new Arts Atlas online tool that integrates data on arts organizations and their programming with community demographic data.
 
Arts Atlas offers a searchable aggregation of community data — such as income, age, households and ethnicity — and arts data including organization locations, services and partnerships. Users can search around a specific Zip code, address or by a host of other criteria.
 
“As ArtsWave shifted our funding approach, we started to think about data around community impact: how to collect it, how to analyze it, what that would look like,” ArtsWave Chief Impact Strategy Officer Tara Townsend says. “Arts Atlas evolved from the need for a place to collect and analyze data while also understanding the gap in access to the arts around the region.”
 
In order to keep the data current, ArtsWave is working with PolicyMap, a national data gathering organization. PolicyMap collects, organizes and maps the public data while ArtsWave manages the arts- and culture-related data that’s specific to Greater Cincinnati.
 
ArtsWave anticipates that Arts Atlas will eventually be used by a range of audiences, from parents and educators to funders and Realtors, but the initial focus in rolling out the program is arts organizations.
 
“We view Arts Atlas as strategic tool to help justify where ArtsWave is making investments and for arts organizations deciding where they invest their time and energy in terms of their programming,” Townsend says. “We are also currently using the Arts Atlas to provide information about which schools have art and music teachers and which don’t for the Cincinnati Public Schools’ subcommittee on arts and culture as they advocate for how CPS’s new equity policy should relate to arts education.”
 
Arts Atlas will also be a helpful tool for CPS Resource Coordinators in neighborhood Community Learning Centers.
 
“Resource Coordinators need to be able to connect the dots between the services offered at the school and those offered by other organizations,” ArtsWave Impact Specialist Alison Taylor says. “With the Arts Atlas they’ll be able to look for arts and cultural organizations to partner with to provide programming for the students in their school.”
 
The ability to drill down into the arts and cultural resources in a particular geographic area could be a useful tool for many audiences: parents seeking classes for their children, Realtors talking up the assets of a neighborhood or businesses recruiting new talent to Cincinnati.
 
ArtsWave staff are currently offering free general Arts Atlas demonstrations on the third Thursday of each month that are open to anyone with advance registration; register for the June 16 event here. They’re also providing targeted introductions to specific groups.
 
In addition to its practical application, ArtsWave also hopes that Arts Atlas will help regional arts organizations leverage new funding.
 
“We scoured through PolicyMap’s available data to find data sets that would support a better understanding of the community within this region,” Townsend says. “It is extremely valuable to have in one place all of the data that you would need to make a case for why a particular program should happen in a particular community, school or school district. Arts Atlas does that.”
 
Although Arts Atlas just launched at the end of May, it’s already garnered national attention.
 
“The original funding came from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John A. Schroth Family Charitable Trust at PNC Bank, so the NEA has been watching the development very closely and they’re very excited about what we ultimately created,” Townsend says. “Americans for the Arts approached us and are very interested in talking about it. The ArtPlace blog of the National Creative Placemaking Funding Initiative will also be writing about it.”
 
Once again, the innovation in Cincinnati’s arts community is putting the region on the map.
 

Per Scholas software testing class shows promise thanks to unique partnership


Cincinnati’s technology and innovation sector is often described as an ecosystem, with companies and organizations working together and relying on each other in order to create economic impact.
 
Recently, three different organizations – Per Scholas, Ingage Partners and Thrive Urban Impact Sourcing – came together to make sure the information technology sector is providing opportunities for those most in need. The partnership’s result is an eight-week intensive course in quality assurance software testing for Cincinnatians unemployed or below the poverty line and a promise by Thrive to hire at least half of the graduating class.
 
Per Scholas is a nonprofit organization founded nearly 20 years ago in New York City to provide free intensive IT training and job placement to individuals living in poverty. It now operates in several cities around the country and started its IT training program in Cincinnati about three and half years ago.
 
Per Scholas is able to expand its offerings to this software testing course with the help of Ingage Partners, a management and technology consulting company that strives for a “business for good” model, and its new organization, Thrive, which practices Urban Impact Sourcing.
 
The idea of impact sourcing is to make a dent in poverty by connecting well-paying jobs and opportunities for advancement with the underutilized talent pool of people living in poverty. According to Ingage/Thrive Co-Founder Michael Kroeger, it’s often been practiced in rural areas in countries like India, and Thrive is pioneering the model in an urban environment.
 
Impact sourcing more or less aims to reverse outsourcing by bringing often-outsourced technology jobs back into places like Cincinnati and making sure there’s a trained talent pool to fill those jobs. That means the model fits perfectly for software testing positions.
 
While most software testing has been outsourced for the past few decades, language and time zone barriers and rising overseas labor costs mean the market is ripe to bring those jobs back to the local market, says Per Scholas Managing Director Paul Cashen, adding that Per Scholas aims for its training programs to be market-driven.
 
“Software testing is in especially high demand and is a skill that can be trained in a reasonable amount of time,” Kroeger says. “We saw this as a way to quickly make strides to end poverty in our region while meeting market demands.”
 
“We were very excited about the fact that we drew interest from both alumni and new students,” Cashen says.
 
Cashen describes the collaboration of Per Scholas, Ingage and Thrive as a win-win-win situation: Per Scholas provides the curriculum and technical training the organization specializes in, Thrive and Ingage support the program and the job opportunities for graduates and the software testing students receive training and opportunities that can transform their lives and help end the cycle of poverty.
 
“For our students, the impact is not only from a career and competence standpoint but also about confidence,” Cashen says. “It has an emotional and mental impact, not just on their pocketbooks.”
 
Kroeger also emphasizes this impact on students’ confidence.
 
“They come out of this course with the confidence that they have the acquired technical knowledge needed for a career in software testing along with life skills that will help them maintain a successful career,” he says. “Thrive has committed to hire at least half of every class, including benefits and a competitive salary.”
 
For this class however, Thrive has far exceeded that promise.
 
“We're excited that 21 students are set to graduate next week and Thrive has already made offers to 15 of them,” Kroeger says.
 
The software testing course and partnership is so successful that Per Scholas is already taking applications for the next course, set to begin July 18. Classes are held at CityLink Center in the West End.
 

GCVA launches new kind of awards program for startups at TEDx Cincinnati


Always looking for new ways to support area entrepreneurs, the Greater Cincinnati Venture Association (GCVA) is launching a new program, “GCVA Recognizes,” to honor young people and fresh ideas in Cincinnati’s startup ecosystem.
 
Like many things in the startup world, GCVA Recognizes has grown quickly from an idea to a reality. The organization’s leadership team came up with the concept only two months ago, then solidified it a couple weeks later during conversations with TEDx Cincinnati organizers.
 
“We really didn’t have anything yet, it just seemed like the right idea and we were interested in figuring out what it might become,” GCVA President Kevin Mackey says.
 
When talking with TEDx folks about how the two groups could collaborate, GVCA learned about the upcoming TEDx Innovation Alley happy hour event and something clicked.
 
“We thought it would be really cool if we had this awards thing as their happy hour,” Mackey says.
 
GCVA wants its “Recognizes” program to not be just another awards show, pointing out that several already exist in the city’s startup and business communities.
 
Mackey emphasizes that since the recognition will be community-driven, so will the choices about who and what to recognize. Awards could be presented to everything from a blog post to a community dinner.

GCVA collected open nominations in categories like “Most Inspiring CEO” and “Best Pivot,” and the community now gets to vote through June 10 to choose the winners, who will be honored at TEDx Cincinnati’s Innovation Alley happy hour on June 16.
 
“I’m really enjoying seeing the number of names identified by multiple people,” Mackey says. “It really indicates that we’ve got some strong people and strong companies here.”
 
Those people and companies deserve recognition, which GCVA is excited to provide. The awards aim to honor the full breadth of the local startup ecosystem, from entrepreneurs to mentors to angel investors — the kind of recognition that can be really helpful to early startups and young entrepreneurs.
 
“This is about helping each other out,” Mackey says. “At the end of the day, this stuff comes back to community feedback. We’ll see where it goes!”
 

Inventor's Council awards prizes to members trying to bring their inventions to life


The Inventor’s Council of Cincinnati recently held its third annual First Filament Awards, a competition for members to be judged by experts and to receive cash prizes to fund development costs of their inventions.
 
The awards are just one way that ICC provides support for its member inventors. The Council also invites experts as monthly speakers and provides networking opportunities, offers classes in patents and trademarking and hosts one-on-one mentoring with board members.
 
For co-founder Jackie Diaz, one of the most important resources ICC provides is the community and support from other inventors. She’s been active in local inventors’ groups for nearly 25 years, since launching her first invention, the Culinique Surprise Inside baking pan, in 1991.
 
“As I started to look at commercialization, I got to thinking, ‘Maybe there’s help locally,’” Diaz says.
 
That led her first to the Cincinnati Inventor’s Club and, when that group disbanded, to a Cincinnati spinoff of the Inventor’s Council of Dayton founded by George Pierce.
 
“Unfortunately, in 2004 George found the management of the ICC, as well as several other satellite organizations in surrounding cities, to be taking too much of his time and had to call a halt,” Diaz says. “As the only board member interested in moving forward at the time, I recruited a President and she and I co-founded the current 501c3 organization.”
 
Diaz also helped found the First Filament Awards three years ago.
 
“I wanted to create a program that would help get our members out of the garage and onto the freeway, not only for their own benefit but for the sake of the community at large,” she says.
 
The awards ($1,000, $750 and $500 for the three finalists) are designed to make it possible for the winners to commercialize their ideas. This year’s winners were Joseph Collins for a child safety product for door jambs, Geoff Saylors for a construction tool that makes finding studs easier when on a ladder and Tom Hortel and Mike Mullens for a new and improved way of cleaning stains from rugs and carpets.
 
First Filament competition participants must be members of the Inventor’s Council of Cincinnati. Diaz stresses that the group is always looking to expand its membership and provide training and a support forum to more area inventors.
 
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