Cincinnati startup accelerators are churning out entrepreneur graduates left and right, and last week was a testament to the depth and diversity of the local startup community. In this single week, three very different programs showcased the innovators they support with three very different events.
Mortar Pitch Night
started the week off by hosting Pitch Night at the Drinkery OTR April 26. The accelerator focuses on supporting minority entrepreneurs in Over-the-Rhine and Walnut Hills, neighborhoods going through rapid growth. This pitch night gave Mortar’s fourth class a chance to share with the public the business plans they’d developed over the course of the nine-week program in OTR and compete with each other for cash prizes to help their initiatives along.
“There was a lot of community support and love at our fourth installment of ‘Life’s a Pitch,’” Mortar co-founder Allen Woods says. “After calculating all of the votes from the audience, the top three students will go on to a final tournament-style pitch competition at the end of the 2016.”
Those top three pitches were an ice cream stand in Walnut Hills called Green Man Twist
; iCleanology, a commercial cleaning service for bars and restaurants in Over-the-Rhine; and Just Hire Me
, a platform for neighbors to employ teenagers in their own community. The three companies demonstrate the range of the 60 entrepreneurs who have been through Mortar’s program so far.
Mortar continues to grow and change as the program mentors these businesses. Gearing up for its fifth class, Woods announced a partnership with Indigo Hippo
, a “creative reuse” art supplies thrift store and visual art gallery, to host an even more specialized program in Walnut Hills focusing on creative and artistic enterprises. It will also be Mortar’s first class exclusively for women entrepreneurs.
“We’re excited to reach more creatives and to integrate creative ways of learning into the curriculum,” Indigo Hippo founder Alisha Budkie says. “We’re also looking forward to addressing the entrepreneur as a whole. As the business world recognizes and shares the importance of emotional and social skills, we wanted to add these elements to the coursework.”
“Honestly, our progress has been beyond our wildest dreams,” Woods says. “We never expected to be able to accomplish so much so soon.”
Mortar will celebrate its two-year anniversary May 12 with a Bacchanalian Society wine tasting fundraiser
at Cincinnati Museum Center.
Ocean Demo Day
is unique in its use of faith as a lens in the accelerator concept, developing not only participants’ business ideas but also their individual character and spiritual well-being.
“We’re developing the next generation of godly men and women who will have an impact on society,” co-founder Tim Brunk said in a video introduction at the April 28 Demo Day event at Crossroads in Oakley. “Ocean is seeing the hope we have for the next generation of business leaders.”
This philosophy included a Demo Day keynote speaker — Don Lothrop, former Managing Partner at Delphi Ventures — on the intersection of business and faith, creating a different approach to business as “God’s workmanship.”
Ocean is only in its second year but managed to attract participants in this class
from all over the country and the globe, including two from London.
The ideas pitched by Ocean participants ranged from We Love Work
, which uses psychometric testing to match companies with job candidates based on values, to Spatial
, using data from social media platforms to describe the feel of a place on maps, to Feasty
, which connects restaurants with customers via real-time deals on food.
The pitches were heard not only by community members and family but networks and angel investors brought in by the Ocean team to support the participants.
People’s Liberty Signing Day
The week culminated April 29 with the Signing Day event held at People’s Liberty
in Over-the-Rhine, where the program announced its third round of project grants
. Grantees got a chance to meet one another and the People’s Liberty staff for the first time as they signed their grant contracts.
The Haile/U.S. Bank/Johnson Foundation-funded program unveiled another diverse class of project grantees for its next round of $10,000 projects. They include ideas like “Who They Is,” a program designed by Jasmine C. Humphries to engage Avondale students by designing a park in their community, and pop-up sound installation events dreamed up by Ladyfest Cincinnati
organizer Rachelle Caplan that will combine high-tech sound platforms with rare global instruments for peer-to-peer musical sharing.
The signing event also included opportunities for new grantees and experienced People’s Liberty alumni to network and support each other.
After the public signing day event, grantees were brought downstairs for a more intimate orientation into the People’s Liberty “family.” Sitting around a yellow table inspired by the one Carol Ann and Ralph Haile had in their kitchen, the newest grantees heard the story of those philanthropists and of People’s Liberty — both the bank founded by the Hailes and the “philanthropic lab” that would eventually bear its name — as told by CEO Eric Avner.
This sense of community was present in all of these programs, working together to build and diversify a true startup ecosystem and community in Greater Cincinnati.