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Resource: SCORE

Cincinnati's SCORE is one of the most active SCORE chapters in the nation. Its mission is to provide professional guidance and information, accessible to all, to maximize the success of America's existing and emerging small businesses.  

SCORE offers free business counseling, business seminars and a small business resource library.

SCORE's Cincinnati area business counselors, with more than 3,000 combined years of business experience, provide clients with free and confidential business counseling conducted at local libraries, book stores, SCORE offices or your place of business. 

SCORE Counselors and representatives from the local business community conduct a variety of regularly scheduled, low-cost educational seminars that provide valuable information and techniques necessary for establishing and managing a successful small business. 

SCORE's valuable links to local and state resources help you locate the nearest chamber of commerce, information research database, loan and funding for your business, specialized state & national business centers, small business software & website information.

Resource: MicroCity Load Fund

The MicroCity Loan Fund is one of two loan funds that make up the Cincinnati Small Business Loan Fund. The MicroCity fund provides loans to small businesses in amounts up to $35,000 for fixed assets and working capital. The purpose of the MicroCity Fund is to encourage expansion and increase the capacity of small businesses by providing “gap” debt financing and access to technical assistance. Funding is available to successful growing or emerging small businesses that meet our underwriting requirements and are located within the City of Cincinnati.

The loan fund is designed to:
• To facilitate growth and retention of small businesses.
• To promote job creation and retention.
• Enhance access to capital

The maximum loan amount is $35,000.

Eligible Companies:
For profit businesses with five or fewer employees that have adequate historic or projected cash flow to repay the debt. The owner may be one of the employees.  

Resource: The City of Cincinnati's Small Business Enterprise Program

The City of Cincinnati’s Small Business Enterprise Program (SBE) provides procurement opportunities to small businesses, thereby contributing to the economic vitality of the Cincinnati region.

The City remains committed to growing opportunities for small businesses so that the entire community benefits. The information presented on SBE's site will help you to register, prepare bids, and do business with the City. 

The Current Business Opportunities Portfolio includes a list of business opportunities that are immediately available through the City’s Purchasing Division.

NKY students win scholarships to Gateway through new UpTech program

Three Northern Kentucky high school students won scholarships to Gateway Community and Technical College through an innovative new UpTech program that challenges students to apply advanced manufacture learning through competition.

Eleven Kenton County high schoolers competed for the scholarship earlier this month. Competitors were sophomores and juniors who have been taking college courses while still in high school. The scholarship pays for up to 24 credit hours at Gateway.

UpTech is a new business informatics incubator launched by several Northern Kentucky institutions, including Northern Kentucky UniversityTri-Ede-zone and Vision 2015. The intense, six-month accelerator program includes $100,000 in funding.

This latest scholarship program reaches into the advanced manufacturing area, which is a strong source of Northern Kentucky job growth. Called mUpTech, the program seeks out area talent at the high school level, and encourages learning through competition and college aid.

"mUpTech, was born out of our region’s need to stimulate interest and innovation in our manufacturing industry,” says UpTech co-founder Casey Barach. “Over the last 12 years, over 300 companies have used the e-zone, and only three were in the manufacturing industry.”

This year, all competing students came from the newly developed Kenton County School District’s Academy of Innovation and Technology. The high school houses six academics that focus on real world learning, including biomedical sciences, engineering and high performance production technology.

As part of their learning, academy students must complete and present a project related to their learning. Divided into two-person teams (one student competed alone), students from the high performance production technology academy presented their projects and participated in the mUpTech competition. It was held at the Gateway Center for Advanced Manufacturing.

Winners were juniors Matt Flanagan and Austin Ernst, who developed a speedy tractor lift, and sophomore Wendy Webster, who created a window heater.

"Their families were really floored," says Academy director Francis O'Hara. "This will be a life-changing experience for them."

mUpTech’s partners include Gateway Community and Technical College, Tri-ED, ezone, Vision 2015, UpTech and Duke Energy Foundation. Plans in the next year are to expand the program into Boone and Campbell counties, and to include more of the region's advanced manufacturing business community in judging, Barach says.

By Feoshia H. Davis
Follow Feoshia on Twitter

HCBC opens new CoWorks space for entrepreneurs, startups

The Hamilton County Business Center is Cincinnati's oldest incubator, and has evolved over the decades as the economy has changed.

Startups are leaner and meaner now than ever before, and HCBC is piloting the region's latest coworking space, where small businesses can get many of the benefits of being in an incubator without the higher overhead.

HCBC's CoWorks had a very quiet launch late last fall. With three businesses in the space, which is located in Norwood, Executive Director Pat Longo is now getting the word out about HCBC.

"This has grown out of our affiliate program," Longo says. "There were companies that weren't yet ready to apply for the incubator but they wanted to be around it."

HCBC has recently upgraded its conference room space, which has been attractive to small companies like SCORE, SBDC and Meetups that want to present themselves more professionally, says Longo.

HCBC has 45 companies that last year generated over $18 million in revenues, accessed over $8 million in capital and created nearly 50 jobs.

Renting CoWorks space on a month-to-month basis starts at $75 per month, and includes:
  • 24-hour, 7-day-a-week access
  • WiFi
  • Concierge and receptionist services
  • Free parking
  • Fax, scanner and copier services
  • Kitchen
  • Up to four hours per month of conference room use
  • A mailing address
"We talk about having an entrepreneurial ecosystem, but I like to think of (HCBC) as a coral reef," Longo says. "We have a lot of life, people can grow, there is lots of nourishment and places to go and hide if you need a quiet place to work."

CoWorkers will have access to the incubator entrepreneurial atmosphere, programming and resources. Some are free, while others have a fee attached.

"They'll get the benefits of being a client," Long says. "And we hope when they are ready, they'll move into the incubator."

Currently, there is space for about 12 companies, with potential room to grow. Interested businesses can find out more on the CoWorks website, where interpreters can fill out an application.

By Feoshia H. Davis
Follow Feoshia on Twitter

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

Vegan Roots translates Cincinnatiís culinary favs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 out 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

Alex Burkhart of Tixers

How did you start your business?
Competing in and winning Cincinnati Startup Weekend helped jumpstart the concept and aligned me with the right people to help get me started.

How did you come up with the idea for your business?
I’m an avid sports fan who grew up traveling to every Major League Baseball park. The idea hit me this year, when I went to three major sporting events in a 24-hour time span: a Notre Dame football game, an Indianapolis Colts game and a Cincinnati Bengals game. I also work in loyalty marketing at Macy’s and wanted to tie in that concept with sports. 

What resources here did you take advantage of and how did they help?
I took advantage of the rapidly growing startup community in Cincinnati. It first started with Cincinnati Startup Weekend, but it has grown through relationships established from the competition, mainly from organizers and judges of the competition. Chris Ridenour and Tim Metzner (organizers) and Tarek Kamil (judge) have been instrumental in this. Chris also organizes a tech Meetup in town called Cincinnati Web/Tech Drink Up, which brings many people in the startup scene together once a month. 

Also, the events and opportunities offered through the Brandery and Cintrifuse have been a huge help. The innovation culture and community they are creating is on the verge of exploding. In addition, I am a graduate and a current MBA student at Xavier University and their entrepreneurship department has been a great resource. 

What inspires you?
Passion and purpose. I am currently in the corporate world, but startups and innovation really invigorate me. I want to build something that I have passion for. My current venture, Tixers, really combines my passion for sports, marketing and entrepreneurship. I want to wake up every day knowing that I was able to create something that not only creates value for my customers (sports fans), but also to those of us who work to create this. 

A great book written by the CEO of Zappos, Passion, Purpose, and Profits, is an example of a medium that really inspired me to become an entrepreneur. 

What’s next for you and your company?
The next steps are finalizing the team that can really take this concept to the next level and working with those people (mentors, technical services, potential investors, etc.) in the startup community who can help me do this. I’m also continuing to build out the website and/or app, and plan to launch in the near future. 

Interview by Robin Donovan

At Cinsational, corporate know-how spells sweet success

It sounds like a trick question. How can you be a fitness model and the owner of a successful small bakery at the same time?  

Jenn Hardin does just that as the proprietor of Cinsational Sweet Treats. She wakes up between 3:30 and 4 a.m. to measure, mix and sample sparingly. She bakes until dawn, shipping out a fresh batch of scones and other treats to Nordstrom, her largest client, six days a week.

Because Hardin uses the same base for her muffins, she’s able to taste sparingly. “I love cupcakes, and when I make them I’ll eat one, but I also compete in fitness bikini pageants twice a year, so I eat very, very healthy,” she says. “I go to the gym four to five times a week. I have a 4-year-old, so I have to keep up that energy!”

In fact, keeping to a strict diet is what helped news of Hardin’s skill in the kitchen spread. As an IT recruiter, she’d bake late at night and take the treats into her office or to small functions. People began requesting donations for small events, and, eventually, asked her how to buy her product. “It truly started out of my own kitchen,” Hardin says.

Local investors have latched on to this energetic baker, and Hardin has already turned down offers to supply Nordstrom eateries in Columbus and Pittsburgh until she has a retail space. Meanwhile, she’s growing her bottom line with private events.

Hardin’s IT recruiting background isn’t divorced from her current success, either. The same skills she used to match job hunters with employers came into play when she won her pivotal wholesale account with Nordstrom by proving she was a match for the store’s clientele.

“I use all natural, though not organic, high-end ingredients," she says. "A higher-end clientele will pay for that and appreciate it." She offered to present her product to visiting higher-ups with a personalized touch, and helped managers streamline invoices by reducing the number of vendors who supplied their café, helping sweeten the both the store's menu items and their bottom line.

By Robin Donovan
132 Articles | Page: | Show All
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