Five Cincinnati Companies That Could Change the World

Finding businesses that have the potential to be world changing is a tall order, but luckily, here in Cincinnati we are fortunate to have a number of young entrepreneurs working on technology or design that is at the forefront of their respective industries and tackles problems that are near the top of our nation's consciousness.

Issues like green energy and transportation, environmentally conscious building design, cutting edge health care solutions, and health and wellness education are all represented in this stand out group of businesses. 

These companies are all young, and some have yet to roll out their offerings to the general public.  But they are all working on products or concepts that will have the potential to make our everyday lives in Cincinnati better, while helping bigger causes as they do.

Even more encouraging about this story is that for each of the five listed here there are many more who could have been chosen.  Cincinnati is full of enlightened ideas.  We just don't have enough space to list them all.

Emersion DESIGN

As the first architecture and engineering firm in the nation to be awarded the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum designation for its office space, Emersion has shown its commitment to sustainable building by literally leading the way.  Among its staff are three U.S. Green Building Council Regional Chapter presidents, including current president Chad Edwards.

Founded in 2007, the firm has had input on setting national standards for sustainable design and has researched and supported the inclusion of social sustainability as a separate criteria for judging the impact of a project, says Edwards.  This new criteria would rate building designs on social equity factors such as neighborhood impact and quality of life.

"We want to do good for our society," says Edwards.  "This is one way we can provide a lot of value."

Emersion is part of several local projects for sustainable building that include advising Cincinnati State Technical and Community College and the University of Cincinnati in their efforts toward becoming carbon neutral.   The firm is also designing the new local Red Cross headquarters that will be certified LEED Gold upon completion and will include a green roof, contained storm water, and high efficiency heating and cooling.  Nationally, they are working with NASA on a master plan for the agency's 800 plus acre New Orleans campus that will restore natural wetlands, reduce pollution and ensure that all future building projects meet LEED Silver standards.


Founded by University of Cincinnati graduate and Procter & Gamble alumnus Chris Downie, SparkPeople has helped millions of individuals connect while working on their goals for health and fitness.

The company's mission is to provide a starting point - the spark - for achieving individual goals in weight loss, fitness and personal growth, says Sean McCosh, vice president of marketing and partnerships.  It has become the most active diet and fitness web site in the nation.

"We really use a time tested philosophy but use culturally current implementation of that," says McCosh.  "We have the tools, content and community support to help people reach their goals."

Downie started the site with the proceeds from, a site he founded similar to EBay, which he sold to EBay in 1998.   Inspired by struggles he endured in his own youth with anxiety and shyness, he says he wanted the venture to motivate people by using positive thinking to bring about lifestyle changes.

In addition to the web site itself, SparkPeople has published one book, The Spark, and has plans for more.  The company has also launched two mobile applications, Diet & Food Tracker from SparkPeople and Healthy Recipes from SparkRecipes, says McCosh.


As a former high school and college anatomy and physiology teacher, Jason Barkeloo was fascinated by the possibility of synthetically recreating what mitochondrion do naturally in eukaryotic cells - that is make energy for the cell. 

His company, Pilus Energy, has found a way to create this process in a "reactor" that can be used to harness energy from organic matter using bacteria as a source of electrons to create DC current.  In a partnership with Dan Hassett at the University of Cincinnati, the two have pioneered this new green energy that can take organic waste from farms, plant pulps and sewage and make it into electricity.

"We're unlocking another grid," says Barkeloo.  "We're providing a de-centralized energy solution that is untapped."

Pacific Gas & Electric in northern California has signed up for four pilot programs using the new reactor, says Barkeloo.  The company also has a pilot planned for a large agri-farm operation.  While wide scale use of the reactor may still be a ways away, the energy savings implications and environmental benefits from this new form of green electricity are far reaching.

OTR Electric Car Company

Bryan Vielhauer says it might be good publicity for his company if he got a ticket driving his electric car.  Not that he would seriously try to get a ticket, he explains, but he wants the public to know that these cars are not just large golf carts trying to pose as regular transportation.

"When we tell people we've gone 80 mph they seem surprised," he says.  "People still don't take them seriously."

Vielhauer wants to change that perception.  He started the company in 2007 in Over-the-Rhine because of his passion for automobiles and his determination to make electric energy a viable option for driving them using proven technology that has been around for decades.  He has logged over 14,000 miles now on his prototype Toyota pick-up and will soon be ready to take customer orders for converting regular gas cars to plug-in electric or hybrid type models. 

In the spirit of the first assembly line produced Fords, Vielhauer says he wants to make the cars accessible to everyone by making them affordable, something that is still an issue with much of the electric car technology available today.  He is also planning a rental program for the cars, so that consumers can experience them without a purchase.

Electric vehicles cost about .02 cents to charge per mile, he says, and save an operator about $4,000 per year in gas and maintenance.

"My goal is to see us greatly reduce our dependence on oil," says Vielhauer.


Children with severe scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, have only had a couple of options for treatment and none of the remedies offered long-term solutions to the pain and debilitation that the disease can inflict, says SpineForm president and founder Joe Reynolds.

Research in the 1990s by two Children's Hospital Medical Center doctors, Eric Wall and Donita Bylski-Austrow, led to a new device that will change the spinal surgery scoliosis patients receive and offer them hope for a better quality of life.

The device, called a HemiBridgeTM, is inserted into the patient's spine in a series of six to 10 implants that stop the curved growth pattern by putting pressure on the convex side of the deformity, says Reynolds.   New methods of minimally invasive thoracoscopic surgery make this treatment possible and make it much more advantageous than current surgery which requires fusion of the spinal column and requires a lengthy hospitalization and long recovery.

SpineForm is ready to undergo clinical trials as part of the process of getting FDA approval and expects to begin sales of its product within the next two to three years in some markets outside the U.S., says Reynolds.  With 30,000 patients in this country requiring extensive treatment for scoliosis yearly and an equal number in countries around the world, Reynolds says the new technology will make a difference in the lives of numerous young people.

Photography by Scott Beseler
Emersion DESIGN
OTR Electric Car Company
Joe Reynolds,