2015 was a huge year for Cincinnati innovation

Greater Cincinnati has been working hard this year to earn the #StartupCincy hashtag and become a national and global hub for innovation.
From the first apartments targeted for entrepreneurs to numerous philanthropic experiments to universities actively supporting startups and commercialization, 2015 will go down as the year that growth and innovation exploded across our region. New ideas have been celebrated through creative funding strategies and events, and Cincinnati is attracting more fresh talent to the burgeoning scene.
We’ve attempted here to recap Soapbox’s innovation and entrepreneurship coverage throughout the year in order to stand back and marvel at the scene’s collective accomplishments while getting ready for more in 2016. (Nancy Yerian and Julie Carpenter take turns recapping the 2015 efforts and results.)
The Brandery
It’s been a big year for Cincinnati’s premier startup incubator program, starting with its first hack-a-thon in the spring, followed by announcements of a new general manager, Tony Alexander, and a new fellowship program with Procter & Gamble. In the summer, The Brandery moved offices into the new Union Hall on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine, opened its new housing development nearby at 12th and Walnut streets and welcomed its sixth class of startups by increasing initial investment to $50,000 for each. (JC)
The Covington-based startup accelerator began the year with a career fair to connect students to startups, then promptly graduated the third class of its six-month program with a Demo Day at NKU. UpTech is currently well into its fourth class, announced in August, and now operates under the leadership of JB Woodruff, formerly the accelerator’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence, who has big plans for growing and improving the program. (NY)
New CEO Wendy Lea led the influential fund of funds through an exciting 2015, joining The Brandery and CincyTech in the restored Union Hall offices. Cintrifuse hosted the “inside-out” NewCo conference in July, featuring over 80 regional businesses and welcoming nearly 900 participants to Cincinnati. At its annual meeting in October, the organization announced a new partnership with Israeli crowdfunding platform OurCrowd to increase the reach of Cincinnati’s startup community. (JC)
People’s Liberty
The organization is capping a very busy first full year of philanthropic experimentation, having awarded its first and second rounds of $10,000 project grants as well as the first round of $15,000 Globe Grants. The first two $100,000 Haile Fellowships are wrapping up, as Brad Cooper’s Start Small tiny homes development has broken ground and Brad Schnittger’s Music.Li music licensing platform has launched. In addition, the “Society of Mad Philanthropists” has provided residency and internship opportunities to several young creatives as well as funding for other projects like Cincy Sundaes and Curb’d. They’ll start the new year by launching a re-designed Haile Fellowship application. (NY)
The seed-fund investment group also moved into offices at Union Hall, which will henceforth be known as Startup Cincy Central. With 60 companies in its portfolio this year, CincyTech also welcomed record attendance at its annual Big Breakfast + Startup Showcase at Duke Energy Convention Center. The CincyTech model of investment fund is being studied by Akron in hopes of replicating its success. (JC)
It’s been a momentous year for the entrepreneurship accelerator that focuses on long-term residents and minorities in neighborhoods experiencing growth and transition. Mortar graduated the first and second classes of its nine-week entrepreneurship program in Over-the-Rhine, then undertook an expansion into the Walnut Hills neighborhood for the third class and opened a second pop-up shop, Brick 939, just in time for holiday shopping. The third class of startups graduates Dec. 15 with the “Life’s a Pitch” event, and future classes will alternate between the two neighborhoods. (NY)
The second annual Big Pitch featured eight small businesses this fall: Brush Factory, Butcher Betties, Cityscape Tiles, Cut and Sewn, Grateful Grahams, Original Thought Required, Roebling Point Books & Coffee and We Have Become Vikings. Brush Factory took home both the judges and audience prizes, totaling $20,000. ArtWorks’ Co-Starters nine-week business development program graduated four more classes of creative entrepreneurs in 2015. (JC)
The faith-based accelerator program welcomed its first class of startups in the spring: Arena 19, benobe, Blue Seat Media, Casamatic, Cerkl, Lyfeboat, Quality Renters, Ringer, Searen and StreamSpot. (JC)
The University of Cincinnati has begun building a research accelerator in its old campus services building and is working to provide more support to startups and the ecosystem of commercialization acceleration. The school of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning (DAAP) was active in a partnership to designing ideas for the Brewery District Brewing Heritage Trail.
Xavier University has supported innovation all year long, beginning with the opening of their Center for Innovation, fully equipped with a MakerBot 3D printing center. Those MakerBots took center stage in the first University of the Future Design Challenge, and some are even housed in the XHaus, a space opened in September in the storefront of Union Hall on Vine Street in OTR.
Northern Kentucky University built strong relationships this year, participating in regional events like Global Entrepreneurship Week and hosting events like UpTech’s Demo Day in March. The College of Informatics, which has an ongoing partnership with UpTech, is working to give students a global perspective on innovation. The college has also been instrumental in the development of several apps, from education apps that “gameify” STEM for students and teach CPR to apps that connect the homeless to services. (NY)
First Batch
Cincinnati’s manufacturing business accelerator made news this summer as one of Dwell magazine’s “hottest design incubators” and as winner of a $50,000 award from the U.S. Small Business Administration Growth Accelerator Fund Competition during the first ever White House Demo Day. First Batch also welcomed its third class: AVA, Beluga Shave, Mortal Ski and Paper Acorn. Mortal Ski has pre-sold 80 percent of its first batch of skiis, and Paper Acorn is having a busy holiday market season. (JC)
Bad Girl Ventures
Nancy Aichholz joined Bad Girl Ventures in April as its new executive director, and the female-focused organization unveiled its restructured Explore, Launch, Grow curriculum in the fall, designed to address all stages of the business cycle. The first Explore class started in September with 36 participants, and the first Launch class will begin in February. BGV was recognized recently by Forbes as one of the 10 best accelerators for helping women scale their companies. (JC)
Social Enterprise
Social Enterprise CINCY has been working to connect and booster social entrepreneurship through events like Social Enterprise Week and networking meetups. Social Venture Partners hosted its second annual Fast Pitch event, and one of the startup winners, Lawn Life, went on to be honored at the Philanthropitch International event in Austin, Tex. Unpolished debuted in September as a two-day conference focused on the intersection of faith and entrepreneurship featuring national and local presenters. (NY)
Creative Funding Approaches
Cincinnati saw the debut of two new innovative funding programs in 2015, Transform Cincinnati and Engage Cincy, as well as the return of micro-funding program Cincy Sundaes. Transform Cincinnati looked to match big ideas with big dollars via competitive grants, with the finalists including 3CDC, 4C for Children, Cincinnati Development Fund, Lighthouse Youth Services and a UC Health/Cintrifuse collaboration. The Cincinnati City Manager’s office unveiled its Engage Cincy program to fund five innovative ideas that generate community engagement. Cincy Sundaes, a quarterly ice cream social/idea pitch day, has funded nine projects in two years and will return in 2016. (JC)
The all-volunteer Greater Cincinnati chapter of the Small Business Association has provided another year of free mentoring and guidance to startups and small businesses. In October, leadership named its Clients of the Year to recognize mentees who had performed exceptionally well in 2015. (NY)

The downtown data analytics firm (formed after Kroger purchased Dunnhumby USA) launched a Startup in Residence program in June, providing co-working space and mentorship opportunities to four graduates of regional accelerator programs. (JC)

The Hamilton County Development Company announced a name change to HCDC Inc. at the beginning of 2015 to project a single identity for its three major services: small business lending, business incubation and economic development. Its incubation space in Norwood is over 80 percent full, housing more than 40 startup businesses, and graduated 11 more startups in 2015. (NY)

Nancy Yerian and Julie Carpenter are the regular weekly contributors to Soapbox's Innovation + Job News section. Some of the original IJN stories in 2015 were written by Kristen Franke, whom we wish the best in her new adventures in Austin, Tex.
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