Founders : Cincinnati

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Katy Samuels, co-founder of Memories of Loved Ones

How did you start your business?  
My brother Scott and I are the co-founders of Memories of Loved Ones, or MoLo. We started our business with loans from our family after a mutual friend of ours, Keith Noble, passed away.  At Keith’s funeral there were many poster boards on display with original photographs.  Several years passed and the poster boards were eventually taken apart.

We started talking about how frustrating it was that Keith’s poster boards didn’t exist anymore and it got us to thinking – what do most families do with their pictures when they plan a funeral?  We found out that there are no good solutions available to families who want to preserve precious photos and memories of a loved one.

Once we had come up with our concept we decided to test our idea by offering our service for free to a friend that had lost his father.  We got great feedback and it confirmed that we had come up with a great idea.   

How did you come up the idea for your business?  
We couldn’t find any company that provided a service like this for a funeral.   There are tons of companies that can help you after a funeral but we are the first that helps you during that painful time. So, between Scott’s and my IT background, my background with Creative Memories [a program that helps convert physical photos and the like to digital images], and many other talents in our family, we were able to come up with a process that allowed us to provide this service to families very much in need of it.

What resources here did you take advantage of and how did they help?
Everyone that works with us is either a family member or close enough they are like family.  We are lucky to be part of a large family with many talents so we have done the majority of the work in house using as much “free help” as we can get.  Without the many talents in our family we would not be where we are today.  

To be honest, I can’t say we utilized many local resources initially.  We are now involved in groups like Bad Girl Ventures, and we’ll be meeting with a SCORE counselor next week.  I am part of a local business networking group called the Westside Referral Organization, and we’re also a part of the Delhi Business Association.

What does a typical day in your business look like?   
Our headquarters is located in my home, where we converted one side of my basement into our office.  When we’re working on projects, we’re usually here.  

Life can be a bit crazy for us!  Since we deal with funerals, our schedule is constantly changing.  When we are meeting a family onsite, we can be found in the “MoLo Mobile,” a bright purple and green, 35-foot RV (it was wrapped by our friends at Advertising Vehicles) – you can’t miss us driving down the street!  

Inside the RV, we have scanners and cameras that allow us to convert everything from photographs and keepsakes to digital onsite while meeting with a family.  

The RV is fun and casual as well – just like us!  There is plenty of diet coke, M&M’s and other junk food all on hand; we try to make the family feel as welcome and at ease as possible.

What’s next for you and your company?
We are still a small business just working toward that “break even” goal, yet the business seems to evolve every day and we’ve come so far in just two years.  We see significant growth potential with our business, and have considered pitching our idea to angel investors and VC firms with the goal of expanding and offering our service nationwide.  

If I had a dollar for every person who has told us this is the best idea they’ve heard of in years, or said, “You need to franchise this fast,” I’d be a rich person!

For now, we are happy to continue spreading the word, growing our local market and helping to make one more family’s life a little easier every day.   

Questions with Katy Samuels, co-founder of Memories of Loved Ones

Company:

Tony Alexander, founder of SimpleRegistry

How did you come up the idea for your business?
My partners and I had a previous startup called Traveler’s Joy that was (and is) a honeymoon registry service.  SimpleRegistry is a much larger extension of that idea into the broader wedding registry marketplace.  In addition, SimpleRegistry adds a baby registry, fundraising, and custom event registration to help capture a customer through various life events instead of “one and done” type of use.

What resources here did you take advantage of and how did they help?
Through my work over the past nine years and mentoring businesses in the area at places like The Brandery, I was able to build a great network of like-minded people.  When it came time to launch SimpleRegistry and we decided to go after outside investment, it was relatively easy to get in front of the right local folks.  Luckily, it worked out as CincyTech and others have already invested in our seed round.

What would you do differently if you started your business again?
I can’t really think of anything when it comes to SimpleRegistry.  It’s pretty new.  We have plenty of time to make lots of mistakes!  When it comes to my previous startup, I would have tried to start networking more at an earlier stage.  With Traveler’s Joy (started in 2004), I kind of put my head down for a few years getting it up and running and didn’t put myself out there and make many new friends in the entrepreneurial community during that time.

What’s next for you and your company?
We’re using our initial investment to ramp up our marketing and development budgets.  We’re still testing some things out but have seen great growth every month.  We hope to have 10,000 registries created this year and really look to expand that in 2013.

Questions with Tony Alexander, founder of SimpleRegistry

Company:

Eric Corti, founder of Air Cork

How did you start your business?
I assembled a working prototype made of toy balloons which I tested on several open bottles. When my wife tasted one that had been air corked for three days and enjoyed the taste, I knew I was on to something.

How did you come up the idea for your business?
My wife and I would each enjoy one glass of wine and then use a variety of wine preservers available to store the wine for a day or two. We found that all of the current wine preservation devices were not retaining the flavors and aromas in our wine. We were throwing away just as much wine as we were drinking, so we decided that there must be a better way -- a way to seal the wine at the surface of the wine within the bottle.

We diagnosed the problem and I saw a need to create a solution.

What resources here did you take advantage of and how did they help?
I contacted and asked advice from Cincinnati-area experts and consultants on how to manufacture a product which included design and trade-marking. Also, I sought the advice of a patent lawyer on the patenting process and how to get one.

What inspires you?
I enjoy solving problems and creating solutions that others can enjoy as well. Also, my love of wine helped.

What’s next for you and your company?
The next phase for Air Cork is growth and creating a presence in the wine market. After the International Housewares Show in Chicago, the company has received many orders. We are currently shipping the product to retailers in California, New York, Texas and many other locations across the country.

Interview by Robin Donovan

Questions with Eric Corti, founder of Air Cork

Company:

Phyllis Smith, founder of LSP Ware

How did you start your business? 
LSP Ware is an internet based software system that provides scheduling, tracking and billing for providers of language services. The program has actually been in use since 2008, when I was working as the CFO for a nonprofit that provides language services, including interpretations. The software system we were using didn’t meet the needs of the agency, its customers or its linguists. I knew there had to be a better way.

How did you come up the idea for your business?
My husband is a very talented software engineer with over 20 years of experience in project management, architecture, coding and design. He volunteered his time to help us out as a non-profit, creating the first version of LSP Ware.

We knew that we had some potential when I saw how much it helped the agency. When I began receiving letters from the linguists and customers telling us how much they liked the new system, I knew we were on to something. 

What resources here did you take advantage of and how did they help? 
When I decided to try to sell the product that we had developed, I didn't know where to start. I went to a SCORE seminar and was paired with a mentor. He has been an invaluable resource and cheerleader for the company. Through him, I learned about Bad Girl Ventures and became a finalist in the fourth class. Taking the classes through Bad Girl Ventures was an incredible experience. Besides making contacts, the class opened up so many resources that I never knew about. 

What inspires you? 
To think that an idea that came from a quick conversation with my husband and is now a product that helps linguists and language-service providers manage their business is pretty incredible.

What’s next for you and your company? 
We are updating our website and will be launching a marketing campaign to introduce LSP Ware to language service providers, hospitals, schools and any businesses with internal language-interpretation staff. As the non-English-speaking population is growing, there is more need for language services. Our program can help the providers in these niche markets operate more efficiently.

Interview by Robin Donovan

Questions with Phyllis Smith, founder of LSP Ware

Company:

Julie Jones of Solar Earth LLC

How did you start your business?
I’ve been interested in solar energy for a long time. I used to work for a division of Cinergy that developed on-site alternative-energy generation for industrial and municipal areas using greener forms of energy, like co-generation and biomass. I loved the green aspect of what we were doing, but solar wasn’t financially viable at the time. I left Cinergy after having my daughter, but continued to keep an eye on the solar market. Last summer, a friend of mine in the construction industry was talking to me about solar energy and said she wanted to start a solar panel installation company. I knew I could help, and we launched Solar Earth.

How did you come up with the idea for your business?
We did a lot of research into solar energy, and the more we looked, the more the time seemed just right for solar to take off. With the prices of panels dropping and the incentives available, an investment in solar energy will not only pay for itself, but will also make a nice return over the life of the panels.

What resources here did you take advantage of and how did they help?
We were finalist at Bad Girl Ventures, a micro-lending institute that supports female entrepreneurs. As finalists, we completed a nine-week boot camp that taught everything from legal structure to social media. We are also working with American Small Business Centers in Norwood. They counsel small businesses to help them grow and thrive.

What inspires you?
I have to admit I’m a bit of a tree-hugger. The environment and the effects of fossil fuels on the world and the economy are big motivations for me. But, I also love that solar power is a smart financial decision as well as being good for the environment. It really is a win-win.
 
What is next for your company?
Right now we are planning to host a couple Open Roof events. We are going to invite the public to come and see a solar panel installation in person. People will be able to learn all about solar energy; how it works, how it pays you back, and its incentives and benefits for the environment. Also, people can see how quickly a solar panel array goes up.

Compiled by Robin Donovan

Questions with Julie Jones of Solar Earth LLC

Company:

Jason Perkins of EAT! Mobile Dining

How did you start your business?
I have always had a passion for food and cooking. This led me to culinary school after getting a degree in philosophy from Xavier University. After seven years in the flavor industry [working for a company that made natural and artificial flavors], I realized I wanted to serve real food to real people.

How did you come up the idea for your business?
I have done catering on the side for a very long time and when I looked at renting commercial kitchen space, I realized I could put together a food truck for about the same price.

A lot of things that go into a food truck are filling a niche. Everyone’s used to a taco truck and everyone’s used to a burger truck. There’s no need to double up yet. I prefer to cook more upscale, bistro-style cuisine. To put a menu together, I tried to find stuff that would cook fairly quickly. People understand when they look at the menu that it’s going to take a second, but nothing I make takes more than 3, 4 or 5 minutes, tops.

What resources here did you take advantage of and how did they help?
Family and friends helped me go through a lot of trial and error. I started with 60 or 70 menu items and then whittled it down. I also had some help with capital and financing to get started.

What inspires you?
Good food -- which can be a greasy spoon diner -- food that’s prepared well, prepared to order and uses ingredients you’d expect. I went to a Mexican joint, ordered – I don’t eat meat – and my meal wasn’t on the vegetarian menu. When it came out, it was cooked in lard. In my opinion, that’s still good food because it was cooked properly -- in a good Mexican place the food is cooked in lard. While I didn’t eat it, I wasn’t upset.

What’s next for you and your company?
Preparing food for the folks downtown and building a regular client base. Primarily, the food truck market as I see it is 18 to 46-year-old people who have mobility and are going out and doing things during the day, but want something nicer than a burger and fries. I have high standards for myself, my staff and my food, and I already have some folks that are very regular customers.
 

Questions with Jason Perkins of EAT! Mobile Dining

Company:

E. Aretha Ford of ETP-FunParty

How did you start your business?
Having more than 18 years as a party-sales consultant for Fun Parties/Good Time Parties USA, I enjoyed learning, inspiring and seeing that “awww” look on women’s faces as they learned new healthy, intimate facts about themselves. I started ETP-FunParty about three years ago.

How did you come up the idea for your business?
There are numerous FUN party [home-party] companies out there. My company’s niche is to welcome everyone to speak freely about their experience, to ask questions they may not been able to ask family or friends. We offer parties not just for women but also welcome LGBT customers and receive questions from men about health issues and how to keep passion alive.

What resources here did you take advantage of and how did they help?
I’m an alumna of Bad Girl Ventures’ fourth class. This is a nine-week business development course taught by successful business owners and professionals from the local community. I learned so much, including accounting, attorneys, social media and much more. I was paired up with a Score mentor through BGV. Months after completing the course, my mentor and I are still working closely together.

What inspires you?
My inspiration comes from my customers. After we play games, share stores and get to know each other, it’s priceless to see the look upon the ladies’ (of all ages) faces when the educational section of the party begins. There’s nothing to describe receiving a phone call or text message from a customer who purchased an enhancer, and her overjoyed expression is, “He loved it – no, we loved it -- thank you for the suggestion!”

Once, I was at an event and a customer’s husband hugged me tightly and whispered into my ear, “That was the best purchase my wife ever made. Thank you so much!” To see couples rekindle their spark is my everyday inspiration.

What’s next for you and your company?
For the past three years, I’ve run both the front and back ends of the business, from booking parties to hosting them. This year, I’ve transitioned and re-launched as a full-fledged, direct-sales, party-planning company, and plan to hire sales consultants both locally and nationwide.

Compiled by Robin Donovan

Questions with E. Aretha Ford of ETP-FunParty

Company:

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