First Batch welcomes new class of manufacturing companies

Cincinnati's only manufacturing accelerator program has selected its 2015 class of companies, and they’re already hard at work.
“Our goal with the program is to say that First Batch is your first step, and probably not the final step, for the companies or their manufacturing partners,” says First Batch founder Matt Anthony.
After reviewing applications from across the country as well as from Germany and Estonia, four regional candidates were selected:
• Laura Koven’s company AVA will be producing a device geared to help hot yoga practitioners with grip as well as reduce the amount of equipment needed for a class.
Beluga Razor, created by Zac Wertz, is a high-end straight-blade razor with a linen-impregnated handle providing extra grip when wet. Wertz recently completed a $200,000 Kickstarter campaign and has 2,000 pre-orders.
• Ron Gerdes started Mortal Skis to manufacture skis that fit the icy, man-made, often less-than-ideal snow conditions typically found on Midwest slopes. Mortal Skis will also be looking at ski supplies, like wax, that could also be better adapted to Midwestern conditions.
Paper Acorn, a six-year-old company run by Jessica Wolf, has been selling folded paper objects through Etsy and Crafty Supermarket and is expanding into producing DIY kits.
Each First Batch company is facing a different challenge. Fortunately, First Batch staff and advisers are well networked in the Cincinnati manufacturing and business communities and ready to help their new class.
Paper Acorn, the most established company, is looking at diversifying and expanding their product line.
“Manufacturing won’t be that difficult,” Anthony says. “The question will be how to transform the business to fit a new model.”
Although Beluga Shave Co. has funding and customers lined up, Wertz has struggled with navigating the manufacturing process. Anthony is confident First Batch can help.
“There is a lot of metal industry in Cincinnati, especially in machining,” he says. “I don’t think we’ll have an issue finding someone here to do this.”
Mortal Skis might have the most daunting challenge — finding a local company to manufacture skis. But after working with Ohio Valley Beard Supply in 2014, First Batch does have connections to companies who could help produce a Midwest-friendly ski wax.
First Batch had initially hoped to have six members for its 2015 class and is considering modifying its business model for the two remaining spaces.
“Usually we have to pick someone far enough along on the prototype and capable of doing their own production work, where it’s ready to go to manufacturing,” Anthony says. “We’ve had people apply where the idea isn’t far enough along, it still needs a lot of work or more steps than the First Batch timeline can support. We also have people who are too far along for First Batch.
“We’re exploring how we can support everyone in this region by supporting start ups that don’t fit our current profile. Are there other ways that we can provide ongoing support, provide connections, create spots that are more of a long-term support?”
This year, First Batch and its parent organization Cincinnati Made will conducting more outreach during the accelerator program.
“So many times I talk to people about the program and hear, ‘I didn’t know anyone still made anything in Cincinnati’ and it just drives me crazy,” Anthony says. “People drive down Spring Grove Avenue but assume the factories are all abandoned. It’s a big goal for our program to talk about our relationship with the manufacturers.”
Cincinnati Made started offering manufacturing tours this spring to showcase local manufacturers, including National Flag Company, New Riff Distilling and Steam Whistle Letterpress. Members of the 2015 First Batch class can take part in the tours. Their program will also include topical presentations as well as speakers who are able to provide one-on-one advice to each company.
First Batch participants had orientation last week and are now being matched with mentors. Each company will have two or three mentors to provide advice and guidance throughout the program. Mentors will also help make sure the companies are on track with the manufacturing plan they establish with First Batch staff.
At the end of their five-month program, the class of 2015 will have a final Launch Day, “which is not quite the same as a demo day,” Anthony says. “We hope the final production run is done, but in practice that often isn’t how it ends up happening. I hope we have lots of things to show, at least the production-ready prototype. The companies will talk about what they have done through the First Batch process, what they will produce in their first batch and where they want to go after that.”
First Batch is supported by Cincinnati Made as well as The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and TSS. It was highlighted by Dwell magazine in May as one of the country’s hottest design incubators.

Read more articles by Julie Carpenter.

Julie Carpenter has a background in cultural heritage tourism, museums, and nonprofit organizations. She's the Executive Director of AIA Cincinnati.