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Last call for Brandery applications; accelerator offers more than ever to new class


This Thursday, April 16, The Brandery will close the applicant process for its 2015 accelerator class. This year, program hopefuls have even more to gain by putting their names in the mix.
 
The Brandery, in partnership with Urban Sites, has leased two residential buildings in Over-the-Rhine to house their program participants. The Brandery is the first accelerator in the nation to create such a housing model, answering a persistent call from young entrepreneurs hoping to take advantage of what Cincinnati has to offer without breaking the bank.
 
Many startups that come through The Brandery move long distances to take advantage of the accelerator's reputation and services. By providing subsidized rent prices to members of the program, the organization hopes to entice a wide variety of applicants by taking an expensive housing search out of the equation.
 
The apartment development opens June 1, just in time for the incoming Brandery class to experience the new perk. The buildings are located near 12th and Walnut, a few blocks from The Brandery, and will place the new class in walking distance of several flourishing Brandery alumni. Each building will contain 14 two-bedroom units.
 
The newest Brandery class is also eligible for two Procter & Gamble fellowships this year. The fellowships provide further support to growing startups, particularly when it comes to intelligent marketing and business strategy.
 
Procter & Gamble has provided these fellowships in the past to the startups that show promise in specific fields. This year, P&G is looking for companies specializing in Connected Products and Platforms, Seamless Brand Building & Commerce or Big Data & Analytics. All Brandery applicants are automatically considered for the fellowships.
 
If you're interested in applying to this year's class, stop by The Brandery's final office hours this Thursday and meet the selection team in person. Though office hours are optional, they're highly recommended — register for a meeting here.
 

Electric car charging gets jolt from city government efforts


Electric car charging station access just got a little bit easier in Cincinnati with the opening of five DC Fast Charger stations around the city.
 
The first new charging station opened in March at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, with four additional units up and running at the University of Cincinnati, Xavier University, Cincinnati State and Findlay Market.
 
These new stations are Level 3 chargers, which can bring most electric cars to a full charge in 20 minutes. Level 1 chargers take up to 12 hours for a full charge and are used at home by most electric car owners. Level 2 chargers provide a full charge in four to six hours. 
 
There are three models of Level 3 chargers: one for U.S. and European car models, one for vehicles manufactured in Asia and one specific to Tesla cars. Larry Falkin, director of the city's Office of Environment and Sustainability, says “the installed chargers work with any vehicle that can accept a DC Fast Charger. They are hard wired with two types of plugs to accommodate both the Asian and the U.S./European protocols. Teslas will need to use an adapter, which is available from Tesla.”
 
The DC Fast Chargers use approximately $2 of electricity for a full charge. All of the new charging stations are accessible to the public with no fee to charge a vehicle, though regular parking rates may apply.
 
In addition to the new Level 3 stations, there are three Tesla-specific chargers in the AT580 building garage on Sixth at Walnut for use by building tenants and 21c Museum Hotel guests. The new Dunnhumby Centre Garage at Fifth and Race streets has three Level 2 charging stations that can accommodate six cars. 3CDC plans to include charging stations in future parking garage developments.
 
Electric car usage in Southwest Ohio continues to grow, with an estimated 3,000 electric cards registered in the region. The city of Cincinnati has an All-Electric Vehicle Incentive Program that offers free parking at the Garfield Garage and at any parking meter in the city. Participation in the program has more than doubled in the last year, from 28 to 64 enrolled vehicles.
 
The charging stations record patterns of usage, and the data will be used to evaluate the demand for the stations and to plan for future charging station needs.
 

Noble Denim looks to Kickstarter campaign to help launch second clothing line


Over-the-Rhine-based Noble Denim plans to launch a new clothing line, Victor Athletics, if its Kickstarter campaign succeeds. The second line will feature vintage-style athletic wear for men and women made from organic materials.
 
Co-founder Abby Sutton says the new brand is the result of two concurrent trends: customer feedback asking for lower-priced clothing and Noble’s factory asking for more work.

“Noble Denim has worked with the same partner factory in Tennessee for the last two years, and our relationship with them is very important to us,” she says. “We are always focused on giving our factory as much work as possible, but we’ve been hesitant to expand Noble’s production too much because we wanted to keep our focus on limited-edition items.

“We stepped back and saw a gap. There are people telling us they are ready to buy U.S.-made clothing at a more accessible price and factories desperate for the opportunity to grow. That’s why we created Victor.”
 
Noble Denim and Victor Athletics will operate in tandem but with different products, styles and distribution plans.

Victor Athletics will be sold online and release new styles on the seasonal fashion industry schedule. Online distribution eliminates mark-ups and keeps consumer costs lower, Sutton explains. Noble Denim will continue its small-batch production and retail distribution, which she says will be expanding into new markets.
 
Victor Athletics is wrapping up an ambitious $100,000 Kickstarter campaign, the company’s first, and Sutton says they pursued it to allow early Noble Denim backers to have a sense of ownership in the company.

“We see the sad state of American clothing today as an issue that belongs to all of us, and we want Victor to be a brand where the customer is deeply engaged in helping us making the change,” she says. “It’s a vulnerable thing to be on Kickstarter, and it’s uncomfortable to be able to measure our success in a very public way. But we want our backers to feel that we are relying on them to make this happen, because we are.

“At the end of the day, no matter how amazing our products are, the statistics won’t shift until people see this story as important and as a story that belongs to them, too. It’s the people’s commitment to our factories that will give them work. Kickstarter creates an all-or-nothing environment where that kind of ownership becomes possible.”
 
With just a few days left to reach their goal, Sutton says the company’s most effective pitch is to point out that 80 percent of the clothes Americans wore in 1980 were made in the U.S. but that number is down to 2 percent today — causing small-town American factories to close as a result and harming thousands of workers and families.

“By choosing to employ rural American factories again, Victor prioritizes how the clothes are sewn,” she says. “In fact, we’re going even farther by giving 5 percent of our after-tax profit back to the factory to continue to invest in their workers and combat the impact of outsourcing.
 
“If you wear clothes and you live in America, our story is for you. Our values are important to us, but we also don’t think people should buy Made in America on sentiment alone. At the end of the day, we’re making really awesome clothes.”

The Victor Athletics Kickstarter campaign ends on April 15.
 

STEM Bicycle Club rolls hands-on learning into eight schools


Students at eight area schools will learn hands-on STEM skills while reverse-engineering a bike during a 10-week bicycle building workshop this spring.
 
The Greater Cincinnati STEM Bicycle Club is a demonstration project of the Greater Cincinnati STEM Collaborative (GCSC). Kathie Maynard, GCSC convener as well as director of community partnership at UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services, describes the collaborative as a “STEM education accelerator. It is really about innovating the types of education that we should be having: connected to the real world and to careers. We really want the programs we develop to have a partnership between the K-12 schools, business and industry and community partners.”
 
GCSC launched the Greater Cincinnati STEM Bicycle Club in 2014 as a partnership among Woodward Career Technical High School, General Electric and Time Warner Cable. Students worked with mentors in a weekly after-school workshop learning science and math skills, developing their mechanical abilities and writing about their experiences.
 
Results for the 2014 program were so positive that GCSC is expanding the STEM Bicycle Club to seven other schools in six local school districts: Aiken High School (Cincinnati Public), Amelia Middle School (West Clermont Local School District), Campbell County Middle School, Clermont Northeastern Middle School, Holmes Middle School (Covington Independent School District), Ockerman Middle School (Boone County Schools) and R. A. Jones Middle School (Boone County Schools). Woodward (Cincinnati Public) will continue its participation.
 
Maynard says the selection of participating schools reflects GCSC’s efforts “to be inclusive and representative of the region. We most certainly have a heavy emphasis on high-needs schools and at-risk students, but at the same time we really think STEM education (science, technology, engineering, math) is a larger problem than any single school or any single district.”
 
The expanded program also illustrates GCSC’s community-based approach. Walmart is providing funding and materials for the 2015 Greater Cincinnati STEM Bicycle Club and connecting seven of their stores with schools in the community. Maynard says that the hope is to “create the deep partnerships so that one day every kid every year has multiple and extended exposure with these types of authentic STEM experiences (science, technology, engineering and math).”
 
Time Warner and GE have each expressed a commitment to continue their involvement with Woodward and begin new relationships with two other schools, “a sign of success that we are creating lasting partnerships and places where business and industry can really hook into a school and provide help,” according to Maynard.
 
The 10-week program concludes with a May 30 celebration at UC for all eight schools along with business and community partners. Maynard anticipates several big announcements will be made at the event, including that all eight schools will participate in the 2016 program. GCSC hopes to expand the 2016 program exponentially — to 40 area schools — if funding and partners can be secured.
 
GCSC will also be announcing the details two other demonstration projects — one operating on the same model as the Bicycle Club but focused on 3D printing, the other a STEAM collaboration.
 
“Even though we don't always say STEAM (adding arts) we most certainly think that the arts are critical for the development of the whole child … bringing what the arts have to offer in the making, in the dialogue and in the design thinking,” Maynard says. “Those creativity anchors are critical to becoming a STEM innovator.”
 
Demonstration programs are one aspect of GCSC’s work.
 
“Our larger role is to get partners together and look for alignment,” Maynard says. “Convening a group and really starting to have those hard conversations around some of the larger problems, like lack of girls in STEM education, then dream about what the solutions are and create projects that address those answers.”
 
For the 113 kids participating in the STEM Bicycle Club this spring, their dreams of getting their own bike are about to come true — with some assembly required.
 

Xavier students focus April 15 TEDx talk on "hope"


Xavier's student-run Innovation Society will host its fourth "TEDxXavierUniversity" event on April 15, titled "Hope: A Driving Force for the Future." The session is licensed by TED, the international nonprofit organization focused on bringing innovative ideas and solutions to light through short speaker sessions.

The organization created TEDx to allow local self-organized groups to follow their lead and spark discussion on topics with local, national and international implications.
 
TEDxXavierUniversity is one of three TEDx chapters currently running in the area. The University of Cincinnati just held its first event last week, and Cincinnati boasts its own city chapter. Xavier prides itself in being the first fully student-run organization in the area to hold such an event.
 
Xavier's TEDx event will collect speakers from a variety of backgrounds united by the single theme of "hope." Those anticipated to contribute include Seth Walsh, a Xavier alum and project director at the Community Development Corporations Association here who will be speaking on urban development and how the city can approach city renewal in a more organic way.
 
"Seth is focused on finding ways to truly 'unlock' Cincinnati," says Ian Borczon, president of Xavier's Innovation Society. "He hopes to encourage the audience to look into local communities, find the hidden gems and then bring them to light."
 
Walsh's talk will also focus on the side effects of urban expansion.

Additional speakers like Dr. Helen Farrell, a Harvard Medical School professor, will contribute to the discussion by examining mental illness and the stigma associated with it. Nate Pelletier, the current executive director of Joseph House for Homeless Veterans, will discuss ways in which individuals can more effectively find success after service. Sarah Thomas, another Xavier alum, will contribute with thoughts on how small businesses can be the engine to ignite growth and social change.
 
Also adding to the discussion will be Bob McEwan, an Executive in Residence at Xavier who hopes to encourage millennials to escape the stereotypes that deem them "technology-obsessed" and "unmotivated." In doing so, he wants to inspire a generation that has perhaps been unfairly overlooked.

The simple fact that TEDxXavierUniversity is entirely organized by college students only further supports McEwan's message.
 
In fact, Borczon and the Innovation Society settled on "hope" as a topic in response to the noticeably cynical attitude toward their generation that seems to proliferate in the media.
 
"It's nice to see 19- to 22-year-olds concerned about these global issues, and this provides us with an outlet," Borczon says. "There is definitely enough drive and passion here."
 
The event will take place 5-7:30 p.m. April 15 at the Kennedy Auditorium in Xavier's Conaton Learning Commons. Tickets are free for students and faculty and $25 for outside attendees and can be purchased here.
 

Zipscene launches first data management platform geared to restaurants


Cincinnati-based restaurant marketing company Zipscene has launched zDMP, the first and largest data management platform (DMP) specifically for the restaurant industry.
 
Many restaurants use customer relationship management software to handle newsletters, loyalty programs, waiting lists, point-of-sale and online ordering. zDMP broadens typical data analysis by using that software to dig deeper on existing customers and reach people who aren’t current customers.
 
“The zDMP collects and analyzes a customer relationship management system’s database or list to understand the behaviors of those customers,” Zipscene Director of Strategic Marketing Tony Blankemeyer says. “It then works across our data warehouses of more than 250 million identified profiles to enrich the information on those customers and then leverage the combined insights to better communicate with them in the future.”

This targeted approach to data collection and analysis can be a powerful tool for restaurant owners, particularly as they consider how to allocate marketing dollars.
 
“Data can be a restaurant’s most valuable asset,” Zipscene CEO Sameer Mungur says. “The zDMP was built to put restaurant marketers in control of their data and their results. Many restaurants are using marketing and advertising programs, but if it’s all being done in separate silos they stand to lose from not being able to see the full picture of their data.
 
“With our zDMP and expert analysis, we give restaurant marketers the ability to use their marketing spend as a function of the value of each of their guests. Instead of wasting budget on marketing to those who don’t respond, there’s finally a way for restaurants to invest in their guests, and potential guests, who make the largest impact on sales.”
 
Zipscene clients include 60 national restaurant chains. Each receives solution sets customizable to their unique data sources and collection strategies. As restaurants learn more about their current clients, they’re better able to target their marketing outreach, like not sending coupons for steak to vegetarians.
 
Although Zipscene currently is working primarily with large clients, Blankemeyer says, “in the long term we hope to provide a solution for independents and smaller restaurant groups. Big or small, we believe that by decoding the dining decision we can help influence buying behavior through smarter marketing.”
 
In addition to improving relationships with current customers, zDMP also helps restaurants reach new customers. By crunching vast quantities of data, zDMP can find potential customers based on current customer profiles and provide guidance on how to reach them.
 
“Examples of data points we collect and analyze include 400-plus unique demographic data points, 40 socio-economic segment groupings, 40-plus unique buying behaviors and social media that are all tied back to the individual customer,” Blankemeyer says. “We factor in restaurant location attributes such as menu, cuisine types, price, rating, hours of operation and amenities such as wi-fi, valet and more. We also connect relevant information regarding points of interest in relation to the customer or the location such as sporting events, airports, hotels, theaters and more.”
 
Data collection and interpretation is an ongoing effort with every client, he says. As each campaign is completed and evaluated, the results are added to zDMP, then used to refine the next campaign.
 
Although perfection may not be a realistic expectation, Zipscene knows significant improvement is possible with the right data.
 

OTR Chamber hosts Star Awards April 7


The Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce holds its 2015 Annual Meeting and Star Awards luncheon April 7 to celebrate the individuals and organizations who are leading efforts to improve the neighborhood. 
 
The awards recognize individuals and businesses in 10 categories, including New Business, Nonprofit, Entrepreneur and Community Impact of the year. Nominations were solicited at the start of the year from the public through Facebook, Twitter and outreach to Chamber members, stakeholders and the media.
 
“We are really fortunate to have a neighborhood full of stakeholders who are truly passionate about Over-the-Rhine and excited about the momentum,” says Chamber President Emilie Johnson, “as well as the opportunity to nominate and potentially be awarded a Star Award.”
 
In addition to the Star Awards, the luncheon will feature Cincinnati Reds CEO Bob Castellini as keynote speaker.

“We always try to find someone who can share some unique insight and experience with the neighborhood for the keynote,” Johnson says. “This year Bob Castellini will give the big picture of things going in the neighborhood.”
 
Johnson will highlight the Chamber's accomplishments in the past year, including an update on the Business Innovation Challenge, a new Chamber program launched in 2014. The Chamber received 17 applications last year and awarded $1,000 grants to Steam Whistle Letterpress and We Have Become Vikings.

At the luncheon, Johnson will announce the opening of nominations for a second round of the Business Innovation Challenge.

“We have received some fantastic support, including from Fifth Third Bank, who will be a presenting sponsor for the program,” she says.
 
This as been a busy spring for the OTR Chamber, which recently moved its office from 13th and Clay to 14th and Walnut. The new office is located within one block of Vine, Main and Liberty streets.
 
The move was prompted, in part, by the Clay location becoming a “great connector corner,” according to Johnson.
 
“In any kind of urban planning or development the more active uses you can get on your corner, the more consumer-facing businesses, the better,” she says. “We were sitting on an important corner.”

The Chamber has moved offices several times over the years, responding to development needs in the neighborhood. Although a central location is ideal, the space the Chamber occupies within a building is even more important.

“We love to be on the street level,” Johnson says. “It's the nature of our work, and the stakeholders we support are also very much at street level.”
 
Members and neighbors will have an opportunity to check out the new Chamber office space at an open house later this summer.

The April 7 Annual Meeting and Star Awards luncheon begins at 12 noon at Music Hall, with doors opening at 11:30. Tickets are still available, with reservations required by March 31.
 

Local pet toy company launches new product via Kickstarter


Zigoo, a Cincinnati-based dog toy company, has launched its first Kickstarter campaign to fund its new Nutty Jar.
 
Like other Zigoo products, the Nutty Jar offers a safe way to give a dog the treats they love — in this case, peanut butter. The Nutty Jar is made of chew-proof, non-toxic and dishwasher-safe materials and lets pet owners spread peanut butter inside the jar for their dogs to enjoy. And unlike many treat dispensers, it's easy to clean.
 
This Kickstarter campaign, running through April 11, has been a welcome challenge for Zigoo founder Zach Day.

“I've always wanted to try Kickstarter, and things fell into place for this toy,” he says. “Finding funds to bring products to life can be difficult for any business, but that's a big motivation to try Kickstarter. ... The experience is something that's hard to prepare for if you have never been through it before. There is a lot to pre-work in trying to nail your pitch, from laying out the backer rewards to developing a compelling video. Then there is flipping on the switch and hoping others will love your idea as much as you do. It's a roller coaster ride.”

Zigoo partnered with Cincinnati-based Rebel Pilgrim Productions to help with their campaign.
 
If the campaign is successful, Kickstarter backers can expect to receive their Nutty Jar in August, with retail availability to follow.
 
Day is a Cincinnati native who pitched for three Major League Baseball teams between 2002 and 2006. He's enthusiastic about Cincinnati's innovative spirit.

“Cincinnati has proved to be a great location to start my company, and its entrepreneurial reputation is growing,” Day says. “I hope to become more involved in the entrepreneur movement in Cincinnati moving forward.”

In addition to the Nutty Jar, Zigoo also produces the Crinkit, a chewable sleeve to turn water bottles into safe dog toys; the Veggout, a chew-based distribution device for carrots or other treats; and the Boing, an easily cleanable tug and throw toy. Zigoo's first toy, the Crinkit, won an Innovation Award from Cincinnati Innovates in 2012.
 
Zigoo pet toys are distributed through independent pet stores nationwide and retail for $9.99-$19.99.
 

Learn how to build a business from some of the region's top entrepreneurs


The UC Center for Entrepreneurship and Commercialization hosts a free event on Thursday, April 2 that draws together some of the region’s top experts on starting a business.

“Igniting Future Entrepreneurs,” sponsored by Northwestern Mutual, will feature panelists ranging from financial advisors to startup junkies. The 4:30-6 p.m. event is open to the public and will involve a structured panel discussion, a Q&A session and an opportunity to network with the speakers.

Included on the impressive list of speakers are Matthew Dooley, founder of Kapture; Tim Brunk, serial startup founder and co-founder of the Ocean accelerator; John Habbert, co-founder of the Queen City Angels investor group; and Thomas Dalziel, executive director of UC’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Commercialization. Representatives from Northwestern Mutual’s Cincinnati office, including Managing Director Jackie Purcell and Managing Partner Shawn Kelley, will also play an active role in driving the conversation.

Northwestern Mutual is based out of Milwaukee and boasts an impressive network of financial advisors and agents nationwide. Though the path of a Northwestern Mutual agent is more guided and structured than that of a startup founder, there are elements to the job that involve maintaining an entrepreneurial spirit. Kelly and Purcell hope to bring sound advice and perspective to event attendees.

“The purpose of this event to educate students who have an interest in becoming entrepreneurs and open their eyes to different ways they can become their own business owner,” says Courtney Shoemaker, director of recruitment for Northwestern Mutual's West Chester office. “Future entrepreneurs should attend because they will be able to hear successful entrepreneurs stories on their journey to success.”

Each panelist will be asked about their failures and successes along the way, and a full hour will be dedicated to a Q&A session driven by attendees’ curiosities. 

Though the April 2 event is targeted toward students, anyone with interest in entrepreneurism is encouraged to attend. Registration is not required; those who wish to attend should arrive at the Tangeman University Center on UC’s campus prior to the 4 p.m. start time. A signup sheet will be available at the door of Room 427 upon entry.
 

Cincinnati startup Lisnr comes full circle at SXSW


AUSTIN, TEX. — It all started on a bus. 

In 2012, before the name “Lisnr” had reached many ears at all, several Cincinnati entrepreneurs joined the crowd on the StartupBus, a kind of accelerator-on-wheels that brings entrepreneurs together for a three-day bus trip where they can develop a business strategy and plan a pitch. The journey allows the riders to connect with important industry figures as well as get a feel for how their concept may be received on a grander scale and ends at South By Southwest in Austin, the annual music, film and interactive media superfestival.

At the close of the 2012 bus trip and subsequent SXSW experience, Lisnr’s journey had begun.

Lisnr is the Cincinnati company known for their Smart Tone ultrasonic technology that transfers data through audio. With a constantly growing client base that includes big names like RocNation, Sony Music, John Frieda and Atlantic Records, Lisnr is on the move.

This year, having quickly surpassed their financial expectations in recent months, the founders decided to bring their talents back to Austin, where it all started.

Lisnr CEO Rodney Williams and his team returned to Austin this week to take advantage of the plethora of opportunities and connections the festival has to offer a growing tech company. SXSW has exploded in recent years, providing attendees with more than just up-and-coming music acts and tech conferences — it's now become a breeding ground for brilliant ideas that hope to soon emerge as established companies. 

With an successful business under their belts, the Lisnr team hosted their very own event right smack in the middle of the city-wide festival on Monday, March 16 (which I attended).

“Three years ago, we were just a team with an idea on a bus,” Williams said. “Now we’re hosting a meet-and-greet at the W. It’s crazy.”

More than 100 people showed up for the event, including members of the investor group Mercury Fund, which has offices in both Austin and Cincinnati and has already invested in the Lisnr concept. Also in attendance were representatives from possible future clients like L’Oreal and CBS Interactive. When I spoke with Williams, he was trying to keep all of the business cards he’d collected from falling out of his pocket.

The Lisnr team has barely had time to breathe since their arrival back in Austin. Following Monday’s meet-and-greet, the team had dinner reservations with a New York company intrigued by their concept, followed by invitations to numerous shows and events until their departure on Thursday. It’s enough to make anyone need a serious nap, but there will be none of those for Williams and his team.

“We’ve worked really hard,” Williams said. “It’s so much fun, and I don’t want to miss any of it.”

Needless to say, Lisnr is doing well for itself. And though they've established a bustling office in New York City, their Cincinnati office on Broadway is still their home turf.
 

enosiX partners with UK-based software services organization to increase worldwide customer base


This week, Cincinnati-based enosiX, the company that's simplified mobile app creation for .NET developers, has added a United Kingdom company to their worldwide network.
 
Green Lemon Company, a software services organization that's been offering SAP solutions to developers for many years, will be adding the enosiX Framework to their preexisting .NET app development resources. The UK company works primarily with businesses hoping to upgrade their data governance strategy.
 
By teaming up with enosiX, Green Lemon avoids spending a fortune on back-end integration when creating mobile apps for their clients. The enosiX Framework has solved the problem mobile app developers have when attempting to connect apps to a company's SAP data system. Green Lemon can therefore eliminate the need to hire SAP specialists or SAP developers.
 
"To remain competitive, enterprises are actively seeking mobile solutions that will improve customer relations as well as empower and mobilize the workforce," says enosiX co-founder and President Philippe Jardin. "With traditional methods and tools, this is costly and time consuming."
 
Green Lemon will contribute front-end developer talent to the equation to seamlessly integrate those mobile apps with each Green Lemon enterprise's SAP system. enosiX's role will be to cut development costs with their unique integration tools and built-in application templates.
 
This UK partnership is a big step forward in enosiX's active effort to create a worldwide network of partners hoping to take advantage of their fast ERP integration technology. Though enosiX mainly targets the SAP community, they also plan to market their Framework to Oracle, Microsoft and other ERP systems and front-end development platforms.
 

UC biologists granted almost $2.5 million for genetic research


The University of Cincinnati's Department of Biological Sciences will receive a significant boost from the National Institutes of Health this month via the Institute's Research Projects Grant (R01), which provides support for health-related research and development.
 
UC will receive $1.92 million over five years for their research into facial abnormalities — ranging from cleft palate to heifacial microsomia — using genome-wide mapping. With the ability to zero in on the precise region of the genome, researchers will be able to identify the mutations within them that may be causing the facial asymmetries.
 
In additional to the R01 grant, UC biology researcher Joshua Gross will receive nearly $520,000 over three years from the National Science Foundation to uncover an explanation of pigmentation loss in cave animals. This research, he hopes, could lead to an explanation for such loss in humans as well.
 
Both projects will use a Mexican cave-dwelling fish as their primary study subject. Unlike their surface-dwelling relative, these cave-dwellers have craniofacial distortions similar to those we see in humans.
 
"One of our most surprising discoveries is that there’s actually a genetic basis for that asymmetry," Gross says, referring to the facial asymmetries seen in the cavefish. "Some changes in the genome have resulted in one side of the face developing differently from the other side of the face. Because this process occurs so often, cavefish are a powerful natural model system for learning about this fundamental biological phenomenon of craniofacial symmetry.”
 
Other members of the team include doctoral candidate Bethany Stahl as well as doctoral students Brian Carlson and Amanda Powers. Both projects should be underway by the end of March.
 

Shark Tank success story Neal Hoffman speaks at HCDC March 13


Neal Hoffman is pretty famous.
 
The former Hasbro executive and Procter & Gamble veteran was offered a $1 million investment on the television show Shark Tank in December. The ABC show allows startups and entrepreneurs to present their business plan in front of high-profile investors.

"Thank goodness for the editors who made me look intelligent," Hoffman says of his experience on the show. "I was in there for an hour. They definitely could have made me look dumb."

Hoffman appeared on the show after developing an idea conceived during holiday discussions with his son. Two years before, Hoffman's son pleaded for an Elf on the Shelf, the popular holiday toy/accessory that establishes residence during the Christmas season to bring treats and surprises to the children living there. Since the Hoffman family is Jewish, Hoffman joked that his son could have a Mensch on a Bench instead of an Elf on the Shelf.
 
By the 2013 Hannukah season, Hoffman and his "Mensch on a Bench" had a successful sales record under his belt. By Hannukah 2014, he'd reached revenues of $1 million.
 
The Hoffmans returned to Cincinnati when Hoffman's wife received a promotion at P&G. They now live in Madeira, and the Mensch on a Bench enterprise is still kicking.
 
This Friday, March 13 at 7:30-9 a.m., Hoffman will speak at HCDC in Norwood in the hopes of engaging aspiring entrepreneurs in a discussion on turning a casual idea into a successful business plan. He sees the eKickStart event (register here) as a way to connect with other entrepreneurs in the area.

"When I got started, I didn't realize there was a whole network in Cincinnati," Hoffman says. "It was a very lonely process. Through Cintrifuse, which connected me with HCDC, I realized that there are so many people here in the same boat."

Hoffman says he could talk forever about his story. When he arrived back in Cincinnati four years ago after working for Hasbro, he was looking for a way to explore his passion, the toy industry. Without spending more than $1,000 to get started, Hoffman's joke with his son is now a Hanukkah season essential nationwide.

While speaking at HCDC Friday, Hoffman hopes to emphasize that not all businesses require a huge investment.

"Starting a company doesn't mean going broke," he says. "With crowdfunding, you can test an idea before you bring it to market."

Hoffman is particularly excited about the Q&A section of the HCDC event, saying he's anxious to hear about what other people in his field are doing or hope to do. As for Mensch on a Bench, the business is still doing well, and Hoffman hasn't even had to reach for his Shark Tank millionaire rolodex yet.

"Whatever Mensch on a Bench brings in the future, this has become my resume for the rest of my life," he says.
 

The Brandery's HackOTR debut deemed a success


Seven teams of hackers, designers and marketing specialists joined forces Friday, March 6 for The Brandery’s first-ever HackOTR, and for 24 hours straight they hacked and programmed to come up with a pitchable idea. With help along the way from local startup founders who'd already established themselves, hackers presented their ideas at the end of the hack-a-thon Saturday evening to an enthusiastic and engaged audience.
 
“We were absolutely thrilled with the diversity of people who showed up,” says Emily Cooper, marketing and operations manager for The Brandery. “We had everyone from a high schooler to someone with 30-plus years of experience working together. Everyone chipped in to try to make their teams the best — the work ethic was unbelievable.”
 
Winners were announced Saturday evening, with the “Overall Best Hack” award, sponsored by Cincinnati Bell and Cintrifuse, going to Habitable, a website and app that uses cultural inputs like dress codes to help millennials find a job that fits their lifestyle. As a reward, Habitable received three months of office space at Cintrifuse along with free Dell laptops.
 
“Habitable had a consistent level of quality across the board,” says Connor Bowlan, CEO of Cintric. “Ideation was good, their pitch was good and execution was good. They had a great UX."
 
Other winners included Sideline, whose wearable app for referees and sports fans attracted the attention of The Brandery’s own Strap as the “Best Wearables App.” Team members were awarded with Pebble smart watches.

Another Brandery graduate, Frameri, gave impromptu prizes to two other teams, Informed and Staq — Informed aggregates media recommendations, and Staq helps the user manage credit card payments on one platform. The two teams won glasses and sunglasses for all members.
 
Petbrosia, another well-established Cincinnati startup, selected Pet Plates as its favorite “side hack.” That team put together a dog food recipe compilation site, much like Allrecipes.com for pet owners.
 
Other startup founders simply enjoyed the judging process.
 
“I had a great time judging HackOTR,” Bowlan says. “There was a very impressive level of quality among all the hacks.”
 
The Brandery has already scheduled their next HackOTR for Aug. 7-8. Stay tuned for details.
 

Follow up: ADDYs celebrate Cincinnati advertising icons and newcomers


Local and national advertisers convened at Memorial Hall Feb. 27 to celebrate Cincinnati's 2014-15 American Advertising Awards (ADDYs), with some familiar brands (and familiar advertising firms) among the winners as well as recognition of lesser-known artists and innovators for their work in the field. Organizers had made several upgrades and changes heading into this year's program, and the overall results were favorable.
 
National digital marketing firm Possible took home the Best in Show award with their Downy + Febreze commercial in which actors revel in the extra hour afforded by Daylight Savings Time snuggled in their great-smelling sheets. Possible has won multiple ADDYs in the past, and this year they also took home the competition's first People's Choice Award — attendees voted on their smartphones for another Downy television ad.
 
One of the event's Cinderella stories involved Sunrise Advertising, which took home a whopping seven awards for their "origami" campaign for AAA and another for their Cincinnati USA ad. Sunrise Advertising, whose Creative Director Todd Jessee is a former ADDY chair, hadn't entered the competition before.
 
"I think (Todd) talked the boss into letting him enter this year," says Judy Thompson, Executive Director of AAF Cincinnati (a.k.a. the boss).
 
Another first-time entrant was Forza Marketing and Public Relations, which scored the gold for non-traditional advertising with a port-a-potty ad for The Urology Group.
 
Another favorite of the judges was Northlich, the downtown strategic communications firm that was recognized numerous times for campaigns surrounding Givethemten.org (part of the Joanie Bernard Foundation), a no-kill cat movement that encourages more no-kill shelters and mandated spaying and neutering of pets. Northlich picked up recognition for several elements of the public service campaign, including best sound element (a jingle, essentially) and best collateral (a pack of two orange gumballs that remind you to spay and neuter your pet).
 
"The Northlich Creative Director, Jason Schmall, was taking a lot of bows on ADDY show night," Thompson says.
 
Finally, the show featured an impressive number of entries from students this year. This is the first time the ADDYs have received entries from Northern Kentucky University students, and one of them, Kyle Eli Ebersole, won Best in Show for his poster campaign.
 
You can view all of the winners in the 2015 ADDY showbook. Winners now proceed to regional and national competitions.
 
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