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JoeThirty offers new round of feedback events for startups

A new round of JoeThirty community feedback and networking events will begin Oct. 14. Hosted by the Greater Cincinnati Venture Association (GCVA), it’s a place where startups and entrepreneurs are able to get feedback on specific questions or problems.
The idea, created by Brad Kirn and Jake Hodesh, is that attendees and presenters have a cup of joe and 30 minutes of conversation to discuss some of the issues facing that company or organization. Each event features one startup presenting three specific challenges for feedback ahead of time.
When they started JoeThirty last year, Kirn and Hodesh wanted to create a different kind of platform for feedback.
“We wanted to not just have another event,” Kirn says. “We wanted to provide value back to our community.”
So, taking inspiration from the national series 1 Million Cups, they created a unique format. While there are lots of forums around the city for entrepreneurs to pitch to an audience, most of them have several startups making general pitches at the same time. JoeThirty is different in its focus and the space it provides for conversation.
Kirn and GCVA hope that their setup provides something useful to both the community and the presenters. They actively try to choose startups who would be helped by the format and invite community members who would provide the most relevant feedback for those entrepreneurs, although anyone is welcome to attend.
Kirn, who was a founding partner at Differential and is now with Astronomer, knows the importance of getting fresh ideas and constructive criticism for a new venture.
“People want to help,” he says. “Ever since I started talking to people in the startup community, they want to tell their story and almost everybody is open to feedback.”
The first startup to share its story in this round of JoeThirty will be Linkedu, which has designed software to help teachers share resources and ideas with each other.
“What I’m most excited about is hearing about how their pivot is going,” Kirn says.
Linkedu is looking to expand its software product beyond exclusively K-12 educators and make it available for a wider range of communities that need to share the knowledge and resources they build. This kind of pivot is common among startups trying to find the business model and niche that works best for them, but it also comes with its own set of challenges.
Linkedu will be able to use its JoeThirty session to get input from people with a variety of backgrounds and specialties.
For Kirn, providing that opportunities and being able to help fellow entrepreneurs are the best parts of organizing the events.
“What keeps me going is the conversations I have with presenters afterward,” he says. “When presenters say they have gotten something valuable out of their experience, that’s what makes the events worth it.”
The biggest change to JoeThirty events this year is that they’ll take place every other month, alternating with another GCVA morning event, the Breakfast Club. While JoeThirty focuses on a single presentation, Breakfast Club will provide time for four entrepreneurs to make pitches at each event.
“We’re creating this morning series,” Kirn says. “It’s kind of a nice change of speed instead of another monthly event.”
The Oct. 14 JoeThirty event is scheduled for 8:20-8:50 a.m., with mingling both before and after, at Rookwood Tower, 3805 Edwards Road at the Rookwood shopping centers. Admission is free but requires advance registration.

Casamatic creates curated real estate listings for Cincinnati homebuyers

When Alex Bowman returned to Cincinnati after 10 years away, he and fellow Cincinnati native Chris Ridenour found themselves commiserating over the home buying process. As tech-savvy startup veterans, Bowman and Ridenour looked to home buying websites to fine-tune their search.
"Sites like Zillow force buyers to pick smaller areas," Bowman says. "People don't understand all the great places to live in their city. They don't have to limit themselves by geography."
Bowman, a Mason native and former employee of Blackberry and Amazon, had originally limited his home search to neighborhoods like Oakley and Hyde Park. When he finally looked outside that geographical box, he and his wife found a home in Norwood with which he couldn't be happier. His positive experience is why Cincinnati — and regions nationwide — need Casamatic.
Casamatic is a home buying site that curates listings for its users based what's important to them.

Once open for business, the site will ask users for a location as well as questions related to the importance of family, food, commute time or environment. The Casamatic team then parses that data with MLS listings to find the listings that are perfect for the user. The site also pairs the buyer with a Casamatic-approved real estate agent.
"We're trying to get a confirmed showing with a realtor in under an hour," Bowman says. "No matter what, you'll get a response from an agent. And quickly."
Bowman met Ridenour while Ridenour was organizing Startup Weekends for UP Cincinnati. As co-founder of Lisnr, Ridenour is actively involved in the Cincinnati startup scene. The two decided to move forward with Casamatic when they realized the flaws in the online home search process, and they entered Ocean's accelerator program, graduating in April.
"We really liked the founders of Ocean," Bowman says. "Tim, Tim and Chad are great guys, and once we decided to do Casamatic full-time we thought we'd give it a run with them."
Though Ocean has been deemed a faith-based accelerator, the Casamatic team was drawn to other aspects of the organization, not necessarily the faith component.
"We're open-minded," Bowman says. "We wanted to see what it was all about."
Since Demo Day in April, Bowman and Ridenour have collected a team of five individuals to get Casamatic off the ground. They recently brought a Northside real estate agent on board as well as a full-stack engineer and were invited to move with two other local startups into the new 84.51 Center downtown.
"The entire team is extremely passionate about Cincinnati and active members of the community," Bowman says. "That's a big thing we look for in bringing on new team members."
Casamatic hopes to have a fully-functioning website for Cincinnati homebuyers by August. Once established, the company will look to real estate agents as their primary source of income. 
"We're giving them access to the fastest growing segment of homebuyers, millennials," Bowman says. "They'll get regular notifications from their target market."
The company also plans to pursue seed funding this fall. Assuming all goes well, Casamatic hopes to expand to other markets in 2016.
On a personal level, both Bowman and Ridenour are thrilled to be in Cincinnati.
"Chris (Ridenour) is a Cincinnati lifer," Bowman says. "He loves it here. I really wanted to come back to Cincinnati because there is so much activity here."
During the rare moments when he's not working, Bowman and his wife enjoy the Cincinnati restaurant scene. While he's a big fan of OTR hotspots like A Tavola and crowd favorite Eli's, one of his favorite places is right in the middle of his newfound neighborhood, Norwood.
"The Bluebird Cafe," he says. "You can't beat breakfast for 6 bucks."

Cincinnati Public Schools students create apps to "gameify" STEM concepts

Sixth grade math teacher Stephanie Bisher wants to open her students’ eyes to the business world.
Each spring, her sixth graders engage in the kind of learning experience most only hope to encounter after reaching adulthood. In 2014, in partnership with locally-owned Madisono’s Gelato, her students at Kilgour Elementary in Mt. Lookout were tasked with designing a mobile application that “gameifies” the ins and outs of the gelato business. The resulting app was launched just last month.
Kilgour was one of two Cincinnati Public Schools recipients of a $1.1 million “Straight A” inaugural grant last school year. The grant is intended to provide an incentive to deploy case-based Socratic learning techniques in the grade school classroom.

State-funded tablets in hand, students at Kilgour and Hyde Park School were able to apply skills gained in their STEM-related classes to real world business decisions. The apps that resulted were due to a collaborative effort between Cincinnati Public Schools, Northern Kentucky University's College of Informatics and nonprofit Partnership for Innovation in Education (PIE).
Cincinnati-based PIE is dedicated to developing transformational STEM K-12 educational tools that actively prepare students for the workplace. PIE provided mentors for the Cincinnati Public Schools app projects.
“It has been our pleasure to participate in this first-ever program, offering a curriculum found currently only in STEM graduate and undergraduate science, medical, engineering, mathematics, law and business programs,” PIE CEO Mary Schlueter said in a letter to Kilgour parents. 
The gelato project is now an important and much anticipated part of each Kilgour sixth grader's experience. The task facing Kilgour students each year is that of choosing a new gelato flavor for Madisono’s. From research/development and data collection to cost analysis and marketing, students take the process from start to finish.
“The math (the students) are doing is pretty complex, but not a single student complains,” Bisher says. “They use Excel spreadsheets, learn how to input formulas, all the kinds of things adults do in their daily jobs.”
The process culminated with a successful marketing campaign for Madisono’s at the Kilgour Carnival.
“There is no abstract concept here,” Bisher says. “The students can truly see the value of what they’re doing and self-evaluate as they go.”

The winning flavor last year was Triple Chocolate Dare. This year students will present their new flavor — vanilla with brownies, chocolate chips and a caramel swirl — at the Kilgour Carnival on May 16.

After the winning flavors are chosen, students proceed to the app development stage. With help from NKU informatics experts, last year's students came up with a fun, fanciful app called Gelato Hero. This app and the one created at Hyde Park School, Sweet Revenge, seem to be the first-ever examples of global apps created by elementary school students.
Due to the fact that the project placed heavy emphasis on the intersection of math and business as opposed to more advanced tech, Kilgour students had very little to do with the actual coding involved in the app creation. That said, Bisher believes that coding is the next step for tech education at the grade school level.
“Kids can absolutely handle it,” she says. “App development can and should be in elementary schools. It’s still in its beginning phases, but it’s definitely on the radar.”
Though the Common Core curriculum model allows little room for tech-based training, both Schlueter and Bisher believe a shift in mentality is coming.
“PIE is always looking for educators who love technology,” Schlueter says. “This is a relatively new opportunity in the last 5-6 years. We’re just now starting to encourage educators.”
Gelato Hero and Sweet Revenge are now available for iOS and Android for $.99 each. A portion of each app's proceeds will return to the school responsible for its creation.

Local startup Strap attracts $1.25 million in investments for wearable tech

It looks like nice guys can finish first. That's certainly true when it comes to Strap, the Brandery grad and Soapbox-profiled company that's created the first software and analytics platform for wearables.
Charlie Key, cofounder of Cincinnati's Modulus and angel investor for Strap, describes the company as having "all the pieces." He describes founding partners Steve Caldwell, Patrick Henshaw and Joey Brennan as "extremely likeable, intelligent people."
Maybe that's why the company announced a $1.25 million round of seed funding last week. The round secured investments from CincyTech, Mercury Fund, Vine Street Ventures, Danmar Capital, Hyde Park Venture Partners, New Coast Ventures and a number of angel investors, including Wendy S. Lea, CEO of Cintrifuse.
The founders' sparkling personalities aside, Strap also seems to have been in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. With the popularity of wearable technology slowly gaining ground, Strap's "toolkit" for developers entered the market while the market was hot. Their team, made up of startup veterans and truly brilliant technical talent, was also more than prepared to dive in.
"Well-timed, right team, right tech team — all investors look for that," says Caldwell, who serves as CEO.
Strap's technology, called StrapMetrics, is already compatible with wearables such as Pebble, Android Wear and Google Glass. The tool's ability to optimize sensory data from wearables is a key element in the growth of the industry.
Though nothing was set in stone, Caldwell and his team knew to expect an increase in capital as far back as early November. They've been fundraising since June and July, but it was The Brandery's Demo Day that truly ignited investor interest. In the past couple of months, Caldwell, Henshaw and Brannen have moved their families from Mississippi and truly settled into Cincinnati. They've since posted five job listings (four developers and one VP of engineering), reflecting their anticipation of a change in workload. They also recently already hired a marketing specialist, Sophie Turcotte.
For now, Strap will remain at The Brandery on Vine Street. By February, however, they expect their staff to have increased to 12 people, a number too large to fit into the accelerator's workspace. At that point, they'll start looking for another location in Cincinnati to call home.
"The goal is to grow the company significantly," Caldwell says. "This is a billion dollar industry, and we believe we can be a billion dollar company."

Cincybite offers city's first third-party restaurant delivery service

A new way to order restaurant food recently made its way to Cincinnati. 
Cincybite, a third-party food delivery service created by local restaurant owner Robbie Sosna, who runs Freshii's downtown franchise, opened December 2 and is now fully operational.
Sosna, who grew up in Cincinnati, returned from Los Angeles after working a variety of jobs in the film, television and restaurant industries. He then began laying the groundwork for Cincybite, met with support from many surrounding restaurants.
"Once I got established in Cincinnati, I started looking for a third-party delivery service, and it just didn't exist," Sosna says. "I kept saying, 'Somebody needs to do this, somebody needs to do this,' and at some point I said, 'Well, I'm going to be the person who does it, because I understand the value and benefit, being a restaurant owner'."
Cincybite, functioning both online and by phone, currently delivers food from Freshii, Buca di Beppo, Jefferson Social, El Coyote, Local's Bar & Grill, and M Wood Fired Pizza.
"I started talking to some people and to the restaurants, and everybody realized very quickly that this was a service necessary for the city," Sosna says. "I wanted to do a smaller platform launch, so now that we've kind of worked out all of the kinks and everything seems to be functioning properly, we're getting ready to put up the additional restaurants and keep on going from there."
Cincybite service extends to downtown Cincinnati, OTR, Clifton, Columbia Tusculum, Walnut Hills, Hyde Park, Oakley, Norwood, Covington and Newport, with plans to expand to the northern suburbs along I-75 as the business develops.
"We have four restaurants that we will launch by the end of January, and then after that, now that we're an established business, many restaurants are contacting us," Sosna says. "Up until this point, for the most part, all you've been able to deliver is pizza or a random Chinese restaurant that might be in your neighborhood. But delivery has not been an actual part of our life here."
Open 7 days a week from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Cincybite's delivery prices range from $4.99 - $6.99, varying by location. 
"We're 30 minutes for downtown deliveries," Sosna says. Or if you live in Hyde Park, Clifton, Oakley, Norwood, Columbia Tusculum or Mount Adams, we'll say it'll be 45 minutes from a downtown restaurant, and vise versa."

By Kyle Stone

Metro now offers stored-value cards to riders

Many city-dwellers are continuously faced with the arduous task of budgeting their quarters between two priorities: bus fare and laundromats. While both woes can be remedied with a little planning, some people are forever caught in the cycle of rifling through their pockets at a moment’s notice to either catch the bus or feed the washing machine. But Cincinnatians have been presented with a new method of relieving these tribulations with the new Metro stored-value cards.

The cards can be purchased in prepaid increments of $10, $20 and $30 from Metro’s sales office. They work just like cash in any bus-related payment situations, including transfers and multiple riders. Metro’s stored-value cards are replacing the 10-ride Zone 1 tickets, although those will be honored until the end of 2013.

For those familiar with bus fare rates and simple mathematics, however, things don’t quite add up: with normal inner-city fares set at $1.75, the prepaid increments of $10, $20 and $30 won’t deduct even portions, leaving some untouchable funds on the cards, as they are incapable of being recharged with additional cash. If your card’s balance cannot pay the full fare, the difference can be paid in cash or with an additional stored-value card when paying at the front of the bus.

While it might be possible to budget your stored-value card so as not to have any residual funds before it is redeemed, this discernible anomaly might prove problematic for local bus riders who might be better off with the 30-day rolling pass, which is good for unlimited travel in a zone of your choice for a 30-day period.

The new stored-value cards are available for purchase at Metro’s sales office, which is located in the Mercantile Building arcade downtown, weekdays 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

By Sean Peters

The Happy Maladies want YOU to write their next album

The Happy Maladies has issued an open invitation for composers of all levels to submit original pieces of music for the band to interpret.

The project is titled “MUST LOVE CATS,” and it will be an album of five compositions. The tunes will be featured not only on a professional studio-produced album, but in performances across the Midwest (including Cincinnati). A booklet will also be made, which will profile each of the five selected composers.

“We’ll be accepting any kind of composition until January 1, 2014,” says violinist and vocalist Eddy Kwon in the band’s recently released YouTube video that officially kicked off the exciting new endeavor.

The band, which is comprised of founding members Benjamin Thomas, Peter Gemus, Stephen Patota and Kwon, utilizes the violin, double-bass, guitars, mandolin and banjo.

“We really don’t want composers to try to ‘fit’ our sound, or limit themselves to what they think these instruments sound like,” says Kwon. “We’re really willing to do anything.”

Jazzy, folksy and classically trained, the unique group is hard to classify, but infinitely easy and enjoyable to hear. In the band’s five-year career, they have explored so many genres that they’ve developed an omnipotent musical identity.

“All of us are really, really supportive and advocates for new music,” says Kwon. “We are hoping this project can be a new model for the way composers and bands and performers interact and work together.” 

By Sean Peters

Zooted Delivery now available every day

Zooted Delivery brings food to your front door from restaurants around the city that don’t typically deliver. While it was only a weekend operation from the beginning, Zooted now offers service seven days a week, with their delivery radius spanning Hyde Park, the downtown business district, the Banks, Clifton and Norwood.

Created by Sheroz Zindani, a recent graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s business program, Zooted Delivery works in conjunction with more than a dozen restaurants to bring their menu items to hungry customers’ homes. 

The company has a recurring message that it reiterates to customers: “You drink, we drive.” This message targets the late night crowd, which is why Zooted Delivery operates until 3 a.m. on weekends.

Registration is not necessary to use the service—you only need to have access to Zooted’s website. The order is placed online, “zooted” to the restaurant automatically, and the customer need only “sign and dine.” Payments can be made with cash or credit cards. The service and delivery fee is nominal and the convenience is unparalleled. 

Offering a broad range of restaurants, this added service is sure to accommodate nearly every type of palate. If not, it’s likely that whatever type of food they would want already delivers directly, so it’s a win-win for homebodies. 

Interview by Sean Peters

CincyMusic Spotlight hits airwaves

CincyMusic Spotlight is a new radio show dedicated to highlighting new and exciting music in the Queen City. Featured on The Project 100.7 and 106.3, the show’s format provides a much-needed outlet for local musicians. Hosted by veteran band promoters and DJs Venomous Valdez and Joe Long, the show’s end goal is to help expose new local artists to the general public.

“The Project already has added a handful of bands hailing from Cincinnati in their established playlist," says Valdez. "If a song does really well on the show, it has the ability to live in regular rotation. The Project would love nothing more than to help break a Cincinnati band."

Valdez, who is known by just about every venue owner as the booking agent and promoter for Wussy and The Sundresses, is a longtime ally to Cincinnati musicians.

“Cincinnati has a deep, rich musical history," she says. "For many generations, this has been a music town, so it’s in our blood. We have more genres available, more venues catering to original music than most cities larger than us. Overall, I think we have a great support system with musicians, promoters, booking agents and venues that encourages and nurtures the creative outlet."

Listeners can tune in Sunday nights at midnight on The Project 100.7 FM and 106.3 FM. Podcasts will be available on cincymusic.com and cincinnatiproject.com.

By Sean Peters

Intern in Ohio program launches today, connects students with internships

Today, Detroit-based Digerati launches its Intern in Ohio program to the public, which is sponsored by the University of Toledo. Like eHarmony, the program uses an advanced matching algorithm to match students with internship opportunities.
Intern in Ohio is free to both students who are looking for internships and businesses who want to post internships. To register, students and employers visit Intern in Ohio’s website to sign up and create a profile or post internship opportunities. Students fill out a short questionnaire about their preferences, and employers share information about the position. The system then identifies the top seven matches for each student, as well as for each position. When the match is made, both the student and employer are notified, and they must show interest before any contact information is shared.
“We encourage diverse companies—large and small, for-profit and nonprofit, government and corporate,” says Wendy Pittman, director of Digerati’s Classroom to Career. “It’s a great chance for employers to broadcast their company and internship program across the state and reach a larger pool of applicants.”
Only companies in Ohio can post opportunities to the Intern in Ohio website, but all types of internships are welcome. There are posts for marketing, engineering and social media, among others, says Pittman.
The program is open to all students who live in Ohio, whether they’re in-state or out-of-state students. Research shows that not only do internships often lead employment offers after graduation, but that students are more likely to remain in an area where they held and internship.
“This is the first replication of the Classroom to Career technology from Michigan to Ohio,” says Pittman. “Experiential learning is a game-changer; and we’re looking forward to working with smaller communities to make a difference.”
In 2011, Digerati launched its Intern in Michigan program, which has resulted in more than 127,000 matches and introductions between students and employers. Over 1,000 Michigan businesses have posted 4,824 internship opportunities, and 1,049 colleges and universities in the state use the site.
Full disclosure: Soapbox’s parent company, IMG, supplies content to Intern in Ohio on a contractual basis.
By Caitlin Koenig
Follow Caitlin on Twitter

Thinking outside the box: Home bakery turns Gail Yisreal into cake boss

Going on maternity leave changed Gail Yisreal’s life in more ways than having a new baby to take care of.
When she returned to work, Yisreal says she learned her position was no longer there, so she began to look for a different job.

As wife and mother to a blended family of nine children, she might bake up to 11 birthday cakes in a year. But she hadn’t considered turning her knack for kneading dough into earning dough until she baked a wedding cake for a couple from her family’s place of worship. Not only did they like the cake, they suggested she start selling them.
Listening to her fans, Yisreal founded A “Mother’s Touch” Cakes with the nurturing tagline, “Making fresh homemade cakes when you don’t have the time.” Celebrating her two-year anniversary as a registered business in August 2012, A “Mother’s Touch” features signature and custom made flavors of fresh, savory gourmet, organic and vegan cakes and cupcakes that are good—and good for you.
“I didn’t know anything about decorating, so I took a class to learn more decorating skills," Yisreal says. "And I was shocked to find out that 95 percent of the cakes you buy are box cakes—because everybody wants the decoration. I started doing some research about the trans-fats and artificial ingredients, and I vowed that everything I baked would always be natural and from scratch.”  
After working as a waitress for two years and in management at Starbucks for six years, Yisreal developed a love for coffee. She jokes that most ex-Starbucks managers feel they know enough about coffee to create their own line, which she actually did for A “Mother’s Touch.”
Having tried organic coffees with weak flavor profiles, she researched and found Dean’s Beans, a fair-trade pioneer that allowed her to design her own custom blends. Her signature A “Mother’s Touch” blend is made with Mexican and Indonesian beans and pairs with her carrot cake as an after-dinner coffee.
“I’m really proud of my coffee and the fact that it really was custom blended for what I wanted to complement my desserts,” Yisreal says. And, true to her mission to serve natural, sustainable goods, she says that her blends are 100 percent organic, fair-trade certified and are shade grown.
Being on the scene without a storefront hasn’t stopped Yisreal. Instead, she’s building her brand as the “cupcake lady” who networks everywhere and invites people to taste samples of her creations. Yisreal also tapped into hidden markets by hosting deals through social media.
“I did a Living Social promotion last year, which was huge,” Yisreal says. “That first day, I think I got 1,500 hits on my website, and probably about 85 deals, which I thought was really good for people who didn’t know who I was.”
And even though she sells more cakes today, the ease of transporting cupcakes built her clientele.
“When I first came out, because of my financial situation, literally, cupcakes were paying my rent,” she says. After she and her husband separated, she remembers what it was like to go from making an annual salary of $60,000 to less than $20,000 a year. But she doesn’t do it all alone.
“I have three almost-teenage girls; 12, soon to be 15 and 17, so they are my preppers,” Yisreal explains. “It’s hilarious because we’ll be in the kitchen and everybody has their big bonnets on, and they’re scraping carrots, mashing fruit, lining the liners. I have a girlfriend who I’ll sometimes sub-contract out to do deliveries. And if it’s a huge event—like for the Autism Foundation, I had to knock out 40 dozen cupcakes—I have two sisters, and at the time I had just split up with my husband so we were in literally an 800-square-foot apartment. The kitchen was all of maybe 150-square-feet, we put out six-foot tables and we were like an assembly line! It was hilarious, but we got it done. It was like an I Love Lucy episode!”
By Mildred Fallen

Body Boutique fitness classes pump up Hyde Park

Candice Peters doesn’t reach for platitudes when asked what she wishes women knew about working out. Her goal is simple and straightforward: “That they can lift heavier!” The trainer and founder of Hyde Park Body Boutique has carved out a niche just a few miles north of downtown with her women-only workout facility.

Unlike the typical gym, there are no ellipticals and no treadmills; the primary services offered are various workout classes, as well as in-home personal training provided by Peters and her staff. It can be hard to identify the most popular class because they’re usually booked with young professionals in the evenings and, often, new or stay-at-home moms in the mornings, but Peters says TRX and Spincinnati (think of a spinning class with light weights and pumped-up music) classes fill up quickly.

“We cater to women of all ages,” Peters says, noting a concentration of young professionals ages 25-34, especially those who recently got married or plan to have kids soon. Still, she adds, “We have athletes, we have people who haven’t worked out in years and we have people who are looking to lose 150 pounds.”

Peters’ staff comprises an office manager and five part-time trainers who help local ladies get stronger. Peters isn’t a proponent of crash dieting or even protein powder in particular, and she says that she reminds all of her clients that 80 percent of their fitness is due to nutrition, not working out.

Another 80/20 rule she follows is her advice about effort levels. “In general, if you have to be doing great things 80 percent of the time, the other 20 percent of the time you can slack off. You have to give yourself a break.”

She should know; Peters works an 80-hour work week, and plans to launch Over-the-Rhine Body Boutique in June. Along with her training and teaching, she’s fundraising with SoMoLend and planning a social media campaign to raise crowdfunding for new equipment. For a woman on the move, it's just one more way to stay active.

By Robin Donovan

Olivetree Research helps large companies grow their brands

Big, established brands can get stale, so in the fast-changing and hyper-competitive consumer products market, rapid, results-oriented market research is a real asset for large brands.

Olivetree Research in Hyde Park builds on founder Carol Shea's decades of experience in consumer marketing research to help brands shake things up a little. Olivetree helps find new answers to the perennial question: What do consumers REALLY want?

Shea started Olivetree Research about 11 years ago, not long after Sept. 11, 2001.

"It was the right time for me to make a split from my former company," she says. "I'd been in marketing research for 25 years, and had been thinking about starting my own business for a long time. Sept. 11 was a wake-up call for living every day the way you want."

Additionally, Shea served as adjunct faculty of the Williams College of Business at Xavier University as a former member of the Advisory Council to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Olivetree works with large and mid-size local firms that are looking to solve marketing and sales challenges that stunt growth.

"We're working with companies that are committed to positioning new product development that meets the needs of their consumers," Shea says. "We work with companies who want to spend time up-front on research, understand what positioning is and are willing to engage in that process."

Through her work, Shea has helped brand everything from pickles to neighborhoods, all by finding what customers want and what the company needs to do to market and meet those needs.

Companies often come to her when their marketing efforts are flagging, they have a decline in sales or a new competitor enters the market. With Olivetree, companies look to strengthen their brand, reinforce customer loyalty, expand into new markets or develop new products and services.

The market research process takes about three to six months, and can continue over years as a company evolves. In addition to consumer products, Shea often works with healthcare and financial services agencies.

This year, Shea is growing her own business by starting an online training company that will offer courses for new market researchers.

"It will help them understand what techniques work best in certain situations," she says. "The training will help them have confidence in their position. It can be very difficult for someone new in market research to speak with authority on how you should proceed based on the (research) results."

Shea plans to launch the new company sometime later this year.

By Feoshia H. Davis
Follow Feoshia on Twitter

Kilgour School awarded $24K innovation grant to boost tech access, entrepreneurial skills

A new financial literacy enrichment course at Kilgour School is expanding, spurred by a $24,000 innovation grant awarded by tech communications company MiCTA.

The grant builds on a class that Cincinnati's Partnership for Innovation in Education (or PIE) piloted at the school, called Student MBA: Bringing Business to the Classroom.

Mary Welsh Schlueter, PIE's founder and chief executive, developed and taught the five-week class at Kilgour as part of a student enrichment period. Schlueter, a Kilgour parent, modeled the class after a Harvard Business School course.

"I taught basic concepts, including the SWOT analysis, the five Ps of marketing and the product life cycle," says Schlueter.

Students' tech, financial and entrepreneurial skills were tapped when they were asked to find ways to increase lemon sales.

"They developed many new ideas and used lemons in different ways, not just as a food source or cleaning agent," says Schlueter.

The project led to the creation of an Android app, a game called Lemon Smash. "The goal of the game is to smash lemons to make lemonade so you can make some moo-lah," its description reads. Proceeds from the 99-cent app go back to the school.

The class and app creation brought on some big partners. Sprint donated the technology, UC's Economics Center wrote and compiled all the achievement assessments and NKU’s Center for Applied Informatics helped students design and develop the app. There are plans to make it available for the iPhone as well.

"This was a $100,000 project, and all of the work was done pro-bono," Schlueter says.

The MiCTA grant will allow the class to continue. It will also fund 20 new handheld tablets for the school's gifted program.

NKU will partner with the school to offer an app development class, which will also be available to any Cincinnati Public Schools student who has access to take the class virtually.

PIE is looking to expand funding opportunities for the STEM-aligned program using app development and technology to "incubate" students' entrepreneurial efforts and promote across the globe,  says Schlueter.  It's a way to help students learn valuable skills, provide a new revenue stream for schools, and allow deeper tech uililzation for K-8 students and teachers across all subject areas.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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The Garage Group helps established companies tap entrepreneurial spirit

Entrepreneurship isn't just for startups.

That's the tagline and philosophy behind The Garage Group, a Cincinnati-based consultancy that helps large, established companies tap into their entrepreneurial spirit.

The Hyde Park-based company was co-founded by Jason Hauer and Ann Lauer, two business colleagues who left their jobs at a small innovation firm to start their own businesses.

"The concept for The Garage Group reflects what we've liked to do across the lifetime of our careers, unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit of a startup, along with the discipline and focus of a larger, established organization," Lauer says. "Our skill sets complemented one another."

Lauer spent 17 years working in the corporate and nonprofit worlds. She's experienced in strategic planning, leadership and business development in addition to marketing and research. Hauer's experience lies in business model creation and scale up, entrepreneurial and growth strategy, idea creation and project movement.

More companies are turning to this type of internal entrepreneurship to create new products and services, as economic pressures force them to do more with less, Lauer says.

The Garage Group offers one-on-one business consulting as well as workshops that help companies address specific innovation challenges.

"We work in three main areas: strategy, ideas and organizational development," Lauer says. "We help organizations develop a platform to support innovation. We look at how the organization assigns roles, how people interact with each other and company culture. There are seven different elements we look at in developing an entrepreneurship structure within a company."

The company's clients have included Cincinnati Children's Hospital, Greater Cincinnati Health Council, Nationwide Insurance, Kantar, a consumer insight company and LPK.

"Most companies don't have an entrepreneurial strategy, or if they do, it's too short-term or too experimental," Hauer says. "We can help them come up with a pipeline of ideas, drive focus and create a process for testing those ideas."

The Garage Group's ultimate goal is to help its clients create a process that allows a constant stream of innovation, tapping internal talent to grow.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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