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Look Here to reveal layers of Over-the-Rhine's past


Historic preservationist Anne Delano Steinert wants people to discover the layers of Over-the-Rhine’s past. Her place-based public history project, Look Here, will mount historic photographs around the neighborhood as close as possible to the vantage point from which they were originally taken, comparing historic views to the view of that location today.
 
“There are layers of the past around us in the built environment all the time,” Steinert says, “and it’s really important to me to give people the skills to read the clues to those layers. This is my way of giving the people in Over-the-Rhine a way to connect to the past.”
 
Steinert’s fascination with the layers of the past actually began in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. As a teenager in the 1980s, she would take the bus downtown from her home in Clifton.
 
“OTR was definitely low-income then and there was a lot of urban decay, but it was also still really rich,” Steinert explains. “There were a lot more (historic) buildings standing in 1982 than there are today. So it’s where I really got a sense of the power of the past to speak through the built environment.”
 
Now she wants to help a wide range of residents and visitors in the neighborhood hear those voices, too. Recipient of a People’s Liberty Project Grant, Steinert is using her own background and several other projects as inspiration to make Look Here into an experience that can reach viewers from all economic classes.
 
A simple design of presenting photographs on street signs with minimal explanatory text will allow people to create their own meaning from the similarities and differences between the historic present landscapes. Brightly colored borders will grab people’s attention and hopefully pull them into the images and into parts of the neighborhood they may not have explored before.
 
The signs are meant to create a “serendipitous, sudden, unexpected experience of connection to space,” Steinert says, by giving people a glimpse of the past from their exact location. She also hopes they’ll help add a dimension of history to the cultural vibrancy already existing in the neighborhood.
 
As Over-the-Rhine goes through a period of intense transition, Steinert observes, “something gets lost in the remaking, so these signs are really an attempt to remind people some of what’s being lost, that we have to be mindful of what came before.”
 
Look Here’s historic photographs will provide people a chance to meditate on what came before and decide for themselves what it means. The People’s Liberty project grant will allow Steinert to make tools providing deeper meaning and engagement.
 
Before receiving the grant, she’d identified more than 320 possible photographs (although only 40-70 will be in the final exhibit) and knew she wanted to display them on aluminum signs similar to “No Parking” signs. The People’s Liberty funding allows her to create programming around the signs — a launch event, resource packet for teachers, curator-led tour of some of the photograph sites and a website with a map of all images and more information about each one. The website will also provide viewers a way to have a dialogue with the curator.
 
“We’re encouraging people to send me their experiences,” Steinert says, “take photos of themselves looking at Look Here and share the stories of how they’re interacting with the signs.”
 
Steinert hopes the interactive elements may even inspire other neighborhoods to set up similar exhibitions. She also hopes that positive feedback on the project might make it easier for those neighborhoods to complete such undertakings.
 
“This project involves coordinating an unfathomable number of small details and particularly small logistical details,” Steinert says, “and many of those are contingent on the city’s policies.”
 
Since Steinert will be using city-owned poles to mount the photographs, she is in the process of obtaining installation permits. Once she does, Look Here will be the first exhibit to obtain permits of this kind in Cincinnati.
 
If these layers of the past prove meaningful, it may make it easier to reveal more layers all around us.
 

Blue Seat Media says "Play ball!" with new Gameball app


Cincinnatians are passionate about baseball, especially Blue Seat Media co-founders Chris Hendrixson and Jeffrey Wyckoff. The long-time friends and business partners are such Reds fans that the name of their company is a tribute to Riverfront Stadium, where the blue seats were closest to the field in the multi-hued stands.
 
In 2012, Hendrixon made a simple app just for fun that showed the Reds lineup a couple of hours before each game. The Cincy Lineup app was released around Opening Day and let users know via push notification when each lineup was available.
 
“The push notifications are fun and different because they feel like they’re written by a Reds fan,” Hendrixon says. “They’re not your standard Major League Baseball push notification.”
 
The positive response to Cincy Lineup, particularly to the on-point push notifications, made Hendrixon aware of an opportunity, he says, “to make a baseball game interactive and fun while creating a deeper engagement with the game.”
 
“In August of 2014 we decided to go all in,” Hendrixon says. “We had both been in and out of full-time jobs and had bootstrapped everything with no outside investment. We realized we had to go full-time and had to find investors.”
 
Blue Seat Media ended up in the first class at Ocean, the faith-based accelerator program at Crossroads Church.
 
“Ocean really changed everything for us,” Hendrixon says. “We came in, just Jeffery and me, and within a week hired an iOS developer, Nathan Sjoquist, and a few weeks later hired Brandon Kraeling, a web developer who also runs the Red Reporter blog.”

During their time with Ocean, Blue Seat Media developed — and is now beta testing — an expanded and improved version of Cincy Lineup called Gameball. The new app is a modern version of the sports tradition of giving a game ball to the player who contributed the most to his team’s win.
 
Gameball users will choose their favorite team and receive their team’s starting lineup before each game. Users vote for which player will get the game ball that game. Making a prediction before the game starts is worth 1,000 points. Users can vote after the game begins or change their prediction, but, just as in pub trivia contests, points decrease with each minute of play.
 
Blue Seat Media uses an algorithm of Gameball user votes to determine which player will be awarded the game ball. Users who predicted the winner are awarded points for voting correctly, and the points are used to create an average for each user, similar to how a baseball batting average works, allowing them to compete with each other for rankings. As in baseball, Gameball users can miss a few games and remain on the leader board.
 
Eventually Blue Seat Media will allow users to select friends and family groups that will work like traditional fantasy leagues. Blue Seat Media currently is focusing on the beta testing of Gameball, with plans to release the full version prior to Opening Day 2016.
 
The Blue Seat Media team has a couple of hurdles to overcome as they work toward the app’s official launch.
 
“One of our biggest challenges is scaling Gameball to all 30 MLB teams,” Hendrixon says. “The technology is hard, but we know what to do. The push notification content will be a challenge. Our hope is that we can find true fans in each market to write notifications.”
 
They’re also hoping to build a relationship with Major League Baseball around Gameball.
 
“Baseball is at an interesting place right now,” Hendrixon says. “A lot of people feel it has been fading and losing younger fans. We’re really trying to make baseball fun again for young people and to move past the steroids era.
 
“Baseball is a great game with a rich tradition that’s woven into the history of our country. What we’re trying to do is help people appreciate the game and its complexities as well as bring optimism and positivity to the game. But it can be a challenge to write positive push notifications when the Reds have lost six in a row.”
 
The Blue Seat Media team has big plans for the still-young company.
 
“We’re really trying to build the next great baseball technology company,” Hendrixon says. “Our focus right now is building Gameball, but the vision is to have a company and product studio building high-quality design-focused products for every level of baseball.”
 
Although their start-up budget doesn’t include tickets to the July 14 All-Star Game, the staff and supporters of Blue Seat Media are planning to watch it together on television and celebrate the progress they’ve made this year.
 

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.
 

TEDxCincinnati sells out July 9 event, looking to expand in 2016


Even before the speakers for the sixth annual TEDxCincinnati were announced, the July 9 event, themed “Accelerate,” has sold out. (UPDATE: speakers/performers are now listed here.)
 
“One of the things that’s interesting about TEDxCincinnati is that it’s not one speaker that makes a great event, it’s this combination of all different types of speakers and performers,” says TEDxCincinnati Director/Organizer Jami Edelheit. “It’s not like a demo day. It isn’t a company getting up and promoting what they’re doing. It’s not like a typical conference where there is a keynote speaker, then everybody else.
 
“It’s an event where every single story has some sort of impact or message. And it is the combination of speakers that makes it so fun and compelling.”
 
TEDxCincinnati speakers, still unannounced, will come from an array of disciplines, including technology, education, health, arts and social justice. This interdisciplinary approach encourages people to explore subjects and ideas that may be unfamiliar.
 
“TEDxCincinnati is about storytelling, sharing ideas, innovation, looking at things from a different perspective and opening your mind,” Edelheit says. “I am always amazed at the end of our shows when we ask people, ‘What was your favorite?’ If I ask 10 different people, I get 10 different answers because people are touched by different things. If you come to this and you aren’t touched by something, I would be shocked.”
 
This is the third consecutive sell-out year for TEDxCincinnati in increasingly larger venues. The July 9 event is being hosted at the Cincinnati Masonic Center downtown, next to the Taft Theater, with a capacity of 1,000 attendees. Given the interest, organizers might add seats to the hall and advise those without tickets to join the waiting list.
 
The conference is an off-shoot of the popular TED Conferences, though individual TEDx events are self-organized. Both Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati host student-run chapters.
 
Choosing the speakers and performers is an ongoing part of Edelheit’s work. TEDxCincinnati accepts speaker applications and nominations through its website and hold auditions at a special happy hour.
 
“Last year the (happy hour) event completely filled up,” she says. “We pick some applicants to audition in front of a panel of judges and an audience with a prepared 2.5-minute presentation. It’s not an open mike, it’s like a mini show.”
 
In addition to local applicants and auditions, TEDxCincinnati also brings in outside presenters and performers.
 
“I work with a lot of people in Silicon Valley and around the country,” Edelheit says. “I’m always looking for people we can bring in to share their stories with Cincinnati. We also have advisers in different sectors throughout the community who will refer people. That combination gives us a pretty great pool of presenters and performers.”
 
A new addition this year is TEDxCincinnati Youth, a group of 100 high school students from the region who will help with the program. A few will even present.
 
“We realized that many teachers are using TED Talks in the classroom,” Edelheit says. “The idea is to build a community of thinkers and doers among high school students and expose our youth to TEDxCincinnati, giving them the opportunity to talk with young professionals and other people. For them to see what the future holds — after all, it’s their future.”
 
As part of its 100th anniversary, United Way of Greater Cincinnati is the presenting sponsor of the 2015 TEDxCincinnati.
 
“They were in the audience last year and thought the different ideas and perspectives were amazing and that it would be really fun to expose their audience to TEDx,” Edelheit says.
 
For those lucky July 9 ticket holders, Edelheit recommends arriving by 3 p.m. for check-in. The event will start promptly at 4 p.m. To prevent disruption of the presentations, latecomers will have to wait to be seated.
 
The program starts with 90 minutes of speakers and performances, followed by a break for participants to explore Innovation Alley, where they can purchase food and drinks, network and explore.
 
“The idea is for people to have a bit of interaction,” Edelheit says. “Last year there was virtual reality, Google Glass, some robotics, things like that.”
 
This year’s Innovation Alley will include a Foundation Way to showcase the work of local organizations.
 
“The reality is that the people off the stage are just as important as the people on the stage,” Edelheit says. “There’s a wide range of participants in the audience, from students to CEOs. Innovation Alley is a time when you can just turn and start up a conversation with someone you would never have met before and time to reflect on some of the things you heard on the first half.”
 
The second half of the program will start promptly at 7:15 p.m. and wraps up at 9:30.
 
The entire July 9 event will be recorded and uploaded to the TEDx website in August. Edelheit encourages people to watch and share the videos, as each view raises the profile of Cincinnati speakers and performers and could draw the attention of the larger TED organization.
 
As the event continues to grow — from 300 to 1,000 attendees in three years — Edelheit is already considering options for the future.
 
“We need a full day like other cities have,” she says. “The question is, is Cincinnati ready if we did a full-day event?”
 

Startup to connect online shoppers with "made in Cincinnati" products and creators

                                     
Cincinnatians who want to buy quality locally-made products from the comfort of their own home at any time of day will soon be in luck. Colleen Sullivan and Maija Zummo, with the help of a People’s Liberty Project Grant, will launch Made in Cincinnati this fall as an e-commerce site connecting consumers to local products and the makers’ stories.

Featuring “products as unique as the people who make them,” the concept came from Zummo’s experience as a journalist trying to find local vendors and products to write about in CityBeat and other publications.
 
“One of the main issues was finding locally-made products to feature,” she says, “and the other part was finding where to buy it.”
 
Made in Cincinnati aims to solve that problem for shoppers. Zummo wants to put her storytelling background to work to connect consumers to the stories behind the products they’re buying. Sullivan’s background in marketing and digital media will help makers showcase their products and gain more exposure.
 
The platform builds on two different trends in consumer habits. One is the increase in e-commerce, and the other is the movement toward local, ethical products and the resulting rise of maker culture.
 
“Increasingly people want locally-made products,” Zummo says. “People want to know that it’s ethically sourced, responsibly sourced, there are no sweatshops — just being conscious consumers.”
 
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm around maker culture right now,” Sullivan adds, “and we really want to be able to harness that and put it in the online space to give people another way to reach out.”
 
Made in Cincinnati will combine the convenience of purchasing through a digital device with the social responsibility of knowing the contents of your “shopping cart” were made in your own backyard. Zummo and Sullivan see Made in Cincinnati as the logical next step for both practices.

There are a variety of short-term venues for Greater Cincinnati makers to sell their wares in person, like City Flea and Crafty Supermarket, in addition to getting picked up by a brick-and-mortar store. There are also national and international e-commerce options like Etsy. A platform focusing on local makers will be one of the first of its kind.
 
Zummo and Sullivan say they’ve been re-energized by the passion of People’s Liberty staff and their fellow project grantees. The connections and support provided by the program has also made an impact, with design assistance and the People’s Liberty launch weekend helping flesh out the idea of what the site will look like.
 
Zummo and Sullivan hope to use their own skills in digital marketing and storytelling to help make connections between consumers and makers. They want Made in Cincinnati to streamline the process for makers who might want to sell online but don’t have the time or skill set to create and manage their own web page. They also want to make it easier for buyers to find makers who may otherwise be difficult to track down at specialty brick-and-mortar stores.
 
“There are certain hurdles that consumers have to be willing to jump over to find some of these vendors,” Sullivan says, “and we want to bring it to a very centralized 24/7 location online where they can find whatever they need.”
 
To keep users’ interactions with Made in Cincinnati easy and enjoyable, Zummo and Sullivan are creating a curated online experience featuring vendors who are experts in their fields and restricting the number of makers selling on the site at any time. They don’t want the marketplace to be too overwhelming for shoppers.
 
“If you get to the site and there's 800 ceramics vendors,” Sullivan says, “it’s going to be hard to find exactly what you want.”
 
By creating a platform with quality products and a pleasant user experience, the founders feel they are creating a lasting outlet in the local maker market.
 
“I think this is how people are going to shop from now on,” Zummo says. “The internet’s not going anywhere, people making stuff is not going anywhere, so you can say it’s a trend but it’s more just moving toward a way of life.”
 
Made in Cincinnati plans to officially launch at a physical pop-up event in Over-the-Rhine on Small Business Saturday in November. Until then the founders are available at info@shopmadeincincinnati.com.
 

ArtWorks summer murals to feature Ezzard Charles, James Brown, breweries, high-profile restoration


ArtWorks has lots of exciting projects planned for this summer's mural program.

Work is already underway to restore the Homage to Cincinnatius mural on the Kroger headquarters at Vine Street and Central Parkway. ArtWorks is coordinating the restoration with the mural's original artist, Richard Haas, and the Thomas Melvin Studio.

Because of the swing-scaffolding that will be used on the seven-story mural, professional local artists have been hired to complete the project. ArtWorks apprentices, who usually paint the summer murals, will instead work with local filmmaker Lauren Pray on a documentary about the restoration project.

In the 30 years since Homage to Cincinnatius was completed, the mural-making process has remained largely the same in terms of execution, according to Christine Carli, director of communications at ArtWorks.

“The paint we use is a specific kind, NovaColor, which is a very durable paint for outdoor use,” she says. “After the mural is painted, we put on several clear coats to protect it from sun and rain damage. We expect the murals to last for at least 20 years.”

Preparation work is also underway for the Ezzard Charles mural at Republic and West Liberty streets in Over-the-Rhine. Once the wall is ready to go, ArtWorks apprentices will work with artist Jason Snell to transform the wall into an homage to the “Cincinnati Cobra,” as Charles was known to boxing fans.

This mural is part of the Cincinnati Legends series, which includes Snell's design of the Henry Holtgrewe mural on Vine between 13th and 14th streets. The Charles mural will be “more figurative and less illustrative” than the Holtgrewe design, Carli says.

“ArtWorks is really excited about the Ezzard Charles mural,” she says. “It will officially be our 100th mural, and we will be doing a lot of programming about that, including a celebration at the end of the project when we dedicate the mural.”

Charles was chosen for the 100th mural subject because of his “rich history in sports and Cincinnati and because he has so many ties to so many famous Cincinnatians, including Theodore Berry, who was his mentor,” Carli says. “We are excited to celebrate Ezzard Charles with this really beautiful image.”

A mural at Main and East Liberty streets will honor Cincinnati's musical heritage and the individuals who shaped the “Cincinnati Sound.”

“The image will be a really cool graphic portrayal of James Brown,” Carli says. “This is a part of Liberty where not a lot of people walk but where a lot of people drive by, so we wanted to choose one really stunning image.”

Cincinnati's brewing heritage will be showcased in two murals. The Over-the-Rhine Brewery District Community Redevelopment Corporation is sponsoring its second mural, this one located on the north side of the new Christian Moerlein brewery housed in the historic Kauffman malt house. The second mural will be located on the historic Schoenling brewery at Liberty Street and Central Parkway, now home to the Samuel Adams brewery.

“In the next three to five years there will be a nice cluster of public art in the Northern Liberties,” Carli says of the area north of Liberty Street.

In the fall, ArtWorks will add another mural to the Cincinnati Masters Series, the first female depicted is the series. A painting of artist Elizabeth Nourse will be done in collaboration with the Mercantile Library.

As ArtWorks completes its 100th mural this summer, are they struggling to find subjects? Carli says no.

“We never run out of ideas because a lot of them come out of the community and Cincinnati history,” she says. “Our work with communities and neighborhoods keeps everything fresh and evolving.”

The public and communities are able to get directly involved with ArtWorks mural projects by helping support a $25,000 matching grant given by The George and Margaret McLane Foundation. Five ArtWorks projects, including the Ezzard Charles, Cincinnati Sound and the Brewery District murals, are featured on Power2Give. Donors can choose which of the five projects they want to support with a donation.

“Depending on where you live or work or the type of art you're interested in, you can pick your favorite mural to support,” Carli says. “This matching gift and Power2Give gives us a conduit to empower communities to raise funds for the projects they're supporting. The matching grant gives people an immediate way to click and donate.”

ArtWorks and its community partners will be promoting the grant and matching opportunity through community council meetings, newsletters and social media.

People are also encouraged to engage with ArtWorks apprentices through social media and the ArtWorks walking tours.

“Last year we started using #ArtWorksHere for apprentices to document their experiences on the worksite,” Carli says. “We encouraged apprentices to share positive experiences, friends they've made, progress on the mural, something new they learned that day and to say thank you.”

Carli advises those interested in following the 2015 and hashtag that many of the apprentices use Instagram rather than Twitter or Facebook.

Apprentices also conduct two Saturday walking tours each weekend showcasing ArtWorks murals in Downtown (Cincinnati Genius Tour) and Over-the-Rhine (Spirit of OTR Tour). The ArtWorks apprentice program is “not just learning how to paint,” Carli says. “We provide training for public speaking, and by the end of the experience they grow up and become more poised and confident.”

As ArtWorks apprentices are busy with murals and media projects, the staff will be planning for next summer, their 20th year bringing art to Cincinnati neighborhoods.
 

Vora Ventures connects to local technology ecosystem with first Demo Day


Blue Ash-based private equity group Vora Ventures held its first Demo Day May 28 to showcase companies at various stages of growth and maturity receiving its research and development dollars.
 
“Vora Demo Day was different than a typical accelerator program,” says John Hutchinson, head of corporate development for Vora Ventures. “We presented exciting companies that are well-established and have a record of growth and innovation as well as some of our cutting-edge newer technologies. Our goal for this event was to connect with the local technology community and share the interesting work that we are doing at Vora. ... We have been focused on building our companies and are increasing our focus (now) on contributing to the great Cincinnati technology ecosystem.”
 
Vora Ventures was founded in 2006 by serial entrepreneur Mahendra Vora to acquire and support innovative technology companies. Vora himself is no stranger to the high-tech industry as the co-founder of Intelliseek (now merged with Nielsen Buzzmetrics), SecureIT (now part of VeriSign) and Pioneer Systems (now part of Unisys).
 
Vora came to Cincinnati in 1988 to join Intercomputer Communication Corporation, a firm established by his University of Michigan classmate Kevin O’Connor. After the sale of that firm, Vora launched his own effort to encourage technology innovation in the Greater Cincinnati area.
 
In 2005, Vora and attorney Tim Matthews transformed the 366,000-square-foot Champion Paper plant in Hamilton, Ohio into one of the most advanced technology parks in the country. Vora Ventures was established the following year with 10 employees.
 
As Vora Ventures grew, the company acquired the U.S. Financial Life Center in Blue Ash and developed the 43,000-square-foot facility into the Vora Innovation Center, providing a home to five of its own companies.
 
Vora Ventures now employes 2,000 people with offices in Cincinnati, Dayton and Hamilton, Ohio; New York; California; and Bangalore and Ahmadabad, India. The company was named “2015 Tech Company of the Year” at the Cincinnati Business Courier’s Innovation and Technology Awards.
 
“We are unique within the Cincinnati (entrepreneurial) ecosystem in that we have technology infrastructure, software and services companies and as a group we are equal parts innovator, investor and high-growth technology company,” Hutchinson says. “Cincinnati is a fantastic place to live and work, with a very manageable cost of living. We have many Fortune 500 companies (here), and there is a much richer pool of talent than people recognize. This allows us to attract and retain talent at a cost advantage to some of the more traditional startup communities.”
 
He points out that, despite the national perception that Cincinnati companies can’t compete in the broader technology market, several Vora companies are doing quite well. Vinimaya, for instance, facilitates procurement across 80 countries and boasts a blue-chip customer list featuring GE, Alcoa, Siemens, Visa and the U.S. Department of Energy. AssureCare has contracts to provide managed healthcare software for tens of millions of patients.
 
Vora Ventures currently has a portfolio of 12 companies providing software, services and infrastructure solutions. Six of the companies offered presentations and demonstrations of their products May 28 Demo Day, including:
 
Ascendum, a provider of global IT business solutions that recently acquired FMS, a subsidiary of Turner Construction Co. offering construction and facility management software
 
AssureCare, working with the medical community to help healthcare plans and providers coordinate data and patient care using its MedCompass software
 
CenterGrid, offering businesses IT solutions such as data storage and private cloud-based services
 
Vinimaya, a business-to-business cloud-based procurement system
 
Zakta, a platform promoting social intelligence and collaborative solutions
 
Zingo, an app and in-store experience that allows retailers to customize offers and interaction with their customers. When it opens, Clifton Market will be the first store in the country to use the full Zingo system
 
Other companies held by Vora Ventures include Blue Spring, cFIRST Be Sure, Koncert, Open Commerce and Talent Now.
 
“The response during and after the (Demo Day) was tremendous,” Hutchinson says. “The attendance far exceeded our goals, and the energy and excitement amongst the crowd was inspirational to our team. Many of those who attended were surprised to learn the breadth of technologies currently in the Vora Ventures portfolio as well as the growth and depth of some of our leading companies.”
 
Hutchinson credits community and business leaders for their efforts to promote Cincinnati’s startup, entrepreneurial and technology resources to national and international audiences.
 
“There are so many exciting things happening in the Cincinnati technology community,” he says. “We are enthusiastic about getting more involved and know that we can contribute, lead and benefit from an even stronger connection to the local community. We expect to produce several great technology companies here in Cincinnati in which the entire community can take pride.”
 

ArtWorks chooses Big Pitch finalists to enter mentoring program


ArtWorks has chosen eight local companies to compete for up to $20,000 in grants in August. The Big Pitch finalists are now a part of ArtWorks' 10-week mentorship program and will receive help from a business mentor and a U.S. Bank small business specialist to get their companies off the ground.
 
The eight finalists include two food-related companies, Grateful Grahams and Butcher Betties Meats and Sweets. Grateful Grahams is a nationally-recognized bakery specializing in handmade vegan treats. The founder, Rachel DesRochers, has already sold her products to Whole Foods locations nationwide as well as smaller specialty stores in Cincinnati and elsewhere. Butcher Betties Meats and Sweets is a female veteran-owned butcher shop providing local, grass-fed meats. The owner, Allison Hines, can be found serving up fine meats behind the counter at her Florence location.
 
Three finalists focus on design. Brush Factory, owned by Hayes Shanesy and Rosie Kovacs, uses regionally sourced hardwood to craft custom furniture. Jason Snell of We Have Become Vikings offers creative strategy and design help to small companies and community voices. Cut and Sewn, the brainchild of Jenifer Sult, hopes to help fellow entrepreneurs with their design, sewing and pattern-making needs.
 
The 2015 Big Pitch competition will also feature Hazel Brown Photography, offering photography and product development services. Founded by Jess Sheldon, it will also sell functional fine art pieces as retail.
 
Finally, two finalists have brick-and-mortar locations already established. Original Thought Required, a streetwear and fashion boutique opened by James Marable, features limited edition apparel from independent designers on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. Roebling Point Books and Coffee, located on Greenup Street in Covington, seeks to bring the neighborhood together under owner Richard Hunt's support of local authors and artists.
 
“This is an amazing group,” says Caroline Creaghead, ArtWorks' director of creative enterprise, “and the diversity of businesses that applied attests to Cincinnati’s growing need for small business support for working creatives. This is the type of creative talent that we want to retain and support.” 
 
Each of the eight finalists will present a five-minute pitch on Aug. 27 in the hopes of receiving the $15,000 grand prize and/or $5,000 “audience choice” prize. Previous grant-winners Noble Denim and Madisono's Gelato have used the money and the mentorship opportunities to expand their businesses dramatically over the last year.

The August Big Pitch event will be open to the public.
 

UP Cincinnati's next Startup Weekend to focus on female entrepreneurs

 
The Greater Cincinnati startup community is focusing on female entrepreneurs with Startup Weekend Women’s Edition May 29-31.
 
Organized by the all-volunteer UP Cincinnati team, the 54-hour marathon event brings together designers, developers, entrepreneurs and experts to develop and pitch a startup idea, with a focus on connecting and showcasing the talents of female entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs.
 
UP Cincinnati is part of the UP Global network, promoting entrepreneurship, grassroots leadership and community development in cities around the world. Programs include Startup Weekend, Startup Digest and Education Entrepreneurs.
 
“Startup Weekend is encouraging ‘edition’ events, specialized events for women, healthcare, education and many other areas depending on the unique traits and needs of a particular city,” says Startup Weekend organizer and Casamatic co-founder Alex Bowman. “We identified (female entrepreneurs as) an opportunity to potentially grow diversity in the Cincinnati entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
 
The tech industry has come under scrutiny recently for the lack of inclusion in the workplace. Encouraging women entrepreneurs with female-focused startup weekends is a relatively new development for UP Global.
 
“I think the industry as a whole is challenged,” Bowman says. “We’ve made great strides in Cincinnati already with amazing, established groups like Girl Develop It and Bad Girl Ventures. We hope that Startup Weekend Women’s Edition encourages more of this.”
 
Although the startup community often focuses on technology, Startup Weekend welcomes ideas for products and services as well, according to Bowman.
 
“Any and all ideas are encouraged,” he says. “And even if you don't have an idea, that's OK — come and listen to the pitches on Friday night and decide which idea you want to work on over the course of the weekend with a team. Remember, it’s about the experience building the startup, not the idea itself.”
 
The schedule for the weekend is intense, starting on Friday with idea pitches, team selection and role assignments. On Saturday the teams will continue their work, meeting with coaches and mentors throughout the day. The event culminates Sunday with final presentations and judging. Supplies and meals will be provided to registrants.
 
“We just ask that participants come ready for a challenging but exciting weekend,” Bowman says. “It can be exhausting, but it’s a ton of fun!”
 
Bowman and colleagues have recruited what he calls a “dream team” of coaches and judges from the Cincinnati startup community.
 
“Our coaches will be spending time with all of the teams on Saturday, helping them by drawing on their own personal experiences at their startup,” Bowman says. “Our coaches include the likes of Candice Peters and Amanda Kranias from Hello Parent, Becky Blank and Amanda Grossmann from Girl Develop It, Emily Cooper from The Brandery and many more. We are fortunate to have for our judges Wendy Lea (CEO of Cintrifuse), Johnna Reeder (CEO of REDI Cincinnati), Joan Lewis (former SVP of Procter & Gamble) and several others. We’re so excited to have all of them participating and helping out.”
 
In order to participate in the weekend — hosted at UpTech in Covington with lead sponsorship by Kentucky Innovation Network and ezoneregistration is required and spaces are limited. Student discounts are available. Men are welcome to attend, according to the event website, “if they find a female participant to bring them along.”

See a video trailer for Startup Weekend here.
 
For startup enthusiasts who aren’t able to commit to the entire weekend, a special ticket for the Sunday presentations and judging is also available.
 
This will be the eighth Startup Weekend presented by UP Cincinnati and its second special “edition” event, the first being the 2014 Open Data Cincy weekend. Past events have drawn hundreds of participants, and Startup Weekend alumnus Tixers went on to join UpTech and was recently acquired by Florida-based OneUp Sports.
 
Startup Weekend’s “regular” edition will return in November.
 

Start Small housing concept gaining big momentum


Nearly halfway through his year-long People's Liberty Haile Fellowship, Brad Cooper’s Start Small project is starting to gain momentum.
 
Cooper was awarded the grant based on his proposal to build two 200-square-ft. single family homes on an otherwise unbuildable lot in Over-the-Rhine as a model for net-zero, affordable infill housing. He presented an update on his project, along with information for potential buyers, at a public event May 13 at the Over-the-Rhine Community Center.
 
Since starting the program, some aspects of Cooper’s design and concept have changed. The houses will now be 250 square ft. in order to accommodate the city’s zoning regulations. The two houses on Peete Street will also be attached to leverage potential energy and cost savings as well as to better fit the historic character of Over-the-Rhine.
 
Cooper's initial plans for composting toilets and water reuse will also be modified to meet building codes.
 
“The building codes need to adapt, and I think they will, but it will take time and people calling for the change,” says Cooper, who presented his project concept and suggested code changes to City Council’s Education and Entrepreneurship Committee in February.
 
The houses will be net zero, with solar panels providing all electricity. Cooper is working with Sefaria, an application that supports high-performance building design, to optimize the homes’ HVAC systems. Each house will have monitors to track the occupants’ energy usage as well as energy production from the solar panels.
 
As the popularity of the tiny house movement grows, it’s also come under criticism.
 
“This project is not for everyone,” Cooper acknowledges. “Start Small is providing choice and creating thoughtful infill development.
 
“The idea that tiny homes encourage less density is a myth. Zoning regulations that require minimum lot sizes encourage less density. Zoning regulations that prohibit two tiny homes being on the same lot encourage less density.”
 
Although not currently permitted under zoning code, “small homes could be developed as accessory dwelling units, which add density to areas,” Cooper says. “Multiple homes on one lot is permitted in neighborhoods that have adopted Form Based Code, and here I would expect the same density to be met as with a traditional project.”
 
Cooper encourages residents with concerns about density and other zoning issues to review the draft of the Land Development Code and contact the City Planning Department with any input.
 
As tiny homes become more common and zoning codes are updated to accommodate their construction, Cooper predicts ongoing evolutions of the concept to make tiny homes more appealing. “
 
I expect to see tiny homes with shared resources,” he says. “A communal kitchen, shared waste remediation, shared energy production and other communal ideas are a challenge to figure out but would make tiny living more affordable.”
 
Since January, Cooper has been working to develop financing options for potential Small Start homebuyers as traditional mortgages may be difficult to obtain.
 
“The main challenge is the unconventional nature of the project,” he says. “There is not a lot for an appraiser to compare the homes to locally, so having a lender feel comfortable with the value of the home is critical.
 
“Additionally, most mortgages are not held by the initial lending institution but bundled and sold on a secondary market dominated by government-subsidized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Those entities require the home to be at least a 1-bedroom. The tiny homes will qualify not qualify as 1-bedrooms. I’m anticipating the need for a (local) bank or even an individual to step forward and provide a loan to a tiny homeowner. This institution would be willing to take the risk on something out of the box and hold onto the mortgage.”
 
Initially, Cooper projected the houses would cost $80,000, although it now seems they may list for $70,000. He hopes to have buyers in place before fall so construction can be completed before the end of the year, allowing residents to move in to the homes by early 2016. Cooper has partnered with Working in Neighborhoods to help potential buyers through the process.
 
Community engagement is a big part of the Start Small project. Cooper hosted a one-day exhibit called “Size Matters” at Assumption Gallery to invite the public to explore ideas about tiny living and affordable housing. In March, Cooper invited the neighbors to 142 and 144 Peete St. to introduce himself and his idea for the property. Keep Cincinnati Beautiful organized volunteers and residents to help clean up the lot in April.
 
Cooper has also solicited public feedback on the design and amenities of the tiny houses. He plans to hold additional presentations and information sessions in the coming months.
 
It’s looking like his Start Small project may in fact turn into something big.
 

OTR Chamber sets the pace with 5K & Summer Celebration, two grant programs

 
The Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce continues its community- and business-building efforts with three upcoming programs.
 
First up this weekend, the ninth annual OTR 5K takes place on May 16 with a new route this year.
 
“For the first time we’re crossing over Liberty Street,” says OTR Chamber President Emilie Johnson. “The new route allows for us to make way for the streetcar, but it also goes along with the mission of why the race was founded: to invite people to Over-the-Rhine to see the old, the new and what's coming up. It’s very appropriate that as the neighborhood continues to grow the 5K continues to grow, too.”
 
Runners and walkers are encouraged to register online before 5 p.m. Wednesday in order to guarantee receiving a race shirt. This is one of the few races in the area that welcomes dogs and child-occupied strollers. The fastest runners with a dog or stroller will be recognized at the award ceremony alongside running and walking finishers with the best overall times and the best times by age category.
 
Dogs and kids get special treatment during the race and at the post-race Summer Celebration in Washington Park. Canine runners can quench their thirst from dog dishes provided at the mid-point water station and the finish line. The League of Animal Welfare will be walking the race with some of their adoptable dogs and will have a tent in the park following the race.
 
After cheering on the 5K participants, children ages 3-5 will be invited to run their own race, starting just after noon on the Washington Park lawn. Child-friendly activities hosted by Necco will be offered at the Summer Celebration from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m.
 
City Flea and Art on Vine will showcase a diverse array of fine art and craft vendors in conjunction with the Summer Celebration, which will also feature two stages of live music from local bands throughout the day as well as food and drink from local vendors.
 
Volunteers are still needed for the 5K and Summer Celebration, and Johnson says “a fun way people can get involved this year is to make signs and support the runners at the cheering posts located at every critical turn along the route.” The cheer stations are a new addition this year to help runners navigate the new route and encourage more community participation.
 
In addition to the community-building 5K and summer party, the Chamber has two business building initiatives now underway.
 
Applications for the second round of Innovation Challenge grants for existing OTR businesses closed last week. Eighteen businesses are competing for the $1,000 grants, which required applicants to demonstrate creative ways to grow their business.
 
The Chamber awarded two Innovation Challenge grants last year.

Steam Whistle Letterpress and Design implemented its project immediately, buying display racks specialized for their cards and provided them to other OTR and downtown businesses that sell Steam Whistle products.

We Have Become Vikings had plans for a larger scale project it’s close to implementing, according to Johnson. The design firm is developing a street-level video game to showcase its business capabilities while providing an interactive activity for pedestrians.
 
The Innovation Challenge winners will be announced in the next couple of weeks. The program is supported by a grant the OTR Chamber received from Fifth Third Bank.
 
The OTR Chamber's other grant program, the Business First Grant (BFG), is accepting applicants through June 15. This larger grant program provides up to $20,000 in matching funds to a new business looking to locate in Over-the-Rhine.
 
The BFG “helps support sustainable businesses, but is really helping to animate the streets and sidewalks,” Johnson says. “The focus is on transformational businesses, which could mean locating on a block of OTR that needs an anchor business or opening on a critical cross street to better connect the OTR business districts or that the business offers a type of product or clientele that's not currently in the neighborhood.”
 
Previous BFGs were awarded to the businesses that helped establish Vine and Main streets as shopping and dining destinations: MiCA 12/v, Little Mahatma, Park + Vine and Senate on Vine and Iris Book Cafe and Original Thought Required on Main. Before Findlay Market was fully leased, the BFG program helped fund Dojo Gelato, Fresh Table and Pho Lang Thang there.
 
More recent recipients were The Yoga Bar on 14th Street, Picnic and Pantry on Republic Street and Hen of the Woods, which will open a storefront at the northern end of Main Street later this year.
 

People's Liberty announces first 8 Project Grants, final grant program to launch


People’s Liberty continues to redefine the mission and tools of philanthropy, announcing its first Project Grants April 24 at its new Globe Building headquarters in Over-the-Rhine. Like all of its grant programs, the Project Grants were awarded to individual area residents with innovative ideas to positively impact their communities and, in the organization’s hopes, disrupt the status quo.

Eight winners were presented by People's Liberty co-founders Eric Avner (Haile Foundation) and Amy Goodwin (Johnson Foundation) and asked to sign their contracts, which stipulate that each would receive up to $10,000 to complete their projects within the next 10 months. A second round of Project Grants will be awarded in the fall.

The winning projects represent a wide array of community engagement, from site-specific events to arts and culture to online community building to public transportation. They were selected by an external panel made up of local civic, creative and business leaders.

People’s Liberty has now launched all three of its intended grant programs: $100,000 Haile Fellowships, awarded in December to Brad Cooper and Brad Schnittger; $15,000 Globe Grants to activate the Globe Building's ground-floor gallery space, with the first exhibition, Good Eggs, on display through June 12; and these $10,000 Project Grants.

The Project Grant recipients are:

Giacomo Ciminello: Space Invaders
An interactive outdoor installation with a projection-mapped video game designed to activate Cincinnati’s abandoned spaces.

Anne Delano-Steinert: Look Here!
A site-specific public history exhibition to take place on the streets of Over-the-Rhine.

Quiera Levy-Smith: Black Dance Is Beautiful
A cultural event designed to showcase diversity in Cincinnati dance and encourage youth to pursue their passions and break down barriers.

Alyssa McClanahan w/ John Blatchford: Kunst: Built Art
A quarterly printed magazine featuring redevelopment projects of historic Cincinnati buildings.

Mark Mussman: Creative App Project (CAP)
A project to certify up to 20 local residents from a broad range of backgrounds during a three-month Android App Developers educational series.

Daniel Schleith w/ Nate Wessel and Brad Thomas: Metro*Now
A set of low-cost, real-time arrival signs for the Metro bus system to be installed in storefronts at or near bus stops.

Nancy Sunnenburg: Welcome to Cincinnati
A new tool is designed to effectively welcome newcomers to a community by connecting them with local organizations, businesses and civic opportunities.

Maija Zummo w/ Colleen Sullivan: Made in Cincinnati
A curated online marketplace to encourage shopping local by showcasing products created by Cincinnati’s best makers and artisans.

The eight grantees will have access to workspace, mentoring and design and communications support at People's Liberty starting May 30. Look for Soapbox profiles of each of these eight projects as they ramp up over the next few months.

Applications for the next round of Project Grants are due by Sept. 14.
 

Jewish Federation event asks nonprofit entrepreneurs to explain what "sparked" their life changes

 
Entrepreneurship and storytelling are popular topics in Cincinnati these days. “The Spark Behind the Change” takes a different approach to both April 29 at Japp's OTR, focusing on social innovation and exploring the inspiration that resulted in new organizations and programs.
 
The event, organized by the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, focuses on individuals who created innovative entrepreneurial projects that are registered nonprofits or not focused on making a profit, says Sammy Kanter, Mentoring Coordinator for the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati's Esther and Maurice Becker Networking and Mentoring Center.
 
“What is really exciting about the Spark presenters is that what they are doing is affecting our Cincinnati community directly,” Kanter says. “For the most part, their projects are based here and are for the people of Cincinnati.”
 
Several of the presenters come from the arts community, a sector not typically referred to as entrepreneurial — although that perspective is beginning to change.
 
“At ArtWorks we see a lot of our work within creative enterprise, especially Co.Starters and the ArtWorks Big Pitch, as a support and even an anchor for creative entrepreneurs,” says Tamara Harkavy, CEO and founder of ArtWorks. “One of our core values is we nurture emerging talent, artists and creative entrepreneurs, connecting them to corporations and the public at large in order to empower them to transform the region. Nothing comes from nothing — we take something great and make it better.”
 
In the nonprofit world, innovation often includes a call for social justice and personal discovery.
 
“We believe that art creates powerful change and often works toward social change,” says Kim Popa, Executive Director of Pones Inc., the local dance company and serendipitous art creator. “We hope to create awareness of issues that the community may not know about such as human trafficking in Cincinnati, homelessness and trans populations. Pones Inc. performers use their bodies to speak their minds.”
 
Other Spark panelists include:

• Barbara Hauser, founder The Red Door Project, a pop-up community art gallery showcasing the work of professional and hobbyist artists;

• Jordan Edelheit, who started the first TEDx at Ohio State and went on to organize the first prison-based TEDx series;

• Derrick Braziel, William Thomas II and Allen Woods, founders of MORTAR, an accelerator focusing on non-traditional entrepreneurs in underserved communities; and

• Rabbi Laura Baum, creator of the Our Jewish Community website that uses social media, YouTube and other technologies to meet the changing needs of the Jewish community on a national level.
 
The host and moderator of the event is Jake Hodesh, Vice President of People’s Liberty, the Over-the-Rhine-based philanthropy providing grants to individuals and organizations working to make positive changes in Cincinnati.
 
Spark organizers and participants hope this night of storytelling will generate ideas and inspiration in others.
 
Kanter would like “to see more people creating innovative projects that are locally based nonprofits, that are created with the goal of generating change and making the city a better place to live for all populations.”
 
“I think that the title of the event is my wish for an outcome,” Popa says. “I am most interested in opportunities where people leave inspired or questioning or moved to continue the conversation.”
 
“The Spark Behind the Change: An Evening of Storytelling and Networking with Cincinnati’s Biggest Social Innovators” is free and open to the public. Get more information or RSVP here.
 

1,500 local students learn architecture, construction basics through Design LAB program


Over the past four months, 1,500 students in 78 Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky schools have studied the basics of architecture and construction while designing a model dwelling. Their work is part of the 2015 Design LAB (Learn and Build), a program of the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati (AFC) in collaboration with the American Institute of Architects of Cincinnati (AIA), and is on display at the Main Public Library downtown through May 2.
 
“Design LAB encourages innovation by fully engaging students in the design process, broadening their perspective and asking questions that enable them to actively participate in the built environment,” says AFC Education Director Catrina Kolshorn. “With a focus on real world solutions, students develop and create unique approaches to a design challenge utilizing research, critical thinking, problem solving, creative expression and visual/verbal communication.
 
“As students create and model their projects, they build an awareness, knowledge and sense of community through sharing their ideas, gaining an appreciation of the built environment and understanding the interactive role they can play in shaping it.”
 
The Design LAB program is intended to adapt to many subject areas and grade levels. Participants this year include all grade levels in K-12 classes on architecture, art, biology, ecology, engineering, geometry, language arts, science and social studies.
 
The 2015 theme of “Dwelling” gave students the option of a rural or urban site to design a home for their chosen client. Each teacher shaped the project and client selection to fit with their class curriculum. Students have chosen Greek clients based on their study of The Odyssey as well as Maya Angelou, Picasso and Dr. Seuss, among many others.
 
Students typically work in teams to create a model and a tri-fold panel display that illustrates their design process. AFC expects at least 175 submissions for the Design Fair, where entries will be judged on both the model and the display.
 
Four awards will be given in each grade category: Build-Ability for the projects most able to be constructed in the real world; Sustain-a-Builder to the projects using the best green building technologies; Solution Builder to projects showing the most innovation and creativity in meeting the client's needs; and a Juror’s Choice award. The 30 jurors, as well as the 65 classroom mentors, are all volunteers.
 
Design LAB is a revamped version of Architecture by Children (ABC).
 
“The new name reflects the emphasis on design as well as the learning and building of the hands-on, project-based program,” says AFC Executive Director Kit Anderson.
 
ABC was managed by AIA Cincinnati volunteers for nearly 20 years.
 
“Over the last few years AFC has become increasingly involved as a collaborator and partner in the program and has been the primary financial sponsor of ABC for some time,” Anderson says. “As the program continued, it became clear that in order for it to grow and strengthen it required much more time and attention than a volunteer group could give it. We all agreed that AFC would manage, fund and implement the program in association with AIA Cincinnati.”
 
As a 501(c)3 nonprofit entity, the foundation was able to seek regional and national grants that ABC was previously ineligible for, increasing opportunities for professionalization and future growth. These changes are already generating results, with a grant from the Stillson Foundation supporting the 2015 program. Design LAB is also funded by contributions from the built environment community and AFC’s annual Apple Award Gala.
 
Those donations also provided the resources for AFC to hire Kolshorn to manage the program, recruit new participants and coordinate the many volunteers who work in-classroom with the students and as judges for the Design Fair.
 
The 2015 Design LAB Design Fair will be displayed in the first floor atrium at the Main Public Library all week, ending with a public reception recognizing program participants 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, May 2.
 

Ocean's first startup class sets sail at April 29 Demo Day


Ocean, the nation's first faith-based business accelerator, presents Demo Day April 29 at Crossroads Church in Oakley to showcase its inaugural class of 10 startup companies. Over the course of the six-month program, each Ocean startup received a seed investment of $20,000 as well as co-working space, intensive training, mentorship and legal and accounting services.
 
“Demo Day is a day,” Ocean Executive Director Genine Fallon says. “It's a wonderful day, it's a glorious day, but it's a day. We've been preparing since the moment our class stepped in here, and they've been preparing for it since the moment they conceptualized what they wanted to build.”

Fallon says that having Demo Day in the Crossroads auditorium commands attention and is the right place for the 10 startups to showcase themselves. She emphasizes that event is about community and is open to the public.

“As the first faith-based accelerator, we want investors, key leadership and city officials to attend, but we are also extremely pleased to be able to present in a space that is welcoming to everyone,” she says. “If I'm hoping for anything, past the normal things that an accelerator hopes for — positive feedback all around for our companies and success tenfold — it is also for that person who has felt that entrepreneurial charge to be sparked to say, 'Yes, I can do it! I'm in the right city. This is the right time. Startup Cincy is the right space for me to be.'

“Demo Day is deep and wide. The depth of what's going to be talked about is moving and is deeply profound, and it's wide because it will bring a wide variety of people who will come and join us.”
 
Participants in Ocean's inaugural class represent an array of content areas and experience.
 
Cerkl, one of the more established Ocean startups, provides organizations with personalized newsletter content.

“Demo Day is going to be a hallmark event to really showcase the Cincy startup movement and to celebrate,” says Sara Jackson, known as Cerkl's Distributor of Pixie Dust. “It will demonstrate that this is one of the best places in the nation to build your business.”

Jackson and Cerkl founder Tarek Kamil have been impressed with their accelerator experience.

“Ocean is itself is a startup,” Kamil says. “To watch the Ocean model has been really good for us. Here, there is no failure — there is success and there is learning. Ocean may be the new kid on the block, but they're right up there with other accelerators.”
 
Alex Bowman and Chris Ridenour started Casamatic in late 2014 to match buyers to homes they'd be interested in buying, manage their schedule of showings and allow them make an offer from its website, with the prospect of receiving a rebate check after the sale closed.

“We both bought homes last year, and the process was terrible,” Bowman says. “We were surprised how every other industry has innovated since 2008 but real estate has not. We had an original idea to completely change the way you buy a home. But over the first months of the accelerator we iterated and iterated and figured out through customer evaluation and meeting with people in the industry that the initial idea we set out to accomplish was crushingly impossible and not what the market wanted at the time. So we decided to refocus.”

Casamatic's focus is now on matching buyers with their “perfect home,” altering them when new homes hit the market and instantly arranging showings.
 
Chris Hendrixson of Blue Seat Media has been working on his baseball app company with partner Jeffrey Wyckoff for several years. Since starting at Ocean, they've hired two developers and plan to launch their product in July.

“Doubling our team has changed everything, and we did not expect to be able to do that so fast,” Hendrixson says. “Up until Ocean it felt like we were on an island and had to encourage each other. Coming into Ocean and the sense of community just ready and willing to help us has been amazing. The classes and mentoring have been great, but knowing there are so many people who have your back is really special.”
 
Lyfeboat recently launched a roadside assistance app for the iPhone, with an Android version to be available over the summer. Co-founders Michael Reha and Phat Le says they're “big into learning and personal growth” and felt Ocean's faith-based program “was a right choice to build a strong foundation as a team” and a great fit for the Good Samaritan attitude central to their company.
 
The rest of Ocean's Class of 2015 includes:

Arena19, a web platform for sponsorship and branding opportunities

benobe, a career exploration app for teenagers

Quality Renters, which helps landlords find tenants

RINGR, offering studio-quality sound recording over mobile devices

Searen, producing affordable water treatment technology for aquaculture and desalination

StreamSpot, which enables live and on-demand streaming for faith-based organizations

Seafaring metaphors abound at Ocean, where participants talk about setting sail on a journey and riding waves, while meeting rooms are named after ports on the Sea of Galilee — apt comparisons for new businesses setting a course for adventure and success.

So come aboard Wednesday, April 29, they're expecting you at Demo Day. Doors open at 12:30 p.m., and the program begins at 1:00 at Crossroads Church in Oakley. Entrepreneurs Elias Roman, co-founder of Songza, and Colleen Arnold, senior vice president at IBM, will also discuss their experiences launching and growing successful companies.

Admission is free, and tickets can be reserved here.
 
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