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The Brandery opens applications for its seventh accelerator class


The Brandery has begun taking applications for its seventh annual startup accelerator class focusing on branding, design and marketing. Each of the selected 10-12 teams will receive $50,000 in seed funding and a year of free office space and mentorship in exchange for a 6 percent equity stake in their company.
 
The application deadline is April 15.
 
The Brandery is looking for the best and brightest startups inside Greater Cincinnati as well as from across the country and the world, says Program Manager Justin Rumao.
 
“We talk about how we have a marketing and branding bend,” he says, “but we encourage anyone with an idea to apply.”
 
In other words, applicants don’t have to have a completely fleshed out business plan to be considered for a slot in the four-month class. In fact, Rumao states that having a strong team is often just as important, if not more so, than the idea itself — ideas often transform in the startup world, but a strong team can carry a company through that type of transition.
 
For prospective applicants who aren’t quite sure yet or want to learn more, The Brandery has scheduled four sessions of “Open Office Hours” before applications are due as a chance for startups to meet its staff.
 
“The goal is not only to share their idea through the application but to bounce it off other people and really start building that network,” Rumao says, emphasizing that those networks are crucial to the Brandery program.
 
The class isn’t just about accelerating startup ideas through branding and design, it also helps entrepreneurial teams leverage the resources of Cincinnati’s startup ecosystem — access to big companies like Procter & Gamble and Kroger and a spirit of collaboration found throughout the region’s innovation scene. In fact, Rumao jests that the city’s environment is almost an “unfair advantage.”
 
“We’ve got something special brewing here,” he says. “There is no reason The Brandery can’t become a top-5 accelerator in the country.”
 
The program doesn’t want to just use the city’s and region’s resources, Rumao says — The Brandery wants to build them up as well, encouraging the entrepreneurs who go through their accelerator to stay here and invest in the area. They even provide opportunities for out-of-town startups to live in Branderyhaus three blocks from the accelerator’s Over-the-Rhine offices, helping newcomers get to know the local community while in the accelerator program.
 
“We want to make sure that as many people as possible who come through here stay here,” Rumao says.
 
Considering the stories of graduates like Natasia Malaihollo, founder and CEO of Wyzerr, it seems like The Brandery is succeeding on that front. Malaihollo recently told Soapbox that, after relocating from New York and California for a Brandery class last year, she’s hoping her startup can become the Google of Covington and help improve her new Northern Kentucky community.
 
If the past six years are any indication, The Brandery’s 2016 class will add plenty of valuable assets to Startup Cincinnati.
 

The Women's Fund rallies allies to promote economic empowerment for women


The Women’s Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation has been working to ensure women’s economic self-sufficiency for more than 20 years, supporting programs and conducting research around economic empowerment of women.
 
The fund looks at how gender affects a variety of issues in the community, and that gendered lens often helps reveal solutions to those issues. Women’s Fund Executive Director Meghan Cummings uses the example of child poverty to illustrate the approach.
 
Cincinnati has the second highest rate of child poverty in the country, and the majority of those children in poverty are living in single-parent, female-headed households. Cummings points out that when those facts are combined with Women’s Fund research like the PULSE: 2020 Jobs and Gender Outlook study conducted in 2014, it helps to illuminate the problem’s roots.
 
That study found vast differences in women’s and men’s economic opportunity as different job markets grow at different rates. Even though many job fields in Cincinnati are predicted to grow in the next five years, Cummings and the Women’s Fund looks more critically at those numbers.
 
“When we take a closer look at what kind of jobs are growing and who traditionally holds those jobs, it’s a much bleaker picture,” she says.
 
According to research, some of the biggest growth might happen in some of the lowest-paying sectors and subfields, like medical assistance and home health aides — jobs held overwhelmingly by women.
 
The Fund takes a comprehensive approach to addressing the economic well-being of women and girls along with issues like the high childhood poverty rate. It helps facilitate and connect the dots across the community from groups like the mayor’s Poverty Task Force to initiatives like Preschool Promise.
 
“These issues of women’s self-sufficiency, we think they affect our entire community,” Cummings says. “Our issues aren’t red or blue, they’re purple. These aren’t partisan issues, they’re community issues.”
 
Cummings explains that because the issues she looks at affect the entire community, the Women’s Fund tries to include as many community stakeholders and partner organizations as possible to help solve them. The inclusivity is reflected in the Fund’s events as well as in its board room — the Cincinnati Women’s Fund is one of the few women’s funds around the country with men in leadership positions.
 
Aftab Pureval, one of the first three men to join the Fund’s board roughly three years ago, is passionate about the work the fund does.
 
“If we’re going to address the issues and challenges we face, it’s going to be through the leadership of women,” Pureval says.
 
The Fund even hosts a yearly “Guys Who Get It” happy hour event to raise money and engage men in the community in these issues.
 
“Who knew if it would be successful or not,” Cummings says, remembering the first event three years ago. “We took a risk, and it was really successful. It was an unusual angle that, being a Women’s Fund, we were engaging men’s voices.”
 
“No matter your gender, age or experience, we need you at the table,” Pureval adds.
 
You can expect that the tables will be full at the next Women’s Fund event, its fifth annual “A Conversation With” gathering April 5 at Xavier University’s Cintas Center. National political commentator Cokie Roberts will be the keynote speaker.
 

GCF grant helps Hamilton Mill hire industrialist-in-residence and expand student support


Just a short drive north of Cincinnati, Hamilton Mill offers a distinctive experience within the Startup Cincinnati ecosystem.
 
“We focus on technology that helps Southwest Ohio manufacturers have small and lean shops,” says Director of Operations Antony Seppi.
 
Hamilton Mill also emphasizes clean and green technologies through a special collaboration with the City of Hamilton. The city utilities department currently produces nearly 90 percent of its energy from renewable resources and shares that expertise with participants in Hamilton Mill’s programs.
 
Unlike the familiar short-term accelerator program, Hamilton Mill is an incubator that accepts applications on a rolling basis and tailors the length of the program to the participant, whether that’s nine months or three years.
 
“Some companies need a prolonged maturation process,” Seppi says. “We have startups at many stages in their development.”
 
Startups participating in the Hamilton Mill program receive marketing resources and assistance, technology resources, networking opportunities, and mentors to help the startups hit their milestones. Hamilton Mill is also building an innovation fund that will be available to qualified startups graduating from their program.
 
“We have a unique niche in the greater Cincinnati startup ecosystem,” Seppi says. “We are really trying to engage with the Cincinnati community, and we work closely with Cintrifuse and CincyTech.”
 
A recent grant of $50,000 from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation (GCF) will help Hamilton Mill expand two of its signature programs.
 
Hamilton Mill is hiring an industrialist-in-residence to begin in a few weeks. It will be a rotating position featuring an expert in advance manufacturing who will consult regularly with the startups at Hamilton Mill.
 
“It offers added value to our participants, provides alternative perspectives, and helps formalize our program in advanced manufacturing technologies,” Seppi says.
 
The GCF grant will also support the development of a student entrepreneurship program, NextGen.
 
Hamilton Mill has been working with a couple of student startups, including one that has partnered with UC Health West Chester on a software project. However, there has is interest and opportunity to expand and further develop that program.
 
“NextGen lays a groundwork for high school and college students throughout Butler County to build and develop ideas,” Seppi says. “This is an expansive program that will include coding, app development, and technology.”
 
NextGen will incorporate students who have been participating in Butler Tech’s organization Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship (SAGE). Hamilton Mill expects to work closely with Butler Tech and SAGE to develop the NextGen program and hopes the program will be up and running before the end of this academic year.
 
For bricks and mortar businesses looking to start or get assistance in Hamilton, the Hamilton Mill is also home to the Small Business Development Center supported by the State of Ohio. They have two consultants who offer workshops, information and training and have recently brought a grocery store and bakery to Hamilton.
 
In the spring Hamilton Mill will get new bragging rights as the only Southwest Ohio startup program with an on-site brewery. Municipal Brew Works is building out a brewery and tap room in the former fire department space in the Hamilton Mill complex.
 

ArtWorks launches alumni network to connect 20 years of "doers"


ArtWorks has been around for nearly 20 years, touching the lives of thousands of local youths and adults through public art and creative enterprise programming. The noprofit launches an alumni network Feb. 4 to connect those people as a community of “doers.”
 
“Essentially we realized that over the past 20 years we’ve engaged almost 4,000 individuals,” says Colleen O’Connor, ArtWorks’ Talent Manager. “It’s time to re-engage them.”
 
The alumni network will provide ways for ArtWorks to support the careers of alumni through networking, mentorship opportunities, professional development workshops and meaningful engagement. The network is designed to bring together participants from all of the organization’s various programs.
 
The Feb. 4 event will feature food by provided by three different graduates of the Creative Enterprise division’s Co.Starters classes. More than 200 alumni of that program will soon be joined by a few more entrepreneurs — a new Co.Starters class started last Wednesday night and will graduate in nine weeks with lessons and connections to help them put their business ideas into action.
 
Another ArtWorks Creative Enterprise program is Big Pitch, sponsored by U.S. Bank, which has awarded $50,000 in funding prizes to creative small businesses and provided invaluable opportunities for them to receive mentoring and share their stories with funders and the public. Planning is underway for the third annual Big Pitch event later this year.
 
Of course, most ArtWorks alumni were participants in a summer apprenticeship program, particularly the organization’s famous public murals (for which ArtWorks is currently recruiting apprentices and teachers). The alumni network gives these apprentices a chance to connect, sometimes for the first time.
 
“I think one of the great things about our apprentices is there are almost 3,000 of them,” says ArtWorks Communications Director Destinee Thomas. “The teams work really closely together for six to eight weeks and become very close. We’re really excited to about bringing them back together.”
 
Thomas and O’Connor encourage all ArtWorks alumni to come to the event in February or register to be part of the alumni network.
 
“I think really just from walking around, I’m really blown away by the footprint ArtWorks has,” O’Connor says, citing a recent walk in Over-theRhine when she passed or visited Big Pitch alumni like Brush Factory and Original Thought Required while seeing mural after mural along the way. As the nonprofit enters its 20th year, that footprint is sure to keep growing.
 

Miami students get a taste of Cincinnati startup ecosystem via year-round internship program


Miami University students are getting more opportunities to intern at Cincinnati startup companies thanks to its expanded Cincinnati Digital Innovation Program. The collaboration between the school’s Armstrong Interactive Media Studies and Institute for Entrepreneurship allows students to do full- and part-time semester-long internships in summer, fall or spring.
 
Based on an established program Miami hosts in Silicon Valley, the opportunity is more than just an internship — it’s an introduction to the world of entrepreneurship and innovation. Students spend four days a week working with startup or tech companies in Cincinnati and once a week get to visit other tech companies, startups, chambers of commerce, development companies and other components of the local startup ecosystem.
 
“The goal was to see as many different angles of Cincinnati and the tech and startup scene as possible,” says sophomore Interactive Media Studies major Sam Huber, who participated in the program this fall. “Being able to see my home town in a new light was exiting for me.”
 
Huber interned at Cerkl, where he was able to put his design skills to use as well as learn more web development working alongside the team developing the company’s app. He says the experience was incredibly valuable, as was the chance to see Cerkl co-founders Tarek Kamil and Sara Jackson run the company.
 
“It was great just to have the real-world experience,” Huber says. “As good as Miami is in teaching in my program, there’s no comparison to seeing it actually happen.”
 
According to Mark Lacker, Miami’s John W. Altman Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship, that firsthand experience is exactly why the program matters.
 
“We’re training the startup workforce,” he says. “What kind of skills do you need to be a valuable, valued member of a growing startup company?”
 
Lacker says that Huber is just one of over 100 students to do internships in Miami’s program, which has been arranging summer internships since 2010 and recently expanded to offer opportunities year-round. He says that interest from startups matches that from the students, with more than 90 percent of host companies wanting to work with Miami students again. Some even offer further opportunities to the same students.
 
Although his internship is over, Huber says he’s still doing contract work for Cerkl and looks forward to continuing the relationship.
 

Ocean's new startup class "reaching people well beyond Cincinnati"


Greater Cincinnati’s faith-backed accelerator program, Ocean, welcomed its second class of startup participants last week. The nine companies include two from the United Kingdom and three from outside Cincinnati.
 
“We are thrilled that the concept of Ocean as an accelerator has an appeal that has grown to the point where we’re reaching people well beyond Cincinnati,” says Ocean CEO Scott Weiss. “It is a diverse and exciting group of companies.”
 
The new class includes companies at very different stages in their business development.
 
“Companies including Homefield, Riser and Devoo are just at the beginning of their journey,” Weiss says. “They have great insights, great founders and are beginning to pull together their product and the business plan to take that product forward. At the other end of the spectrum, we have companies like Liquid which are established and generating revenue and are ready to use Ocean to get to the next stage.”
 
Ocean also recruited a range of business types for the new class, including consumer applications, business to consumer and business to business.
 
The nine members of the 2016 Ocean class are:

Devoo: helps friends connect with activities and discounts

Feasty: matches hungry diners with nearby restaurant specials

Homefield: engages fans with each other and the game

Liquid: provides data collection, management and collaborative resources for scientific research

RISR: offers personal coaching for student athletes

Spatial: uses social media to analyze sentiment patterns and define the vibe of a neighborhood

Spirit Labs: developed Lepton to connect donors with causes, ministries and charities

We Help Others: works with churches and nonprofits to generate revenue with underutilized resources

We Love Work: matches job candidates to companies by evaluating the compatibility of the candidates’ values with the company culture to improve the success of recruiting and hiring
 
The Ocean participants will work with other founders, entrepreneurs, mentors and subject area experts over the course of their five-month residency at the organization’s work space adjacent to Crossroads Church in Oakley.
 
“We have a rich pool of mentors,” Weiss says. “As part of their commitment, they give active service to our companies. So a mentor with a financial background could help a company set up their initial charter of accounts; someone with a marketing background could be helping a company validate an insight. We are fortunate to have great partners.”
 
Coffee chats with other startup founders and entrepreneurs, including Ocean’s 2015 graduates, provides an opportunity for the current class to share experiences and ask questions. Teaching sessions are offered at least twice a week to address specialized business topics as well as the faith-based subjects that differentiate Ocean from other accelerator programs.
 
“Ocean is beginning to prove that it’s a very effective business accelerator,” Weiss says. “But it is uniquely an accelerator that builds into the founder by taking a spiritual journey that’s integrated into the business journey. So the founder, the person, comes out of our program with more insight, self-awareness and maturity, and that is what helps them succeed as an entrepreneur.”
 
The 2016 Ocean class will have its demo day on April 28, but the program continues through May to help the class handle the negotiating, media coverage and other opportunities that arise after their demo day presentations.
 
“The date of demo day is carefully planned with Cintrifuse and our other partners in the city,” Weiss says. “All these people are working hard to continue to grow the vibrant startup economy we’re seeing in the region. We want Ocean to be an additive experience to the startup ecosystem so the region continues to shine.”
 
Other Cincinnati startup news

Bad Girl Ventures will announce the first class of its new LAUNCH program at a Feb. 3 event at Rhinegeist. Cintrifuse CEO Wendy Lea will give the keynote address at the free event.
 
The next day, Covington-based UpTech holds its fourth demo day at 84.51 downtown. Reservations are required for both events.
 

People's Liberty launching reimagined Haile Fellowship application as "civic sabbatical"


If you visited the People’s Liberty website in December, you might have encountered a message that began “Dear Cincinnati: It’s not you, it’s us.” The philanthropic lab was in the process of reworking its application for the Haile Fellowship.
 
The fellowship is People’s Liberty’s “marquee grant” and worth its headliner status, with two grants per year worth $100,000 each given to an individual along with the challenge to “research, plan, implement and present the results of a big idea that could change our community’s future” during the grant period.
 
After a successful first year of the fellowship program, People’s Liberty was actually partway through the application process for the second year when the staff decided it needed to change.
 
“As a philanthropic lab, we are constantly learning, tweaking things, and everything we do is changing all the time,” explains CEO Eric Avner. “This one was pretty prominent because we were in the middle of the application process.”
 
Avner explains that the catalyst for the change was a forum the organization hosted of funders from all over the country who provide grants to individuals. During the day and a half of conversations, People’s Liberty heard from other grantmakers that what was really important wasn’t necessarily the work grantees accomplished during their fellowship window but the longer-term results over the following three to five years.
 
“What we quickly realized was that we were treating the Haile Foundation Grant like a $100,000 project grant,” Avner says.
 
So the People’s Liberty team stopped the process to rethink the questions they were asking applicants. The goal changed to focus not just on the nuts and bolts of the proposed project but on the individual applying. This way, People’s Liberty hopes to grow strong local leaders and create an impact that lasts beyond the fellowship year.
 
The redesigned application opens Jan. 13 at 9 a.m., followed by an information session at the People’s Liberty office in Over-the-Rhine at 6 p.m. Interested applicants can arrange 20-minute meetings with the People’s Liberty staff over the next few weeks. Applications close Jan. 29, with the two 2016 winners announced in late February.
 
Avner is happy with the new version of the application.
 
“This is a unique opportunity (for grantees) to take a civic-based sabbatical,” he says. “I encourage people to take on this opportunity to change the city and change themselves in the process.”
 

Travel startup helps clients plan dream trips three years and more in the future


With the ubiquity of online travel booking services, launching a travel business these days might seem like a risky premise. Yet Kim Zielinski thinks the services offered by her new company, Intellego Travel, will fill a unique niche.
 
Many people have an extensive list of places to visit and sites to see, but doing the research to accomplish those travel goals can be daunting. That’s where Intellego Travel comes in, with Zielinski operating as an independent contractor affiliated with larger travel consortiums and tour operators. She’s launching a new long-term travel planning service in 2016.
 
“I meet clients somewhere that is convenient to them and on their schedule,” Zielinski says. “We talk about their travel style, things that they like, things they don’t like, how much they want to spend every year on travel, how often they want to travel and discuss the destinations they want to visit over time as well as any specific timing for those trips, like an anniversary or graduation gift.”
 
Zielinski uses that information to put together a proposal plotting a three- year or longer travel schedule, balancing big budget trips with smaller itineraries. That document gives Zielinski a blueprint for timing advantageous booking, and the client has a framework for allocating savings and valuable vacation time.
 
“Multi-year travel planning helps remove a lot of the barriers to travel,” Zielinski says. “Clients often don’t have the time and effort to do all the planning, so I take care of that. And although they might have an idea, they don’t really know how much it will cost or they don’t have enough lead time to put that money aside. The plan we create helps them feel confident that over time they have a strategy and can check these destinations off their list.”
 
Planning travel years in advance may make some people nervous: What if things change or something comes up? Zielinski has the answer.
 
“There are a million things that can happen, it’s life,” she says. “So if there are advance deposits or a significant money outlay, I highly recommend a travel insurance policy. In general I always encourage coverage, but especially for big trips.”
 
As a mother and avid traveler, Zielinski appreciates the benefits of family travel and understands the challenges in making that family vacation a reality.
 
“Travel is so important because it gets you out of your little bubble,” she says. “There are so many things to see and do and experience, especially if you have kids. It’s amazing to give them an opportunity to see the world and how that opens their eyes and makes them curious. When you travel together, that shared experience is something that people remember forever and is so much more valuable than any material gift.”
 
Zielinksi works with a range of clients from independent travelers to group tour participants, retirees and working families.
 
“I think one of the big advantages of operating as an independent contractor is that I have access to all of these different tour operators, vendors, companies and products but I’m not tied to any of them,” she says. “I can recommend the things resonate with you, whether that’s volun-tourism, biking trips, adventure travel or something you wouldn’t necessarily think of.
 
“There are so many different and cool travel opportunities out there. At the end of the day, clients value the expertise and sounding board that I can provide as they accomplish their travel wish list.”
 

Mortar's newest startup grads are already making strides


Entrepreneurship accelerator Mortar Cincinnati celebrated the graduation of its third class with a pitch night Dec. 15, when more than 250 people gathered in its Walnut Hills pop-up space Brick 939.
 
Mortar has been on fire lately, and two of the three founders were recently named in Forbes’ 30 under 30 for Social Enterprise. Yet the “Life’s a Pitch” event — sponsored by Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, LISC, African-American Chamber of Commerce and Value City Furniture, host for Brick 939 — wasn’t about the founders, but about their students and community.
 
Although the night may have been the end of a nine-week business incubator class, it was just the beginning for the new entrepreneurs. Many had already come a long way in a very short time.
 
“We started out as a concept in our backyard hosting cookouts,” explains Kristen Bailey of Sweets and Meats BBQ, which also provided food for the pitch night event.
 
Bailey earned recognition as one of the top three pitches Dec. 15 and will compete in June against top pitches from previous Mortar classes. Bailey held her first official Sweets and Meats event just a little more than a year ago, with her only marketing consisting of fliers passed out to neighbors with Halloween candy.
 
Taking home pitch night’s top honor was Anton Canady, founder of PUSH, or “Pray Until Something Happens.”
 
Canady started putting his motto on T-shirts to sell after his release from prison last summer. He uses money raised from shirt sales to help support children whose parents are incarcerated, knowing from his own experience how difficult it was to provide for his own children.
 
“I started after doing seven and a half years of incarceration, and my kids had suffered at the time,” Canady says. “I had to call and borrow money for back-to-school shoes, holidays, birthdays. I couldn’t be there physically, but I wanted to be there materially.”
 
So PUSH is much more than the clothing line — it’s Canady’s way of paying his experience forward.
 
Although their projects are vastly different, the two Mortar graduates have a lot in common. They were both immediately drawn to the Mortar program and were tenacious in their efforts to connect with it.
 
Canady found Mortar’s Over-the-Rhine building while job hunting near his halfway house after incarceration. He knocked on the window until co-founder Derrick Braziel, who was inside preparing for a class, noticed and came out to speak to him.
 
Bailey had already been taking workshops about small business and entrepreneurship through various local organizations, but when she saw Mortar co-founder Allen Woods give a presentation at Crossroads Church, where she is a member, she went home and applied to Mortar that night. She remained on the waiting list until being admitted into the October class.
 
While Canady and Bailey both knew Mortar would be important for their ventures, they might not have been able to predict the personal impact the founders and community would have on them.
 
“It’s more of a psychological thing,” Canady says. “I’ve been going through stuff my whole life, and I haven’t had many proud moments. …When I graduated from Mortar and won pitch night, it made me want to go even harder.”
 
Bailey has similar sentiments about the Mortar founders as well as her SCORE mentor from the class.
 
“Their commitment is second to none,” she says. “I’ve never had anybody build into me and believe in me as much as they did.”
 
Now, thanks to the empowerment experienced in the program, these Mortar grads are taking even bigger “leaps of faith,” as Bailey puts it.
 
Sweets and Meats has ordered a custom food truck to move up from catering and setting up at events into Cincinnati’s food truck scene. Bailey is fundraising for the truck via an active Indiegogo campaign (currently at 39 percent of goal), and the purchase would be a big step up for the company.
 
“We were going to these food truck rallies with a tent,” Bailey says, explaining that their previous setup was no longer cutting it. “We actually lost business by not having a truck.”
 
While Bailey is hoping to debut her truck in March for food truck season, Sweets and Meats is hard at work catering. The company just started a contract with Aramark food services — a weekly commitment that provides some stable ground to build on.
 
PUSH is also looking to build and expand. Although the nonprofit is only six months old, the shirt line is available in several stores around town. Canady says he’ll soon begin merchandising beyond T-shirts to other types of apparel and goods, allowing him to then expand his community support, including long-term mentorship for two children.
 
“I know it’s kind of cliche, but if we can only help one or two, in the long run we’ll be doing our part,” Canady says. “There is not a shortage of people to help.”
 
To expand its capacity, PUSH is also raising funds to move into its first office space.
 

Kickstarter campaigns helped many (but not all) local startups in 2015


Last year several Cincinnati startup companies used Kickstarter to launch or expand product offerings with varying degrees of success, including several Greater Cincinnati food companies that exceeded their fundraising goals.

For urban mushroom farmer Alan Susarret, Kickstarter offered a way to increase production at Probasco Farms while supporting a community building project, Cincinnati Food Not Bombs. Susarret reached his Kickstarter goal in just over a week, raising more than double his target with 47 backers pledging $1,896.
 
A larger gourmet Kickstarter project involved Newport’s Carabello Coffee, looking to fund the remodeling and expansion of their facility. They exceeded their goal with 269 backers pledging $42,155.

Local foodie favorite Skinny Pig Kombucha leveraged Kickstarter to expand its brewing and bottling capacity. The campaign was selected as a Staff Pick by Kickstarter, and 139 backers pledged $10,800 to surpass the project goal.

“Kickstarter was a great way to build excitement about our product and help educate people on what we're trying to do,” says owner Algis Aukstuolis. “We ended up building a new brewing facility in South Fairmount in the former Lunkenheimer valve factory. This unforeseen change gave us a lot of delays, but we were finally able to start production in November. To help us grow, we’re working with Stagnaro distributors locally and will try to get into some more large retailers.”
 
Two Cincinnati-based clothing manufacturers also did well with Kickstarter campaigns to launch new production facilities and product lines.
 
Drew Oxley’s social enterprise company The Parative Project produces bags, T-shirts and flags with messages that raise awareness of human trafficking. Its successful summer Kickstarter campaign has allowed Oxley to partner with Freeset and The Aruna Project to move its production to India, where Parative will employ women rescued from human trafficking. The Parative Kickstarter campaign exceeded its goal with 305 backers pledging $23,022.

“We're currently working on a new website that will sell the goods made by the women of India,” Oxley says. “We have several new shirts and flags we’re excited to release. The site will also host a blog sharing practical ways for others to take action against social injustices.”
 
Another Kickstarter Staff Pick was the campaign to launch Victor Athletics, a new clothing line by Noble Denim to be made in Tennessee from organic materials. Their ambitious $100,000 goal was exceeded by $23,002 and supported by 1,166 backers, allowing Noble Denim and Victor Athletics to open a brick-and-mortar store in Over-the-Rhine. While working to ensure the store is a success, Victor Athletics has plans to expand in 2016.

“Based on the feedback from Kickstarter and our first season of sales for Victor, we'll hone in our fits and add a few new styles for Spring,” says co-founder Abby Sutton. “We want to aggressively grow our online sales in 2016 to continue to hire more sewers back and slowly tip the scales toward U.S. manufacturing.”
 
Unfortunately, not all of the local Kickstarter product launches were successful in 2015. Nutty Jar, a treat dispenser created by Cincinnati-based dog toy company Zigoo, cancelled its spring Kickstarter campaign. Education and hand-writing tool Grip Wizard fell short of its Kickstarter goal to launch large-scale manufacturing in Forest Park.
 
For those considering using Kickstarter in 2016, some of the 2015 campaign alumni have advice to offer.
 
“My wife and I were in Kickstarter mode 24/7, constantly showing our campaign to bloggers, networking with local groups and pushing on social media,” Oxley says. In hindsight, “I might have done more pop-up events as there was definitely more traction when people came across the campaign in person.”
 
“Kickstarter Campaigns are such a vulnerable experience because success is rarely measured so publicly,” Sutton says.
 
As their campaign launched, Noble Denim/Victor Athletics also faced technology issues with the Kickstarter platform that presented challenges for fulfillment and communication with campaign supporters. Although they were able to solve the problem through a third-party platform, Sutton and husband Chris took special care to acknowledge the campaign backers.
 
“We recognize that Kickstarter backers have a very unique relationship with the company because they get a different experience than a normal customer,” Sutton says. “To honor this, we gave our backers a discount code for life as a ‘thank you’ for their unique role in launching Victor. They deserve a price break forever for their faith in us, their patience and their ongoing support of the ethic of the company.”
 

HCDC business support is going strong one year after name change


As HCDC, Inc. prepares for its annual meeting and awards ceremony on Jan. 15, leaders at the former Hamilton County Development Company reflect on the year since announcing a name change to project a single identity for the three major services they offer. They’ve had a strong 2015 in all three sectors.
 
Norwood-based HCDC assists businesses opening or working in Cincinnati’s core and suburbs, but its efforts extend beyond Hamilton County across Southwest Ohio, Southeast Indiana and Northern Kentucky. It’s one of the oldest and largest engines in the tristate area for SBA lending, small business incubation and economic development.
 
Talking about these three major programs, HCDC President David Main chuckles.
 
“It’s like having three more children,” he says. “I’m asked which is my favorite, and I have to say, ‘It depends.’”
 
Small business lending
HCDC administers Small Business Association 504 and Ohio 166 loans. While the lending program took a hit several years ago because of the 2008 recession, it’s now back in full swing. This year the organization loaned approximately $26 million to area projects.
 
The organization is among the biggest SBA lenders in Southwest Ohio. Main estimates that they’re also probably one of the largest commercial real estate lenders in Over-the-Rhine, with borrowers like the Woodward Theatre, MOTR Pub and Gray & Pape Cultural Resource Consultants.
 
Business incubation
HCDC has been a small business incubator since “before it was cool,” Main says. In the 1980s, when manufacturing jobs were leaving the area, HCDC responded with assistance.
 
“We thought a business incubator would be a rational response to make the core of Hamilton County a business hub,” he says.
 
Their incubation program includes rentable office space, access to capital, workshops, mentoring and networking with other entrepreneurs. HCDC also rents CoWorks office space to entrepreneurs and individuals in the very early stages of their businesses. The workspace itself has proven inspiring as entrepreneurs support each other in a startup-friendly atmosphere.
 
“We are an environment that’s conducive to risk-taking and entrepreneurial thinking,” Main says. “Being in an incubator, they’re with other entrepreneurs who have faced, wrestled with and solved similar problems.”
 
HCDC’s incubation space is currently over 80 percent full, housing more than 40 startup businesses. Main is happy about his full office and parking lot, but he’s even happier about the tenants he loses — several businesses “graduate” from the incubation program each year and expand into their own offices.
 
According to Main, five companies graduated in fiscal year 2013, 10 in 2014 and 11 in 2015. Two more such graduations will happen by the end of January.
 
The idea is that incubation graduates stay in the Greater Cincinnati area and bring jobs and funds to the region as they grow.
 
Economic development
Small businesses and startups aren’t the only way HCDC works to add jobs in the region. Its economic development arm works to retain businesses of all sizes and to attract new ones.
 
The team saw success in that endeavor this year too, as the organization partnered with Jobs Ohio and REDI to bring Illinois-based CDK Global to Norwood and add approximately 1,000 jobs to that city and to Hamilton County. On a smaller scale, HCDC has continued its work in suburban communities, not only reaching out to new businesses but providing mentoring and assistance to those already doing business here.
 
As HCDC gears up for a new year and its annual meeting, Main wants to encourage small businesses, both new and existing, to take advantage of the services HCDC offers.
 
“We have plenty of money to lend,” he says. “We have room in the inn, and we’ll probably have more room in the inn after the first of the year when more tenants graduate into new spaces.”
 

Cincinnati Film Commission celebrates "Carol" premiere as well as new jobs and attention


The Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky Film Commission will host a red carpet gala Dec. 12 to celebrate the local premiere of Carol, filmed entirely on location in Greater Cincinnati. The romantic drama stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara and is already garnering critical acclaim and awards from Cannes and the New York Film Critics Circle, among others.
 
The benefit gala will celebrate a crowning achievement for the Film Commission, which has played a key role in the increase of major motion pictures shooting in the area over the past couple of years.
 
The nonprofit works to attract, promote and cultivate various kinds of film production in order to bring the jobs and economic stimulus associated with the industry here. The organization courts production companies and helps facilitate the process of filming in the area to provide filmmakers with a positive experience, hoping those same companies build Cincinnati’s reputation as a good place to do business.
 
That work has been paying off in the past two years, with Blanchett even giving interviews stating it was “phenomenal” to work in Cincinnati. But Film Commission Executive Director Kristen Erwin Schlotman also gives some credit to the state of Ohio.
 
Schlotman explains that Cincinnati had film production business in the 1990s but lost much of it when many film shoots left the U.S. for cheaper international destinations. To lure some of that business back into the country, many states began adopting incentives for production companies to film there.
 
Ohio was one of the later states to adopt such incentives, which Schlotman sees positively.
 
“We’ve learned a lot from states that have been too aggressive with the programs,” she says. “We don’t want to be a state that is turning away business.”
 
The incentives must be in place strategically, but with a $1.75 return on every dollar currently spent on them and six major motion pictures having filmed in Cincinnati this year, the strategy seems to be working.
 
With the Film Commission helping to coordinate all the moving parts that go into film shoots, more movies made here means more work for a host of people involved: actors, crew, technicians and the entire support staff involved in the film industry.
 
Schlotman is now starting to hear stories of Cincinnatians who are able to work full time in that industry, including young actors who never thought it could be a reality in Cincinnati and those able to change careers because more film-related work is available. These stories will only multiply as film shooting becomes steadier and requires a fully fleshed out support network.
 
“We don’t just want to have a piece of this business,” Schlotman says, “we want to see the entire film ecosystem here and become a global destination.”
 
Schlotman sees Cincinnati eventually supporting multiple film projects at one time and in succession, with all aspects of the film industry represented locally, from education to production.
 
“I just want people to know that while it seems like this is the peak of our efforts, it’s only the beginning,” she says. “This office is changing people’s lives. And I think it’s changing the city, too.”

The Carol gala is 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12 at the Cincinnati Club downtown, with proceeds benefiting the Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky Film Commission. Tickets are $150. The movie screening is sold out.
 

Design community rallies around "Ink Bleeds" rock poster art exhibit and party


The Cincinnati chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Artists (AIGA) hosts the opening of its biennial “Ink Bleeds” exhibit of rock poster art Dec. 4 at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. The opening night event will feature sales by the artists showing work, live music, beer, food and a talk by Art Chantry, “the Godfather of modern rock poster design” who, according to event organizer and past president of AIGA, Mark Thomas, “really gave grunge rock its look” and visual identity in the 1990s.
 
This will be AIGA and the Art Academy’s fifth Ink Bleeds show. They’ve been holding the exhibit every two years since 2007 to highlight rock poster art culture in Cincinnati.
 
“I personally had been noticing around town such an amazing culture of rock poster artists,” says Thomas, who collaborated with artists such as Keith Neltner, Rob Warnick and Tommy Sheehan, and the event has grown to steadily attract an audience of about 600 each year. “This one looks like the biggest and best yet.”
 
This fifth show also promises to be the most Cincinnati-centric. Subtitled “Local Blood,” everything from the artists showing work in the exhibit to the bands playing to the beer selections chosen by HalfCut will be from Greater Cincinnati. Even the design work for marketing the show features four different designs of that iconic animal so linked with the city: the pig.
 
Those Ink Bleeds pig designs will be available for purchase on beer glasses Friday night as well as to be screen-printed for $5 “bring your own shirt” style. Besides the poster art sold by artists featured in the exhibit, pig merchandise will also be available as part of “bundles” along with tickets to Chantry’s talk.
 
All proceeds earned by AIGA will go to fund scholarships for art and design students associated with its mentorship program, which involves monthly networking meetings between students and professional AIGA members October-April. In the spring, the program culminates in a senior day, when students bring in portfolios to be reviewed by the professionals. Based on those reviews, three or four students each year receive $1,500 scholarships to assist them with education costs.
 
AIGA is a national organization for visual artists, with chapters all over the county. Cincinnati’s chapter has approximately 500 members who plan and participate in programs such as “Liquid Courage” networking events and “Design for Good” campaigns like a Match.com-style event matching designers with nonprofits that need design work.
 
For the past few years, the group has hosted Cincinnati Design Week, which has grown exponentially to become “like Midpoint for visual artists,” Thomas says. For an event of that scale, AIGA partners with a wide variety of other arts and creative organizations around town. Thomas emphasizes the incredible community of such organizations to choose from and the rich, deep creative culture in the region.
 
According to Thomas, “The creative community embraces alternative forms of music.” That creative community will be well represented at Friday night’s event, which features live music from Temple, The Recreational and The Tillers.
 
“Ink Bleeds” runs 6-11 p.m. at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, 1212 Jackson St. in Over-the-Rhine. Advance tickets are $20 for AIGA members and $25 for nonmembers and include admission to Art Chantry’s talk at 7 p.m. (limited to 125 seats). Get advance tickets here.
 
Admission to just the opening night exhibit is a donation at the door.
 

CraftForce startup plans national expansion for its job search platform

 
Christmas came early for CraftForce, the local job search platform targeting skilled trades. On Nov. 17 the company was featured on Innovations with Ed Begley Jr., and at the viewing party CraftForce announced plans for a national expansion.
 
“We have been getting good responses since Innovation aired on the Discovery Channel,” says Dustin Grutza, founder and CEO of CraftForce. “That exposure provides some validation and credibility for us, which is a good thing for employers to see and helps with our national launch.”
 
CraftForce has been building its sales team and database to prepare for this expansion. The company has also been building relationships with technical schools and potential employers.
 
“We’ve had great feedback from employers, many of whom are in high need of our application,” Grutza says. “With baby boomers starting to retire, finding highly skilled labor has been a challenge.”
 
Grutza had been working in the industrial sector running a staffing company when he realized the hiring model for skilled trades needed to change.
 
“There was no platform for the skilled trade workers to post their resumes and demonstrate their abilities,” he says. “I wanted to create an easy way for them to post the work that they’re doing, to showcase themselves and their skills and be found for jobs. They would be driving two hours to work when there was a job just up the street that they didn’t even know about.”
 
CraftForce launched a mobile-responsive website in February that allowed workers to create a resume from their phone, search job postings and receive email or text notifications when they’re matched with a position.
 
“Our goal is that they don’t have to be out searching for jobs all the time,” Grutza says. “They can stick with a job until the project ends and be lining up their next job as the notifications arrive.”
 
The website was significantly updated in October, and major changes are in the works for the first quarter of 2016. CraftForce is also creating a new app to launch in conjunction with the 2016 update.
 
“We’re building a strong foundation with our website and application,” Grutza says. “As we’re working with our clients, we see what other features employers and workers need and we’re able to make those adjustments. I’m really excited about what we’ll be able to offer in the future.”
 
CraftForce currently doesn’t charge job candidates for resume and job search services, but employers pay a fee to post positions and access the resume bank.
 
CraftForce was founded in Maysville, Ky. and maintains an office there as well as a second office based out of Cintrifuse in Over-the-Rhine.
 
“Cintrifuse helped us find a lot of the resources we need to expand and build our web and mobile applications,” Grutza says. “There are so many different pieces to that puzzle, and they supply some great resources. I think Cincinnati is a great place for a company to start out and grow.”
 

Holiday shopping events feature work from lots of local artisans and entrepreneurs


The weekend after Thanksgiving will provide Cincinnati shoppers with many opportunities to focus on local goods and regional crafts in lieu of big-box Black Friday shopping.
 
Crafty Supermarket, held Nov. 28 at the Music Hall Ballroom, will feature crafters and makers from all over the eastern U.S. The event, started six years ago by Grace Dobush and Chris Salley Davis, is a curated show that values the quality of the vendors over quantity available. It has a competitive process to be selected as a vendor — the show had more than 200 applications for this year’s 90 vendor slots.
 
“We’re expecting a blowout,” says Dobush, explaining that last year saw 5,000 shoppers visit their Music Hall holiday show, with the year before attracting around 4,000.
 
The next day, City Flea Small Mall will have a smaller scale but just as strict a focus on vendor quality. The Small Mall is City Flea’s way to bring 30 of Cincinnati’s local brick-and-mortar stores together at one time for a unique holiday shopping kickoff at 21c Museum Hotel downtown.
 
“Our normal markets are open to vendors ranging in anything from vintage to found objects to artisan style food products,” says founder and organizer Lindsay Dewald. “We wanted to create a holiday event that highlighted the plethora of actual stores in and around our city.”
 
Both Crafty Supermarket and the Small Mall provide shoppers an opportunity to purchase unique, handcrafted goods from small businesses or directly from the artisans who created them.
 
“Buying directly from a maker in person is the best way to support them,” says Dobush, who also authored The Crafty Superstar: Ultimate Craft Business Guide. “They get all the money you give them. Artists are working really hard for their money, and any time you can eliminate the middle man (like third-party website fees), that’s a huge help.”
 
These one-day shopping experiences support some of the smallest entrepreneurs and newest startups in Cincinnati and across the region.
 
Of Crafty Supermarket’s 90 vendors from 12 states, between 15 and 20 are local crafters who have been through ArtWorks’ Creative Enterprise programs. Dobush says she met a couple at a Columbus craft fair who commuted every week to Cincinnati to participate in ArtWorks’ nine-week Co.Starters class.
 
Pop-up and craft shows like Crafty Supermarket, the Small Mall and Mortar’s Brick 939 pop-up shop create additional opportunities for entrepreneurs to connect with consumers.
 
“(I’m) most excited about seeing some of the stores that have opened up within this past year to be participating,” Dewald says of the Small Mall. “It’s exciting that new stores continue to pop up on a pretty regular basis.”
 
Participating in each of these holiday events can be part of a day on the town in either Over-the-Rhine (for the Crafty Supermarket) or downtown (for the Small Mall). Throw in Brick 939, which opens on Black Friday in Walnut Hills, and there will be a wide variety of shopping sites and experiences in the urban core throughout the weekend.
 
Besides “making a day of it,” Dobush has one last tip for shoppers: “If you love crafts but hate crowds, come after 4 p.m.” in order to support Crafty Supermarket entrepreneurs in a more leisurely environment.
 

Crafty Supermarket
11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 28
Music Hall Ballroom, 1241 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine

City Flea Small Mall
12-6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29
21c Museum Hotel, 609 Walnut St., Downtown

Brick 939
10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 27
939 E. McMillan St., Walnut Hills
[Open Fridays-Sundays through Jan. 3]
 
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