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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.
 

Magazine & website to highlight art and craftsmanship in historic building renovations

 
With countless renovations going on in Cincinnati's huge stock of historic buildings, two recipients of a People’s Liberty Project Grant hope to become a voice for excellent craftsmanship in remodeling work. Focusing on attention to detail and respect for the heritage and integrity of historic buildings, Kunst: Built Art will tell the stories of people using high-quality practices in historic buildings.
 
The quarterly magazine's creators, John Blatchford and Alyssa McClanahan, want to highlight people “doing renovation right.” They were inspired by their own experience renovating a historic building in Over-the-Rhine. As they strove to do quality work on their own building, they also saw a lot of renovators favoring speed and price over craftsmanship.

“It’s a sign of the times,” Blatchford says. “There’s a lot of emphasis on doing it quick, making it cheap, rolling it over and moving on to the next project.”
 
In contrast, Kunst aims to raise the standard of renovation and design in Cincinnati. Taking their title from the German word for “art,” Blatchford and McClanahan emphasize architecture and remodeling work as a form of built art.
 
“These historic buildings were built artfully, and they really cared about all the details,” Blatchford says. “The idea is we’re trying to highlight people doing that today, building Built Art.”
 
To reinforce that idea, Kunst will be sold at arts events and pre-release parties centered around art communities when the first issue debuts in September.
 
They also see the potential for art in their product.
 
“We want to have a really well-produced, beautiful print magazine that in and of itself is art and is featuring art around Cincinnati,” says McClanahan.
 
The Kunst magazine will run in-depth features on individuals and the buildings they work on as well as advice and “how-to” tips from developers, architects, preservationists, historians, designers, artists and other experts in the building community. McClanahan and Blatchford want the magazine to reflect the same level of craftsmanship and quality highlighted in their content.
 
That level of excellence is made possible by the People’s Liberty grant, which provides up to $10,000 to complete the project over 10 months. It provides much more than finances, though, as grantees get access to mentorship and consultations with experts and are able to use the resources of People’s Liberty's Globe building near Findlay Market.
 
At the projects’ launch weekend at the end of May, Blatchford and McClanahan says they were able to make “invaluable” connections with designers, branding experts and people in the publishing industry. They’re excited about the community created by the grant’s structure and the resources and connections available to grantees.
 
Blatchford bought a brick building in northern Over-the-Rhine built in 1845, and the couple is using Historic Tax Credits to renovate it into three one-bedroom apartments for rent. As part of the historic tax credit process, they discovered the building had been occupied by a tailor in the mid-19th century and named it Tailor Shop OTR. They’re hoping to make the apartments available for rent by August.

Blatchford has degrees in industrial engineering and business, while McClanahan is a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Cincinnati. Both are active in the Cincinnati Preservation Collective and Cincinnati Preservation Association.
 
While they value artistry, they reject the idea that quality craftsmanship has to be elegant or elevated.
 
“We don’t want to be chic,” says McClanahan in the middle of working on the Tailor Shop. “These projects are kind of down and dirty. John and I are covered in dirt right now. This is not glamorous work, and I think that’s the point of it.”
 
They want to make Kunst accessible to encourage a wide audience to embrace excellence in remodeling. The website, which is live now, will expand on the “how-to” sections of the magazine, offering advice on sound renovation techniques and resources for historic preservation.
 

Milford company's new technology improving communication for ALS, paralysis patients


A new device being built in Milford by Control Bionics can give voices back to people struggling with ALS, locked-in-syndrome and paralysis.

The NeuroSwitch transforms electromyography (EMG) technology used for diagnostic purposes into a powerful communication system. EMG has been used for decades to test the health of muscles and the nerves that control them. The brain uses the body's electrical systems to send messages to the nerves that make the muscles move, but in patients with ALS or paralysis the muscles no longer move, though the electrical signals are still being sent.

To use the NeuroSwitch, a muscle receiving signals is selected to become the “switch” for the system. EMG sensors are applied to the user's skin over that muscle. The user tenses the muscle, and whether the movement is visible or not the sensor picks up the electrical signal sent from the brain.

The NeuroSwitch device then amplifies it and sends it to a computer, allowing the user to control the computer through AssistiveWare's virtual keyboard and mouse control software. The user can write emails, use the internet or a text-to-speech program allowing them to talk through the computer.

The quality of life for patients using NeuroSwitch is improved not only by more fluent communication between patients and their family, friends and caregivers, but also by increasing their independence and ability to control their immediate environment. The NeuroSwitch operates with Bluetooth, so the user could also adjust lighting, temperature and the television with the right technology as well as answer the phone and send text messages.

“NeuroSwitch users can communicate with people in the same room, surf the web, send and receive emails and go online to play games in realtime,” says Peter Ford, founder and CEO of Control Bionics and creator of NeuroSwitch. “But as importantly, they can send and receive text messages with anyone's smartphone. This doesn't just expand their communication network, it means families and caregivers know if they are needed a client can text them and they can text back any time. We have received unsolicited testimonials from spouses who say, 'I feel I've been freed up by NeuroSwitch because I can leave the room and know my husband can text me if I'm in the kitchen or the garden. It liberates everyone around my husband, as well as him.'”

The NeuroSwitch is available in the United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Currently, there are just under 50 in use in the U.S., but Control Bionics hopes to increase that number as they develop relationships and accreditation with the FDA, Veterans Administration and GSA.

NeuroSwitch does have a hefty price tag, around $17,000, which includes the laptop, equipment and software as well as 24/7 technology support. The VA will now fully cover the cost of the system, as will some insurance carriers. Control Bionics works with other potential clients to help with crowdfunding to cover the cost of the system.

In his early career, Ford worked as a radio and news anchor, including at CNN Headline News, and that's when he got involved with medical technology.

“I began coding while I was anchoring at CNN in 1981 in Atlanta and developed a virtual robotics program for fun,” Ford says. “Dr. Lynn Drake heard about it and told some colleagues at Georgia Tech who invited me to join a new Rehabilitation R&D Laboratory as a programmer. It was one of the first such labs in the country, funded by the Veterans Administration. My first patient was completely disabled by cerebral palsy, and we wrote a program for them to control everything on what was then a brand new Apple 2e just by tapping a joystick. My interest in coding for rehabilitation began there.”

Ford is Australian and based in Sydney, but Control Bionics and NeuroSwitch production are located just outside Cincinnati.

“Milford is an ideal city to establish a high-tech, zero-pollution company such as Control Bionics,” he says. “It has a great quality of life, is close to Cincinnati's international airport and has a great medical and educational community at the University of Cincinnati and the Veterans Administration Medical Center (VAMC) as well as Children's Hospital Medical Center, among others. We have formed a great relationship with the City of Milford, and our technology comes out now with a 'Made in Milford' logo.”
 

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.
 

The Brandery's new OTR housing development welcomes first residents


Last week, the new Brandery housing development at 12th and Walnut Streets opened its doors to several entrepreneurs.
 
Connor Bowlan of Cintric, a member of the Brandery class of 2014, is one of the building’s first residents.
 
“I haven't heard of another accelerator solving one of the biggest headaches when moving 10 companies to a new city,” Bowlan says. “When you're an entrepreneur, the last thing you want to do is worry about where you're going to live.”
 
As we patiently await The Brandery's announcement of its new class of startups, the accelerator will hold a Grand Opening BBQ for the apartments on July 9. Once chosen, the new Brandery recruits will start moving in to begin their journey at the accelerator.
 
“The Brandery Housing provides a space for entrepreneurs to collaborate even outside of the office,” Bowlan adds. “This is a big step for the Cincinnati startup ecosystem.”
 
As for the apartments themselves, the development falls in line with the general renovation trend in OTR; the combination of exposed brick, large windows and modern fixtures provides residents with an updated historical living space.
 
"The apartments are gorgeous ... and in the heart of OTR," Bowlan says. "I am a huge fan." 
 
The Brandery has also announced an official move-in date for its new office building on Vine Street. Dubbed Union Hall, the space is currently undergoing extensive renovations and should be ready by the end of the summer. Union Hall will house Cintrifuse on the first floor, The Brandery on the second and CincyTech on the third.
 
The Brandery will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for their new offices on Aug. 24 at 4:45 p.m. If all goes according to plan, the Brandery staff and the new class of startups will movie into their new space around that date.
 

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.”
 

Xavier announces winners of first-ever University of the Future Design Challenge


Xavier University announced winners of its first-ever University of the Future Design Challenge last week, selected from over 75 participants by Center for Innovation staff members, including its brand new director, Dave Zlatic. Using Xavier’s state-of-the-art MakerBot 3D printing facility, the challenge drew participants from across campus — including faculty and alumni — to learn how to use a 3D printer, scan a 3D image and design a 3D-printable piece.
 
Participants were attracted to the Challenge when Xavier held a week-long 3D printing training session in mid-May. 3D printing expert Poppy Lyttle joined the ranks at the Center for Innovation from MakerBot Industries in Brooklyn to teach the course. She hopes that the seminar and subsequent competition encourages even the least “artsy” students to give it a try.
 
“There is just so much you can do,” Lyttle says. “Knowing about 3D printing can expand your career options — research, product design and development, engineering, industrial application, architecture, hospital simulation labs. There are uses we can’t even imagine.”
 
With the course completed, participants were asked to submit their 3D designs for judging. Winners of the Challenge were selected from three different categories: “University Structures of the Future,” “Learning and Teaching in the Future” and “New Technologies.”
 
The first category asked participants to envision a college campus in the year 2025. The winning submission, created by Megan Bowling, is called the “Releaf Station,” a structure that uses solar energy panels to power a sensory deprivation chamber that will allow students total relaxation between classes.
 
The second category looked for teaching aids and classroom components that students might see in 2025. The winning design belonged to Xavier Assistant Professor in Chemistry Stephen Mills, who created 3D versions of Acetylene and Allene chemicals to better explain chemical bonding to chemistry students.
 
The winner in the “New Technologies” category was Leonard Rich, who created a cinder block connector that could be used to prevent soil runoff in raised garden beds.
 
The first place winners received $150 and 100 grams of free printing for their efforts. Runners-up received 50 grams of free printing at the Innovation Center.
 
For the full list and photos of the first- and second-place winners, click here.
 

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.
 

Brandery grad Sqrl becomes Incline, introduces tech-savvy accounting


For new startups, the search for product/market fit is a considerable obstacle. For Cincinnati startup Sqrl, however, that same obstacle led the Brandery-graduated team to create something newer, better and more suited to the markets at play.
 
Last week, Sqrl became Incline. And with the transition comes so much more than a new name.
 
Sqrl, the Brandery startup that raised over $600,000 in venture funding over the past two years, focused its energy on creating an app that easily transmits accounting information from client to accountant. When faced with several product/market fit blockers, the company decided to develop an entirely new product better suited to a growing gap in the world of business accounting.
 
"With Sqrl, we weren't seeing the uptick that we wanted," says Craig Baldwin, co-founder of Sqrl and Incline. "We started to realize that the real success was not in telling accountants what they should be doing but instead providing the services ourselves."
 
Baldwin and his co-founder, CEO (and CPA) Ryan Watson, were acting on another realization as well. In the accounting game, a noticeable gap in service appears — when it comes to accounting services, most companies, large or small, will hire an accounting firm, hire a bookkeeper or do the work themselves with an online service. More often than not, the complex services provided by a large accounting firm (not to mention the price tag involved) can be too much for smaller business. The bookkeeping and/or online software strategies, on the other hand, do not offer enough.
 
"Most small businesses need something in between," Baldwin says. "They need more than a bookkeeper who will simply reconcile their transactions; they need an advisor when making big business decisions. Tech hasn't allowed that to happen yet."
 
Incline is currently building proprietary technology that will provide tech-enabled accounting for startups and small businesses. The team expects to release the initial version of their product later this summer.
 
"The first thing we're working on is technology that will automatically reconcile transactions," Baldwin says. "It will be similar to Mint.com but with less vague categories that can be more easily worked into financial statements. Using technology will keep our costs really low, allowing us to have the types of conversations you want to have with your clients."
 
The Incline team has set up shop in Over-the-Rhine and has attracted nearly 20 businesses to their client roster. OTR-based companies like Pho Lang Thang, Noble Denim and fellow Brandery alum Strap are among the first to truly benefit from their services. By offering a fixed price model, Incline deems itself an ideal accounting service for those businesses that want tech-savvy service at an agreeable cost.
 
To bring in new business, Incline has also put a significant amount of effort into staying community-driven. They currently hold small business luncheons at their office every Friday, and a monthly small business happy hour is coming soon.
 
As for the name, Baldwin and Watson, who are native Ohioans themselves, took inspiration from the city they now call home.
 
"We wanted one word that represented growth as well as something that was historical about Cincinnati," Baldwin says, alluding to the newly revitalized historic Incline District in Price Hill. "Our goal is to be more geographically focused, and we're starting here."
 

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.
 

Roadtrippers enhances its mobile experience with new Apple Watch app


After just a few weeks of work, Roadtrippers is one of the first Cincinnati startups with an app for the Apple Watch.
 
The startup's engineering wizards developed a fully functioning app to supplement their roadtrip planning tools for web, iOS and Android. The app operates independently of the mobile app and was officially released last week.
 
After unveiling their mobile app last Thanksgiving, Roadtripper's primary focus has been to expand their network of visit-worthy places. Currently, users have access to over three million points of interest, but the company has directed their resources toward gathering additional data to augment the user experience.
 
The result? Even more options for Watch wearers on the road.
 
"We have built up a crazy taxonomy of categories," says Natalie Akers, chief of staff for Roadtrippers. "We're more than just food and drink now. We want to add context to where you are."
 
The Apple Watch app features the Roadtrippers Concierge as the home screen, immediately offering a number of suggestions based on location as well as the time of day. For example, if a user opens the app on the Watch in the morning, Roadtrippers will offer the user a hand-curated list of options for breakfast or a morning walk based on existing user ratings. The app will then redirect you to your desired navigation tool (Apple Maps, Google Maps) to make sure you find your way.
 
"Roadtrippers is headed toward a presentation that is intrinsically linked to you as a person," Akers says. "The Apple Watch is bringing us closer to that."
 
Roadtrippers timed the release of the Apple Watch app to both highlight the Over-the-Rhine company's growth and development and demonstrate that Roadtrippers is keeping up with tech trends.
 
"This is also a low key way to remind our consumers that our app is awesome," Akers says.
 

11-year-old entrepreneur on the "write" path with invention


One of Cincinnati's youngest entrepreneurs has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund manufacturing of his product, Grip Wizard.
 
Eleven-year-old Matthew Meyer invented Grip Wizard (originally named Right-Writer) two years ago while struggling with his handwriting. Grip Wizard is a fabric strap holding the pinky and ring fingers to the palm, allowing students to master the tripod grip necessary for holding a pen or pencil. When Matthew and his mother Elizabeth realized how many other children were struggling with the same fine motor coordination, they decided to pursue making the Grip Wizard available to a wider audience.

Matthew's invention won the Fourth Grade First Prize and Chairman's Choice awards at the 2013 Cincinnati Invention Convention and Grand Prize in the Secret Millionaires Club Grow Your Own Business Challenge, where he met billionaire and investment guru Warren Buffet.
 
“Meeting Warren Buffett was amazing,” Matthew says. “He encouraged me to continue on with my idea and said that ‘the best investment is an investment in myself.’ That means doing well in school, learning from your mistakes, believing in yourself and never giving up.”
 
Over the past two years, mother and son, have worked on refining Matthew's invention with input from occupational therapists, educators and designers.
 
“The main flaw in the original design was the elastic strap,” Elizabeth says. “The pinky and ring fingers could pop out too easily. But the fabric had to be very stretchy and very soft, as a lot of children with fine motor struggles have sensory challenges as well, which led us to a spandex/athletic mesh glove.”
 
Elizabeth and Matthew worked closely with Lisa Grey at Industrial Sew-Tech in Forest Park to modify Matthew's invention for mass production, going through 50 prototypes.
 
“We learned about pattern design and the sewing manufacturing process,” Elizabeth says. “Lisa understood how important finding the right materials and design were for our product. She says, ‘You can find a way to make anything once. Finding a way to make it a million times is my job.’
 
“We are so proud to be partnering with Industrial Sew-Tech so that we can be closely involved in the process and our business can benefit theirs.”
 
The Grip Wizard team also includes Cincinnati artists Erin Barker and Kevin Necessary, who created and animated the logo and brand mascots, Max and Maggy.
 
Matthew and Elizabeth are excited to be part of the startup scene in Cincinnati. Matthew recently attended his first Chamber of Commerce event to network with other business professionals.
 
“When I first start talking, I am a little nervous,” Matthew says. “I worry that they won't like my idea or I'll burp while I'm talking. After I get going though, I’m on fire! It’s exciting to be able to share my invention with people. I think my pitch is good but could use a little work.”
 
Meanwhile, Elizabeth has been helped by Michelle Spelman, a marketing consultant at Live Wire!
 
“She reached out to us after the Grow Your Own Business Challenge and has been a huge supporter of Matthew's invention,” Elizabeth says. “She’s mentoring us in the small business branding and development process. As a mother and business owner herself, Michelle inspires me to continue learning and growing, professionally and personally. We’re really excited about how far Grip Wizard has come, and we still have a lot to learn.”
 
The marketing focus for Grip Wizard is currently students, although the product will be available in adult sizes as well. Recent studies demonstrating a correlation between handwriting development to communication, memory, math and literacy skills are generating renewed interest in reintroducing cursive writing to the curriculum.
 
“Most adults were taught cursive and write in a print/cursive hybrid that suits their style and reflects their personality,” Elizabeth says. “Our children should have the same ability to create their own ‘font’ by learning both styles. Handwriting is the most personal form of communication we have.”
 
Matthew's invention also has potential for other occupational therapy audiences, something the team at Grip Wizard will pursue after getting their Kickstarter campaign funded and production up and running.
 
The Kickstarter campaign to help Grip Wizard “create fine motor magic” ends May 27 with a goal of $20,000. If fully funded, Grip Wizard gloves will be available beginning in September.
 

Lisnr named a top "disruptor" business by CNBC


Last week CNBC recognized Lisnr, one of Cincinnati's beloved startup companies, for its role in revolutionizing the business landscape. Needless to say, it's a story worth listening to.
 
As #12 on the CNBC Disrupter 50 list, Lisnr finds itself in the ranks of companies like SpaceX, Airbnb, Uber, Dropbox and SurveyMonkey. The company's Smart Tones technology, which has earned it $4.4 million in funding to date, turns any speaker or microphone into a vehicle for relevant data. By employing Lisnr's technology, companies can reach their customers directly, through their own mobile app, based on music they're listening to, a certain TV show they're watching or an event they're attending.
 
In other words, by sending data over inaudible sound waves Lisnr offers a long list of possibilities to companies hoping to enhance their relationship with customers.
 
Plus, unlike the popular Bluetooth, which also transmits data wirelessly through sound, Lisnr's ultrasonic software is hardly a drain on battery life. When compared to a device using Bluetooth, a mobile device using a Lisnr-enabled app will last five to seven times longer.
 
CEO Rodney Williams came up with the idea during his time at Procter & Gamble.
 
"I was completely obsessed with technology and how it can be used to touch consumers more effectively," he stated during his CNBC interview.

Lisnr's journey officially began in 2012 on a bus trip to South By Southwest Interactive in Austin, Tex. Three years later, the company has a growing headquarters in Cincinnati and a bustling office in New York City.
 
CNBC's Squawk Box reporters, who interviewed Williams after announcing his #12 ranking, acknowledged his Cincinnati roots as well as Lisnr's role in the our urban revitalization.
 
Among Lisnr's many accomplishments, "having CNBC recognize our success and potential for the future is right up there as the most satisfying," Williams says.
 
Lisnr was chosen from 400 nominations determined by the public, the technology industry and venture capital interests.
 
With current big-name customers like Budweiser and AT&T on their list, there's much more to come from the Pendleton/Over-the-Rhine company.
 
"We are the new Bluetooth," Williams says. "We're universally disruptive, and this is just the beginning."
 

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.
 
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