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Speech pathologist brings child language development to your doorstep with Hi-Coo


Libby Willig-Kroner is no stranger to the trials and triumphs of parenthood. The Cincinnati native is a working mother of two young boys with a Masters degree in speech pathology and a position at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Even before becoming a parent, Kroner found herself confronting questions from young moms and dads about speech and language development on a semi-regular basis.
 
"Most parents don't learn about their child's speech development until the child starts exhibiting delays," Kroner says. "I wanted to find a way to make parents feel more confident and on track."
 
Kroner's innovative solution to the confusing world of child language development is called Hi-Coo, a subscription toy kit that includes language development tools, tips and activities to help infants and toddlers reach their language milestones. Kroner has been developing her business plan since enrolling in the CO.STARTERS startup class at ArtWorks this past fall.
 
With most of the pieces now in place, Kroner hopes to launch the company by the end of March. Once available, Hi-Coo kits will be sold as yearly subscriptions with four shipments per year customized for children ages 0-3 months, 3-6 months, 6-9 months and 9-12 months. The company's initial launch will cover the first year of development, with plans to expand based on subsequent success.
 
Each kit will include 3-5 books or toys hand chosen by Kroner herself to optimize speech and language development. Most of the toys will be handmade by small-batch crafters or local manufacturers, including children's bookseller Blue Manatee Press and Kroner's own mother. Their kits will also include "coo-cards" with instructions and activities to accompany the toys and promote beneficial, productive use.
 
"I like toys that are kinesthetic and encourage exploratory play and social interactions," Kroner says.
 
Many parents struggle to understand the impact of speech development in the first year of growth, when their child is still non-verbal. Kroner is more than familiar with such concerns, as her youngest son is in his first year of development.
 
"Recent research strongly suggests that language interactions during the first year, both quantity and quantity, really matter," she says. "(The kits) hope to promote interaction but also exploration of textures and sounds while encouraging imaginative play."
 
Although she's yet to finalize Hi-Coo pricing, Kroner anticipates that a yearly subscription with Hi-Coo will cost parents between $150 and $175. The kits can be purchased by subscription or even as gifts for friends with young children.
 
"My hope is that gift-givers can give the gift of language or that new parents can subscribe and unlock the conversation with their little one while feeling confident they are doing their best to nurture their child's development," Kroner says.
 

New Findlay Market public art project seeking artist proposals


Findlay Market is next in line for a major public art installation.

The site is the western plaza and esplanade of Findlay Market, next to Elm Street and steps away from the site of a future streetcar stop.

An artist for the permanent work is expected to be selected this summer, with installation in Spring 2016.

"Hopefully it will become something that people everywhere will recognize as Cincinnati’s icon, something we’re all proud to share with the world," says Tim Maloney, president of The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation.

In late 2013, Maloney announced the Haile Foundation would spend $600,000 for three public art projects over three years. He was inspired  by public art he had seen in other places — Denver’s "I See What You Mean" by Lawrence Argent, a large blue bear peeking into that city’s Convention Center, and Chicago’s Millennium Park "Cloud Gate" by Anish Kapoor, also known as "the Bean" — and believed Cincinnati needed public art that would be a strong symbol for the city.

The first of the three Cincinnati projects, Tony Luensman’s neon "CAMPGROUND," was installed on the western wall of the Cincinnati Art Museum last fall. It was supported by both the Haile Foundation and Macy’s.

ArtWorks Cincinnati, which is administering the Haile Public Art Fund, has put out a call for artists’ concepts for the $150,000 project, with proposals due Feb. 15. Two to three artists or teams of artists will be selected as finalists and paid $500 to develop design proposals. 

Criteria for the Findlay Market project: It should complement the market and its iconic status in Cincinnati, it should delight and leave a lasting impression, it should have "visual gravity" and it should be made of durable materials. The chosen project will have a budget of $140,000 for full design, fabrication and installation, plus $10,000 in a maintenance fund.

See the project's "call for artists" website for more details.
 

City's new CPO to bring Baltimore's city innovation lab model to Cincinnati


Cincinnati's new Chief Performance Officer has had the public service “bug” since he was a kid.

Chad Kenney grew up in Pennsylvania, where his dad worked for both the local township and county. When Kenney left home to study math at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, he found that he shared his father’s passion for public service. He started tutoring local kids for the SATs and became enamored with a local school there.
 
“I was interested in Baltimore as a city with a lot of issues,” Kenney says. “I realized that education was at the center of it.”
 
Johns Hopkins had a partnership with Kenney’s school, called the Academy for College and Career Exploration, so he found himself there quite often. After he graduated, he knew he wanted to work there full time. He taught math at the school for two years through a local Teach for America program.
 
“It was incredibly challenging,” Kenney says. “I knew I couldn’t work there for a third year, but I still wanted to be involved in service of some sort.”
 
Fortunately, the Baltimore CitiStat office was hiring. Tasked with making the city faster, cheaper and better in general, Kenney found himself overseeing city functions like transportation, housing and the police force.
 
“I loved that job,” Kenney says. “To be able to learn about a variety of city operations and add my mathematical and analytical capabilities … it was a great experience.”
 
When Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black was hired in 2014 from Baltimore, where he served as Finance Director, he decided that he wanted Kenney to be a part of his plan for our city. So Black created Cincinnati’s new Office of Performance and Data Analytics and brought Kenney to town.

“(Black) has a comprehensive vision for how (performance management) should look,” Kenney says.
 
Unlike Baltimore, which already had differing, hard-to-integrate systems in place, Black and Kenney came to Cincinnati and were able to start from scratch. The Office of Performance and Data Analytics’ primary role will be to provide city residents and businesses with better customer service, faster services, cheaper services and efficient and effective city services.
 
On Kenney’s plate over the next few months is designing and building the city’s new CitiStat Innovation Lab. The lab, modeled after the one Kenney worked with in Baltimore, will provide analysts, researchers and city problem-solvers with dedicated space to confront real city problems — from trash collecting to efficient permitting services.
 
“We’re going to take different processes and get everyone in a room together and deconstruct the problem, then put it back together and streamline it,” Kenney says of the lab.
 
The space should be fully functioning by spring. For now, Kenney is spending his time creating a professional foundation with the other 18 departments and familiarizing himself with the 122 city programs already in place.

Outside of work, he and his girlfriend are enjoying their East Walnut Hills home and getting to know the city one recommendation at a time.
 
Findlay Market has become a part of our weekly routine,” he says. 
 

New accelerator Ocean sets the record straight on religious affiliations


Since Cincinnati accelerator Ocean announced its flagship class of startup companies in December, the phrase "faith-based" has been bounced around quite a bit. Though the accelerator's website uses the term and local media have deemed them a "faith-based venture," co-founder Tim Brunk says that the term may be getting more attention than it should.
 
"This is a high-tech accelerator," Brunk says. "This is not a mission. We are here to bring jobs. We're here to help the kind of people who are going to build hospitals and create jobs."
 
If anything, Ocean seems to be more of a faith-integrated startup accelerator. Though the founders — Brunk, Tim Metzner and Chad Reynolds — are all Crossroads church members, Ocean isn't a church program. The accelerator has partnered with Crossroads due to the overwhelming support the three got from the 25,000-plus congregation members and the organization itself. Ocean also uses space on the Crossroads campus in Oakley to conduct its operations.

Though the founders may feel a theological tie to Crossroads' mission, such a tie or connection isn't required when recruiting startups and definitely not when recruiting investors.
 
In fact, Ocean's new class actually includes two self-proclaimed agnostics.
 
"All we ask is that they are willing to explore," Brunk says. "Religious involvement is not a requirement."
 
The accelerator's main goal is to create startup founders with character — ones that investors can truly trust with their money. Generosity, honor, intelligence and integrity are all qualities Ocean hopes to foster alongside their business-related curriculum.
 
"Faith is a foundation, not a guarantee," Brunk says. "We foster a belief in respect, of not taking advantage of or exploiting others."
 
When asked if the companies that come out of Ocean would perhaps be at a disadvantage without the dog-eat-dog mentality that can lead to Fortune-500 status, Brunk shakes his head.
 
"There's a perception that good people are naïve, and a lot of times, unfortunately, that assumption is true," Brunk says. "But I see (our program) as putting our companies at a significant advantage, not a disadvantage."
 
To the Ocean team, success is measured by more than money. If its startup founders can find a way to build balanced, successful personal lives alongside their steadily-growing businesses, the accelerator will have done its job.
 
The thing that makes Ocean unique from other accelerators — and the part that earned the term "faith-based" — can be found in its supplemental curriculum. The session speakers include CEOs who have gone through tumultuous marriages due to their never-ending hours at work discussing faith, family and community with startup founders. Some members of the Ocean class go to church, others do not. As for the Ocean founders, all they want to do is open doors.
 
In the meantime, Brunk is tasked with finding the types of investors who are looking for a well-rounded, likable, trustworthy individual or team. He spends his time connecting with investors and making sure that the companies who have signed on are receiving the highest quality business education possible.
 
Though Brunk did quote the Gospel once during our interview, it's apparent that the label following Ocean may not be entirely accurate. Right now, the accelerator is in its second week of what is best described as "business boot camp," getting their companies ready for any investor that could walk through the door.

Just like any accelerator, they're most interested in making sure their companies are poised for success. The accelerator plans to have weekly practice runs with potential investors to make sure their companies stay on their toes. If they emerge as better people, that bodes well for the future.
 
"This is still an experiment," Brunk says. "We still don't know if it is going to work. But if we can succeed in creating a dialogue, well, that's all we can ask for."
 

Thinking outside the sandbox: Startup Cintric's journey through The Brandery


Cintric, the Cincinnati-based startup that's created a platform for mobile integration of location services, is a prime example of how much can change when a company joins an accelerator.
 
When Cintric founders Rhett Rainen, Connor Bowlan, Joel Green and Erwan Lent first entered The Brandery last summer, they had two different companies with slightly overlapping goals. Rainen and Bowlan were working on a fashion and beauty advice platform called Lookit that eventually transformed into a location-based notification app; Green and Lent hoped to create an app for location-based chatrooms called Shoutout. When the four creative brains met at The Brandery, it became clear that something bigger was possible.
 
"I think the value of The Brandery for us was less about driving our vision forward and more about providing a sandbox to experiment and clarify what that vision was," Bowlan says. "There’s a pretty unique opportunity to explore when you’re given a small chunk of funding and are surrounded by some of the most creative and intelligent people you’ll ever meet."
 
Rainen and Bowlan were impressed with Green and Lent's remarkable enginnering capabilities and began collaborating on a few side projects. Before long, their friendships evolved into a well-oiled idea machine, and out of that Cintric was born.
 
Cintric's initial goal is to solve the problem many smartphone/mobile device users have when using location services: a draining battery. By using an innovative drag-and-drop interface, Cintric's platform allows developers to build location components into their apps with minimal effort.
 
Cintric is also focused on making it easier for companies with applications to track who and where their users might be by building the apps in a much more efficient way.
 
As for the team itself, Cintric is made up of a French whiz-kid (Lent), an iOS engineer with incredible dental hygiene (Green), a bearded behemoth with mad financial projection skills (Rainen) and Bowlan, who is "terrible at describing himself."
 
"I tend to think of our team as a bunch of mavericks," Bowlan says. "I think a lot of folks were unsure of us at the beginning of The Brandery program due to our age (the oldest is 25) and willingness to take big swings and throw things out if they weren’t working."
 
The company is in the process of closing out its seed round of funding. Over the next few months, the Cintric name is likely to make its way to the forefront in Cincinnati's startup scene.
 
"We’ve got some pretty ambitious and unorthodox projects launching in the next few months that should do a good job of showcasing how we’re not afraid to think outside the box," Bowlan says.
 

Cincinnati Children's to host its first-ever Innovation Showcase Jan. 6


On Tuesday, Jan. 6, Cincinnati Children's Hospital and the Greater Cincinnati Venture Association kick off the new year with a glimpse into the hospital's numerous contributions to the buzzing innovation scene in Cincinnati.
 
The Cincinnati Children's Innovation Showcase is an all-day event set to take place on the medical center's main campus in Avondale.
 
The event hopes to bring together the hospital's innovators, including researchers and clinicians, with people in the startup and venture capital community. The showcase will announce three separate funding opportunities for inventors and innovators who are looking for a way to get their ideas off the ground.
 
"This is our first year doing anything like this," says Children's Hospital's Michael Pistone. "In terms of innovation and commercialization, we're continuing to strategically partner with (the medical) industry and the venture community to form smart collaborations that allow our promising discoveries to advance toward a commercial endpoint."
 
Cincinnati Children's already boasts three successful startups: Assurex, Airway Therapeutics and Enable Injections. The CEOs from these companies will be speaking at noon during the Innovation Showcase, discussing the relationship between startup CEOs and the inventor. A number of other interactive sessions held throughout the day will feature hospital staff along with a number of leaders in scientific impact from across the country.
 
As for the upcoming year, Children's is currently focused on gene therapy as a treatment for sickle cell disease. Cincinnati Children's Punam Malik developed this specific type of gene therapy in 2014, and it will be entering its clinical trial in the coming months. Genomics, which focuses on gene variations, the human genetic code, our surrounding environment and the variety of diseases we contract, is also a significant focus area with room for innovation.
 
"We see Children's as both a research engine as well as an innovation hub," Pistone says. "We're seeing more and more health IT, which presents new opportunities for the region."
 
Cincinnati Children's, Pistone says, is an ideal partner for IT companies, as the hospital can offer the innovation scene a variety of collaboration opportunities.
 
The showcase's emphasis on bringing "the bench to the bedside" is made possible by the Greater Cincinnati Venture Association, which is promoting the event. GCVA is an active participant in the startup community, regularly hosting networking events and meetups for players in the Cincinnati startup scene.
 
"The mission of GCVA is to connect funders and founders," says Vance VanDrake, president of the association. "We are excited to promote Cincy Children's first Innovation Showcase as it fits perfectly with our mission."
 
The event will take place 8 a.m.-7 p.m. in the medical center's "S" building. Both breakfast and lunch will be served, and registration is required for many of the day's sessions. Prospective attendees can sign up for specific sessions here.
 

Son of legendary Cincinnati barber opens upscale men's grooming shop

For over 60 years, the Salzano family has cornered the men’s grooming market in downtown Cincinnati. After emigrating to the U.S. from the Abruzzi region in Italy, Nicolino Salzano built a strong following at his Fourth Street barber shop, Salzano’s. Sons Guido, Angelo and Domenico have all been in the business since they were kids.
 
This week, in the recently-vacant space next to the barber shop in Atrium 1 of the Omnicare Center at Fourth and Main streets, one of the Salzano boys is taking a swing at cornering another market: men’s grooming products.
 
Industry-savvy Guido Salzano is set to open G. Salzano’s, a men’s grooming product retail store where his father’s customers can find the high-quality products the Salzanos use for their hot lather shaves and hair cuts.
 
With the help of his father, Nicolino, and his two brothers, Angelo and Domenico, Guido hopes to provide a hip, swanky space for men to find everything they need to look sharp. Hoping to give the place an “old world feel,” Guido’s retail space will feature a chandelier, comfy leather chairs and an old antique barber chair as a centerpiece.

The products on the shelves will include skincare and hair care products from Baxter, a California company, as well as German-made brushes, razors, after-shave and shaving cream from MÜHLE. The store will also feature products from Taylor of Old Bond Street out of London, the only retailer in Cincinnati to do so.
 
Eventually, Guido plans on releasing his own line of men’s care products to sell on the shelves. For now, it’s about creating an experience for his customers that goes far beyond that of Art of Shaving or any other retailer in the category.
 
“I want this place to be for every guy,” Guido says. “Athletes, CEOs, teenage hipsters, common folk like myself. Everybody.”
 
The shops hopes to attract customers of all ages who want more from their grooming experience. In addition to selling men’s hygiene products, G. Salzano’s will also feature items like pocket squares and cufflinks. It’s a shaving store, but with a twist.
 
In addition to drawing in shaving enthusiasts, barber shop customers and Christmas shoppers, Guido also sees his shop as the perfect venue for a groomsmen’s party.
 
“We’ll feed them, drink them, give them a great razor shave and have them check out the store,” Guido says. “I mean, a real badger hair shaving brush? That’s a great groomsmen’s gift.”
 
More than anything else, Guido sees his store as a product of the decades of hard work the Salzano family has put into their business. Though he's opening the store in his name, his brothers, father and uncle all played an important part in making his vision a reality.
 

Local tech company enosiX raises $4.25 million to simplify mobile app development

Another Cincinnati company is taking full advantage of the tech development market, working to fix a key mobile app downfall.
 
enosiX, a Cincinnati-based software company known for their developer-friendly "Framework" for mobile app creation, has a $4.25 million price tag on their first round of funding. Just last week, the company announced its success at the Gartner Application Architecture, Development and Integration Summit in Las Vegas. The company was formed in August at the Chiquita Building, 250 E. Fifth St., downtown.
 
enosiX's software solves the primary problem many modern mobile application developers face: integrating SAP (systems, applications, products). Many Fortune 500 companies use SAP for data inventory and inventory management, among other things, but many modern social applications for your smartphone and other devices don't connect to SAP. If a company wants to access their SAP data system, they can't do so on a mobile app — enosiX is trying to fix that problem.
 
By creating this Framework solution, enoisX is allowing big companies to connect their apps to SAP, therefore eliminating the need to train SAP specialists or pay to hire a SAP-knowledgeable employee. In essence, it's a heaven-sent solution for the development community.
 
The $4.25 million investment came from a variety of sources, including Allos Ventures and Mutual Capital Partners Funds. With the money, the company hopes to increase its staff (now at 15) and expand globally. The solution already has clients in Europe, and founders Gerald Schlechter and Philippe Jardin are currently talking with potential clients in the U.S.
 
Schlechter is a native of Austria who moved here in 2005 to work for Swarovski Crystal. He met his wife, a Cincinnatian, in 2006 and continues living here today. With a background in SAP and experience that crosses international borders, Schlechter decided to start building enosiX's framework after running CNBS, his own consulting company, for a few years.
 
Jardin hails from South Africa and was put in contact with Schlechter when the idea of the enosiX Framework was in its infancy.
 
"Philippe knew the right people, he knew how to start this kind of business," Schlechter says.
 
The company is constantly hiring, Schlechter says, particularly those knowledgeable in SAP and .NET developers. They hope to reach 40 employees over the next year.
 

Cincy Startup Store brings local online retailers to Over-the-Rhine


The Cincinnati startup community is riding to the rescue this Saturday to save last-minute shoppers from their holiday woes.
 
Seven companies will post up on 13th Street in Over-the-Rhine that day, their tangible products in hand and ready to sell. The event, called the Cincy Startup Store, is the first of its kind in the area and takes place at Simple Space, an all-purpose, revolving use venue designed to be the "Airbnb for retail space." The 600-square foot venue was recently remodeled by Levi Blethune to accommodate these types of collaborations and make them affordable to just about anyone who hopes to use them. The Cincy Startup Store is one of the first few events to put the space to use.
 
Kapture, Cincinnati's audio-wristband startup, will be hosting the shopping event. The company has recently gained attention for its appearance on The Price Is Right for its new wearable technology. Kapture's product helps consumers record audio after-the-fact by constantly recording audio data on a 60-second loop wherever the wearer goes. The Kapture wristband, in its many different colors, will be just one of the items on sale at the Startup Store.
 
Other companies expected to appear are Artfully Disheveled, a local tie, bowtie and pocket square designer and retailer; PlusBlue, who will be selling custom engraved mobile battery packs; Frameri, an online eyewear retailer that came out of The Brandery; Petbrosia, a custom pet food company who recently opened an office in Over-the-Rhine; Beluga Shave Co., the one-man company responsible for an easy-to-use single blade razor; and GoSun, makers of portable solar stoves that have already gained international attention.
 
This year marks the fifth anniversary of Small Business Saturday in Cincinnati, but it's the first time startups have been included in the equation.
 
"We're hoping there will be many more like it," says Stephanie Johnson, marketing and business development manager at Kapture.
 
Cincy Startup Store will be open 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday at 16 E. 13th St., Over-the-Rhine. The event is sponsored by several well-known Cincinnati startup supporters, including Cintrifuse, CincyTech, Hamilton County Development Co. and The Brandery. 
 

Makers Megaphone graduates from CO.STARTERS to help other small businesses


When the words "marketing" and "branding" hit a Cincinnatian's ears, a plethora of big names come to mind. As a small business owner, the overwhelming size and high price tag that accompany services from larger marketing firms can prove intimidating. As a craftsman-turned-business owner, that intimidation factor can be even more significant.
 
Enter Ashley Berger. A Pratt Institute graduate and participant in the current fall ArtWorks' CO.STARTERS program, she moved to Cincinnati after 11 years in Brooklyn. Her background is in art, but she's worked and specialized in marketing, advertising and branding as the years have gone by.
 
Berger moved to the area to pursue a job opportunity with Dynamic Catholic in Hebron, and it wasn't long before she noticed the tremendous amount of creative energy in the Cincinnati area. After a year, she decided to quit her job and pursue a goal she had in mind: to help these creative individuals get the word out about what they can do.
 
"Many of these creative small business owners are really good at making things but not at letting people know about them," Berger says.
 
Berger intends to offer small-scale business coaching, website development services and other marketing tools to the kinds of craftspeople who surround her at ArtWorks. Her company name, Makers Megaphone, reflects the idea of providing a metaphorical megaphone through which these "makers" can promote their craft.
 
Berger has found guidance and support through the business-building process at CO.STARTERS. Unlike many of the participants in the program, however, Berger is actually building her business as the class goes along. The questions she asks during the seminars are not hypothetical; the answers are quickly applied to her business in real time.
 
"The week they talked about LLCs and trademarks, I did that," Berger says.
 
As of now, Berger hopes to be open for business by the beginning of 2015. Her website is in its final stages and her business plan is almost complete. Since each step of her company's establishment aligns with the CO.STARTERS curriculum, her final session on Wednesday evening will likely coincide with her business plan's finishing touches.
 
As for clientele, Berger hopes that her creative pricing structure and hands-on experience with other craftspeople through ArtWorks and otherwise will likely attract business owners who could benefit from her expertise.
 

Two Brandery graduates take advantage of the changing world of music

In response to the constantly-evolving world of music, two Brandery graduates, MusicPlay Analytics and Wax Music, are taking full advantage of holes left in the market.
 
Made up of a former platinum-selling musician, a software engineer with a Stanford PhD and a lead developer who's a veteran in the tech+music game, MusicPlay Analytics is poised to contribute significantly to the industry. As a company, its initial goal was to make sure that artists are paid every time their songs are broadcasted or performed in a business setting. Since their time at The Brandery, the team has evolved their idea to include an element that monitors consumer behavior.
 
"We’re now able to solve a problem for the Performing Rights Organizations and help songwriters earn their fair share," MusicPlay CEO Eron Bucciarelli-Tieger says. "But now we'll (also) be able to eventually allow record labels and songwriters to target tour and release promotions in the real world ... as well as bring 'Big Data' insights to small businesses."
 
Bucciarelli-Tieger and his team find themselves surrounded by support here in Cincinnati. With Dayton roots and an "in" at The Brandery, setting up shop here was a no-brainer.
 
"Cincinnati punches above its weight in terms of its culture and startup scene," Bucciarelli-Tieger says.
 
The Brandery's other music-centric graduate, Wax Music, has seen tremendous success in the last few months, causing CEO Jonathan Lane to be a busy guy.
 
Wax Music has created a mobile app that truly understands each user's music tastes. With the data it gathers, it gets to know the user so well it can recommend music that a simple algorithm never could. Instead of focusing on streaming the same songs to your laptop over and over again, Wax jumps off of the Pandora model to introduce its user to new artists and then alert them when those new artists are performing nearby.
 
With the concert industry booming, Wax has decided to avoid the licensing requirements that arise with sites like Pandora and simply provide a platform where music lovers can find more music to love.
 
Since the app was released, it's been promoted in 34 countries as Apple's Best New App. Both TechCrunch and VentureBeat have featured the app, and it was the winner of Microsoft's Push the Web Forward Contest.
 
 

Bad Girl Ventures to announce $25,000 winner Wednesday night


UPDATE ON 12/11/2014: Winners announced here.

One lucky Bad Girl is going to receive an early Christmas present Wednesday evening in Covington.
 
For nine weeks, 43 entrepreneurs at Bad Girl Ventures have been hunkering down over the details of business development, poring over material on marketing, finances, legal concerns and everything in between. Refreshed by cocktails and small apps, all members of the Fall class will receive graduation certificates and recognition for their talents Wednesday, and one will be recognized for their hard work with a $25,000 investment from BGV itself.
 
The holiday graduation ceremony, which is open to the public for $25 per ticket, will take place at The Madison Event Center in Covington. With 250-300 people expecting to attend, this season's group of Bad Girls will have numerous opportunities to network with the kinds of people who can help them get their businesses off the ground.
 
The event will also feature booths for each of the businesses. Attendees can stop by and meet each of the business owners from the current BGV class as well as past graduates from the program.
 
"We call it 'holiday shopping with the Bad Girls,' " BGV Executive Director Corey Drushal says.
 
Since Bad Girl Ventures isn't industry-specific, the group of female-owned companies is extremely diverse. The 10 finalists in the running for the $25,000 prize are listed below:
 
Poppy (Kimberley Barach)
A premium rental service company for baby products that eliminates the need for buying expensive products at every stage of a child's growth.
 
All Care Navigators (Barbara Gunn and David Gunn)
Provides experience and guidance to those seeking senior care services.
 
Babushka Pierogies (Sarah Dworak)
Handmade pierogies to be sold wholesale.
 
Chaddeze LLC (Mary Fennel)
A boy's underwear company known for its use of a front flap.
 
Tactical Intelligence Group LLC (Davina Eccard and Ryan Sullivan)
Offers self-defense courses, both armed and unarmed.
 
Norton Flooring (Erica Norton)
One of the few female-driven flooring companies, with decades of expertise.
 
One Fine Day (Lindsey Lescoe)
A specialty rental boutique for wedding planners.
 
Get Creative Photo Booths (Julie Ball)
An experienced photographer offers fun custom photo booths for weddings and other events.
 
Love Bite (Aris Yowell and Morgan Hamilton)
Brings together everything you need to throw a killer dinner party.
 
For the finalists who don't receive the $25,000 prize, BGV provides seemingly endless support in helping find a source of funding. As an official endorser for Kiva Zip, a domestic crowdfunding site that offers up to $10,000 in zero-interest loans, BGV has the power to connect their companies to favorable investment sources. BGV also boasts connections with US Bank, Park National Bank and Emery Federal Credit Union.
 

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


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

Petbrosia receives $1.5 million loan, moves into Over-the-Rhine office space

Yet another innovative Cincinnati company is moving to Over-the-Rhine. A converted livery, complete with old horse stables in the basement, will serve as the expanded office space for Petbrosia, a tech-enabled consumer product company specializing in custom pet food.
 
"We combine tech with something you can touch," CEO Keith Johnson says.
 
Petbrosia allows customers to enter specific information about their pet into an online system that then creates a custom blend best-suited to the pet's development and well-being. The company ships the food to customers across the continental U.S. in as little as one day. The company targets customers who are both e-commerce savvy and very passionate about their dogs and cats.
 
Johnson, a Procter & Gamble veteran who started Petbrosia in 2013, sees their new downtown office as a primary example of the kind of innovation their company hopes to represent. He and his 12-person team hope to bring jobs to the neighborhood and develop the area as a technological hub. By taking over the space at 1415 Central Parkway, they also hope to contribute to the constantly-developing culture for which OTR is so well-known.
 
While the decision to move into the new OTR space was made quite some time ago, Petbrosia's most recent news involves a $1.5 million loan from Ohio Third Frontier, a main source of funds for growing companies in the area. With the pet category of consumer products growing at a rapid pace, Petbrosia arrived on the scene just in time. Johnson believes they were granted the loan due to the fact that their revenues have remained consistent.
 
The loan money will be primarily used for marketing, he says, which includes hiring new staff, creating infrastructure and launching a new product line.
 
As for the new office space, the large building will provide ample room for a growing staff, and then some. With the recent launch of a vet partnership program, the Petbrosia offices will provide an ideal meeting space for seminars. Petbrosia also plans to share the space with Petwave, a pet-related content website that emerged in 2007. With plenty of room left over, the space may also be rented out to non-pet-related companies who want to be part of the OTR business scene.
 
Though the custom pet food idea has been picked up by larger pet food companies like Purina, Johnson is confident that Petbrosia's small size and personal commitment to each pet/pet owner will ensure the stability of their business. They also have a process and method patent currently pending to protect their concept.
 
"I think bigger companies have a harder time innovating," Johnson says. "With a smaller staff, the shift is much easier."

Cincinnati native creates one-of-a-kind razor, raises nearly $200,000 on Kickstarter

As Cincinnati native Zac Wertz was studying for the bar exam, his mind was wandering elsewhere.
 
For his entire adult life, shaving had always been an issue. Any razor he tried seemed to cause the same irritation. Though he dabbled in the electric shaver game, he was overwhelmed by how expensive and unreliable each option remained.
 
Wertz found salvation in the single-edge razor, the extremely cheap option that's become popular among shaving enthusiasts. The problem with using these blades, however, is the incredible amount of precision required to avoid hurting oneself.
 
With an MBA and a law degree from the University of Cincinnati under his belt, Wertz's mind began to wander. He had one goal in mind: make a single-edge razor that's easy to use. Within a year he surpassed his Kickstarter goal of $100,000, and that number only continues to grow.
 
Wertz began prototyping at home and tested his design on himself. Pleasantly surprised by the favorable results, he took his project a step further and started working with the Columbus-based industrial design firm, Trident.
 
"Explaining the concept was confusing to most people, but Trident understood it," Wertz says.
 
The company's first official prototype blew him away. Compared with other razors, his nicks were limited and the shave quality was unique — even better than what you get with other single-edge options.
 
"It gives you an aggressive but mild shave, all with one razor," Wertz says.
 
With a solid product in hand, Wertz launched Beluga Shave Company. Beluga's razor allows users to choose whichever blade fits into their budget. The wooden handle and 316L stainless steel pivoting head allows users to place the blade of their choice into the head, screw it closed and then begin using it as easily as they would any run-of-the-mill safety razor. Though the razor has a higher up-front cost, ranging from $125 to $150, Beluga offers a 25-year warranty to buyers based on the high-quality nature of the materials.

To Wertz, this is the kind of razor you pass down to your grandchildren.
 
"It can be a chore to shave," Wertz says. "This turns it into this luxurious experience."
 
The Beluga razor company is still primarily a one-man operation. Wertz contracts with manufacturers, expert designers and mechanical engineers from all over the country, but he is the company's only full-time employee. Even so, the product's design is close to being finalized. Customers can preorder the product on the website now and shipments are expected to begin in July.

Though a female-friendly version of the razor has yet to be developed, Wertz anticipates that a similar future model will prove marketable to women as well.
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