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Spaced Invaders uses play, retro video games to re-energize blighted spaces

Designer Giacomo Ciminello uses play to help spark ideas. In his People’s Liberty grant project, Spaced Invaders, he wants to use it to re-invigorate blighted spaces.
Ciminello’s concept uses the aesthetic of vintage video games like Space Invaders to create large-scale interactive games in blighted spaces in Cincinnati in order to help people interact with and have fun in those spaces.

Ciminello has a long history of using play in creative ways. A Cincinnati transplant from Philadelphia, he graduated with a bachelors and then a Design for Social Change masters from the University of the Arts in Philly. While working in advertising and with corporate clients, he helped found PlayPhilly, an organization that aims to energize concrete “grayspaces” through creativity and play.
He has helped start a similar organization, PlayCincy, since moving here but has also noticed big differences between the two cities.
“On the East Coast we were working with concrete alleys and sort of spaces between buildings,” Ciminello says, “whereas out here there are entire abandoned blocks.”
Those large blighted spaces are part of what inspired Spaced Invaders. The project is Ciminello’s first large-scale, tech-heavy enterprise in Cincinnati. Previous projects, like PlayCincy’s Lite Brute and Maxx Chalkers, use simple materials that reminded players of childhood toys and games.
Spaced Invaders also gives participants and spectators a sense of nostalgia for games but uses a much more sophisticated setup and set of technology resources.
The game features a huge light projection into the space and software that tracks players’ movements, allowing them to become a part of the game. The setup hearkens to the wildly popular Lumenocity light show, but with an interactive element.
It’s also part of the growing popularity of vintage video and arcade games from the 1980s seen in institutions like 16-Bit Bar+Arcade, which opened their Cincinnati location in Over-the-Rhine a few months ago. But this version of the nostalgia will require participants to actively play.
“You can’t do this standing still,” Ciminello says. “You have to do 20-yard sprints.”
According to Play Theory, that kind of activity changes the way you think and gives individuals a totally different experience in the blighted spaces Ciminello wants to re-energize.
“It's a workout!” exclaimed the first player to try the game in the project’s first public test Aug. 27 at Brew House in Walnut Hills.
Some logistics of the setup have yet to be finessed. Last week’s test, for instance, was delayed slightly to allow for de-bugging the software and setting up the technology.
But once the program was up and running, it inspired wonder and curiosity in everyone present. As volunteer players raced around the Brew House parking lot in reflective vests, defending from pixelated alien invaders, the small crowd egged them on, rejoicing their accomplishments and commiserating with their losses.
Ciminello hopes to continue building from this test, recognizing that People’s Liberty has been supportive in pushing the project to be bigger and better. Next steps for Spaced Invaders will involve more events in other spaces and developing other games, even site-specific games that use the landscape features in particular areas.
He also hopes that Spaced Invaders will not be the lone project to make use of these concepts.
“It's all going to be open source,” he says of the software. “We’re not going to lock it away.”
The idea is that the Spaced Invaders base and available software will inspire other local designers and DAAP students to build upon the concept and develop new ways to use play theory to transform spaces.
“This should be something that helps people stretch their imaginations,” Ciminello says.
If you want to stretch your own imagination, sign up at fighttheblight.org and follow #fighttheblight to learn more.

Children's study finds higher rates of childhood illness in poor neighborhoods across Hamilton Co.

New research from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center reaffirms the connection between neighborhood resources and health issues.
Dr. Andrew F. Beck, assistant professor in UC’s Department of Pediatrics and attending physician with the Department of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital, studied bronchiolitis and pneumonia cases in children across Hamilton County and mapped out hospitalization stays over the course of the study period. He calculated hospitalization rates by census tract, which in essence parallel neighborhood boundaries.
“Bronchiolitis is a very common lower respiratory tract infection among children age 0 to 2 and pneumonia is one of the most common infectious conditions across childhood,” Beck says. “We found some of the same disparities across our community as we have seen in our research on asthma and life expectancy study published by the Health Department. There is a lot of data suggesting that there are disparities in chronic conditions, and now we’re seeing these disparities in acute infections as well.”
The study indicates that hospitalizations for bronchiolitis and pneumonia infections vary widely across Hamilton County, and those differences appear related to neighborhood socio-economic conditions. The study reported hot spots with higher hospitalization rates in high-poverty areas of the inner city, with equivalent cold spots in the more affluent northeastern suburbs.
“The depiction of these disparities is a call to action on multiple fronts,” Beck says. “There is a strong desire here to understand difference and disparities within our neighborhood settings across a wide breadth of diagnoses. The related desire is to begin to understand the characteristics of those communities: what are the risks within those communities and what are the assets, resources and potential partners within those communities that we could then leverage moving forward.”
Beck and his Children’s colleagues have a strong track record of pursuing research and intervention in tandem.
Over the past few years, Children’s has worked closely with Freestore Foodbank to address food insecurity in families with infants, providing not only medical intervention but also educational opportunities and resources to improve quality of life. Children’s also partnered with the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati to launch the Cincinnati Child Health-Law Partnership, providing legal council and assistance to families struggling with legal issues related to housing and income or health benefits.
“I like to consider myself an expert in child health,” Beck says. “But I am not an expert in housing or hunger or air pollution or those factors that may be exacerbating the well-being of the kids I’m treating. So it behooves me to think through who are those key community partners that might actually drive more health improvement than I might as the pediatrician. That’s why we really value collaborations with community agencies that are those experts.”
The recent research by Beck and his colleagues on hospitalization rates for bronchiolitis, pneumonia and asthma shows there is a relationship but not a causality between these illnesses and poverty. Beck anticipates additional research will be done to examine the possible sources of the disparities.
“We need to do a better job understanding why some of our kids are doing worse than others and then think through what the best next steps are and how this data can spawn action,” he says. “(It’s important) both as a hospital trying to provide the best care we can to every kid within our community and in every neighborhood within our community and also to help start conversations with some of these community experts and agencies that may play an even larger role than we could.”
Health statistics are often provided on a macro level, with rankings of the most and least healthy regions, states or counties. Beck and his colleagues are examining the data at more micro level.
“Even if there are big disparities between County X and County Y, you need to look at a smaller, more granular place,” Beck says. “Because within County X, there may be disparities that need to be narrowed. So we’re trying to understand how we can help our kids do well across communities, not just as an aggregated community.”
Beck and the Department of Pediatrics at Children’s are open to new collaborations to build on the success of their relationships with Legal Aid and Freestore Foodbank.
“The list goes on and on for potential partners who are truly the experts in the social determinants that are perhaps driving the disparities that we see across all these conditions,” Beck says. “We need to think through our complimentary strengths, our complimentary needs and how can we collaboratively provide a better service than we could in isolation.”

Hello Home project tries new way to welcome residents into civic participation

Nancy Sunnenberg wants to create a broad, proactive way of welcoming people when they move to a new neighborhood. She’s been thinking about the questions of “How do we attract and retain people who are residents?” and “How do people become more active citizens?” for a long time.
After moving to Roselawn in the early 2000s, Sunnenberg joined the Community Council to become more involved in her new neighborhood. She became a trustee and officer, and her work with the group got her thinking about how to get more people involved in that kind of community work.
Like many organizations, Sunnenberg says, “we were looking for (people with) the energy and physical wherewithal to do things.” So in 2006 she started researching how a proactive welcoming of people to a neighborhood might cultivate them to be active participants in civic life, hoping to find ways to engage more people.
Now Sunnenberg is exploring the same question through her People’s Liberty grant project, Hello Home.
It felt like a perfect funding opportunity, she says, for a project that didn’t fit neatly into an existing nonprofit’s mission. The People’s Liberty grant allows her more flexibility than a traditional organizational grant.
The goal of Hello Home is to create a united “welcome packet” for Walnut Hills, East Walnut Hills and Madisonville, which Sunnenberg chose because they connect along one of the city’s major transportation corridors in the city, Madison Road. The packets will contain offers from and information about ArtsWave, Cincinnati Museum Center, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Metro, Cincy Red Bike, local businesses and much more.
The crux of the project, however, is not the packet itself but how new residents will receive it. Sunnenberg is training Neighborhood Ambassadors to actively meet and greet recipients; community councils and organizations and signature neighborhood businesses have helped her connect to volunteers in the three target areas.
The process starts with a note left on a new resident’s door, allowing that person to contact the Neighborhood Ambassador. They then meet for conversation at a local coffee shop or similar neighborhood hub. The Ambassador acts as a host, welcoming the newcomer to the neighborhood, and the packet is delivered through that active process of welcoming.
“The process is part of the package,” Sunnenberg says, adding that the real idea is human contact and personal engagement will help inspire and empower people to get involved in their new neighborhood communities.
“People do not recognize how much resource they carry within themselves,” Sunnenberg says.
Neighborhood Ambassadors were trained last week at People’s Liberty HQ in Over-the-Rhine. Once the packets have been launched for a few months, Sunnenberg, the Ambassadors and participating organizations will come together to evaluate how the process is going and identify opportunities for growth and change.
“There are a lot of opportunities to expand the project based on ‘how do we help people connect?’” Sunnenberg says. “I hope that what will come out of it will be the conversation that expands the idea. I am even more of a fan of the creative process than I was coming into this.”

Unleash your inner child at 2015 Mini Maker Faire

Next weekend, the Cincinnati Museum Center wants to remind everyone what it's like to be a kid again. A 21st Century kid, that is.

That means live demonstrations from YouTube celebrities, high tech robots, 3D-printed phenomena and interactive activities like laser painting. They'll on be on display at the third annual Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire Aug. 29-30.
Inspired the national Maker Faire movement born out of San Mateo, Calif., and sponsored by Make magazine, Cincinnati's event is hosted by one of dozens of chapters across the country. Referred to as The Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth, its goal is and always has been to showcase invention, creativity and resourcefulness while entertaining to the fullest.
Cincinnati's Mini Maker Faire is one of 120 independently-organized events modeled on the larger-scale Maker Faires. This year, Cincinnati brings together over 30 makers and inventors to showcase their gadgets and discoveries.
While the event is about as kid-friendly as it can get, the team behind the Mini Maker Faire hopes to draw in adult crowds as well. The Museum Center will be presenting a wealth of information on the history of innovation in Cincinnati along with promises of drag-racing power tools, 3D-printed prosthetic hands and a racecar custom made by University of Cincinnati students — just about every age group will find something worth exploring.
For the little ones, the Duke Energy Children's Museum will offer projects like painting with lasers, playing with puppets and building cities out of paper.
The event will also include a celebrity appearance. Eepybird, the famous duo responsible for the Coke-and-Mentos YouTube video that sparked appearances on Letterman, Ellen and Blue Man Group performances, will conduct one of their Coke-and-Mentos experiments to kick off the Mini Maker Faire.
The Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire will also host area artisans and crafters to sell their handmade items in the Rotunda throughout the weekend.
The event is scheduled for 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free to Cincinnati Museum Center members and holders of their All Museums Pass ($14.50 for adults, $10.50 for children). Tickets can be purchased online or at the museum.

Toms Shoes executive to discuss corporate responsibility at second annual Social Enterprise Week

Social enterprises, businesses that exist to accomplish a social good, are rapidly gaining popularity in the U.S. Companies like Toms Shoes and Warby Parker are known for their outstanding social impact — as well as their enviable profit margins — and their influence is evident in the growing number of businesses directing profits toward the greater good.

Last year, FlyWheel Cincinnati introduced the first-ever Social Enterprise Week as a response to that trend. The main focus of last year’s event was a showcase of local businesses with a social element to their business plan.

This year, the team behind the event has created a Social Enterprise Week with a broader national scope.

The week kicks Sept. 1 off with a Social Enterprise Summit at the Cincinnati Museum Center, where keynote speaker Sebastian Fries, Chief Giving Officer at Toms Shoes, will be joined by several local movers and shakers in the social enterprise realm. Fries will discuss his efforts to scale Toms’ giving practices to over 130 NGOs in 70 countries.

In addition to his input, the panel discussion welcomes Dan Meyer of Nehemiah Manufacturing, Dr. Jason Singh of OneSight, Joe Hansbauer of Findlay Market, Allen Woods of Mortar and Brett Smith of Miami University's Institute for Entrepreneurship, who will touch on everything from job creation for disadvantaged workers and community involvement to entrepreneurship and sustainability.

The Social Enterprise Showcase will be held Sept. 2 on Fountain Square, a lunchtime learning session highlighting more than 30 local businesses that support a variety of causes across the region.

Another new element to this year’s event is a networking event called Cincy Celebrates Social, which takes place Sept. 3. The event will open with a tour of La Terza coffee roasterie and a series of inspirational speeches from local entrepreneurs, followed by an hour of networking for those interested in becoming more involved in the social enterprise realm.

The week wraps up with Buy Social Saturday on Sept. 5. Several local companies will be offering special promotions on their products and services; the full list of the participating companies can be found here.

Though many of the week’s events are free and open to the pubic, those who wish to attend the Social Enterprise Summit must purchase a ticket — they're available online at $35 for general admission, $20 for students and $65 for VIP.

Big Pitch finalists ready to rumble, excite and blow minds on Aug. 27

Eight local small businesses will take the stage at ArtWorks’ Big Pitch next week, with $20,000 in funding and services at stake. But the Big Pitch isn’t just about prizes.
“The finalists put themselves in the position of opening themselves up to feedback because they want to grow,” says Rachel Rothstein, creative enterprise marketing coordinator at ArtWorks. “From the start, they’re working with their bankers and mentors to refine and develop their business plan. The prize money is awesome, but it’s just the icing on the cake.”
The 2015 Big Pitch finalists are a motley bunch, as evidenced in interviews with Soapbox published throughout the summer. Click on each company to read its Soapbox profile:
Brush Factory
Butcher Betties
Cityscape Tiles
Cut and Sewn
Grateful Grahams
Original Thought Required
Roebling Point Books & Coffee
We Have Become Vikings
“We had a really high quality group of applicants this year,” Rothstein says. “They were aware of who the finalists were last year, so they knew what they were getting into. The 2015 applicants knew what to expect and what they wanted to achieve, so it will be really exciting to see their pitches. The finalists are great representatives of the diverse ecosystem of entrepreneurs in greater Cincinnati.”
The Big Pitch finale is Aug. 27 at downtown’s Cincinnati Masonic Center, where the businesses will compete for two cash awards.
The top $15,000 prize will be decided by a panel of judges who will review the finalists’ business plans and evaluate their live pitches. Judges are Corey Asay, attorney with Dinsmore and Shohl; Roger David, president and CEO of Gold Star Chili; Maggie Paulus, strategy director at LPK; Rachel Roberts, owner of The Yoga Bar, Bija Yoga Schools and RAKE Strategy; and Max Sullivan, CPA with Clark Schaefer Hackett.
Judges will consider the potential impact, value and sustainability of the eight businesses as well as the founder’s/founders’ energy, passion and conviction.
Another $5,000 prize will be awarded by Big Pitch audience members. After the finalists complete their five-minute pitches, which may include a visual presentation and one “wild-card” prop, attendees will vote for their favorite finalist. Those ballots will be collected and tallied by Clark Schaefer Hackett.
The winner of both prizes will be announced at the event. It’s possible the same business could win both prizes, although last year saw two different winners.
At the event, ArtWorks will also provide a “where are they now” update on its 2014 finalists, including a video from Noble Denim’s Chris Sutton, last year’s $15,000 winner.
The Creative Enterprise division of ArtWorks is further celebrating Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial community with three videos produced by six summer apprentices. Led by 2014 Big Pitch finalist C. Jacqueline Wood, the apprentices interviewed, shot and edited the short films highlighting the supportive resources for people starting a creative sector business in Cincinnati.
Going into the Aug. 27 Big Pitch final, “there is no clear winner,” says Caroline Creaghead, ArtWorks director of creative enterprise. “We are very excited to see the pitches and how the voting goes.”
Tickets are still available for the event, which will be emceed by Mark Perzel of WGUC-FM and WVXU-FM. ArtWorks moved the event this year to Cincinnati Masonic Center in anticipation of 400-600 attendees. In addition to the pitches, attendees will have an opportunity to network with the finalists and each other both before and after the presentations.

Evanston Community Council, Xavier and ArtWorks partnership produces more than a mural

Public art is used in Evanston as an innovative tool to bring people together and build community, as evidenced by this summer’s ArtWorks mural project on Duck Creek Road. It’s the fourth public art collaboration between the Evanston Community Council (ECC) and Xavier University’s Eigel Center for Community-Engaged Learning.
“Through partnerships and collaboration, the murals have really focused on energizing our community,” ECC President Anzora Adkins says. “They help spread our mission, that we are dedicated the well-being of all residents and to the development of the community through education, business and spirituality. We are really pleased with our efforts and the partnership with ArtWorks and Xavier.”
Eigel Center Director Sean Rhiney says when he first met with the community council in 2011 to discuss possible collaborations, they agreed to focus on art.
“Access to art in the community is a powerful tool for engagement and is multi-generational,” Rhiney says, “so it works great when you have folks of all backgrounds and ages getting together.”
One of the first partnerships between ECC and the Eigel Center took place when Evanston participated in the Contemporary Arts Center’s 2011 Inside Out project. As one of the neighborhood sites, Adkins and Rhiney brought community members together with Xavier faculty and students.
The success of that project resulted in a collaboration between Evanston Academy, Walnut Hills High School and Xavier to design a pig for the 2012 Big Pig Gig. Each partnership built trust and relationships within the community, leading to an even larger project in 2013.
“Mrs. Adkins and I reached out to Keep Cincinnati Beautiful to talk about the redevelopment of the Flat Iron building in Five Points and the opportunity to create a mural there,” Rhiney says. “With funding from Safe Routes to Schools, we created a mural about education.”
“What is so beautiful about this partnership is that we engage the college students and involve people from our community,” Adkins says. “Evanston is the ‘educating community,’ where one can obtain an education from pre-K to a PhD. Public art has a teaching value, and the mural helps us tell the history of our community.”
Adkins and Rhiney began talking to ArtWorks last year about replacing an existing mural on Duck Creek Road at the Dana/Montgomery exit from I-71 north. The original mural, designed by local artist Jymi Bolden, was completed in 1992 and was showing its age. Adkins wanted a new mural that “paints a picture of what is actually going on in our community.”
As part of the design process, Rhiney says, “we did programs with some of the kids form Evanston Academy as well as community-based charettes with residents.”
Out of those sessions, Adkins says, came the themes for artist Jimi Jones to include in the mural: “Emphasis on the importance of family, education, spirituality and recreational activities.”
The location of the mural is a bit symbolic. The construction of I-71 in the 1970s resulted in the demolition of many Evanston homes and businesses and effectively divided the neighborhood in half.
“We focus on the positives,” Adkins says. “We’re looking toward the future and revitalizing our community. I hope the mural will draw some attention and that drivers will take that exit and really look at the mural.”
“We knew this was a very visible site,” Rhiney says. “We want the mural to be a piece that people could really engage in. There is a lot of detail that can only be appreciated when you get up close.”
As the mural nears completion, Evanston is still working to raise funds to support the project through an ArtWorks matching grant on the Power2Give website. The goal is to raise $5,000 by the end of the month, when the matching grant could bring the total to $10,000.
“The website helps us reach out to individual donors,” Rhiney says. “It helps us engage the community and give them ownership of the project.”
“We plan to have an official dedication of the mural,” Adkins says. “We hope that the artist and the ArtWorks apprentices who worked on the mural will be able to be there and really explain the process.”
Power2Give donors will also receive invitations to the event.
“It takes collaboration, partnership and of course money to do all these things that we would really like to see happen in our community,” Adkins says. “We encourage everyone that resides in the community who is able to do so, to get involved. Working together is very important. We have had our challenges, but we’re working toward making change.”

11th annual Bold Fusion event encourages Cincinnati YPs to get up and move forward

Hundreds of young professionals from across the Tristate will gather for Cincinnati HYPE's 11th annual Bold Fusion event at Horseshoe Casino on Thursday, Aug. 13. The team behind the event is bringing together a group of speakers who truly encapsulate the theme of moving forward, both as individual professionals and as a city.
The lineup includes a keynote address from Robert DeMartini, CEO of New Balance athletic shoes/apparel. His message promises to encourage attendees to not only "move" and stay active but also have the courage to "move and shake" within their communities by getting involved.
The event's ambassador speakers are all local indivuduals who plan to further highlight DeMartini's message.

Mark Jeffries, founder of GoVibrant, will talk about his company's message of getting out and moving within your community. Dr. Chalonda Handy of Children's Hospital Medical Center will also speak at the event along with Chris Moore, creator of the transit app Bus Detective.
Bold Fusion is and always has been half networking opportunity, half professional enrichment seminar. Over the last decade, however, the event has evolved along with the city itself. The dozens of young professional happy hours and network events we see every week were few and far between in 2004, when Bold Fusion announced its first event.
Julie Bernzott has been involved in the program since the beginning. At that time, Bold Fusion was the result of a brainstorm by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and focused primarily on drawing young professionals into local leadership roles.
"So much has happened in Cincinnati in 10 years," says Bernzott, senior manager of HYPE (Harnessing Young Professional Energy) programs for the Chamber. "Today, young professionals have a much stronger voice in the community."
Unlike 2004, Bernzott and her team don't have to find a speaker who offers young Cincinnatians a voice. In 2015, they already have one.
"We look for speakers that have a powerful message about career opportunities, community involvement," she says. "As a part of the HYPE initiative, we want to put on a great event for people to meet other people and connect."
The Chamber's HYPE program focuses on retaining young professionals in the city. With the many positive changes happening across Cincinnati's urban core, it's becoming easier and easier to convince talent to stay in the area.
"My job was a lot harder in 2006," Bernzott says. "Being excited about being here was a lot harder of a message."
Bernzott sees this year's event as sign of Cincinnati's rapid progression over the past several years, specifically since 2008. The speaker selections also mark a shift in focus from previous years.

"For the past couple of years, we've had authors as speakers," she says. "It's a totally different feel this year — (DeMartini) will actually share how he manages a company."
With Cincinnati's entrepreneurial spirit in full swing, his message will likely be well received.
Get more information about or register for the Aug. 13 Bold Fusion event here.

Mortar accelerator teaching its second class, planning expansion

At their weekly meeting Aug. 3, members of Mortar’s current startup class christened themselves “Second to None.”
The 17 entrepreneurs are the second group to go through Mortar’s nine-week course of classes and mentorship. They’re now five weeks into the program, modeled after a similar effort from partner Launch Chattanooga, and many are already benefitting from the guidance and education.
Started in 2014 by Derrick Braziel, William Thomas II and Allen Woods, Mortar is not your average business accelerator. The Over-the-Rhine based organization focuses on non-traditional, minority and low-income entrepreneurs, seeking to provide resources to individuals often left out of “renaissances” like OTR’s.
“A year in, we’re starting to see that it is possible,” says co-founder William Thomas.
Along with its course, Mortar supplies entrepreneurs with mentorship from organizations like SCORE and legal guidance through a partnership with University of Cincinnati’s School of Law. It also has a pop-up storefront, Brick, next to its Vine Street offices, which gives new businesses a chance to experiment in a real-world context. Even after graduation, Mortar stays in touch with participants to serve as a resource, a networking tool and an inspiration.
Dana “Nyah” Higgins, founder of JameriSol, which makes vegan and vegetarian Jamaican/Soul food, graduated from Mortar’s first class in April after learning about the program through CityLink. Through the Mortar program, Higgins went from creating dishes out of her home for family and friends to conversations with Findlay Market and a national food chain.
“Initially when I started the class, JameriSol was only an idea that I had had for way too long,” Higgins says. “The men at Mortar — Allen, Derrick and William — gave someone like me, with little experience, the foundation and skills needed to take JameriSol from dream to reality.”
Lindsey Metz is a participant in the new Mortar class. Much like Higgins, she came to the course with an idea: Fryed, a french fry walk-up window in OTR. Although she has food service experience, Metz appreciates the support and the visionary mentality of Mortar’s founders as much as the nuts-and-bolts business advice in the classes.
“I never would have dreamed I could actually do this, but the Mortar founders themselves and the resources they’ve connected me with have shown me I can,” Metz says. “They are extremely knowledgeable guys, but beyond that they are ridiculously supportive.”
The class also includes businesses that are already established but wish to grow. Mike Brown wants to take his business, Brown Lawn Care, from part-time to full-time, adding more clients and employees.
“I’ve really been cultivating all the creative aspects I touched on before, now I’m getting to know them much deeper,” Brown says. “My relationship with clients is really taking off.”
Mortar itself is also taking off. For the second class, the organization received 50 applications, a significant increase over the first class.
“This time it feels real,” Thomas says.
But the Mortar founders aren’t content with the success of the class and Brick in OTR and are thinking of expanding and replicating their model in other neighborhoods. Whatever they do next, it will be visionary.
The “Second to None” class will present its business plans to the public in early October. You can follow Mortar on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for details and updates.

DAAP class presents new visions for OTR Brewery District

On July 30 students from UC’s College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning (DAAP) presented ideas for Cincinnati’s Brewery District — the area of Over-the-Rhine north of Liberty Street — and Brewing Heritage Trail.
The students had been working on their designs in teams of four or five as part of the class titled Design Systems: Re-Envisioning Cincinnati’s Brewery District. Each year the studio class works with a real client to create real solutions, and this year’s client came into the picture through university connections. Steve Hampton, executive director of the Brewery District, is an architect and DAAP graduate.
The students’ projects are helping the Brewery District develop its Brewing Heritage Trail, which is envisioned as a world-class walking tour and district celebrating Cincinnati’s brewing history that would bring heritage tourism into the area.
“Being able to access all this young talent is fantastic,” Hampton says. “I love that with this kind of studio you’re going to get a variety of options.”
Hampton is looking forward to putting some of the ideas into practice in the Brewery District. The students are also excited about the prospect, as the district has become a passion for many of them through the course of the project.
“They felt the passion for the neighborhood,” says professor David Eyman. “It took one walk through the area for them to fall in love with it. So what they did was 200 percent of what you usually see from a class.”
“We put our hearts and souls into this,” student Caycee Boyce says, “and a lot of time!”
Her classmate Jenny Beruscha adds, “It’s interesting how a bunch of students with the same education could come up with such different designs.”
Their July 30 presentations showed the variety of ideas they worked on as well as some similarities.
Many students emphasized the need for public gathering spaces, drawing on the brewing heritage connection and the inspiration of biergartens as places to bring people together. Better lighting and seating was a common theme to improve safety and comfort in the neighborhood. Several groups also emphasized public art installations, consistent signage and gateways at main intersections to define the district’s boundaries and overall feel.
Many of the young designers gave nods to brewing history and OTR’s heritage while integrating modern twists. The browns and ambers of beer even worked their way into the aesthetics of designs as main colors, along with materials like wood and steel inspired by the brewing process and the brick texture already ubiquitous in the neighborhood’s architecture.
At the same time, the groups worked to make sure their designs were fresh and modern.
Two groups actually rejected the connection of beer itself, favoring the idea of “brewing” as a metaphor for creating or making and focusing on the district as a daytime space for residents to complement OTR’s thriving nightlife scene south of Liberty Street. One group even expanded its scope from the Brewery District to the entire branding of Over-the-Rhine.
The presentations were hosted at Roadtrippers in the Brewery District, an app and website that aims to help travelers drive to the most interesting places on their journeys. This was another UC connection, as Roadtrippers has DAAP graduates on staff.
The students were critiqued by a panel of judges ranging from DAAP faculty and successful professional designers to Brewery District representatives and a practicing OTR brewmaster.
The students’ range of possibilities and quality of work impressed even their professors.
“Who better to design the future than the future themselves?” professor Kelly Kolar, who runs Kolar Design, asked after the presentations.
With all of these new ideas, the Brewery District’s future looks full of possibility.

Butcher Betties gets to the meat of why local startups need mentoring and funding

Most people wouldn't think pin-up girls, rockabilly and butchery go together, but that trio is a winning combination for Butcher Betties.
When Allison Hines lost her job as a corporate chef, she decided to pursue her interest in butchery.
“I wanted to learn butchery but there was no school to go to,” she says. “They don't teach whole animal butchery in culinary school any more.”
After getting a scholarship through Grrls Meat Camp and attending their workshop in Northern Kentucky, Hines approached Avril Bleh & Sons Meat Market on Court Street about becoming an apprentice.
“I walked in and offered to work for free so I could learn the craft of butchery, and they took me in like their family,” Hines says. “I want to be able to create a scholarship or a paid internship so someone can come to my shop or I can send them to the first ever butchery school opening in September in Chicago. I think it’s important to give back and pay it forward.”
That idea led Hines to apply to ArtWorks’ Big Pitch mentorship program. She was selected as one of eight finalists and will compete Aug. 27 for $20,000 in cash and services.
Hines had planned on an 18-month apprenticeship with Avril Bleh, but when presented with the opportunity to open her own shop at the Friendly Market in Florence she grabbed the chance. Combining her pin-up girl style with her new trade, she created Butcher Betties.
“Women in my family, going back to World War II, have served in the Navy, including myself,” Hines says. “We've embodied strength and femininity. I want other women to know that they can be strong and still be feminine and attractive, and that's what a pin-up girl represents. When you come in to Butcher Betties, you will see me carrying out half a hog and I could be wearing a skirt.”
In addition to a unique brand, Hines also differentiates Butcher Betties from a typical meat counter in her methods and service.
“One of the things that sets us apart is that we’re working with our farmers and producers on finishing off beef with non-GMO grain,” she says. “No one else in town is doing that.”
As much as possible, Hines locally sources all her products, buying whole animals and processing them on-site.
“We make everything in house,” she says. “Salads, goetta, bourbon bacon, bacon burger (bacon ground in with the hamburger meat) and a lot of seasoned burgers like KY Wildcat and Black & Blue burgers.”
Hines is also passionate about educating her customers.
“I use my chef’s background to assist customers with how to cook things and how to use the whole animal,” she says. “I want to teach people that they don’t need to be squeamish. I bring customers back behind the counter to explain the parts of the animal so they can be comfortable with it and learn to cook from the whole animal, to use things like the trotters because they’re beautiful, wonderful pieces that people are just not familiar with.
“If you want good clean food, you have to do it honor and justice by using the whole animal, not just getting steaks and chops. Only one tenderloin comes out of the whole cow.”
Butcher Betties has big plans over the next couple of months, including an expansion into Ohio; raising two hogs for Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic with friend and collaborator Tricia Houston, The Farm Girl Chef; and completing the ArtWorks Big Pitch program.
“I have a team of mentors helping me,” Hines says. “I meet with them weekly and they’re helping me keep things focused and moving toward the future while helping me prioritize. Our product line is part of the focus for the Big Pitch. We want to be able to brand some of the things we do — the rubs, sauces, the Bombshell Bacon Marmalade — and it’s been a great journey so far.”
In case you need additional incentive to attend the Aug. 27 ArtWorks pitch night, Hines offers this enticement: “The Big Pitch will be large and spectacular and exciting because that’s me and that’s what I do. I don’t do anything small or quietly.”

Soapbox is profiling each of the eight finalists in the 2015 ArtWorks Big Pitch, a 10-week mentorship program that offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes and professional services. The program concludes Aug. 27 with the finalists giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges and an audience; tickets are on sale now.

Original Thought Required encourages young talent, creates community

Over-the-Rhine business owner James Marable sees his limited edition retail shop, Original Thought Required (OTR), as much more than a store.
Marable has had an enterprising spirit since he was a child, but with a background in marketing, advertising and graphic design he’s a creator as much as an entrepreneur. In fact, Original Thought Required grew out of Marable’s own T-shirt line, aTYPICAL sOLE, influenced by the originality of sneaker culture.
“The ethos behind that T-shirt line was really about being yourself,” Marable says, “about being unique and having that sneaker or piece of clothing that really speaks to you, that’s not what people are typically used to seeing.”
The store, which opened in 2010, continues that emphasis on new ideas by highlighting young, up-and-coming designers, both local and national.
“We’re always trying to find that next talent and figuring out how we can get that to work out,” Marable says. “We’re at the point now where we’ve seen quite a few different designers who come through the store and become bigger outside of us. We’ve been able to be a springboard to help people check it out or take it to the next level if that’s what they want to do, just to give people that option.”
Now he’s hoping his business will be the next talent that ArtWorks Big Pitch Competition invests in. Marable appreciates the mentorship provided by ArtWorks as well as the community of small business owners who have made it to the final stage along with him.
“I wanted an opportunity to learn from people who have been doing it longer than me, to think about it differently and learn more steps we can take to really grow the business,” he says. “Even connecting with other contestants and creating a community that helps us all grow.”
Winning any of the up to $20,000 in business grants OTR is competing for will also help the shop grow both by taking on more new artists and by moving to a larger location.
“We have limited edition products, but we also want to reach a wider audience,” Marable says. “Each brand we bring in speaks to different individuals.”
Marable wants to see Original Thought Required expand to more than a retail outlet. He’s seen the business become a cultural center. By working with new designers and maintaining close partnerships with the local hip hop music scene, OTR has become a place people can come for conversation, to meet others with similar interests and be inspired.
“That’s something I never really considered before opening, and that’s what’s kept us going, being a centerpiece for the neighborhood and the city,” Marable explains.
Original Thought Required is trying to take that influence as wide as possible. As the store expands as a business, Marable hopes to also expand its community work, including the informal meeting place in the store and the opportunities provided to youth and artists. OTR frequently partners with Elementz and highlights young artists in its Final Friday shows.
Marable wants to provide even more programming.
“We want to give youth that opportunity, that exposure, positive reinforcement,” he says. “It’s really about connecting with that individual and seeing that talent and seeing how we can work with that and keep them from giving up.”

Soapbox is profiling each of the eight finalists in the 2015 ArtWorks Big Pitch, a 10-week mentorship program that offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes and professional services. The program concludes Aug. 27 with the finalists giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges and an audience; tickets are on sale now.

Communications startup Cerkl flips the traditional model of email newletters

Tarek Kamil and Sara Jackson, co-founders of Cerkl, want their “smart newsletter” technology to help organizations transform their communication strategy into an engagement strategy.
“Cerkl flips the traditional model of communication — of sending one message and guessing what everybody wants to hear — on its head,” Jackson says. “We ask the audience what they want to hear, what they like and what are their skills in order to empower organizations to personalize their communications.”
Jackson says Cerkl is targeting universities looking to engage alumni, students and parents; churches seeking better communication with their congregations; nonprofit organizations building better relationships with their audiences and donors; and corporations wanting to improve internal communication with their employees.
Organizations who use Cerkl upload their email lists and create topics customized to their mission and work. Each person on the list gets a welcome email asking them to select the topics that most interest them and to create a profile. Individuals can also choose to receive newsletters from other Cerkl organizations.
The Cerkl software encourages individual customization though smart tags and prompts.
“We understand that people’s needs and interests evolve and change over time, so we watch that on behalf of the organization,” Jackson says. “Unlike other newsletter platforms, where all you have is a name and an email address, with Cerkl you know who is on your list and what their interests are. So an organization can search for specific interests and reach out to people based on that.”
The depth of information and customization has prompted some organizations using Cerkl to request integration with donor management software. That feature is currently in development, and Jackson anticipates it will be available in a few months.
Cerkl also allows organizations to earn money with their newsletters.
“With open rates three to four times higher than the national average, our organizations can demonstrate they’re reaching and engaging their audience,” Jackson says. “When that happens, businesses want to get in front of those audiences and organizations can choose to monetize their newsletter. So instead of newsletters costing you, they're generating revenue for you. Our goal is that organizations wouldn't have to pay for Cerkl, that their newsletter would earn them money.”
In June, Cerkl graduated as part of the Ocean accelerator’s first class. Jackson and Kamil each have experience with other accelerator programs but say Ocean is the “Disneyland of accelerators.”
“We were in full sales mode and sprinting hard when Ocean began,” Jackson says. “The program confirmed a lot of best practices, connected us to an abundant network to help get us to the next place we need to be faster, helped us put processes in place and prepared us to be able to scale. In addition, the exposure, that Ocean/Crossroads connection, helped us build our profile.”
Ocean also appealed to Cerkl because of its faith-based focus.
“The faith voyage, which happens simultaneously to business voyage, is not necessarily a religious thing,” Jackson says. “It is about unearthing the values, passion and purpose-driven work behind your business. From a marketing perspective, it’s important to keep those qualities top of mind — people are more compelled to lean into products with values.”
The Cerkl co-founders are big supporters of Cincinnati’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“We believe this is the best place to build a business,” Jackson says. “You don’t have to leave Cincinnati to go to Silicon Valley to build something great, you can do it right here, and organizations like Ocean, who support those efforts, are the reason for that.

TEDx and NewCo host outstanding conferences dedicated to Cincinnati's innovation activity

Cincinnati innovators took the spotlight at two major events earlier this month, starting with TEDxCincinnati, which packed downtown’s Cincinnati Masonic Center July 9 with 1,000 attendees.
“We definitely had a mix of participants, from first timers to repeat attendees,” TEDxCincinnati Director/Organizer Jami Edelheit says. “We sold out in three weeks even with a larger venue, and our waiting list was close to 200 people. We already have some exciting things in the works for the next main stage event.”
The five-hour event, emceed by Local 12’s Bob Herzog and Atlanta-based actress Allison Wonders, featured 23 presentations, including TED talks and performances. A mix of local and national speakers covered subjects ranging from hope and perseverance to new technologies and human trafficking.
TEDx talks were presented in two two-hour blocks, separated by a dinner break and the opportunity to explore Innovation Alley, where participants could get a Thai Yoga Massage, touch a snake from the Cincinnati Zoo, get a taste of the Maker Space at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, write a love note to Cincinnati, experience virtual reality with the University of Cincinnati and take part in activities presented by event sponsor United Way of Greater Cincinnati.
Among the highlights of the evening:
• Social justice advocate Jordan Edelheit’s live webcast with Dan from the Marion Correctional Facility to talk about poetry and TEDx events at the prison;
• A cheetah visit from the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden;
• Four Chords & a Guy, who performed decades of popular songs in a few minutes accompanied by simple music and a great sense of humor; and
• Aidan Thomas Hornaday, a 14-year-old philanthropist who speaks eloquently about the need to give and plays a mean blues harmonica.
Edelheit is thrilled with the response to TEDxCincinnati.
“It was awesome having Alex Faaborg come from Google Virtual Reality,” she says. “We had a line out the door for registration, and the first 100 people received a Google CardBoard Virtual Reality Glasses. Ed Smart and his Operation Underground Railroad met with Cincinnati Players before the event to discuss modern-day slavery. They’re now talking about collaborating on a program later this year.
“We loved including the some of the children from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and The Aubrey Rose Foundation in the finale with Eliot Sloan from Blessed Union Souls singing his hit song, ‘I Believe.’ As a result of that performance, Toby Christenson, Chris Lambert and Chris Lah are collaborating with Eliot to do a fundraising CD for Cincinnati Children’s Charitable Care Fund. They plan on involving community kids and Children’s Hospital patients. How exciting for this to be one of the many positive outcomes from TEDxCincinnati.”
Videos of all the TEDxCincinnati talks and performances will be available online in August.
On July 23, NewCo Cincinnati offered the field-trip version of a TED-type program, with 85 companies across the region hosting nearly 900 participants. From Northern Kentucky to Blue Ash, NewCo hosts brought attendees into their offices, breweries and factories for a unique and personal experience with Cincinnati innovators.
NewCo hosts were primarily startups but also included agencies, nonprofit organizations, higher education institutions and a couple of large corporations. Attendees could build their own schedule by geography, field of interest or subject.
A VIP reception to kick off NewCo Cincinnati was held July 22 with over 200 attendees.
The next day’s main NewCo event was divided into six one-hour sessions, with 30 minutes of travel time allotted between each session. Attendees trying to get from West Chester to OTR may have scrambled, but many sessions were located in the urban core and plenty of NewCo participants took advantage of Red Bike to move from session to session.
NewCo sessions varied greatly in content and style.
At the OTR Chamber of Commerce session, held in the Crown Building adjacent to Findlay Market, short presentations from the Chamber, Findlay Market and Red Door Project were followed by audience questions and discussion.
SpiceFire took participants on a tour of its stunning offices in SangerHalle on Race Street, gave a brief presentation, then broke up the group for a hands-on activity that provided a taste of its client experience.
Rockfish gave a short presentation, then let attendees try out Google Glass and Oculus Rift or just enjoy the view of downtown from their Mt. Adams perch.
A panel discussion by Cerkl, Activate Cincinnati, Starfire, Girl Develop It and Bad Girl Ventures looked at the local startup ecosystem from a female perspective.
At the end of the day, NewCo hosted a wrapup party at the Christian Moerlein Taproom for all attendees and hosts to do some networking while sharing their experiences of the day.
Both TEDxCincinnati and NewCo Cincinnati did an outstanding job of highlighting innovative activities taking over the region, not just in the startup community but in nonprofits and the arts as well. Yet, as the organizers of both events have said repeatedly, the 2015 hosts and presenters were by no means an exhaustive representation of Greater Cincinnati’s exciting entrepreneurial growth.
The depth and breadth of creativity in the region will ensure that the 2016 versions are just as compelling to attend. As word gets out about these events, expect those tickets to sell out even faster next year.

Brush Factory builds exciting future on a base of craftsmanship and tradition

Hayes Shanesy and Rosie Kovacs established Brush Factory in 2009 as a working studio to produce custom furniture and handmade clothing and restore vintage motorcycles. After exploring storefront retail and sewing classes, Brush Factory has refocused its business to hand-made furnishings and design objects.
“Our business grew organically,” Shanesy says. Brush Factory today is “more intentional in focus, concentrating on our core values.”
Their experience and hard work is paying off, earning Brush Factory a place as a finalist in the 2015 ArtWorks Big Pitch program.

UPDATE: Brush Factory won both awards at the Big Pitch finals.
Shanesy, a third-generation woodworker, focuses on design and craftsmanship “not because it's trendy but to build on and celebrate tradition.”
Brush Factory produces custom furnishings for individuals as well as business clients such as People's Liberty, Salazar, Noble Denim and Cintrifuse. The idea of ordering custom furniture may sound intimidating to people who don’t know the difference between a finger joint and a lap joint, but Shanesy’s conversational and unpretentious approach puts clients at ease.
“Some people come to us with a piece in mind,” he says. “They might have a photograph from a magazine or a particular style that they’re looking for. We work from that initial idea to create a concept to present to the client.”
The Brush Factory name comes from the business’ first location in Brighton, where their building was a former brush manufacturer. Today, Brush Factory calls Camp Washington home. Shanesy intentionally chose a neighborhood where they would have easy access to manufacturing and distribution resources.
“The metal shop where we have some parts made is literally 500 yards away, and our finishers are even closer,” he says. “It’s crazy how many resources there are right here.”
The growing interest in well-made, hand-crafted, locally sourced goods has been a boon for Brush Factory and other Cincinnati makers. Shanesy, one of the first Cincinnati Made members, credits that organization and other regional makers for creating a vibrant and engaging movement.
“The community at large has been so supportive,” he says. “The interest in mission-focused business and collaboration with other organizations and companies has created a great word-of-mouth audience for us.”
Brush Factory applied for the ArtWorks Big Pitch this year to access the mentorship and business resources offered in the program. They’ve been paired with Bob Bonder from Rhinegeist as well as a US Bank small business specialist.
“We’ve been working toward really diving deeper into our business plan and taking it to a better place than it’s ever been before,” Shanesy says. “We are spending a lot of time on what strategies we’ll approach in the next year, including how to work from where we are today and take it to a place that’s exciting and more efficient, interesting and fun. The Big Pitch is a great opportunity to really force us to think about very specific goals and to be able to share those with a wider community.”
Shanesy encourages people to attend the Big Pitch finals on Aug. 27.
“It’s a fun event,” he says, “and it’s exciting to hear these ideas and have the people behind them talk about what it is they do and how they want to move forward.”
What will the Brush Factory pitch? You’ll have to attend to hear the details, but it will involve producing more “ready to go” goods.

Soapbox is profiling each of the eight finalists in the 2015 ArtWorks Big Pitch, a 10-week mentorship program that offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes and professional services. The program concludes Aug. 27 with the finalists giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges and an audience.
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