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HCDC business support is going strong one year after name change


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

84.51 saw benefits of first Startup in Residence program flowing both ways

 
The Cincinnati startup ecosystem rapidly expanded throughout 2015, offering opportunities for companies at all stages of development. Downtown data analytics firm 84.51° launched a Startup in Residence program in June, providing co-working space and mentorship opportunities to four graduates of regional accelerator programs.
 
“As a more established company, we understand that there is an important role in supporting the future leaders in our space,” says Tony Blankemeyer, Startup Liaison at 84.51°. “We also view this as a learning opportunity for ourselves. By engaging with these companies we see how they approach similar problems and how these small companies are working in a very nimble manner, then we can take those learnings back to some of the work we do.
 
“Ultimately, by being deliberate about investing resources in emerging technology companies like the ones in our Startup in Residence program, we believe it can be a win for our customers but also for our business and the community at large.”
 
The first three participating startups — Casamatic, Hello Parent and Strap — moved into the 84.51° space in June and were joined by HireWheel in September. At first glance, the connection between those four companies — which address home buying, parent communications, wearables and home contractors, respectively — and 84.51° might not seem clear, but there are common threads.
 
“When you look at the companies and the true essence of their missions, they’re very similar to some of the foundational components at 84.51°,” Blankemeyer says. “They have the customer at the center of their design or solution. They’re studying human behavior and trying to understand peoples’ influences. And in almost all the cases with the four companies we have here, there is a data science and data informed approach to that solution.”
 
Participants in the Startup in Residence program not only work in the new state of the art 84.51° headquarters but also receive mentorship from subject-matter experts on staff.
 
“When we look at, for example Casamatic, they’re doing machine learning and data research for the home buying experience, so they might be able to tap someone on our technology team or our data science team just to give advice or guidance on how they might approach a problem,” Blankemeyer says. “Different perspectives typically help advance projects.”
 
84.51° also is creating new avenues for testing and prototyping new products.
 
“I believe one of the most difficult things for a startup is knocking on the doors of larger companies and trying to get that foothold to show what you can do and prove that your solution can be a value,” Blankemeyer says. “So we’re trying to knock down barriers with our program by connecting the right people at the startups to the people within our organization that actually activate and run those pilot programs.”
 
84.51° plans to start a more formalized mentorship program in 2016 to connect its staff with startups in other regional accelerator programs. The company will also launch an online application process for their Startup in Residence program. Interested companies can submit a letter of intent and complete an interview process.
 
“We will see where they are on their journey and if it matches up with the interest areas and foundational pieces that we’re seeking,” Blankemeyer says.
 
Unlike many of the accelerator programs with fixed start and end dates, Startup in Residency participants will be accepted on a rolling admission process.
 
“The first year was definitely a learning year,” Blankemeyer says. “But we’ve seen some excellent benefits of having the startups here. I would definitely anticipate some additional companies in 2016.”
 

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


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

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

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


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

CraftForce startup plans national expansion for its job search platform

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

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


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

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

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

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

Global Entrepreneurship Week helps startups collaborate, thrive, avoid pitfalls


Global Entrepreneurship Week kicks off on Monday, Nov. 16 in Greater Cincinnati as well as in 160 countries worldwide. Local events include happy hours, competitions and the return of Startup Weekend.

Nationally, an effort is underway to have the third Tuesday in November declared National Entrepreneur Day by Congress. Nov. 19 has already been declared Women’s Entrepreneurship Day by the United Nations.
 
As The Brandery, InnovateHER, Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Skyward, Northern Kentucky University and others join to celebrate Entrepreneurship Week, the local office of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease has launched an effort to help startups and entrepreneurs avoid legal pitfalls.
 
“We have talked to many young companies that avoid legal counsel because they don’t think the fees are reasonable or necessary,” says Kimberly Schaefer, Partner at Vorys’ Cincinnati office who specializes in corporate law. “Unfortunately, our litigation group often encounters these same companies again after they’ve been sued or are in legal trouble.”

MyCounsel offers new and growing businesses a customized legal plan for a fixed fee that is spread out over a full year.
 
“The fee is all encompassing in the areas we identify so that the client is able to pick up the phone and call us without being concerned about the fees they are incurring every minute,” Schaefer says. “We get to know the company, they get to know us, and we show them what we can do and the value that we can provide.”
 
Vorys attorneys focus each MyCounsel package around the client’s needs.
 
“We will set up a meeting, usually one to two hours, to find out more about the company and its needs, and then determine if it’s a fit for MyCounsel,” Schaefer says. “If it is, we create a customized proposal for the company to become a part of the program.”
 
Services provided by Vorys may address labor, employment, contract review or intellectual property issues, with the idea of diffusing any potential legal situations before they arise.
 
“We often see companies fail to consider what happens if one or more of the shareholders or partners leave,” Schaefer says. “It is critical to consider Buy/Sell Agreements to cover these scenarios on the front end.
 
“Another common problem we see is that companies all too frequently forget to protect their intellectual property, which is created long before there is a tangible product in place. If you wait to protect your IP too long, someone may beat you to the punch.”
 
Eventually, Vorys hopes to offer quarterly workshops for MyCounsel participants and trainings geared to growing businesses.
 
As the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Cincinnati expands, the professional resources available to these startups and their founders also continue to grow. During Global Entrepreneurship Week, Skyward will launch a new online tool to direct entrepreneurs to resources that address startup needs.
 
“A thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem is important for our entire region’s growth,” says Trey Grayson, President of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. “Our goal with Global Entrepreneurship Week is really to shine a light on the wide variety of opportunities we have in our region for entrepreneurs of all levels to connect, grow and develop all types of companies.”
 
Most of the local Global Entrepreneurship Week events are open to the public, but registration for some programs is required. The week concludes with Startup Weekend Nov. 20-22, a “frenzy” of business model creation, coding, designing and market validation hosted at 84.51 downtown.
 
A full events schedule is available on the NKYStartups website.
 

Curb'd now taking applications for Covington parklet designs


The application process is now open for artists and designers interested in Curb’d, a program to create parklets next year in Covington’s MainStrasse and Central business districts. The collaboration between Renaissance Covington and MainStrasse Village Association is funded by the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation.
 
Curb’d is working closely with businesses in those areas to select parking spaces to house parklets and is preparing to bring designers, artists and engineers into that collaboration.
 
Businesses already have applied to host a parklet in a parking space in front of their location, and 13 parking spaces have been selected as finalists. They’ll go forward in the design competition, with five businesses submitting their own designs and the other eight working with art and design teams who enter the application process.
 
The 13 final designs will be judged by a jury panel that will choose which five parklets are actually constructed.
 
Katie Meyer, Executive Director of Renaissance Covington, is excited to see a wide variety of creative ideas.
 
“I think that we are going to have a really diverse group of artists and designers and people of different design backgrounds,” she says. “Parklets are being done in many cities right now, and a lot of times they become an extension of outdoor seating. We want to go further than a table and chairs.”
 
Meyer emphasizes that Curb’d is looking for unique, site-specific designs for interactive installations that activate space. The intensive application process reflects the high standards the project is looking for — those interested in submitting a design must attend a mandatory informational workshop on either Nov. 16 or Nov. 18 in order to qualify to submit proposals by Dec. 2.
 
The design teams whose installations are chosen to be fabricated will be rewarded with a $1,000 honorarium. Even the teams who go through the design process but whose parklets are not chosen will be compensated with gift cards donated by participating Covington businesses.
 
The businesses will also benefit, since the parklets, which will be installed from May through October of 2016, are predicted to attract foot traffic to and between the two business districts. They’re intended to help activate the space, make the areas more pedestrian-friendly and bring people into businesses.
 
Meyer says she’s already seeing excitement from the business community in the few months the project has been percolating.
 
“There are a couple of businesses that aren’t always engaged that are participating, and that’s exciting,” she says.
 
Anyone interested in designing a Curb’d parklet should review the application process and attend one of the mandatory informational workshops at Braxton Brewing Company on Monday, Nov. 16 at 6-8 p.m. or Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 7:30-9:30 a.m.
 

Mortar is opening Brick 939 pop-up holiday shop in Walnut Hills


Local entrepreneurship accelerator Mortar wants you to do your holiday shopping as locally as possible in order to support Cincinnati startups and entrepreneurs. In fact, the organization will help by providing a formidable pop-up space in Walnut Hills where you’ll be able to shop a variety of local vendors, entrepreneurs and even artists.
 
The pop-up space, Brick 939 (named for its location at 939 E. McMillan St.), will open on Black Friday, exactly one year after Mortar debuted its original pop-up space, Brick OTR, in Over-the-Rhine. But the new Brick will be on a new scale.
 
“Brick 939 is the Incredible Hulk-sized version of our pop-up shop in OTR,” says Mortar co-founder Allen Woods, referencing the fact that while the original Brick OTR is approximately 400 square feet of space, Brick 939 will be 10,000 square feet. The additional space will provide plenty of room for a variety of Cincinnati artisans and entrepreneurs to show their wares to holiday shoppers as well as house an art gallery for both visual arts and media in a screening room.
 
For Woods and Mortar, the extension into an art gallery makes perfect sense.
 
“Artists are entrepreneurs,” he says, pointing out that artists, just like all the other entrepreneurs Mortar works with, are trying to express themselves and realize their ideas in order to make a living. Since the purpose of Mortar’s pop-up shop is to provide an accessible way for businesses to do real-life trial runs very early in their startup process, providing space for artists was a natural next step.
 
939 McMillan seemed like the perfect space for all of those opportunities, but it took a lot of work to get the space ready. Over the past 14 weeks, Mortar has removed more than seven dumpsters’ worth of old merchandise and debris from the former Dollar City store in the process of preparing the building.
 
“It was a task to have the vision to see what it could become,” Woods says. “When we walked into this space, it completely pulled me in. … Now it has become exactly what we wanted it to be.”
 
Woods sees the transformation of the Brick 939 space as an apt metaphor for the changes that Mortar leads entrepreneurs through in its nine-week accelerator class, taking their idea from a rough vision to a fully fleshed-out concept and often a realized business. Mortar is now well into its third such class, which is its first one taking place in Walnut Hills.
 
The accelerator, which got its start in Over-the-Rhine a year ago, expanded into Walnut Hills this summer and will now alternate class sessions between the two neighborhoods. More than half the members of the current class are Walnut Hills residents or entrepreneurs looking to be active in the neighborhood.
 
“For me, we’ve always wanted to be as engaged in the community as possible,” Woods says. “We want to make sure we’re in all the places people need us.”
 
For Mortar’s Walnut Hills expansion, this means focusing on its mission of helping “the residents who aren’t typically included” in the process of redeveloping neighborhoods. The founders have worked closely with Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation on their expansion into the neighborhood, including hosting community forums to solicit input on their programs.
 
“We were able to ask, ‘What would you like to see, what is missing in your neighborhood?’” Woods says. “They might have a genius idea none of us have thought of.”
 
In addition to gathering ideas, Woods says those kind of conversations help give longtime residents a sense of pride and ownership over the changes in the area. When Walnut Hills was a flourishing business district several decades ago, it was also a primarily African-American neighborhood. As it goes through this period of rebirth, Woods says, “We want to get entrepreneurs to be at the forefront of that flourishing.”
 
Entrepreneurs and artists who want to flourish at Brick 939 this holiday season can apply at Brick939.com. There are a limited number of pop-up concepts that will be accepted in the space.
 

Two meetups to offer "speed dating" mentorship connections for social enterprise concepts

 
Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial community fosters many opportunities for networking and mentorship. A new effort is targeting social entrepreneurs with two meetups on Nov. 19.
 
Social Enterprise CINCY, produced by Flywheel Social Enterprise Hub, will host the events to bring together mentors and social entrepreneurs for a speed-dating type program.
 
“There are lots of definitions of what social enterprise is,” says Bill Tucker, executive director of Flywheel. “We look at it pretty broadly and consider social enterprise to be a business that is built around the notion of serving some common good. That can range from an organization like the Freestore Foodbank’s Cincinnati Cooks to a company like Nehemiah Manufacturing.”
 
Flywheel was created specifically to work with nonprofits that wanted to explore the idea of social enterprise in order to provide mission-related funding which would reduce their dependence on grants and philanthropy. Social Enterprise CINCY was established to broaden that ecosystem.
 
“Social entrepreneurs tend to exist within silos: for-profit, nonprofit, faith-based,” Tucker says. “We believe there is value in creating connections between all three types of social entrepreneurs and bringing them into relationships with other community leaders.”
 
The two meetup events, one at 8:30-10:30 a.m. at Community Blend Coffee in Evanston (featured in a recent Soapbox story about co-ops) and the other at 5-7 p.m. at Japp’s in Over-the-Rhine, are open to anyone interested in starting or scaling a social enterprise business. Mentors are also being sought for the event, specifically individuals with experience in accounting, marketing, finance, operations or a general business background.
 
Participants will complete a quick questionnaire, either before the event or at the door, to assess the skills they need or the skills they can share. The event itself will run like a speed-dating program, with entrepreneurs meeting a number of potential mentors trying to find a good fit. The meetup part of the program will be followed by a general networking session for all attendees.
 
“We want to start bringing people together,” Tucker says. “Our hope is that we can put the attendees in a relationship with someone who can make a difference in their lives, either as a mentor or social entrepreneur, and that we can bring more mentors to the social enterprise sector.”
 
These meetups grew out of the Social Enterprise Week and Summit hosted by Social Enterprise CINCY in September.
 
“We consider Social Enterprise CINCY to be an ecosystem builder similar to Cintrifuse,” Tucker says. “Cintrifuse supports an ecosystem around entrepreneurship with a technology focus and profit motivation; they’re the backbone of venture capital and the startup community in Cincinnati. Social Enterprise CINCY wants to promote the same type of energy, connection and sense of community among social entrepreneurs.”
 
Tucker hopes some of the meet up attendees will have ideas that could eventually land them in business accelerator programs like Bad Girl Ventures, ArtWorks’ Co-Starters or Mortar.
 
“Cincinnati is a really unique place with so much energy around businesses that are designed to support the common good,” Tucker says. “We want to bring together for-profit, nonprofit and faith-based social entrepreneurs to elevate the impact of their work with business, civic, and government leaders in order to build sustainable business ventures and enrich the fabric of our community.”
 
Although the Nov. 19 meetup events are free, advance registration is required.
 

Cincinnati Design Awards to celebrate architecture, interior design, graphic design


Five local design organizations join together to celebrate the year's best architecture, interior design, graphic design and landscape architecture projects on Friday, Nov. 13 at the Cincinnati Design Awards. The 19th annual event will be hosted at the Woodward Theater in Over-the-Rhine, where awards in 11 categories will be presented.

CDA19 is organized by the Cincinnati Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Cincinnati), the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) Cincinnati/Dayton City Center, the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Cincinnati/Dayton, the Society of Experiential Graphic Design (SEGD) Cincinnati Chapter and the Miami Section of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). Award categories include built work, unbuilt work (studies/reseach/analysis), small projects and open design recognition for Design Excellence and Design Advancement.

Entries are reviewed in a blind jury format by a diverse panel of design professionals from around the country who are recognized leaders within their organizations. Jurors include Eddie Jones, Principal of Jones Studio in Phoenix, Ariz.; Natalie Engels, Design Director of Gensler in Silicon Valley, Calif.; Cybelle Jones, Principal and Studio Director of Gallagher & Associates in Washington, D.C.; Meg Storrow, Principal of storrow/kinsella in Indianapolis; and Mike Tittel, Executive Creative Director of gyro in Cincinnati.

The event begins at 6 p.m. with a reception and dinner, with the awards presentation following at 8 p.m. and then dessert and coffee. Tickets are $75 for individuals and $600 for a discounted group of eight, with student tickets available for $25. Reservations are required and can be made here.
 

Water tech forum explores region's innovation and economic opportunities


On Thursday, Nov. 12, the Woman’s City Club of Greater Cincinnati will host a forum on water technology in Cincinnati and how to harness the opportunities it provides. Titled “Liquid Gold: the Cincinnati ‘Water’ Technology Story,” the event brings together science, nonprofits, research and industries to discuss the water technology resources already existing in Cincinnati and how those resources can be leveraged for innovation, environmental impact and economic development.
 
“Cincinnati does have this rich history of water technology,” says panel moderator Melinda Kruyer, director of Confluence, a nonprofit that coordinates water technology innovation and tries to facilitate new research, accessibility and commercialization of new water technologies and ways to meet water and environmental crises with innovation.
 
Cincinnati is already a leader in water technology and innovation and has been for a long time, she says, from the city water works founding nearly 200 years ago to establishment of one of the first federally-funded freshwater research labs here in 1913 to creation of an Environmental Protection Agency lab in the city in 1972.
 
In fact, the region is so rich in water technology research and innovation that a few years ago it was identified as the EPA’s first Water Technology Innovation Cluster and named Confluence.
 
“For Confluence, it’s really about connection,” Kruyer says. “We take down the barriers to that commercialization to help (innovators) get from the lab to commercialization.”
 
The cluster tries to bring together researchers, industry, government and other stakeholders to address water technology issues. Since they’ve been doing this for several years now, when new issues like this summer’s aqua-toxin algae bloom on the Ohio River occur, they already have teams and networks in place to come up with solutions.
 
“We’re not going to solve these problems,” Kruyer says. “We’re going to have to innovate our way out of them. … When you see these brilliant technologies people are coming up with, it’s wonderful.”
 
Kruyer will be joined by panelists who work directly with that kind of innovation, including Theresa Harten, director of the water technology cluster project at the EPA; Oliver Lawal of AquiSense Technologies, which innovates water treatment and disinfection technologies; and Bill Scheyer, president of Skyward (formerly Vision 2015) in Northern Kentucky.
 
The event is sponsored by the Woman’s City Club of Greater Cincinnati, which engages the city in a wide range of issues.
 
“This event speaks to their broad-based knowledge and awareness of big issues,” says Kruyer, adding that she sees the collaboration as a perfect fit and encourages public participation in the forum.
 
“What I hope attendees learn is that we have this rich asset,” she says, “and we’re probably better known around the globe than right here.”
 
Kruyer points out that the very reason the city exists is its proximity to water — its location on the Ohio River. For her, Confluence and the upcoming forum are important because “water is something that touches us all.”
 
“Liquid Gold: The Cincinnati ‘Water’ Technology Story” begins at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 12 at First Unitarian Church, 536 Linton St. (at Reading Road), Avondale.
 

UC steps up role in encouraging startups on and off campus


The University of Cincinnati is co-hosting “University Start-Ups: Getting Beyond Challenges, Making It Happen” Nov. 9-10 in Louisville, a conference serving as a “mini boot-camp” on the various stages of creating a startup, from evaluating the idea to working with professional partners.
 
The event is organized by OVALS, formerly the Ohio Valley Association of Life Sciences, although its scope now extends beyond life sciences; the group of universities regularly holds conferences on startups and commercialization topics. UC was a founding member of OVALS 14 years ago.
 
“Our focus has always been commercialization, bringing scientific discoveries to the market,” explains Dorothy Air, UC’s Associate Vice President for Entrepreneurial Affairs and Technology Commercialization. “We’ve always focused on startups. Just this year we’re focusing it in a slightly different way with the mini boot-camp. I like the fact that we are very focused on practical things: Here are the critical aspects of starting a business, here’s how you work with partners, here’s what you need to be thinking about.”
 
Air says the model of this year’s conference makes it particularly appealing for not just universities looking to support commercialization of technology but anyone interested in starting a tech company or getting his or her idea off the ground.
 
“We’re trying to attract the ecosystem of everyone who is participating,” she says. “It will be useful for any startup.”
 
The conference will feature sessions on deciding whether a certain technology is right for a startup, how to make a company a reality, how to move forward and partner with industry, and how to look for and secure funding sources. It will also include a showcase of early-stage technologies coming out of participating universities and a keynote speaker, Nan Mallory MD, who successfully launched a startup companyt based on technology from university research.
 
For Air, the conference fits well into UC’s new model for supporting innovation. A few years ago, the university didn’t do much beyond helping inventors secure patents and intellectual property rights for their innovations. Recently, though, UC has “flipped the model,” Air says, focusing on a comprehensive approach to supporting startups and the full commercialization of new technologies to come out of university research.
 
The Louisville conference is part of that comprehensive model, as is the research accelerator UC is building at its former Campus Services building on Reading Road. UC is also hosting entrepreneurs in residence to help serve as a resource for faculty and students.
 
The university has even changed the way it tracks progress and success of commercialization, going from tracking the number of patents awarded to looking at the stages along the pathway of a startup from idea to available product. UC leaders are focusing heavily on supporting the difficult early stages of development and on partnering with the public and industry to inform university-supported processes.
 
“The OVALS conference fits into our overall strategy because we want to develop external visibility,” Air says. “We’re really kind of early on in this, and I think we’re starting to see more traction.”
 
The “University Start-Ups” conference will take place Nov. 9-10 at the Seelbach Hilton Hotel, 500 S. Fourth St. in downtown Louisville. Besides UC and CincyTech USA, host institutions include Indiana University, Ohio State University, Ohio University, Purdue University, University of Dayton, University of Kentucky and University of Louisville. Get more information and register here.
 

Cincy Sundaes wraps up sweet year of grassroots micro-funding

 
Cincy Sundaes has wrapped up its second year of providing grassroots micro-funding for innovative projects. The program is organized by Erika Fiola, Strategic Initiatives Manager at Agenda 360, and Kristine Frech, Vice President at Skyward NKY.
 
They came up with the Cincy Sundaes concept on a City Swap trip to Detroit, where they heard about a program called Soup that hosts monthly dinners to raise funds for creative community projects. But instead of serving soup, Fiola and Frech decided to feature a make-your-own sundae bar.
 
“For us this is fun,” Fiola says. “We’re lucky enough to have jobs in the community that we love, so this is just the icing on the cake. We love seeing people come together to support good ideas that make our community a better place. Cincy Sundaes is a really family-friendly event, and we like to think we’re helping kids see that giving back can be fun.”
 
Fiola says that Dojo Gelato was quick to step up and support them by donating gelato for each event. The first Cincy Sundaes event was in April 2014 at Rhinegeist, when more than 175 people attended.
 
Here’s how it works. Cincy Sundaes accepts applications until a week before each event. Applicants can be for-profit or nonprofit, they just have to pitch their idea in one page.
 
“Erika and I review the proposals with a set of questions including: Will Cincy Sundaes funding be enough to bring this project to life? Will this benefit the region, a specific neighborhood or community? Is this unique?” Frech says. “We also take into consideration region. We want presenters from a variety of neighborhoods in both Ohio and Kentucky.”

Four applicants are chosen to present at each Cincy Sundaes event, where they have four minutes and four audience questions to sway the crowd. Anyone with $5 can attend Cincy Sundaes, grab a gelato sundae and vote on the idea they like best. The winning idea gets all the money raised at the door.
 
Cincy Sundaes started in 2014 and funded five projects that year, including ArtWalks.
 
“Pam Kravetz and I had a blast pitching the Art on the Streets idea for ArtWalks at the very first Cincy Sundaes event,” Margy Waller says. “Several families brought their kids to help us illustrate how much fun our community-designed creative crosswalk painting would be. We had butcher paper and paint and colored pencils for everyone to suggest painting ideas.
 
“We were surprised and pleased to learn that the donations from Cincy Sundae eaters would be matched by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. We painted six crosswalks with hundreds of citizen painters, bringing a fun surprise to thousands of people in our region and enhancing safety for walkers at the same time. None of this would have been possible without Cincy Sundaes’ support.”
 
Funds raised by Cincy Sundaes in the 2015 season were matched by People’s Liberty. The final event of 2015 was held in October with Sweet Cheeks Diaper Bank winning the vote.
 
“All of the Cincy Sundaes projects have been awesomely executed,” Frech says. “We ask winners to come back to a future event to talk about what they’ve done with their dollars. In some cases, like ArtWalks, you can visit the finished product. In other cases, like Changing Gears, you hear a powerful story about how providing access to a vehicle allowed a man to find sustainable employment. Either way, we have been very impressed with the impact our winners have had on our community.”
 
“We’ll be back next year,” Fiola says. “We hope to do some new innovative and fun things, so keep your eyes peeled! We plan to have details up on CincySundaes.com in early 2016.”
 

Regional Workforce Network looking for input on Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

 
The Employers First Regional Workforce Network hosts a forum Oct. 30 on the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which aims to streamline and improve workforce development systems so potential employees can develop needed skills and talents.
 
The workforce network is a coalition of four Workforce Investment Boards from Southwest Ohio, Southeast Indiana and Northern Kentucky that work to connect businesses with potential employees. The boards formed the coalition 14 years ago after recognizing that their efforts needed to reach across the tristate region.
 
“The realization that began the conversation was that employers weren’t concerned about which state their potential employees came from, they just wanted qualified employees,” says Barbara Stewart, Associate Director of Workforce Development at the Northern Kentucky Workforce Investment Board. “So we would ‘circle our wagons’ to align and coordinate workforce services for the employers.”
 
Since then, those Workforce Investment Boards have worked together to help businesses connect to talent in the region. According to Stewart, it’s a great model.
 
“I was delighted to get involved with the workforce network because it made so much sense,” she says. “In the workforce development arena, success is closely tied to the relationships that support linking job seekers to employment opportunities.”
 
The Employers First Regional Workforce Network allows the four workforce boards to strengthen those relationships by pooling resources and combining their networks. In addition, the WIOA legislation emphasizes regional efforts.
 
“It realizes that workforce development does not stop at county borders,” Stewart says. “In our area, efforts don’t stop at state borders either.”
 
Consequently, the workforce network has developed a proposal for a regional workforce development strategic plan in reaction to the WIOA legislation but is looking for public input on the plan. Stewart encourages people to come to the Oct. 30 forum to help provide that input.
 
“We very much want to collect comments and insights from employers and community stakeholders that will help with our regional approach,” she says. “This will ensure our Employers First region becomes a more effective workforce development partnership.”
 
The Employers First Regional Workforce Network has held several similar forums in the past on topics ranging from skill shortages during high unemployment to the future of manufacturing. Stewart sees this week’s forum as an important step in the future strategies of Workforce Development Boards in the tristate.
 
“This one is bringing us into the next phase of the workforce development scene,” she says. “It will strengthen our direction, making sure we’re addressing the current and future needs of employers and the job seekers they’ll hire.”
 
The forum will be held 9-11 a.m. Oct. 30 at the Fifth Third Convening Center at United Way, 2400 Reading Road, Walnut Hills. RSVP to Nori Muro by phone (513-762-7234) or by email at nori.muro@uwgc.org.
 
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