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Pet Wants owners to open distillery in Over-the-Rhine

PetWants co-owner Michele Hobbs has a secret.
 
Well, two of them. First of all, she knows the origin of the ubiquitous "OTR$" stamp that has been appearing on paper money throughout the downtown Cincinnati area. Second, during a time when real estate in Over-the-Rhine is expensive and hard to come by, she and her wife (and PetWants co-owner) Amanda Broughton managed to purchase an old warehouse that will do much more than serve as a receiving area for the 25,000 pounds of food PetWants sells each month.
 
"People like me don't get these buildings," Hobbs says.
 
Hobbs discovered the structure after poring over public bankruptcy records. She stumbled across an owner who hadn't paid taxes since 2007 and jumped at the opportunity to make the building hers. For $225,000, Hobbs found herself with 17,000 square feet of space, including a warehouse and an attached garage. Two blocks from the streetcar, she has space for 250 cars and the kind of business potential people only dream of.
 
Though currently in the business plan stage, the groundwork has been laid to house OTR's first distillery in decades in the Central Parkway location. According to Hobbs, there used to be 80 distilleries in OTR. Though the city is chock full of craft breweries, liquor production has taken a back seat.
 
Born Again Distillery, a name Hobbs has already trademarked, will produce gin, whiskey and bourbon while also providing a large event space for rent. Hobbs hopes to collaborate with other OTR residents to make the place a neighborhood-driven destination.
 
Though she is excited about the project, Hobbs' main focus is still PetWants—that, and encouraging folks to buy local. Though money stamped with "OTR$" has been rumored to be linked to a neighborhood drug ring, its true origin is nowhere else but PetWants' own cash register. They created the stamp and stamps like it to make people aware of their company's commitment to spending money locally.

Hobbs' local commitment will become even more apparent with the emergence of her OTR distillery. The warehouse transformation should begin sometime next year.

The Brandery Class of 2014: Strap makes wearables doable

Two weeks ago, the Brandery celebrated Demo Day for its 5th graduating startup class. The graduation released the growing companies into the metaphorical "wild," though several will still maintain a presence at the Brandery until they find an alternate working space. This particular class, drawn from the Brandery's highest number of applicants to date, is made up of the most technically savvy founders the accelerator has seen yet. Not only that, but eight out of 10 of the members have decided to grow their businesses right here in Cincinnati.
 
"When you're in a vibrant place where people want to be, companies tend to stick around," says Mike Bott, general manager at the Brandery.
 
Bott is often quoted for his "swiss cheese" analogy when it comes to startups. When companies first come though the Brandery's doors, the foundation is there, but there are holes to be filled. When Class of 2014 graduate Strap first arrived at the Brandery, there were a lot of holes.
 
"When we arrived, we had a pretty narrow vision of what Strap would be," says Steve Caldwell, founder and CEO at Strap. "By the end, ... we had evolved personally and professionally into a well-rounded company."
 
Strap serves as a software development and analytics platform for wearables. The company's goal is to attract both developers and retailers who want to get the most from their wearable technology through an easy-to-use system. Caldwell and his team are thrilled to be developing their product in the cost-effective, startup-friendly Cincinnati area, a place he describes as combining the best of the big city with the friendliness of a small town. The resources don't hurt, either.
 
"If someone locally can’t provide something, we’ve been one degree of separation from just about any industry or area of interest through Brandery connections alone," Caldwell says.
 
The Strap staff is made up of a creative director who has a black belt in karate, an operations guru/former Army Ranger who spent time tracking and destroying the Taliban's bombs in Afghanistan, and two engineers who just dominate code.
 
"If you combined a musically inclined hipster kung-fu master with an Army Ranger, you’d be approaching our culture," Caldwell says.
 
Soapbox will profile the other nine members of The Brandery's diverse new class in the coming weeks.

Local startup Lisnr finds a home with Techstars and R/GA

When you’re a company like Lisnr, accelerators come to you, not the other way around. As a relatively established Cincinnati startup, Lisnr already has millions in investments, a solid employee base and an even more impressive product. So when one of the largest accelerators in the country approached its chief executive, Rodney Williams, he was not planning on settling for just anything.
 
That accelerator was Techstars, a Colorado-based, nationally recognized accelerator that has recently teamed up with R/GA, an equally acclaimed design and advertising firm. As the Wall Street Journal blog reported a couple of weeks ago, the duo is seeking startups that are far past the seed-stage and well on their way to generating revenue. Techstars and R/GA hope to attract companies just like Lisnr by offering them a worldwide network of investors, customers and developers.
 
That said, Techstars and R/GA’s more-than-appealing offerings were not what convinced Williams and his team to come on board. There had to be a spark.
 
"When I usually meet an agency, they’re trying to understand Lisnr," Williams says. "Within a few minutes of speaking with R/GA, they not only understood us, they understood how impactful we could be in the market."
 
Lisnr, which describes itself as a “premiere smarttone technology company,” develops software that uses ultrasonic technology to transfer data through audio. It could mean big things for retailers who want to reach their customers directly, in real time. Anything, from advertising data to promotional announcements, can be transferred through audio waves directly to a consumer’s smartphone or other device.
 
Working with Techstars and R/GA means that the technology can now become more prolific than ever. According to Williams, it has the potential to replace Bluetooth. This is no small task, and where an accelerator could prove very beneficial.
 
"The R/GA client base is incredible for Lisnr," he says. With success stories like Microsoft, Beats by Dre and Nike Fuel Bands on their resume, R/GA has proven extremely successful in marketing products to the exact customer base Williams hopes to reach. As for Techstars, Williams anticipates that they will help him to recruit even more top talent in the area to even further perfect the software.
 
"As we look at the next four months, it’s really about connecting with companies, creating standards," Williams continues. "Demo Day, for us, will be about becoming the new standard."
 
After their time with Techstars and R/GA, Lisnr hopes to appear on millions of devices and have developed a team both in Cincinnati and New York that can further that goal. Though their New York office provides an important hub for the business, Cincinnati is still home.
 
"There are no better developers than here in the Midwest," Williams says. "Cincinnati has been amazing for us."
 
The company plans to move into its new building at 12th and Broadway in the next month, where it will have more room to expand and grow as a brand.
 
"The team is uber-excited," Williams says, "and so motivated to speed this up within the market."

Mount St. Joseph University and Education At Work collaboration adds more than 100 jobs

A recent collaboration between Mount St. Joseph University (MSJU) and Education At Work created more than 100 jobs for college students. 
 
The jobs, which entail providing customer service support for Macy's and Bloomingdale's websites, are available to full, part-time and online students.  
 
"[Students] are learning problem solving and communication, and we hope that we can give them that transferable skill set that can go into whatever career they go into," says Education At Work program coordinator Whitney Barkley. "But also what we want to do is help students come out of school with little to no debt."
 
After students have been employed in one of these positions for four months, they are eligible to receive up to $6,000 per year in tuition assistance, in addition to a $9 per hour base wage. The amount of tuition assistance depends on the student's GPA. In addition, students must maintain at least a 2.5 GPA to receive tuition assistance. Students can be working toward a bachelor's or master's degree.
 
"Any caliber students, we're looking for," Barkley says. "If you are a student who's not in school, and can give a plan—a timeline of what you want to do, how you plan to get back into school—or if you don't have that 2.5 GPA but have a plan to bring it up, we accept those students as well. And that's on a conditional basis."
 
Work sites vary; some are on campus, at MSJU, and others are off campus, at Education At Work's Norwood office. Students usually work 15-30 hours per week, Barkley says.
 
"It's all based on their class schedule. We're big on flexibility and making sure students have enough time to get to class and have enough time to study. Because sometimes students don't really have the option, between going to school and going to work."
 
Mount St. Joseph University held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the on-campus center Thursday. In addition, Education at Work is currently accepting applications for the student jobs.

Couple launches international food subscription service

Two local entrepreneurs recently launched a food subscription platform to bring international snacks to people's homes.
 
The business, Universal Yums, features different snacks from a different country each month, which co-founders Monique Bernstein and Eli Zauner select. The couple chose Germany for the first month to recognize the country from which Bernstein's grandparents emigrated, as well as Cincinnati's heritage.
 
"When you receive the box, you'll get a clue to our next country, so there's a little bit of a guessing game each month," Bernstein says.
 
Bernstein and Zauner began Universal Yums in May after deciding a previous food platform idea was going to be unsuccessful, after surveying a group of friends to see who would purchase their products.
 
"A lot of things have changed, but one thing that has stayed the same is our commitment to our business," Bernstein says. "I think there's a need for people who might not have as many international grocery stores close to them."
 
Customers can select two sizes: the "Yum Box" or the "Yum Yum Box." The Yum Box (currently $10 per month) contains some of the snacks, while the Yum Yum Box ($20 per month) contains all of them.
 
Universal Yums is now accepting subscribers and plans to deliver its first snack collection in December. The first selection contains a variety of German snacks, including chocolates, peanuts, cookies, pretzels and chips, among others.
 
While most of Universal Yums' business comes from Cincinnati, the couple hopes to eventually expand into a larger operation.
 
"Right now our future is just looking outside of Cincinnati, but hopefully it will be looking outside the U.S. someday as well," Bernstein says.

Rockfish seeks applicants for corporate giving program

Digital business accelerator Rockfish is seeking applicants for its 2015 corporate giving program. Two chosen applicants will receive $50,000 of agency time from Rockfish, focusing on topics within the realm of digital communication, such as social media and website development.
 
Aside from being a nonprofit organization, applicants must demonstrate financial need and be headquartered within 50 miles of one of the following cities in which Rockfish operates: Dallas, Cincinnati, Atlanta or Rogers, Ark.
 
"We ask for things like, 'What kind of service are you going to provide to the community and how many people are you reaching?'" says Rockfish associate director Kari Wethington. "But the main part is, 'What will we be helping you with by working with you? Of the $50,000 of agency time that we'll be providing, what can we help you tackle?"
 
Rockfish's selection committee, spread throughout multiple offices nationally, will select the two organizations in January.
 
"By the end of January, companies will know their status," Wethington says. "And we do contact people whether they're chosen or not, so every organization that submits an application will hear from us one way or another."
 
While last year's program attracted about 100 applicants, Wethington expects the number to double for 2015.
 
"The hard thing about this process is that we get such amazing applicants, and very rarely are any of them totally disqualified for some reason," Wethington says. "It really comes down to the details when we're reviewing applicants. You get larger nonprofits, you get some smaller that are newer—it's across the board in terms of the kind of work they're doing."
 
Interested nonprofits must submit their applications by Nov. 17.

First POP-UP Cincy installation set for weekend

The first installment of Uptown Consortium's art and cuisine series, POP-UP Cincy, will take place Friday and Saturday, Oct. 24-25 in Avondale. Concept Camp, the first of the series, will focus on the local technology and design sectors.
 
The event aims to provide artists of a variety of backgrounds with a space to work and receive feedback from other people within Cincinnati's creative community, as well as encourage others to articulate and share ideas.
 
"It's kind of about the struggle for a lot of the creative people in the city, that work in different disciplines, to know and have time to share what they do and get feedback from other creative individuals," says POP-UP Cincy organizer Catherine Richards. "There are all these different people working in the city doing amazing things, but they're often times working so hard in their own sphere that they often don't have time to overlap with other spheres of creativity."
 
A group of participating artists plan to make a screen of folded modular paper units that come together, and then install the piece in the storefront window, in which the larger community will collaborate. The event will occupy two storefronts.
 
"At first it was going to be just one space, but we were able to secure another space right across the street, which is where a bunch of artists are going to be working and doing installations," Richards says. "Some people are going to be doing on-site drawings on the wall. We're really taking over these two storefronts with a variety of things."
 
The event will be open to the public Saturday evening, from 5-7 p.m., in Avondale at the corner of Burnet and Rockdale avenues.  

Local entrepreneur invents new iPad case that doubles as battery, hotspot

A local entrepreneur recently revealed a new iPad case that expands wireless networking capabilities. The case, called FiiV, functions as a battery backup and enables users to insert a prepaid data SIM card to establish a WiFi hotspot. 
 
"I came up with this concept back in 2010 after getting an iPod touch for a Christmas gift," says FiiV founder Nathan Ellis. "And much like an iPad, it doesn't really work [to its full functionality] outside of a data connection or wireless network."
 
Ellis wanted to create a solution to purchasing multiple iPad accessories while maintaining the extra benefits, and also give customers the option to switch between wireless data carriers.
 
"The real value is the all-in-one solution. Customers are virtually spending around the same amount, if not less, than they would normally," Ellis says. Most folks don't actually get the choice once they get to a point where they don't like those data rates or terms. "
 
Other devices can also use FiiV's WiFi hotspots.
 
"[The WiFi network] is not just for the iPad connected to the actual case," Ellis says. "It also accommodates other devices as well: cell phones, laptops, other tablets that may be around. It also functions as battery backup."
 
Local design firm The Launch Werks designed the case, which will be released by the brand Viaggi. Ellis plans to launch an indiegogo campaign November 2. 
 
"The goal is to raise enough funds to go ahead and do an initial manufacturing run," Ellis says. 
 
If all goes as planned, Viaggi will launch the first line of FiiV cases by May 2015. Currently, the retail price is set at $149, and the product will come in red, white and black, and also navy blue and brown during the campaign. 

ArtWorks and Cincinnati Metro transform bus shelters into photo exhibit

ArtWorks and Cincinnati Metro recently collaborated on a venture to transform Cincinnati's bus shelters into a photo exhibit. As part of FotoFocus 2014, the project features the work of acclaimed photographer Richard Renaldi, as well as four ArtWorks youth apprentices and two local professional photographers.
 
The idea behind Renaldi's project, titled "Touching Strangers Cincinnati," is to capture interactions between strangers using the public transportation system—in which he encourages the subjects to pose together—and examine the diversity within the community. 
 
Renaldi visited Cincinnati in June to complete the project, and Cincinnati Metro hopes it will encourage people to use public transit.
 
"One of the reasons we agreed to host this display of public art in our shelters is because we wanted to show on public transportation, people can become friends," says Cincinnati Metro public affairs manager Jill Dunne. "We think it's really cool to show that if you put two people together, anything can happen."
 
Cincinnati Metro is hosting a celebration Oct. 16, in front of the Chiquita Center, between 5th and 6th streets. 
 
"It's meant to dedicate and really show off the shelters to the public," Dunne says. "We have some photos that are inside the bus, as well as a wrapped bus with one of the images on it."
 
ArtWorks has provided a map showing where "Touching Strangers Cincinnati" will be displayed. In addition, ArtWorks is hosting a lecture and presentation, featuring Renaldi, at the 21C Hotel at 6 p.m.

Cincinnati hosts first ProductCamp conference

Cincinnati recently hosted its first ProductCamp, a business conference held internationally that focuses on business development. The conference encourages attendees to be the speakers and uses crowd-sourced topics for discussion, including topics on product development, how to market products, brand management and how to run a startup, among others.
 
"One thing that I've noticed, living in Cincinnati, is we have a really good background when it comes to product management or brand management—more traditional practices," says ProductCamp organizer Brian Craft. "And then we have this new wave of tech—and even non-tech—startups. So what I thought would be neat is if we tried to pull together that traditional and new mix into ProductCamp."
 
Much of Craft's inspiration came from similarities he saw between the traditional and startup companies.
 
"Whether you're talking about a small company or a large company, a manufacturer or a software company, a lot of the same challenges [apply]," Craft says. "How do you find the right thing to build and sell, and how do you know that people are going to buy it, and how do you reduce your risk in getting it to market?"
 
More than 100 people attended the event and 15 topics were chosen from a pool of 20 crowd-sourced ideas.
 
Craft says he plans for ProductCamp to become an annual event.
 
"I think the big win was two things," Craft says. "One: seeing how people can have very similar challenges in what they're trying to do, who likely normally don't get to interact with each other, and all got together and hung out on a Saturday afternoon. And two: seeing people trying to build new things in our community, and some of that inspiration came from our event."

Love Bite aims to improve party planning options

As one of Bad Girl Ventures' (BGV) 2014 finalists, one startup is looking to provide people with a one-stop-shop for kitchen and party supplies.
 
Morgan Hamilton and Aris Yowell created Love Bite as a platform to share their love for cooking, hosting and parties. The duo, whose collective experience includes marketing and food industry work, plans to sell a variety of products: cards and invitations, kitchen and cookwear, handmade platters, cocktail supplies and artisanal treats. 
 
"We're trying to highlight people who are making well-made party supplies," Yowell says. "People who are making something unique at affordable prices. We want to have a variety of products and price points so it's accessible." 
 
Hamilton and Yowell believe that offering products and featuring designers established through different mediums—on larger and smaller scales—will help customers find the right products more easily.   
 
"Sometimes it can be really hard to find what you're looking for," Yowell says. "We see an opportunity to do this because [less established designers] often get lost in the mix."
 
In addition to offering brand-name supplies, Love Bite plans to eventually offer proprietary products.
 
"We'll have in-house designed products to cater to our target markets," Yowell says. "When you make it yourself, you can offer it at a lower price."
 
While it's uncertain when Love Bite will begin selling products, the company plans to launch a small collection in spring 2015 through an eCommerce platform.
 
"Our kitchenware will be things you can host with," Hamilton says. "We want to offer unique kitchenware and delicious treats by American makers and designers. 
 
Hamilton and Yowell, as well as the other BGV finalists, are undergoing a nine-week business-planning course at Hamilton County Business Center before making their final pitch to the BGV investment committee.

Sister duo creates superhero-inspired children's book and toy

A local teacher and a graphic designer recently wrote a book and developed a new children's toy that functions as both an alarm clock and nightlight.
 
Annie Richardson was inspired to write the story of SleeperHero as a way to help her son stay in bed at night. Richardson's sister, Meggie Hunley, illustrated the book and created a toy inspired by the story.
 
"The storybook introduces the doll to your kid, so we thought it was a really natural way to introduce the routine," Hunley says. "And most parents are already reading their kids bedtime stories."
 
The toy's timer can be set to a sleep and wake time, and works in conjunction with the nightlight function, as it turns from red to green at wake time.
 
"A few years ago, when [Richardson's] son was trying all the tricks in the book—he wanted a drink, he was scared—she felt like she needed something," Hunley says. "There are things out there on the market, but nothing seems quite special enough."
 
The SleeperHero's timer fits inside the doll, which has a lock on the outside to prevent a child from adjusting it.
 
"We also have some resources on our website," Hunley says. "A sleep chart for your child's progress and a little certificate of courage for when your kids have slept a week, a month, or whatever you feel like is worth rewarding."
 
The duo is currently selling the SleeperHero on their website, and plan to begin selling limited supplies in stores—The Spotted Goose, The Villager, The Blue Marble, Stony's Gift and Toy Shoppe—in November. They'll also be at the City Flea on October 11.

Bad Girl Ventures announces second class of 2014 finalists

Entrepreneurial accelerator and nonprofit organization Bad Girl Ventures (BGV) announced its second group of finalists for 2014 at Mt. Adams Pavilion on Wednesday.
 
The 10 businesses, which comprise Bad Girl Ventures' tenth class in Cincinnati, have the potential to receive funding after undergoing a nine-week course of creating business plans and financial projections. 
 
43 companies applied to compete as finalists. During the selection process, BVG considers a number of factors.
 
"First, we consider the viability of the idea," says BGV executive director Corey Drushal. "We look at whether any testing of the market has been done, what the competition is like, and whether the entrepreneur has the skills or the team to make it work. Beyond this, we look to the entrepreneur herself."
 
Finalists include Linda Aivalotis with Aiva Decor & Remodeling; Barbara and David Gunn with All Care Navigators; Sarah Dworak with Babushka Pierogies; Mary Fennell with Chaddeze; Julie Ball with Get Creative Photo Booths; Aris Yowell and Morgan Hamilton with Love Bite; Erica Norton with Norton Flooring; Lindsay Lescoe with One Fine Day; Kimberly Barach with Poppy; and Davina Eccard and Ryan Sullivan with Tactical Intelligence Group.
 
"We are looking for a more intangible quality in the entrepreneur that shows she is coachable, has the personality to sell her company and has the tenacity it requires to start your own company," Drushal says. "We do not look for someone that knows it all and can answer all the questions from our investment committee correctly. We look for someone that has a good idea and is the right person to make that idea happen."
 
BGV is partnering with NKU's Chase College of Law and UC's College of Law to provide each finalist with legal services during the course.
 
After the nine-week course at Hamilton County Business Center, the finalists will make their final pitch to the investment committee.

Design company chosen as West Elm grant contest finalist

In addition to creating its first line of furniture, design company Such + Such was announced a finalist for the West Elm's "We Love Local Small Businesses Grant" contest.
 
The company began in 2005 during Zach Darmanian-Harris' and Alex Aeschbury's tenure at UC's College of DAAP. The duo was randomly paired as roommates during their freshman year, and continued living together while in school, studying industrial design. For their senior thesis, they decided to pursue an entrepreneurial project, which became known as Such + Such in 2011.
 
"[Such + Such] is based on the idea of using small batch manufacturing and designing toward those processes," Darmanian-Harris says. "After [graduating] we took about a year to plan and get some money together and got our first CNC machine and set up shop in Losantiville."
 
Such + Such's selected pieces include clocks, a low and high stool, shelving unit, coffee tables and wooden record crates. 
 
"It's this nice point on the spectrum from really traditional to really outlandish designs; we're kind of just on the path of a modern contemporary vibe," Aeschbury says.
 
Now located in Cincinnati's West End, Such + Such designs and makes all of its products in Cincinnati and sources all of its materials locally.
 
"We've never really had an opportunity to aggressively market our work and really get it out," Aeschbury says. "And something we're really interested in is max customization, where you have a product line and you produce it in a limited run—10 to 20 pieces—and then you're making small changes every time."
 
One grand-prize winner will receive a $25,000 grant and mentorship from West Elm, and three runner-ups' products will be featured in West Elm during the holiday season.
 
Local PR and design firm PB&J is hosting a voting party Tuesday, October 7, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Contest winners will be announced November 19.

Xavier University renovates classroom with interactive technology

Xavier University renovated a Williams College of Business room into a interactive "Learning Lab." The effort aims to support multiple teaching and learning styles.
 
The 32-seat room incorporates Eno Boards, touch-screen smart boards that allow online connectivity, and Huddleboards—small, lightweight dry-erase boards—to refocus students from the front of a classroom to groups of different sizes. 
 
"The Eno board has been mostly used to display content from the instructors’ computers to all three boards simultaneously," says Judy Molnar, executive director of infrastructure and technology support at Xavier. "They have also been used for students to display content from their computers when working in small groups by directly connecting to one of the boards."
 
Students are using the boards in other ways, as well.
 
"Dry-erase markers have been used directly on the boards as well as a stylus pen that can make notations, highlights and act as a navigation tool that interacts with the instructor’s computer," Molnar says.
 
Xavier's Center for Teaching Excellence and information technology department held workshops to prepare faculty before classes began fall semester.
 
"The workshops included both methods of teaching that could be used in the room as well as how to utilize the various technology installed," Molnar says. "Further workshops will be held to review the room’s capabilities."
 
The university plans to use student surveys that will be sent in late October for feedback and to assist in final planning for Alter Hall, a refurbished room scheduled to re-open in late summer 2015. 
 
"Our Learning Lab is utilized almost 100 percent this fall semester," Molnar says. "Sixteen faculty are teaching 25 courses in the room."
 
Fifth Third Bank funded the project with a $50,000 donation.
 
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