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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.

Cut and Sewn founder/designer living her childhood dream

Jenifer Sult has wanted to sew for a living since she was a child. When she was 10, she bought a vintage sewing machine from a yard sale with her allowance and used it for many years after that.
To make her dream into a reality as an adult, she studied fashion design at the University of Cincinnati, where she now teaches. She eventually became a designer, pattern maker, seamstress and entrepreneur.
“There was the fear of sacrificing a regular paycheck for something unknown and potentially erratic,” she says, “but my need for creative freedom compelled me to pursue my childhood ambition.”
Sult has built her passion for sewing and design into a successful business, Cut and Sewn, over the course of more than 15 years of creating for clients. She began by taking on work in her own home, designing and sewing products for small businesses and garments for individuals. As the business grew, though, Sult realized she would need a new workspace.
“I had reached the point where my client base and manufacturing jobs were taking over not only my home studio but my living room, dining room and even my kitchen,” she says. “I had to either upscale my business or scale it way down, and you can guess which one I picked.”
So in June Sult moved her studio and business into a storefront on Hamilton Avenue in Northside.
“I have employees now!” she exclaims.
In the Northside space, Sult and her team are able to provide design, pattern-making and production services to more small business and corporate clients in Greater Cincinnati.
”We provide ethical and sustainable manufacturing and designing while helping a new generation of trades people and business owners,” Sult says. “We provide a low-barrier to enter into the designed soft goods market in Cincinnati through working individually with our clients.”
Cut and Sewn focuses on small batch and unique manufacturing to make local businesses’ ideas into tangible, beautiful products.
But Sult is nowhere near done growing her business. In fact, she’s a finalist in ArtWorks’ Big Pitch contest for small business grants.
“ArtWorks itself is such a proponent of small, local businesses,” Sult says, “it wasn’t hard for the Big Pitch to catch my eye as a glittering opportunity for Cut and Sewn.”
If awarded a grant, Sult will use it to continue to grow her business in its new iteration as well as try a few new things.
“I really want to use my pattern-making skills to create a new line of commercial sewing patterns that are artisanal, well designed and beautifully curated,” she says.
Sult sees the current culture of do-it-yourself creativity as the perfect opportunity to publish this kind of product. She hopes her quality sewing patterns would enable others to participate in this wave of “maker” culture.
Even if she doesn’t receive a grant in the Big Pitch competition, Sult appreciates the opportunity to receive business mentorship and advice about maintaining and growing her business.
“(My mentors) Mike Zorn and Lindsay Kessler have been super supportive and responsive to my business goals as well as my personal ones,” Sult says. “They are great listeners, and I feel that with their notes and criticism I can go far.”
Considering how far she has already come, Sult will likely continue growing and trying new things for her business, fueled by her love of design and sewing.

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.

Big Pitch finalist Jess Sheldon shows longtime love for OTR with Cityscape Tiles

In December 2012, Jess Sheldon went on a first date.
The Cincinnati native has always been the creative type. Her art form of preference, photography, has been in her life since her days at Walnut Hills High School. So when this particular first date went particularly well, Sheldon decided to create something for the guy that would show him what she was all about.

As a junior in high school, Sheldon used to drive down to Over-the-Rhine from her home in Mt. Lookout to take photos of the buildings, talk to people and get a feel for the community. At that time, Over-the-Rhine was far from what it is today; many of the now-restored old buildings hadn't been touched in decades.
"I always loved how gritty, loud, lively and candid it was," she says.
In 2012, Jess still had the original black-and-white photos from her OTR trips. After that first date, she superimposed the photos onto old, antique tiles she found in a dumpster to create tiny pieces of tangible art, then gave them to her date as a gift.
"He thought they were coasters," she says. "I didn't mean them to be, but the more I thought about it the coaster idea actually made a lot of sense."
Today Sheldon is running a self-funded business by creating durable, high-end "coasters" featuring photos of favorite landmarks in Cincinnati and around the world. She describes her tiles as having a "grittier" feel, one that calls the past to mind.
"I like the idea of creating something tangible in the digital era," Sheldon says. "Coasters have a dual purpose as mementos."
When Sheldon decided to apply for ArtWorks' 2015 Big Pitch competition, she entered with the name of her wedding photography business, Hazel Brown Photography. She's since decided to rebrand the tile-crafting part of the business as "Cityscape Tiles" to reflect her primary focus.
Sheldon's business has expanded rapidly over the past few years. Her tiles now appear in specialty shops in Columbus, Indianapolis and Cincinnati, popping up at places like Mica 12/V in OTR and Red Tree in Oakley. She also sells at City Flea and has made a habit of taking custom orders from companies like Sam Adams and LaRosa's.
Though the photos on the tiles primarily feature physical places, Sheldon is open to expanding her concept.
"It's more about the idea of home, of passing things down," she says.
Right now, Sheldon is in Europe documenting an outdoor adventure trip to the Alps. After nine years as an outdoor adventure leader with Apogee Adventures, she's received numerous photography commissions from the company.
"Traveling offers me perspective," Sheldon says.
The goal for Cityscape Tiles is to expand by one city per year, eventually branching out to more niche markets like universities. Regardless of Sheldon's active travel schedule, she is a firmly rooted Cincinnati resident living in — you guessed it — Over-the-Rhine.
And that guy, the owner of her first set of tiles? He and Sheldon are still together today.

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.

Grateful Grahams founder displays gratitude along with desire to grow business

Rachel DesRochers takes the name of her business, Grateful Grahams, very seriously.
“For my family and I, something that we talk about every day is this idea of gratitude,” she says. “Just taking a second every day to think, ‘Whoa, look at all this amazing stuff in my life.’ That’s just how I live my life.”
DesRochers wanted to share this value with the world and decided to do it through cookies. She came up with the idea while a stay-at-home mom for her two children at the time.
“I was doing some baking and had an awesome recipe and we had an awesome message, so I combined them both and they worked,” she says. “I called my husband at work and I said, ‘I think I’m going to start this graham business called Grateful Grahams.’ And he said, ‘Of course you are, honey.’”
In the eventful five years since that day, DesRochers has held onto her core values and her vision of creating food with integrity. She still makes her grahams in small batches and uses no dairy, eggs, soy, GMO ingredients, high fructose corn syrup or dyes in the cookies. The vegan recipe is a nod to her father, a cancer survivor who went vegan during treatment.
With every bag sold, she hopes to spread her family’s message of gratitude. When Grateful Grahams sells their wares, they ask customers to write about what they’re grateful for on paper tablecloths. Their website has an entire page devoted to “Sharing Your Gratitude,” and on Facebook they often encourage followers to tag friends and family to express their appreciation for one another.
DesRochers wants that message — and the grahams — to travel far and wide.
“I started it with a huge vision,” she says. “I started it with the mission that I want to be across the country selling my product.”
Now that Grateful Grahams is a finalist in ArtWorks' Big Pitch competition, the Covington-based company might get a big boost toward that distribution goal. The cookies are currently available at about 45 stores across the country and sold online, but winning part of the Big Pitch’s $20,000 in grant money would allow DesRochers to go to food shows to increase her wholesale business.
“I really appreciate that ArtWorks is willing to look at food producers,” DesRochers says, “because food is slow money and it takes a long time to really build big companies. There are lots of different resources and programs for tech businesses in Cincinnati, but being in the food industry is a different niche.”
DesRochers knows how slow and difficult it can be to start and grow a food company. Now she wants to pass on what she’s learned from the process to other entrepreneurs. In 2013, she started the NKY Incubator Kitchen, renting workspace in her commercial kitchen space to other food companies and sharing experiences, tips and advice along the way. NKYIK is one of 80 local companies presenting at the first NewCo Cincinnati July 23, and it’s helped launch Skinny Piggy Kombucha, The Delish Dish and other startups.
NKYIK is only one of many community projects DesRochers is involved in. She has also helped co-found the Good People Festival and is working on an event called Grateful Plate to celebrate women farmers, food producers and chefs in Northern Kentucky.
For her, all the giving back comes from gratitude.
“I love my life,” she says. “I wake up every day and I’m so absolutely grateful that I get to create really cool things. There’s always gratitude for the fact that this is my life and I’m really happy to have these choices to make every day and to teach my kids that you can do whatever you want with your life!”
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.

Snell's Viking design work is at All Star Game, Lumenocity and everywhere in between

“Design is taking over everything.”
Jason Snell, founder of graphic design company We Have Become Vikings (WHBV), is more than qualified to make such a statement. The Dayton native and DAAP grad has literally been in the middle of Cincinnati’s coolest happenings, from Lumenocity to ArtWorks murals to the All Star Game, and his design work is everywhere. Although WHBV has been in existence since 2007, Snell’s celebrity status has just recently picked up major steam.
WHBV is an ArtWorks Big Pitch finalist hoping to take home some of the $20,000 in cash prizes in August. The company is focused on building identities for their clients, whether that involves designing a logo or redefining a brand.
“I’ve always been drawn to illustration work and graphic marks, and helping a client feel good about putting their logo and their name out into the world is very rewarding,” Snell says. “I love seeing their confidence soar and knowing I’ve helped them achieve this first goal.”

Snell came up with the company name through a little etymology research. With an agency background and grand familiarity with the term “branding,” Snell discovered that the term was born in Viking times, when the warriors used to “brand" their shields with family crests. Much like how we now brand our coffee, shoes or companies, the Vikings created visual statements that would make them recognizable and set them apart.
Snell and WHBV have a slew of recognizable projects over the next few months.

The new Ezzard Charles mural at Republic and Liberty streets in Over-the-Rhine is the company’s second ArtWorks-affiliated mural; this one features the Cincinnati boxing legend with an affinity for jazz music. Snell is also playing a big role in Lumenocity for the second year in a row, collaborating with the guys at Brave Berlin. And his design work, in partnership with Jake Staubitz, is appearing on widely-distributed All Star Game snapback hats.
As a sports fan himself and a regular on WCPO’s The Fifth Mascot sports shows as “Mr. Satin,” Snell is well-suited for the ASG job.

“Brian Niesz (of WCPO) asked me if I wanted to be the 'Superfan on the Street,’ and I said yes,” Snell says. “I love to act silly and I’m big sports fan, so it was a good blend.”
The next step for WHBV, Snell hopes, is to transition from a one-man show to a true creative team. He entered the Big Pitch competition to get things moving in that direction by learning accounting and operations. After many years of solo hustle, the boost could mean an even bigger presence in Cincinnati and beyond.

The time Snell spent building the business — now housed on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine — is apparent in the company’s growth over the last decade.
“Getting out of my dining room to Vine Street was a big win,” Snell says. “Learning to ask for what I’m worth and sticking to my guns was not always easy, but it was a must.”
Until Big Pitch announces its winners Aug. 27, you’ll most likely see Snell and the WHBV logo just about everywhere. And when he’s not designing or collaborating with other local artists, he’s usually spending his money at Northside Tavern or eating with his dream team of culinary compatriots, including Jose Salazar, Jean Robert De Cavel and Dan Wright, to name a few.

“The journey has been the reward,” Snell says of his work, “and now I’m in my eighth year of WHBV and having a blast.”

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.

Improved DCI app helps visitors navigate downtown

Just in time for the All Star Game, Downtown Cincinnati Inc. (DCI) is launching a new version of its Downtown Cincinnati app.
The original app, released in 2011, had started to become ineffective for users.
“The app was out of date, and we’re really excited to add more functionality to it,” DCI Director of Marketing Tricia Suit says. “Two things have changed since the first app was released. First, the technology of apps has improved significantly, which has increased people’s expectations about what an app can do. Second, we have more and better information in our data center. So people will be able to sort information in different ways, which makes it more useful.”
DCI worked with US Digital Partners to redesign the app, based on user feedback and USDP’s digital expertise.
“Everyone who has seen the beta version of the new app has been really excited about its usability of,” Suit says. “Our testing has been really positive.”
The app features four primary content areas — eat, shop, stay and play — to match the functionality of DCI’s website.
The original app “had categories like ‘full fare,’ ‘daytimers’ and these words that described a restaurant but didn't match how people searched for a place to go eat,” Suit says. “In the new version, you can search by type of cuisine, brunch, happy hour — much more about what the user would be looking for in a search.
“Also, the listings will show all open hours for a business with the current day in bold. There’s nothing worse than when you’re looking at a place and it just shows their hours for today when you’re planning to be there tomorrow.”
Other new features for the revamped app include links to tours and major events from the start page.
“When you first open the app, the screen lists the big events that are happening — right now it’s the All Star Game — as well as three or four other seasonal features,” Suit says. “Each of those listings gives you the option to see a complete list of events that is updated weekly.”
The front screen also features a “tours” button to connect content from the DCI website tours page, including a public art map and itineraries. There are links to Queen City History Tours, Segway Tours and other tour options for experiencing the city.
The app covers the entire urban basin area from The Banks to Findlay Market, including Downtown, Over-the-Rhine and the West End.
“There are defined Central Business District boundaries,” Suit says. “But when people come downtown, they come downtown. They go to a Reds game and eat at Fountain Square and grab a drink at The Lackman. They don’t think about whether they’re at The Banks or in OTR or the CBD — they’re just downtown. So we include everything that’s downtown.”
DCI developed the app with visitors and residents in mind.
“The app is usable if you’re standing in the middle of Fountain Square trying to decide what to do,” she says. “But if you live in Cincinnati and don’t come downtown often, it will give you walking directions from where you park to the restaurant or store you look up.”
DCI is working closely with the hospitality community to ensure the 200,000 visitors coming for the All Star Game know the app is available, as well as promoting it on an ongoing basis to conventions, meetings and visitors.
“If you know you’re going to be visiting Cincinnati, you can download the app and make some plans, see what’s going to be open on the day you’re going to be here,” Suit says. “See what tours are available and actually use it for trip-planning as well as the ‘day of’ tool.”
In addition to helping promote downtown businesses, the app may also help DCI with its annual perceptions survey.
DCI typically uses its e-newsletter and website to encourage residents and visitors to complete the survey. According to Suit, “there is certainly an opportunity for us to reach out to app users to take the downtown perception survey this year in a way that was not possible with the previous version.”
Survey results are used by DCI to inform its annual work plan and performance measures while tracking data that can be used to evaluate business development.
The new Downtown Cincinnati app is available for both Android and Apple products.

Look Here to reveal layers of Over-the-Rhine's past

Historic preservationist Anne Delano Steinert wants people to discover the layers of Over-the-Rhine’s past. Her place-based public history project, Look Here, will mount historic photographs around the neighborhood as close as possible to the vantage point from which they were originally taken, comparing historic views to the view of that location today.
“There are layers of the past around us in the built environment all the time,” Steinert says, “and it’s really important to me to give people the skills to read the clues to those layers. This is my way of giving the people in Over-the-Rhine a way to connect to the past.”
Steinert’s fascination with the layers of the past actually began in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. As a teenager in the 1980s, she would take the bus downtown from her home in Clifton.
“OTR was definitely low-income then and there was a lot of urban decay, but it was also still really rich,” Steinert explains. “There were a lot more (historic) buildings standing in 1982 than there are today. So it’s where I really got a sense of the power of the past to speak through the built environment.”
Now she wants to help a wide range of residents and visitors in the neighborhood hear those voices, too. Recipient of a People’s Liberty Project Grant, Steinert is using her own background and several other projects as inspiration to make Look Here into an experience that can reach viewers from all economic classes.
A simple design of presenting photographs on street signs with minimal explanatory text will allow people to create their own meaning from the similarities and differences between the historic present landscapes. Brightly colored borders will grab people’s attention and hopefully pull them into the images and into parts of the neighborhood they may not have explored before.
The signs are meant to create a “serendipitous, sudden, unexpected experience of connection to space,” Steinert says, by giving people a glimpse of the past from their exact location. She also hopes they’ll help add a dimension of history to the cultural vibrancy already existing in the neighborhood.
As Over-the-Rhine goes through a period of intense transition, Steinert observes, “something gets lost in the remaking, so these signs are really an attempt to remind people some of what’s being lost, that we have to be mindful of what came before.”
Look Here’s historic photographs will provide people a chance to meditate on what came before and decide for themselves what it means. The People’s Liberty project grant will allow Steinert to make tools providing deeper meaning and engagement.
Before receiving the grant, she’d identified more than 320 possible photographs (although only 40-70 will be in the final exhibit) and knew she wanted to display them on aluminum signs similar to “No Parking” signs. The People’s Liberty funding allows her to create programming around the signs — a launch event, resource packet for teachers, curator-led tour of some of the photograph sites and a website with a map of all images and more information about each one. The website will also provide viewers a way to have a dialogue with the curator.
“We’re encouraging people to send me their experiences,” Steinert says, “take photos of themselves looking at Look Here and share the stories of how they’re interacting with the signs.”
Steinert hopes the interactive elements may even inspire other neighborhoods to set up similar exhibitions. She also hopes that positive feedback on the project might make it easier for those neighborhoods to complete such undertakings.
“This project involves coordinating an unfathomable number of small details and particularly small logistical details,” Steinert says, “and many of those are contingent on the city’s policies.”
Since Steinert will be using city-owned poles to mount the photographs, she is in the process of obtaining installation permits. Once she does, Look Here will be the first exhibit to obtain permits of this kind in Cincinnati.
If these layers of the past prove meaningful, it may make it easier to reveal more layers all around us.

Blue Seat Media says "Play ball!" with new Gameball app

Cincinnatians are passionate about baseball, especially Blue Seat Media co-founders Chris Hendrixson and Jeffrey Wyckoff. The long-time friends and business partners are such Reds fans that the name of their company is a tribute to Riverfront Stadium, where the blue seats were closest to the field in the multi-hued stands.
In 2012, Hendrixon made a simple app just for fun that showed the Reds lineup a couple of hours before each game. The Cincy Lineup app was released around Opening Day and let users know via push notification when each lineup was available.
“The push notifications are fun and different because they feel like they’re written by a Reds fan,” Hendrixon says. “They’re not your standard Major League Baseball push notification.”
The positive response to Cincy Lineup, particularly to the on-point push notifications, made Hendrixon aware of an opportunity, he says, “to make a baseball game interactive and fun while creating a deeper engagement with the game.”
“In August of 2014 we decided to go all in,” Hendrixon says. “We had both been in and out of full-time jobs and had bootstrapped everything with no outside investment. We realized we had to go full-time and had to find investors.”
Blue Seat Media ended up in the first class at Ocean, the faith-based accelerator program at Crossroads Church.
“Ocean really changed everything for us,” Hendrixon says. “We came in, just Jeffery and me, and within a week hired an iOS developer, Nathan Sjoquist, and a few weeks later hired Brandon Kraeling, a web developer who also runs the Red Reporter blog.”

During their time with Ocean, Blue Seat Media developed — and is now beta testing — an expanded and improved version of Cincy Lineup called Gameball. The new app is a modern version of the sports tradition of giving a game ball to the player who contributed the most to his team’s win.
Gameball users will choose their favorite team and receive their team’s starting lineup before each game. Users vote for which player will get the game ball that game. Making a prediction before the game starts is worth 1,000 points. Users can vote after the game begins or change their prediction, but, just as in pub trivia contests, points decrease with each minute of play.
Blue Seat Media uses an algorithm of Gameball user votes to determine which player will be awarded the game ball. Users who predicted the winner are awarded points for voting correctly, and the points are used to create an average for each user, similar to how a baseball batting average works, allowing them to compete with each other for rankings. As in baseball, Gameball users can miss a few games and remain on the leader board.
Eventually Blue Seat Media will allow users to select friends and family groups that will work like traditional fantasy leagues. Blue Seat Media currently is focusing on the beta testing of Gameball, with plans to release the full version prior to Opening Day 2016.
The Blue Seat Media team has a couple of hurdles to overcome as they work toward the app’s official launch.
“One of our biggest challenges is scaling Gameball to all 30 MLB teams,” Hendrixon says. “The technology is hard, but we know what to do. The push notification content will be a challenge. Our hope is that we can find true fans in each market to write notifications.”
They’re also hoping to build a relationship with Major League Baseball around Gameball.
“Baseball is at an interesting place right now,” Hendrixon says. “A lot of people feel it has been fading and losing younger fans. We’re really trying to make baseball fun again for young people and to move past the steroids era.
“Baseball is a great game with a rich tradition that’s woven into the history of our country. What we’re trying to do is help people appreciate the game and its complexities as well as bring optimism and positivity to the game. But it can be a challenge to write positive push notifications when the Reds have lost six in a row.”
The Blue Seat Media team has big plans for the still-young company.
“We’re really trying to build the next great baseball technology company,” Hendrixon says. “Our focus right now is building Gameball, but the vision is to have a company and product studio building high-quality design-focused products for every level of baseball.”
Although their start-up budget doesn’t include tickets to the July 14 All-Star Game, the staff and supporters of Blue Seat Media are planning to watch it together on television and celebrate the progress they’ve made this year.

First Batch welcomes new class of manufacturing companies

Cincinnati's only manufacturing accelerator program has selected its 2015 class of companies, and they’re already hard at work.
“Our goal with the program is to say that First Batch is your first step, and probably not the final step, for the companies or their manufacturing partners,” says First Batch founder Matt Anthony.
After reviewing applications from across the country as well as from Germany and Estonia, four regional candidates were selected:
• Laura Koven’s company AVA will be producing a device geared to help hot yoga practitioners with grip as well as reduce the amount of equipment needed for a class.
Beluga Razor, created by Zac Wertz, is a high-end straight-blade razor with a linen-impregnated handle providing extra grip when wet. Wertz recently completed a $200,000 Kickstarter campaign and has 2,000 pre-orders.
• Ron Gerdes started Mortal Skis to manufacture skis that fit the icy, man-made, often less-than-ideal snow conditions typically found on Midwest slopes. Mortal Skis will also be looking at ski supplies, like wax, that could also be better adapted to Midwestern conditions.
Paper Acorn, a six-year-old company run by Jessica Wolf, has been selling folded paper objects through Etsy and Crafty Supermarket and is expanding into producing DIY kits.
Each First Batch company is facing a different challenge. Fortunately, First Batch staff and advisers are well networked in the Cincinnati manufacturing and business communities and ready to help their new class.
Paper Acorn, the most established company, is looking at diversifying and expanding their product line.
“Manufacturing won’t be that difficult,” Anthony says. “The question will be how to transform the business to fit a new model.”
Although Beluga Shave Co. has funding and customers lined up, Wertz has struggled with navigating the manufacturing process. Anthony is confident First Batch can help.
“There is a lot of metal industry in Cincinnati, especially in machining,” he says. “I don’t think we’ll have an issue finding someone here to do this.”
Mortal Skis might have the most daunting challenge — finding a local company to manufacture skis. But after working with Ohio Valley Beard Supply in 2014, First Batch does have connections to companies who could help produce a Midwest-friendly ski wax.
First Batch had initially hoped to have six members for its 2015 class and is considering modifying its business model for the two remaining spaces.
“Usually we have to pick someone far enough along on the prototype and capable of doing their own production work, where it’s ready to go to manufacturing,” Anthony says. “We’ve had people apply where the idea isn’t far enough along, it still needs a lot of work or more steps than the First Batch timeline can support. We also have people who are too far along for First Batch.
“We’re exploring how we can support everyone in this region by supporting start ups that don’t fit our current profile. Are there other ways that we can provide ongoing support, provide connections, create spots that are more of a long-term support?”
This year, First Batch and its parent organization Cincinnati Made will conducting more outreach during the accelerator program.
“So many times I talk to people about the program and hear, ‘I didn’t know anyone still made anything in Cincinnati’ and it just drives me crazy,” Anthony says. “People drive down Spring Grove Avenue but assume the factories are all abandoned. It’s a big goal for our program to talk about our relationship with the manufacturers.”
Cincinnati Made started offering manufacturing tours this spring to showcase local manufacturers, including National Flag Company, New Riff Distilling and Steam Whistle Letterpress. Members of the 2015 First Batch class can take part in the tours. Their program will also include topical presentations as well as speakers who are able to provide one-on-one advice to each company.
First Batch participants had orientation last week and are now being matched with mentors. Each company will have two or three mentors to provide advice and guidance throughout the program. Mentors will also help make sure the companies are on track with the manufacturing plan they establish with First Batch staff.
At the end of their five-month program, the class of 2015 will have a final Launch Day, “which is not quite the same as a demo day,” Anthony says. “We hope the final production run is done, but in practice that often isn’t how it ends up happening. I hope we have lots of things to show, at least the production-ready prototype. The companies will talk about what they have done through the First Batch process, what they will produce in their first batch and where they want to go after that.”
First Batch is supported by Cincinnati Made as well as The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and TSS. It was highlighted by Dwell magazine in May as one of the country’s hottest design incubators.

Creative App Project to build community by teaching Android app development

As a self-described amateur app developer, Mark Mussman wants to make the tools for creating Android apps accessible to as many people as possible. His dream is becoming a reality through the Creative App Project (CAP), which will teach a dozen non-techies how to design, build and market Android apps this summer thanks to a People's Liberty Project Grant.
“The thing is that it's not that difficult (to make an app),” Mussman says, “but it's easier when you have someone there helping you along the way.”

He would know. Although he isn’t a professional app developer, Mussman created his own Android app, Cincinnati Hill Challenge, to supplement his experience of using the Map My Fitness apps. Once he created his first app, he started to realize its potential impact by collaborating with users to host events and challenges around Cincinnati. He began to meet new friends at the events.
“I thought it was pretty neat,” he says. “We started to build community around this app.”
It’s the potential to build community through building apps that Mussman felt made the project a perfect fit with People’s Liberty. The philanthropy organization’s resources, connections and approachability have been instrumental in getting his project off the ground. He especially appreciated getting to meet other grantees.
“Part of what was great about it was connecting with the people on other people's projects,” he says. “It was a really collaborative spirit.”
The spirit of collaboration will carry over into the first CAP class. As the participants meet on Monday evenings for 12 weeks over the summer, they’ll first create an app together as a group, then proceed to realize their individual app ideas. Along the way they’ll also learn how to manage the apps, use analytics and market their creations, eventually helping develop resources to make future app development accessible to the general public.
Mussman wanted to recruit a diverse group of participants to create these apps and to impact a wide swath of Cincinnati’s population.
“Really I wanted it to be people who are involved in their community or looking to get more involved in their community and the Cincinnati community,” he says.
Recruiting women has been difficult, he says, but in many other respects the class will be very diverse. He’s happy with the racial balance and the variety of neighborhoods represented. There’s also a great diversity of age, with participants going into their senior year of high school as well as those much older and deeply ingrained in their communities. Even the ideas for apps vary greatly, including architecture, nutrition and much more.
Accessibility is also why CAP will focus on Android apps. While Apple IOS developers must pay roughly $100 on a yearly basis, an Android app requires only a one-time fee of $25. Android apps also take much less technical equipment to develop — Mussman says they can be created from any computer, tablet or Android mobile device.
“This isn't something you necessarily have to have programming skills to do, just basic Word skills,” he says. “If you can use Microsoft Word and the internet, you’ll be good to go.”
Mussman isn’t intimidated by the idea of starting with technology basics. He’s been working in adult education for seven years and has seen tech skills become increasingly important in that field — for example, the GED recently became an entirely computer-based test. But a potential skills gap presented extra hurdles for some of Mussman’s students who had been out of school for decades.
“I was doing a lot of really heavy technology education, you know, with people who didn’t even know what a mouse was,” Mussman recalls. “You had to start at the beginning.”
With this experience, he’s confident the CAP program can start at the beginning to give participants the tools to create apps and bring people together around them.
“I hope that we’re able to not only teach people how to make an Android app but also create opportunities for different community events and for people to gather together to strengthen their communities in some way that benefits them and also benefits the Greater Cincinnati area,” Mussman says.
The first public CAP event will be a launch and showcase of all the apps in September. Until then, you can follow the project on Facebook and the Creative App Project website.

Casamatic creates curated real estate listings for Cincinnati homebuyers

When Alex Bowman returned to Cincinnati after 10 years away, he and fellow Cincinnati native Chris Ridenour found themselves commiserating over the home buying process. As tech-savvy startup veterans, Bowman and Ridenour looked to home buying websites to fine-tune their search.
"Sites like Zillow force buyers to pick smaller areas," Bowman says. "People don't understand all the great places to live in their city. They don't have to limit themselves by geography."
Bowman, a Mason native and former employee of Blackberry and Amazon, had originally limited his home search to neighborhoods like Oakley and Hyde Park. When he finally looked outside that geographical box, he and his wife found a home in Norwood with which he couldn't be happier. His positive experience is why Cincinnati — and regions nationwide — need Casamatic.
Casamatic is a home buying site that curates listings for its users based what's important to them.

Once open for business, the site will ask users for a location as well as questions related to the importance of family, food, commute time or environment. The Casamatic team then parses that data with MLS listings to find the listings that are perfect for the user. The site also pairs the buyer with a Casamatic-approved real estate agent.
"We're trying to get a confirmed showing with a realtor in under an hour," Bowman says. "No matter what, you'll get a response from an agent. And quickly."
Bowman met Ridenour while Ridenour was organizing Startup Weekends for UP Cincinnati. As co-founder of Lisnr, Ridenour is actively involved in the Cincinnati startup scene. The two decided to move forward with Casamatic when they realized the flaws in the online home search process, and they entered Ocean's accelerator program, graduating in April.
"We really liked the founders of Ocean," Bowman says. "Tim, Tim and Chad are great guys, and once we decided to do Casamatic full-time we thought we'd give it a run with them."
Though Ocean has been deemed a faith-based accelerator, the Casamatic team was drawn to other aspects of the organization, not necessarily the faith component.
"We're open-minded," Bowman says. "We wanted to see what it was all about."
Since Demo Day in April, Bowman and Ridenour have collected a team of five individuals to get Casamatic off the ground. They recently brought a Northside real estate agent on board as well as a full-stack engineer and were invited to move with two other local startups into the new 84.51 Center downtown.
"The entire team is extremely passionate about Cincinnati and active members of the community," Bowman says. "That's a big thing we look for in bringing on new team members."
Casamatic hopes to have a fully-functioning website for Cincinnati homebuyers by August. Once established, the company will look to real estate agents as their primary source of income. 
"We're giving them access to the fastest growing segment of homebuyers, millennials," Bowman says. "They'll get regular notifications from their target market."
The company also plans to pursue seed funding this fall. Assuming all goes well, Casamatic hopes to expand to other markets in 2016.
On a personal level, both Bowman and Ridenour are thrilled to be in Cincinnati.
"Chris (Ridenour) is a Cincinnati lifer," Bowman says. "He loves it here. I really wanted to come back to Cincinnati because there is so much activity here."
During the rare moments when he's not working, Bowman and his wife enjoy the Cincinnati restaurant scene. While he's a big fan of OTR hotspots like A Tavola and crowd favorite Eli's, one of his favorite places is right in the middle of his newfound neighborhood, Norwood.
"The Bluebird Cafe," he says. "You can't beat breakfast for 6 bucks."

TEDxCincinnati sells out July 9 event, looking to expand in 2016

Even before the speakers for the sixth annual TEDxCincinnati were announced, the July 9 event, themed “Accelerate,” has sold out. (UPDATE: speakers/performers are now listed here.)
“One of the things that’s interesting about TEDxCincinnati is that it’s not one speaker that makes a great event, it’s this combination of all different types of speakers and performers,” says TEDxCincinnati Director/Organizer Jami Edelheit. “It’s not like a demo day. It isn’t a company getting up and promoting what they’re doing. It’s not like a typical conference where there is a keynote speaker, then everybody else.
“It’s an event where every single story has some sort of impact or message. And it is the combination of speakers that makes it so fun and compelling.”
TEDxCincinnati speakers, still unannounced, will come from an array of disciplines, including technology, education, health, arts and social justice. This interdisciplinary approach encourages people to explore subjects and ideas that may be unfamiliar.
“TEDxCincinnati is about storytelling, sharing ideas, innovation, looking at things from a different perspective and opening your mind,” Edelheit says. “I am always amazed at the end of our shows when we ask people, ‘What was your favorite?’ If I ask 10 different people, I get 10 different answers because people are touched by different things. If you come to this and you aren’t touched by something, I would be shocked.”
This is the third consecutive sell-out year for TEDxCincinnati in increasingly larger venues. The July 9 event is being hosted at the Cincinnati Masonic Center downtown, next to the Taft Theater, with a capacity of 1,000 attendees. Given the interest, organizers might add seats to the hall and advise those without tickets to join the waiting list.
The conference is an off-shoot of the popular TED Conferences, though individual TEDx events are self-organized. Both Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati host student-run chapters.
Choosing the speakers and performers is an ongoing part of Edelheit’s work. TEDxCincinnati accepts speaker applications and nominations through its website and hold auditions at a special happy hour.
“Last year the (happy hour) event completely filled up,” she says. “We pick some applicants to audition in front of a panel of judges and an audience with a prepared 2.5-minute presentation. It’s not an open mike, it’s like a mini show.”
In addition to local applicants and auditions, TEDxCincinnati also brings in outside presenters and performers.
“I work with a lot of people in Silicon Valley and around the country,” Edelheit says. “I’m always looking for people we can bring in to share their stories with Cincinnati. We also have advisers in different sectors throughout the community who will refer people. That combination gives us a pretty great pool of presenters and performers.”
A new addition this year is TEDxCincinnati Youth, a group of 100 high school students from the region who will help with the program. A few will even present.
“We realized that many teachers are using TED Talks in the classroom,” Edelheit says. “The idea is to build a community of thinkers and doers among high school students and expose our youth to TEDxCincinnati, giving them the opportunity to talk with young professionals and other people. For them to see what the future holds — after all, it’s their future.”
As part of its 100th anniversary, United Way of Greater Cincinnati is the presenting sponsor of the 2015 TEDxCincinnati.
“They were in the audience last year and thought the different ideas and perspectives were amazing and that it would be really fun to expose their audience to TEDx,” Edelheit says.
For those lucky July 9 ticket holders, Edelheit recommends arriving by 3 p.m. for check-in. The event will start promptly at 4 p.m. To prevent disruption of the presentations, latecomers will have to wait to be seated.
The program starts with 90 minutes of speakers and performances, followed by a break for participants to explore Innovation Alley, where they can purchase food and drinks, network and explore.
“The idea is for people to have a bit of interaction,” Edelheit says. “Last year there was virtual reality, Google Glass, some robotics, things like that.”
This year’s Innovation Alley will include a Foundation Way to showcase the work of local organizations.
“The reality is that the people off the stage are just as important as the people on the stage,” Edelheit says. “There’s a wide range of participants in the audience, from students to CEOs. Innovation Alley is a time when you can just turn and start up a conversation with someone you would never have met before and time to reflect on some of the things you heard on the first half.”
The second half of the program will start promptly at 7:15 p.m. and wraps up at 9:30.
The entire July 9 event will be recorded and uploaded to the TEDx website in August. Edelheit encourages people to watch and share the videos, as each view raises the profile of Cincinnati speakers and performers and could draw the attention of the larger TED organization.
As the event continues to grow — from 300 to 1,000 attendees in three years — Edelheit is already considering options for the future.
“We need a full day like other cities have,” she says. “The question is, is Cincinnati ready if we did a full-day event?”

Startup to connect online shoppers with "made in Cincinnati" products and creators

Cincinnatians who want to buy quality locally-made products from the comfort of their own home at any time of day will soon be in luck. Colleen Sullivan and Maija Zummo, with the help of a People’s Liberty Project Grant, will launch Made in Cincinnati this fall as an e-commerce site connecting consumers to local products and the makers’ stories.

Featuring “products as unique as the people who make them,” the concept came from Zummo’s experience as a journalist trying to find local vendors and products to write about in CityBeat and other publications.
“One of the main issues was finding locally-made products to feature,” she says, “and the other part was finding where to buy it.”
Made in Cincinnati aims to solve that problem for shoppers. Zummo wants to put her storytelling background to work to connect consumers to the stories behind the products they’re buying. Sullivan’s background in marketing and digital media will help makers showcase their products and gain more exposure.
The platform builds on two different trends in consumer habits. One is the increase in e-commerce, and the other is the movement toward local, ethical products and the resulting rise of maker culture.
“Increasingly people want locally-made products,” Zummo says. “People want to know that it’s ethically sourced, responsibly sourced, there are no sweatshops — just being conscious consumers.”
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm around maker culture right now,” Sullivan adds, “and we really want to be able to harness that and put it in the online space to give people another way to reach out.”
Made in Cincinnati will combine the convenience of purchasing through a digital device with the social responsibility of knowing the contents of your “shopping cart” were made in your own backyard. Zummo and Sullivan see Made in Cincinnati as the logical next step for both practices.

There are a variety of short-term venues for Greater Cincinnati makers to sell their wares in person, like City Flea and Crafty Supermarket, in addition to getting picked up by a brick-and-mortar store. There are also national and international e-commerce options like Etsy. A platform focusing on local makers will be one of the first of its kind.
Zummo and Sullivan say they’ve been re-energized by the passion of People’s Liberty staff and their fellow project grantees. The connections and support provided by the program has also made an impact, with design assistance and the People’s Liberty launch weekend helping flesh out the idea of what the site will look like.
Zummo and Sullivan hope to use their own skills in digital marketing and storytelling to help make connections between consumers and makers. They want Made in Cincinnati to streamline the process for makers who might want to sell online but don’t have the time or skill set to create and manage their own web page. They also want to make it easier for buyers to find makers who may otherwise be difficult to track down at specialty brick-and-mortar stores.
“There are certain hurdles that consumers have to be willing to jump over to find some of these vendors,” Sullivan says, “and we want to bring it to a very centralized 24/7 location online where they can find whatever they need.”
To keep users’ interactions with Made in Cincinnati easy and enjoyable, Zummo and Sullivan are creating a curated online experience featuring vendors who are experts in their fields and restricting the number of makers selling on the site at any time. They don’t want the marketplace to be too overwhelming for shoppers.
“If you get to the site and there's 800 ceramics vendors,” Sullivan says, “it’s going to be hard to find exactly what you want.”
By creating a platform with quality products and a pleasant user experience, the founders feel they are creating a lasting outlet in the local maker market.
“I think this is how people are going to shop from now on,” Zummo says. “The internet’s not going anywhere, people making stuff is not going anywhere, so you can say it’s a trend but it’s more just moving toward a way of life.”
Made in Cincinnati plans to officially launch at a physical pop-up event in Over-the-Rhine on Small Business Saturday in November. Until then the founders are available at info@shopmadeincincinnati.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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