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Artworks Big Pitch Profile: Misfit Genius

Throughout the summer, Soapbox is profiling each of the eight finalists in the Artworks Big Pitch competition, presented by U.S. Bank, which offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes, as well as pro-bono professional services. The competition concludes August 27 at the American Sign Museum with the eight finalists each giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges. You can read Soapbox’s article on the Big Pitch here.

It’s not often that you find a business that wasn’t founded to create specific products or services, but instead simply to inspire. Many businesses have core values, but to make your core values into a business is something different. But then again, Cordario “Monty” Collier and Jason Matheny, founders of Misfit Genius, have never been too concerned with what everyone else is doing.
 
Misfit Genius can be summed up as a lifestyle brand, but the two founders are quick to point out that they mean something slightly different by that phrase than most other companies.
 
“Most companies that say that, it’s just based around clothing,” Collier says. “Yes, we sell clothes as well, but we’re more about community-building. The clothes are there to remind us of these values we live by.”
 
Collier and Matheny met in 2008 as students at Thomas More College, where Collier approached Matheny and asked him about a sweater he was wearing. This opened up the initial conversation about fashion, a common interest they both shared.
 
As a business, Misfit Genius was started in 2010. It has remained a very fluid process as Collier and Matheny have been working to find the best way to share their message.
 
“The last four years has really been like going to college for entrepreneurs,” Collier says. “We’ve been through a lot of failure and seen some success, too; the moments of success are what carry you through.”
 
After initial dreams of opening a retail store and creating their own fashion lines, the two men went back to the drawing board several times to find what would really work for them.
 
“We learned that it was more about the idea and the message,” Matheny sas. “The more we focused on that idea of challenging people to pursue their passions, we kept getting signs that that was where we should go.”
 
Now, Misfit Genius describes the clothes they offer as the “back end” of their services. The core of their business is based around five values: Passion, Loyalty, Intelligence, Confidence and Humility. Collier and Matheny have started giving motivational speeches around the area in schools and universities based on these values.
 
“The premise of Misfit Genius is that it’s the misfit in you that makes you who you are—you have to embrace that,” Collier says. “The five values we identified are what you use in order to take that difference and become the genius.”
 
Ultimately, Matheny and Collier want Misfit Genius to become a creative hub in Cincinnati, where ideas and inspiration are bred and real connections are fostered.
 
“At first we were thinking of our brand in a more competitive mode,” Collier says. “Now we’d rather work with other businesses and see how we can help each other to get further. We’re building community one person at a time.” 

Check out these other Artworks Big Pitch finalists:

ReelAbilities Film Festival moves headquarters from NYC to Cincinnati, plans biggest year yet

The ReelAbilities Film Festival, A weeklong festival of independent, award-winning films, aimed at stirring discussion and celebrating diversity and shared humanity, has moved its headquarters from New York City to Cincinnati. The headquarters in Cincinnati is now overseen by the local nonprofit Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled (LADD).
 
ReelAbilities was founded in 2007 in New York City by the Manhattan JCC, and has grown to become the largest film festival in the country dedicated to sharing the stories, lives and art of people who experience disability. The festival now takes place in 14 U.S. cities across the country. In Cincinnati, the biennial festival will next occur February 27-March 7, 2015.
 
“Cincinnati has been so receptive to this festival, it makes perfect sense for it to be here,” says Christa Zielke, National Field Director of the festival. “From the funders to our partners and the festival goers themselves, everyone has really rallied around this.”
 
In 2013, the festival brought 24-plus events to the Cincinnati area, held at a variety of venues including the Contemporary Arts Center, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati Art Museum, Esquire and Mariemont Theaters and more. More than 250 people volunteer, and the festival saw a 514 percent increase in attendance last year from the previous festival in 2011.
 
“By telling these diverse stories through film, ReelAbilities shines a light on our common human spirit,” says Jeff Harris, a board member and funder of the festival through the Saul Schottenstein Foundation B. “Last year’s festival was truly amazing in its ability to draw that connection and include the entire community.”
 
This year, LADD has partnered with several organizations to continue to raise awareness and promote discussion around these topics outside of the festival. This summer, they partnered with 3CDC and Washington Park to sponsor a screening of Finding Nemo.
 
“We’ve also partnered with the education and legal communities to engage people with these ideas, and to celebrate and acknowledge difference,” Zielke says.
 
Among ReelAbilities advocates is Danny Woodburn, a professional actor who plays the voice of Splinter in the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.
 
“Actors with disabilities are 90 percent less likely to be seen, and many characters with disabilities aren’t actually played by actors with disabilities,” Woodburn says. “It’s important for work like this to be done, and if I have the chance to speak out and be heard because I’m recognizable from being in the public eye, then I feel it’s my responsibility to do so.”
 
“But this isn’t just about actors getting work,” Woodburn continues. “Two-thirds of people with disabilities are unemployed; we need to raise awareness of that fact. If we want that to change, we as a society have to create an environment for change.”
 
For more information about the 2015 ReelAbilities Festival, visit www.cincyra.org

Artworks Big Pitch Finalist: C. Jacqueline Wood, Golden Hour Moving Pictures

Throughout the summer, Soapbox is profiling each of the eight finalists in the Artworks Big Pitch competition, presented by U.S. Bank, which offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes, as well as pro-bono professional services. The competition concludes August 27 at the American Sign Museum with the eight finalists each giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges. You can read Soapbox’s article on the Big Pitch here.

It was the radio station or the film festival. It was going to be one of those two and for whatever reason, the film festival won out. That was 11 years ago, and since then, C. Jacqueline Wood has continued her passion for film and made it her career. Now back in her hometown of Cincinnati, she is the one-woman show behind Golden Hour Moving Pictures.
 
During her freshman year of college at the University of Michigan, Wood decided to walk into the office of the Ann Arbor Film Festival. She wound up working for the festival in a variety of capacities throughout her time at the university before moving to Chicago, where she received her master’s degree from the Art Institute of Chicago in film video/new media. From there, Wood returned to Ann Arbor, where she began teaching film and video classes to high school students through a program with Eastern Michigan Unveristy.
 
“It was great to get to teach students about experimental film and video and to expose them to some things outside of the mainstream Hollywood aesthetic,” Wood says. “But I was getting antsy and really had an urge to spend more time creating my own work. So in 2012, I decided to quit all of my jobs and move back to Cincinnati, and on the day I moved, I began the CO.STARTERS program.”
 
After graduating from the CO.STARTERS program, Wood had an LLC and a business plan for Golden Hour Moving Pictures, but the business itself was still very green. Two breakthrough moments came for her one right after another when she landed an opportunity to create a video for Nicola’s, one of Cincinnati’s most esteemed Italian restaurants, which led to her creating a video in anticipation of the opening of Boca’s downtown location, which opened just over a year ago.
 

Boca from Golden Hour Moving Pictures on Vimeo.

“For the Boca video, I traveled all around and got footage of farmers, painters, woodworkers, engravers and more,” Wood says. “That video got a lot of attention for Boca and ended up being show on the jumbotron on Fountain Square. It also opened a lot of doors for me, and it’s just been project after project since then.”
 
Since then, Golden Hour’s clients have included organizations like the Contemporary Arts Center, The Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington, Random Snacks of Kindness and more. Wood does all of her editing and production work in her studio at the Essex building.
 
“Even though I’m from here and I’m moving back here, it’s just a whole new place,” Wood says. “It’s not the same Artworks I remember 12 years ago when I was in high school. It’s just an amazing organization. In any other big city, there’s no other way I would be at this point in my business. Artworks has truly helped make my business what it is every step of the way.”
 
Through the Big Pitch competition, Wood is hoping to secure the funding that would allow her to expand her staff and catch up on the demand for her work. She sees lots of room to grow here and also has her sights set on some bigger dreams further down the line.
 
“In the long term I want to open a micro cinema, a small movie theater that has a focus on experimental film and video,” she says. “That’s a huge part of the culture right now, and it’s not represented here in Cincinnati. I’d love to see the cinema as a place that focuses on exhibition and education, where people can take film-making classes for all ages.”
 
In the meantime, Wood has plenty of video production work to keep her busy for a long time.
 
“I’ve done virtually no PR, so the fact that people have seen my work and notice it, I can’t describe what that means to me,” she says. “I can’t imagine that happening this quickly or in this capacity in any other city.

Check out these other Artworks Big Pitch finalists:

New co-working space merges work and play

Cincinnati’s newest co-working office, MOVE, is opening early next month and hopes to stimulate its clients both mentally and physically. The workspace is attached the Foundation Fitness gym and promises to be full of energy, motivation and “people taking breaks to climb ropes, sneak in a few squats or flip the tires a few times.”
 
Located at the intersection of the Brighton, Over-the-Rhine and West End neighborhoods in Cincinnati’s Historic Brewery District, MOVE sits less than half a mile from Findlay Market. Co-founders Patrick Hitches and Ryan Meo say they opened MOVE because they saw a need for collaborative workspace in the city.
 
“I was looking around town and was honestly shocked at how few co-working spaces there were, especially in and around downtown,” Hitches says. “At MOVE, we’re looking to cultivate the local entrepreneur/soloprenuer scene, and the idea is that being active and healthy helps to spark creativity, productivity and innovation. We merge work and play to help our members reach their own personal potential in both body and career.”
 
But the founders emphasize that MOVE is not just for the physically fit. “I have been running an online company for seven years now, and it did no favors at all to my body and health,” Meo says. “I sat all the time, worked long hours and inadvertently ended up in terrible shape; I needed a change without sacrificing my growing business. MOVE was the change I needed and why Patrick and I came together to offer this opportunity to those in the same position I was.”
 
MOVE will feature a variety of amenities including Commercial Broadband Wifi, 24/7 access, showers, lounge area, indoor hanging bike racks and more. Move will have its soft opening on August 6 before launching fully at the beginning of September. 

Frameri wins $100K from AOL founder Steve Case, moves into OTR office

To say that the Frameri has been busy would be an understatement.
 
Since entering the Brandery a year ago, the versatile eyewear startup company has grown from a team of two co-founders to five full-time employees and four part-time employees—with a few more new hires in the pipeline. In May, after having split his team between Chicago and Cincinnati, CEO Konrad Billetz decided to move the entire team back to Cincinnati and just last week signed a lease on a new office in Over-the-Rhine that will put his entire team under one roof.
 
In June, Billetz, along with seven other entrepreneurs, pitched in front of a packed crowd at the Know Theatre that included AOL founder Steve Case. The pitch event was part of Case’s Rise of the Rest Tour in which local startups competed for funding (highlights from Case’s Cincinnati stop can be found here). After a brief deliberation, Billetz was named the winner and took home a $100,000 investment from Case’s venture capital firm Revolution.
 
“It was really great to get selected as the winner and receive the investment, but for us that was more about validation than anything else,” Billetz says. “It helps to get more people to know what were doing; now we just need to get out there, work our assess off and prove that they were right to pick us.”
 
If the past year is any indication, Billetz and his team are ready to put their collective noses to the proverbial grindstone. This week marks the official launch of the Frameri’s first line of product, which is based around creating quality, crafted frames with interchangeable lenses to bring style into the industry and waste out of it.
 
“We’ve had three goals since we started,” Billetz says. “First, to shake the eyewear industry up, which we see as really boring. Second, to make people smile by delivering really awesome product that genuinely deserves to exist. Third, to add lots of jobs and create a really cool culture. We want to be one of those jobs that people really want to work at—not just in Cincinnati, but nationwide.”
 
To that end, Frameri is currently on the lookout for designers, digital marketers and web developers. 

Artworks Big Pitch Finalist: Brian Stuparyk, Steam Whistle Letterpress

Throughout the summer, Soapbox will profile each of the eight finalists in the Artworks Big Pitch competition, presented by U.S. Bank, which offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes, as well as pro-bono professional services. The competition concludes August 27 at the American Sign Museum with the eight finalists each giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges. You can read Soapbox’s article on the Big Pitch here.

It may seem hard to believe, but some people still like to make things with their hands. Brian Stuparyk, founder of Steam Whistle Letterpress, is one of those people.
 
Stuparyk studied photography initially, but by the time he graduated college, photography was already making the digital shift, something that didn’t interest him as much.
 
“I really liked being in the darkroom. I liked working with the equipment and creating things, and I liked the science of it all,” Stuparyk says.
 
He discovered printmaking while doing production for a newspaper. For Stuparyk, it combined the mechanical processes that he liked about analog photography with art and creativity.
 
“The other obvious part about printmaking is that someone is still going to hire your services,” Stuparyk says. “Very few people will hire a photographer using film when they can get digital. But with letterpress, you can’t achieve this kind of quality any other way.”
 
Stuparyk’s production is split between a Main Street storefront in Over-the-Rhine and a space in the Essex Studios. Both are filled with machines anywhere from 40 to 100 years old. Despite the fact that newer machines may be cheaper and quicker at turning out product, Steam Whistle prefers older machines because, according to Stuparyk, they produce a higher quality product.
 
“If you do something really, really well, people will gravitate to that,” Stuparyk says. “With Steam Whistle, the quality was the first thing I really had to conquer. We’ve done that, and I’d put our printing up against any other shop in the country.”
 
Since incorporating as a business in November 2011, Steam Whistle products can now be found in more than 20 U.S. states, as well as in Canada. The requests for custom work have begun piling in, and the company has begun working with a sales rep in New York, substantially increasing the brand's visibility. At this point, Stuparyk’s biggest issue is how to deal with the growth.
 
“Currently, I’m working 80 to 85 hours a week, and I’m finding that there aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up with the work that’s coming in. I’d like to consolidate all my equipment into one shop and hire another employee, but I need to get the financing right to make it work.”
 
For this reason, Stuparyk entered into the Artworks Big Pitch competition.
 
“If I do win the competition, I know I’ll be able to put the money to work right away,” Stuparyk says. “What’s been great is getting that reassurance from the mentors that Artworks has connected me with."
 
Stuparyk would like to sell Steam Whistle products in all 50 states, begin working with more Cincinnati businesses and be recognized as a leading brand in the letterpress industry. He already partners with stores like OTR’s Rock Paper Scissors and Noble Denim, a fellow Big Pitch finalist.
 
“I want to keep growing the business and keep doing it here in Over-the-Rhine,” Stuparyk says. “The more I grow, I know it will benefit my partners and the community as well, so I’m hoping to keep growing and keep funneling that growth back into the city and community."

Check out these other Artworks Big Pitch finalists:

Manufacturing accelerator First Batch announces 2014 class

First Batch, a Cincinnati-based accelerator aimed at taking entrepreneurs from prototype to production, has announced its 2014 class of companies.
 
The companies, which represent a wide spectrum of business ideas, also display First Batch’s aim to not only accelerate participating companies but to promote a unique set of resources that position Cincinnati as a great place to start a physical product company. The companies are:
 
3D Kitbash, founded by Quincy Robinson and Natalie Mathis, offers professionally sculpted digital models online for the 3D printing market.
 
Ampersand, founded by Tim Karoleff and Greg Lutz, utilizes awareness and empathy to design unique furniture, home goods, and artworks, delighting users with unexpected cleverness and practical pleasure.
 
Switcher, founded by Ken Addison, is made to help provide professional-level video studio control for the growing internet video studio or consumers. The switches are able to control multiple cameras in a software environment and provide lighting indicators (called “tally”) to direct the on-screen talent.
 
Ohio Valley Beard Supply, founded by Patrick Brown and Scott Ponder, is a line of beard care products and beard elixirs that come in five natural scents.
 
“This year we wanted to bring in a mix of companies that was both a good fit for our manufacturing and production strengths as a city, but also offered diversity and the ability to learn a lot from each other,” says Matt Anthony, program coordinator for First Batch. “We have companies that have been running successfully for a few years and are using First Batch as an opportunity to launch a new product (Ampersand, 3DKitbash), a completely new concept that is just now forming as a company through our UC law partnership (Switcher), and a company that launched a few short months to early success and has found a fast need for scaling up (Ohio Valley Beard Supply).”
 
Cincinnati has a well-documented history of industrial production, which First Batch hopes to tap in to.
 
“We think the resources here are perfect and feel like we've picked a broad range of companies that should showcase what is possible here,” Anthony says. “We want to start building momentum and a movement behind both First Batch and Cincinnati Made and are hoping to bring along anyone who wants to grow or contribute.

Artworks Big Pitch Finalist: Matt Madison, Madisono's Gelato & Sorbet

Throughout the summer, Soapbox will profile each of the eight finalists in the Artworks Big Pitch competition, presented by U.S. Bank, which offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes, as well as pro-bono professional services. The competition concludes August 27 at the American Sign Museum with the eight finalists each giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges. You can read Soapbox’s article on the Big Pitch here.
 
Matt Madison knows that a skilled artist cannot truly create a great work of art based on his mind alone. He needs the proper materials, the right canvas and genuine inspiration to make something creative. For this reason, Madison founded Madisono’s Gelato & Sorbet in 2006. To understand Madison’s mission, we have to go even further back to a distant era called the “mid-90s”.
 
“In the mid-90s, a trend emerged of chefs looking out beyond traditional food sourcing companies for higher quality ingredients and more interesting, specific types of flavors,” Madison says.
 
So Madison and his father, who owns and operates Madison’s at Findlay Market, ran a unique farm in West Union, Ohio that would source these specific ingredients like custom heirloom tomatoes, heirloom cantaloupes and more to chefs around the Cincinnati area.
 
“I recognized that for a chef to do really creative, awesome things, it starts with the materials,” Madison says.
 
After living on the farm for five years, Madison moved back to the city and discovered that his knack for making gelatos and sorbets would allow him to provide that same inspiration and pleasure to chefs and consumers alike.
 
“This was in 2005, and at that time, we really didn’t have anyone making artisan, handcrafted ice creams and sorbets in Cincinnati,” Madison says. “You’d hear about it in places like Atlanta, New York and Seattle, but nothing here.”
 
So Madison started Madisono’s in 2006 and went back to the same restaurant contacts he’d had from his days on the farm to ask what chefs would want from an artisan gelato maker.
 
“They said they wanted something authentic, with great ingredients, and I knew I could do that,” Madison says. “The business is based on our passion for creativity; we’re always trying to create something different and delicious—that’s the focus.”
 
To keep it authentic, Madisono’s makes the base for its gelatos from scratch every day. Many other companies will order a premade base that includes many extra artificial ingredients; Madisono’s makes its recipes as simple and natural as possible.
 
Madisono’s can now be found in nearly 40 restaurants in the Greater Cincinnati area, including Taste of Belgium, Via Vite, Arnold’s, Anchor OTR and Essencha Tea House. Madison estimates that this accounts for about 40 percent of the business, while the other 60 percent is geared toward selling pints in retail stores like Whole Foods, Findlay Market, Clifton Natural Foods and more.
 
Madison hopes to build the company and brand to the point that Madisono’s is recognized all over the region and thought of as a must-have experience when you’re in Cincinnati. If Madison wins the Artworks Big Pitch contest, he would be able to upgrade equipment, bring in more employees and expand production.
 
“Just being a part of the process of being a finalist, I feel like I’ve won already,” Madison says. “Of course, I’d love to win the competition, but even if I don’t, getting the mentorship has been so valuable in helping me develop my business plan. Sometimes, in the midst of running a business, it’s hard to focus on that when there are so many other possibilities and opportunities to think about. But to get this kind of disciplined approach, I feel like I’ve prepared myself to grow the business, whether or not I win the $15,000.”

Check out these other Artworks Big Pitch finalists:

ArtsWave collaborates with Cincinnati Chamber to launch CincYPerks

ArtsWave, a local arts agency that supports more than 100 arts organizations in Greater Cincinnati, announced the launch of CincYPerks, a new donor benefit program for young professionals and unique collaboration with the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber's C-Change Class 8.
 
An offshoot of its popular ArtsWave ArtsPass donor benefit, CincYPerks provides ArtsWave's young professional donors with special discounts to arts organizations, shops, and restaurants plus exclusive invitations to fun-filled events all over the region. The benefit program is available to all YP donors, ages 40 and younger, who give $75 or more to the annual ArtsWave community campaign.
 
The Cincinnati Chamber had been researching how to create a program that would help young professionals new to the area discover all the diverse things to do in Cincinnati and meet other people their age.
 
"We thought about creating something entirely from scratch, but then we realized that it sounded a lot like the ArtsWave ArtsPass," says Emily Roberts, Manager, Corporate Sponsorship, Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and C-Change Class 8 member. "So we reached out to ArtsWave about developing a special version of the ArtsPass just for young professionals."
 
The program was introduced as a donor benefit during the 2014 campaign, and the number of young professional donors to the campaign more than doubled to over 3,500. A few of the partners offering CincYPerks include 50 West Brewing Company, Cincinnati Bikram Yoga, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Cincinnati Nature Center, Cricket Lounge and Gents.
 
“This is the first time that ArtsWave has offered an expanded benefits program for young professionals, and so far it has been incredibly well-received,” says Maddie Grant, Manager of Residential and Affinity Group Giving for ArtsWave. “YP giving in the 2014 Campaign more than doubled from the previous year, and approximately 95 percent of the young professionals who gave to the campaign elected to receive the benefits. We are excited to continue this early momentum and the program with additional offers and events.”

MyActions raises $100K on Indiegogo to empower children to create change

MyActions, the Cincinnati-based startup that encourages users to engage and share their meaningful, healthy and caring actions, has launched an Indiegogo campaign. The funds will be used to expand the company's technology so that students in schools across the country can access it and and share their actions. Thus far, the campaign has raised just over its target mark of $100,000 with 10 days remaining.
 
MyActions, co-founded in 2010 by Michael Young and his father/CEO Craig Young, provides an online platform for users, mostly youth from college age down to middle school students, to celebrate moments and actions people take every day, amplifying the compassionate things people do to make the world a better place.
 
The company began as a high school project Michael thought up to help engage more of his classmates in volunteering. Craig, who has been working in technology for more than 20 years and has developed products for Apple, helped Michael and his classmates develop a website and app that would communicate their message.
 
“People share things from composting in the cafeteria, volunteering or even just being outside with their friends,” Michael says. “Each action is rewarded with a donation to a chosen cause and inspires others to take more action themselves.”
 
In its first year including colleges and universities, MyActions was used on more than 75 college campuses; more than 6,000 students documented 100,000-plus actions. Now with the Indiegogo campaign, MyActions is creating a way for middle school and high school students to participate, by rolling out tablets and RFID bracelets to give to schools.
 
“Our early technology could only be used on a cell phone or a mobile computer, which meant that there was a significant barrier of access,” says Kristine Sturgeon, president of MyActions. “This new technology flattens that barrier so every child can do more, and as they do more and see that their actions count, their confidence grows.”
 
With the success of the Indiegogo campaign, MyActions will look to roll out the technology in schools this fall and aims to be used on more than 150 college campuses this year. To learn more or contribute to the campaign, click here.

Artworks Big Pitch Finalist: Shalini Latour, Chocolats Latour

Throughout the summer, Soapbox will profile each of the eight finalists in the Artworks Big Pitch competition, presented by U.S. Bank, which offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes, as well as pro-bono professional services. The competition concludes August 27 at the American Sign Museum with the eight finalists each giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges. You can read Soapbox’s article on the Big Pitch here.
 
For some people, chocolate is an indulgence. For others, it’s a comfort. For plenty of us, it is a craving. For Shalini Latour, owner of Chocolats Latour, chocolate is a meditation.
 
“I’ve been a pastry chef for over 20 years, been in the wedding cake business, worked in New York and in Cincinnati, until around four years ago I started playing with chocolates,” Latour says. “Compared to baking, the room needs to be really cool with chocolate, the whole process is in some ways quieter, requires a lot of precision and it’s very meditative, which I really like.”
 
Latour has had quite the journey to arrive at this particular meditation. Her mother is Belgian, and Latour spent time growing up in Brussels, Montreal and Paris before moving to the Catskills in New York. 15 years ago, she moved to Cincinnati and has remained here ever since.
 
Since founding Chocolats Latour four years ago, she has utilized many of the resources Cincinnati offers small businesses, and learned quite a bit along the way. Three years ago, she was a Bad Girl Ventures finalist, receiving a small business loan that allowed her to purchase equipment. This past summer, she took part in Artworks’ CO.STARTERS program (formerly Springboard) and now is taking part in the Big Pitch.
 
“Going through the process with our mentors for the Big Pitch has already been so helpful,” Latour says. “Sometimes, when running a business, you get so caught up doing the work that you don’t have a chance to step back and look at where you are going. My mentors have been great at helping me think about that and how I want to get there.”
 
Latour’s chocolates have been making waves around Cincinnati and showing up at more and more locations. When she first started, Latour would sell chocolate exclusively at Findlay Market on Saturdays. Now, she still sells at Findlay, but you can also find her goods at Coffee Emporium, Jungle Jim’s and Whole Foods, to name a few. She’s also partnered with the Cincinnati Symphony to offer special chocolates for Lumenocity at Washington Park.
 
“Chocolats Latour has done so well that I don’t really do cakes at all anymore,” Latour says. “I use all fairly traded chocolate; it’s important to me that the people who pick the cocoa beans all the way down the line are treated fairly, and I think people have responded to that. I also work with unusual flavors, and I think that’s something I’ve become known for.”

Her chocolates including everything from lavender, lemon and sea salt to turmeric, curry, mango, raisins and even tomatoes. Some of her most popular options are slightly less adventurous bars like sea salt and almond, but common among all of them is the use of simple, natural and local ingredients.
 
Despite being sold at a handful of locations in Cincinnati, Latour is still legally limited to sell her products only in Ohio because she works from her home in Northside. One of the goals for her if she wins the Big Pitch is to move into a commercial kitchen.
 
“My hope is to move some of my production to a commercial kitchen, probably just my chocolate bars at first, so that I can sell those in a wider area,” Latour says.
 
Latour is grateful for all of the help Artworks has provided her along the way.
 
“I love that they have programs that really help creative people into the business side of things,” she says. “For a lot of us creative types, the business side isn’t our strong point. Artworks does a great job at understanding that what I do is the creative part but also helping to make it sustainable. But I also don’t feel like I have to let go of my creativity in any way, and I get to enjoy just making the chocolates, creating the designs and enjoying the work that I do, whichever way I choose to grow my company. They understand that and want to support me in that, and it’s great that Cincinnati has programs like these.”

Check out these other Artworks Big Pitch finalists:

Artworks Big Pitch Finalist: Heather Britt, Heather Britt Dance Collective

Throughout the summer, Soapbox will profile each of the eight finalists in the Artworks Big Pitch competition, presented by U.S. Bank, which offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes, as well as pro-bono professional services. The competition concludes August 27 at the American Sign Museum with the eight finalists each giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges. You can read Soapbox’s article on the Big Pitch here.
 
Heather Britt is not a movement. She is movement. She is also one of those people you meet every now and again who, once you know who they are and what they do, it’s impossible to imagine them doing anything else in life.
 
Britt is a dancer and what she’s created here in Cincinnati, in addition to an impressive career, is an outlet for expression, creativity, energy and emotion through dance. She is the founder and operator of the Heather Britt Dance Collective (HBDC), which acts as the umbrella organization for her various projects including her dance class, DANCEFIX, choreography for the Cincinnati Ballet, flash mobs and more.  
 
“I’ve been dancing since I was 3. I went to the School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) in Cincinnati and have been dancing, teaching and choreographing ever since,” Britt says. “I’ve lived in San Francisco and Colorado, as well, but have been back here since 2000, and this year decided that I wanted to bring all the work I do together under the HBDC name.”
 
While in San Francisco, Britt became involved with a dance fitness class called Rhythm and Motion that changed her life.
 
“In San Francisco, I saw people of different, diverse backgrounds, who were not professional, but were passionate nonetheless, and I thought that that was it for me,” Britt says. “Dance has always been therapeutic for me. It’s also a great way to stay in shape, but I do it because I have no choice—I have to do it. When I saw other people like that, I came back to Cincinnati and I thought, ‘Cincinnati needs this.’”
 
So Britt brought the Rhythm and Motion concept back to Cincinnati, only she found that the community was different and the structure needed some changing to meet the needs of the people here. As a result, she adapted the program and changed the name to DANCEFIX.
 
“It’s all about making connection through dance and getting in shape in the process,” Britt says. “It’s all choreographed by myself and teachers I’ve trained; all different styles are represented in the class, and it’s been really successful so far.”
 
Currently, Britt has 10 teachers and 16 classes, both downtown at the ballet and in Kenwood at Yoga Alive. Britt hopes to continue growing into the surrounding areas including Northern Kentucky, the suburbs and eventually, perhaps, to neighboring cities. She hopes to use the cash prize from Artworks Big Pitch to help her with this growth.
 
“Everything so far has been word of mouth, but my hope is to be able to have someone to help out with marketing, social media and just general online presence,” Britt says.
 
When asked to compare her class to other dance classes in the area, Britt is quick to note the difference: “Zumba, for example, uses dance as a way to get fit and get in shape, which is great, but that’s not what I’m about,” she says. “DANCEFIX is more about dancing for the love of dance and creativity, and it just also happens to be an awesome workout. The class is open to anyone at any level. You don’t have to already be a dancer; we’ve become really good at meeting everyone at their own level.”
 
Britt is excited to continue working on her business throughout the weeks leading up to the Big Pitch and is appreciative of the opportunities afforded to small business in Cincinnati.

Check out these other Artworks Big Pitch finalists:

Artworks Big Pitch Finalist: Chris Sutton, Noble Denim

Throughout the summer, Soapbox will profile each of the eight finalists in the Artworks Big Pitch competition, which offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes, as well as pro-bono professional services. The competition concludes August 27 at the American Sign Museum with the eight finalists each giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges. You can read Soapbox’s article on the Big Pitch here.
 
Chris Sutton wants to put Midwestern factory workers back to work. He wants reteach our community how to grow our own goods. And he wants to make sure workers are getting paid a living wage. As much as this might sound like a political platform, Chris Sutton is not running for office. He’s making jeans.
 
As founder of the Noble Denim clothing company, Sutton cares about doing things in the most ethical way possible, so customers know that each time they purchase a Noble product, they can be sure that their money is going toward a healthier environment and fair pay for workers.
 
“Hopefully, that means local, and hopefully, that means American made, but we don’t want to say American made just for sentimental reasons,” Sutton says. “Right now our sweatshirts are being made in Canada because we haven’t been able to find a place in American that pays its employees a living wage.”
 
Sutton started Noble Denim about a year and a half ago, originally setting up in Camp Washington before settling in a workshop in Over-the-Rhine (check out our 2013 profile of Noble here). Originally ,he hoped to hire several people locally to continue expanding production in Cincinnati. Eventually Sutton found that there was much more manufacturing talent already trained in making clothes in the neighboring areas of Kentucky and Tennessee and formed a partnership with a factory that had only four employees remaining there.
 
“What we found is that Kentucky and Tennessee used to be a huge haven for soft goods: clothing, bags, etc., and to my knowledge, there were 50 factories that employed tens of thousands of people until the early '90s,” Sutton says. “But that’s all been outsourced, and now the coasts are where anything made in the United States is from. So to have our production based in Tennessee is actually very local in the grand scheme of the industry.”
 
Now, Noble’s Cincinnati office functions as the design studio and center for experimentation on small batch items like shorts and bags, while the factory in Tennessee handles the bulk of production.
 
“What makes our jeans different is how they are made,” Sutton says. “Most made in America jeans are still made in a highly automated factory of 1,000 employees making several thousand garments a week. We make 20-50 a week, so just based on scale, you can do things at a much more hands-on, intentional level. And at that scale, you tend to get better quality because you can be more hands-on and materials can be picked for small scale. We can get really high-quality fabrics that other companies can’t get. We can focus on those little details and make small tweaks, and that just makes a better product.”
 
Sutton also prides himself on the fact that he personally knows everyone involved in the production of Noble Denim and hopes to keep it that way. In the immediate future, Noble has a few small batches coming out, as well as a collaboration with Cleveland-based Drifter Bags.
 
For Noble, winning the big pitch would allow the company to take on one more employee here in the Cincinnati studio, as well as potentially accelerate production in Tennessee, which in turn would allow them to bring more workers back to the factory there.
 
“We’d love to become a nationally recognized brand and fill out our product lines,” Sutton says. “We’re still very early on in the process, but the cool thing is that Cincinnati is a creative place that is innovative, and I’m excited about using that skill set here to make those changes that will affect manufacturing towns in Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio.”

Check out these other Artworks Big Pitch finalists:

Artworks Big Pitch Finalist: Django Kroner, The Canopy Crew

Throughout the summer, Soapbox will profile each of the eight finalists in the Artworks Big Pitch competition, which offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes, as well as pro-bono professional services. The competition concludes August 27 at the American Sign Museum with the eight finalists each giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges. You can read Soapbox’s article on the Big Pitch here.
 
Magic exists. We just have to choose to let it into our lives. You can be fairly certain of that after meeting Django Kroner, founder and owner of the Canopy Crew.
 
Launched in November 2013, The Canopy Crew is a custom tree house building and tree care company. As a business owner, Kroner is quite green, but when it comes to tree care, construction, rigging and woodwork, he has several years under his belt already.
 
At the age of 19, Kroner moved to Red River Gorge, Ky., to pursue his passion for rock climbing. While there, he began working at a cabin rental company building timber frame cabins and living in a tent. Eventually, he decided that he wanted to build a tree house to get off of the forest floor. He spent three years living in the treehouse.
 
“Living there brought an amazing sense of contentment. No matter what the day held, as soon as I’d go up in the tree house, it’d be a good night,” Kroner says. “Having friends over and seeing how it inspired them made me want to share the magic of tree houses with more people.”
 
So he decided to leave Red River Gorge, though he still returns frequently, and head to Cincinnati to learn about tree health here to complement the building and rigging skills he learned while in Kentucky.
 
Now with the Canopy Crew, Kroner is able to build tree houses that not only are safe and sustainable, but also interact with the trees in the healthiest manner possible. He has projects that span the Southwest Ohio/Northern Kentucky region, from Yellow Springs to Eastgate to, of course, Red River Gorge.
 
“I’m working on developing several tree houses, potentially a tree house village, down at the gorge,” Kroner says. “That way people from around the area can come and experience the amazing perspective that comes with life in a tree house.”
 
Django became involved with the Big Pitch competition through participating in Artworks’ CO.STARTERS program.
 
“Artworks has been a huge help for me and my business,” Kroner says. “Through CO.STARTERS and now the Big Pitch, they’ve provided me with some great expertise that relates to me. Starting a business on my own means that I have a thousand questions, and to have something besides Google is huge. If I win the competition, I think that will help me get somewhere that would otherwise have taken three to four years to get to. And if I don’t, it’s still opened up this mentality for me that I can just get after it and start making things happen now.”

Check out these other Artworks Big Pitch finalists:

Cintrifuse invests in major New York City venture capital fund

Cintrifuse, the downtown-based company that develops and supports entrepreneurialism in Cincinnati, has announced that its newest investment is New York City-based Lerer Hippeau Ventures IV (LHV), a top tier venture capital fund, to increase seed and early stage venture leadership in Cincinnati.
 
With more than $130 million under management, Lerer Hippeau invests in the earliest stages of a startup’s life—a complementary strategy for the growing startup ecysystem in Cincinnati and a piece of the puzzle that Cintrifuse saw as a crucial addition.
 
“Seed stage investment is very important here in Cincinnati,” says Tim Schigel, Cintrifuse fund manager. “CincyTech and Queen City Angels are doing a great job, but we need more. Lerer is a great firm and very compatible with our region.”
 
LHV is widely viewed as one of the top firms in NYC with investments in such companies as Buzzfeed, Birchbox, Thrillist Media Group and nearly 200 others. With this specialization in digital media and publishing, particularly in the tech world, Cintrifuse is betting that this will continue to bring attention and, more important, investment to the Cincinnati region.
 
“Since our founding four years ago, we’ve been focused primarily on fueling the New York and West Coast tech scenes,” says Eric Hippeau, managaing director at LHV and former CEO of the Huffington Post. “With our fourth fund, we’re looking forward to selectively seeking investment opportunities outside these regions. Cincinnati is particularly interesting with a great deal of startup growth potential, and we are extremely excited to be partnering with Cintrifuse, which sits at the center of innovation in the city.”
 
Schigel is excited for what this means for the city, and while it is not yet certain how this specific relationship will play out, he is optimistic for the future.
 
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Schigel sats. “We could go for two years without anything happening, but the good thing is that it is already happening. There are already investments imminent. The question is, how does it continue and at what kind of pace. We’re building relationships and multiple touch points for those venture firms within the community and will continue to build resources and connections for our entrepreneurs.”
 
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