| Follow Us: Facebook Twitter Vimeo RSS Feed

Downtown : Innovation + Job News

396 Downtown Articles | Page: | Show All

Cincinnati Chapter of CreativeMornings hosts event March 22

A small group of creatives have launched a Cincinnati chapter of CreativeMornings, which will host its first monthly breakfast and lecture March 22 at 21c Museum Hotel.

CreativeMornings was founded in 2009 in New York City by Tina Roth Eisenberg who owns Swissmiss, a design studio and blog. The concept brings together a wide variety of creative people—from solo entrepreneurs to large agency talent—once a month for breakfast.

Each chapter is organized by volunteers and supported by the community, which includes donated meeting space, coffee and food. Each month's breakfast features a global topic (March's is Reuse) and each chapter invites a speaker to talk on that topic. The lectures are recorded and streamed on the main CreativeMornings website.

CreativeMornings is growing, with nearly 50 chapters around the world. Among the newest are those in Cincinnati, Lima, Warsaw and Dublin. You can see the Cincinnati chapter's video application here.

Jeremy Thobe, from web design firm US Digital Partners, is the lead organizer for the Cincinnati chapter. CreativeMornings is a way to get creative folks across industries together before the workday starts, he says.

"There are a lot of events around here that are industry-specific or sales pitchy," says Thobe. "A lot of them are in the evenings. We thought this was a way to start the day on a high note, and meet people around our industries. We are very interested in what surrounds what we do, and that's harder for us to find here."

A group of about eight people are helping get the Cincinnati chapter off the ground. They've chosen this month's speaker, Bill Donabedian, co-founder of the MPMF and Bunbury Music Festival.

Organizers plan to bring in speakers from a wide variety of professional backgrounds from music, education, healthcare, writing and science. The breakfasts are free, but space is limited, so you have to register. The first breakfast has already sold out, so you'll have to wait for the next one or add yourself to the waitlist.

"We're only limited by our space—we want to keep this as accessible as possible," Thobe says.

CreativeMornings Cincinnati is seeking additional volunteers, speakers and sponsors. If you're interested, you can find the organizers online or by Facebook and Twitter.

By Feoshia H. Davis
Follow Feoshia on Twitter

Cincinnati-based Infintech partners with Liturgical Publications to grow client base

At the end of last year, Liturgical Publications acquired Infintech’s PledgeConnect service, which is the company’s online donation division for the religious world. Through the partnership, Infintech will continue its work with its current clients, but will also be offering credit card processing to the 100,000 businesses that advertise in LPi publications (mainly church bulletins).
 
Over the next eight months, Infintech will be converting its customers from PledgeConnect to LPi’s WeShare, which has more bells and whistles than PledgeConnect, says Ryan Rybolt, president of Infintech.
 
“We want to see our company grow through marketing our services and getting into the organizations that LPi supports,” says Rybolt. “It’s the perfect partnership because it allows Infintech to do what we’re best at—credit card processing—and it allows LPi to do what they do best, which is its new donation platform.”
 
WeShare doesn’t just allow for donations to multiple bank accounts, but it also allows churches and other nonprofits to sell event tickets, to accept credit or debit cards without the cost and risk associated with managing a merchant account, and to simplify financial reporting for the church and the individual who made the donation.
 
Milwaukee-based LPi was founded in 1972, and since then has offered churches and nonprofits across the United States custom communication solutions. It has worked with over 4,000 congregations and organizations, plus 100,000 businesses around the country.
 
Infintech, founded in 2005, is ranked as one of Inc. Magazine’s Fastest Growing Companies. Infintech’s payment processing solutions include retail, commercial card, mobile and online processing, and supports integration with nearly all POS systems, smartphone payments and e-commerce and shopping cart integration.
 
If you’re a current PledgeConnect customer or you’re interested in learning more about online donations, visit LPi’s website, where you can sign up to attend a webinar about WeShare.
 
By Caitlin Koenig
Follow Caitlin on Twitter

Intern in Ohio program launches today, connects students with internships

Today, Detroit-based Digerati launches its Intern in Ohio program to the public, which is sponsored by the University of Toledo. Like eHarmony, the program uses an advanced matching algorithm to match students with internship opportunities.
 
Intern in Ohio is free to both students who are looking for internships and businesses who want to post internships. To register, students and employers visit Intern in Ohio’s website to sign up and create a profile or post internship opportunities. Students fill out a short questionnaire about their preferences, and employers share information about the position. The system then identifies the top seven matches for each student, as well as for each position. When the match is made, both the student and employer are notified, and they must show interest before any contact information is shared.
 
“We encourage diverse companies—large and small, for-profit and nonprofit, government and corporate,” says Wendy Pittman, director of Digerati’s Classroom to Career. “It’s a great chance for employers to broadcast their company and internship program across the state and reach a larger pool of applicants.”
 
Only companies in Ohio can post opportunities to the Intern in Ohio website, but all types of internships are welcome. There are posts for marketing, engineering and social media, among others, says Pittman.
 
The program is open to all students who live in Ohio, whether they’re in-state or out-of-state students. Research shows that not only do internships often lead employment offers after graduation, but that students are more likely to remain in an area where they held and internship.
 
“This is the first replication of the Classroom to Career technology from Michigan to Ohio,” says Pittman. “Experiential learning is a game-changer; and we’re looking forward to working with smaller communities to make a difference.”
 
In 2011, Digerati launched its Intern in Michigan program, which has resulted in more than 127,000 matches and introductions between students and employers. Over 1,000 Michigan businesses have posted 4,824 internship opportunities, and 1,049 colleges and universities in the state use the site.
 
Full disclosure: Soapbox’s parent company, IMG, supplies content to Intern in Ohio on a contractual basis.
 
By Caitlin Koenig
Follow Caitlin on Twitter

Busken OTR pop-up shop, low-cal treats grow business by reaching urban consumers

Busken, an 85-year-old Cincinnati baking institution, is reaching a younger, urban consumer with a new low-cal donut and modern marketing techniques.

Busken debuted its new Lite-Hearted donut on Valentine's Day. That day, the company gave away 16,000 of the heart-shaped glazed donuts at its 10 stores, regional United Dairy Farmers and Remke-Biggs markets. The company has also set up a pop-up shop on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine, where they give away free donuts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights to people who are soaking up the neighborhood's emerging night life.

Busken developed the Lite-Hearted donut as an alternative to its original glazed donut. The Lite-Hearted donut has half the calories (140) of the original, with zero trans fats and zero saturated fats. Busken President and CEO Dan Busken says the donut follows the standard set by the bakers's reduced-fat skinny cookie. The iced cookie launched three years ago and has sold one million servings, he says.

The key to the cookie's success was retaining the original flavor in a lower fat version.

"When we launched the skinny cookie, we had such amazing results," Busken says. "We're in the business of flavor and indulgence and carbs, and people are really shying away from carbs or are eating less of them. We wanted to develop a product we could sell that had the full flavor of the original iced cookie, with less fat and calories."

Originally, the bakery believed their traditional customers would buy more of the lighter cookies, substituting it for the indulgent treats. But something happened they didn't expect.

"Actually, a whole new consumer started buying our cookies," Busken says. "They still have the desire to indulge, but in a healthier way. We thought, If we can do that with a cookie, why don't we do it with a donut. We are really convinced people can't tell the difference."

The donut pop-up shop is a way to let consumer's taste for themselves. It's set up as an art gallery, and has a fun little video booth where pop-up shoppers can record video snippets that will be posted on the Busken's YouTube channel. But it's set to close March 16, so get them while you can.

"(OTR) is really a hip, growing part of Cincinnati," Busken says. "We're looking for a way to be part of that and to reach the type of people visiting the restaurants there. We really are trying to reach a younger demographic."

The company also reached out to local bloggers who sampled the donuts and wrote about them. It's given the company a lot of web press.

The donuts will be sold year-round, and plans are to add more flavors to the low-cal lineup, Busken says.

By Feoshia H. Davis
Follow Feoshia on Twitter

Cincinnati enters wearable tech market with Nugg-it recording band

Wearable tech is emerging as the "next big thing" in consumer technology. And a trio of Cincinnati entrepreneurs are developing Nugg-it, a wristband that will easily record snippets of everyday conversation, and investors are taking notice.

Nugg-it has raised a total of $250,000 raised from CincyTech and Design 2 Matter, a Silicon Valley-based industrial design firm. That's part of an ongoing $600,000 investment seed round. Design 2 Matter is also designing and building the device.

"[Design 2 Matter] has a very successful track record of bringing products from concept to shelf," says Nugg-it's co-founder and social media entrepreneur Matthew Dooley.

Nugg-it is meant to be worn 24 hours a day. It records live conversations on a 60-second loop, continuously saving them in one-minute "nuggets." To save a memorable part of a conversation, the user touches the device to save the last minute of buffered memory. That recording can be sent to a smartphone, and through an app can be edited, saved and shared.

"It's a smaller, lighter weight band," says Dooley. "Right now, we are trying to focus a lot of attention on design. It has to be something that is stylish and comfortable to wear. A lot of the functionality is off the shelf, but we're putting it together in a new way."

Dooley is working with former Procter & Gamble brand marketer and engineer Mike Sarow to develop the device. Plans are to deliver the final concept in March, and introduce it to the market by December, Dooley says.

"It occurred to us that there are a lot of circumstances in life where we want to remember and share something that was just said—a clever phrase in a meeting, something adorable from our 3-year-old, words of wisdom from a mentor—but we can't 'capture' it," Sarow says. "Now you can."

Nugg-it is CincyTech's first consumer electronics device investment.

"With the rise of the Nike FuelBand and smartwatches such as Pebble, wearable technology is projected to be a $7 billion market by 2017," says CincyTech's Executive-in-Residence Doug Groh. "We expect Nugg-it to help drive that growth and to do for short audio files what Twitter has done for 140-character content."

By Feoshia H. Davis
Follow Feoshia on Twitter

CAC brings OFFF back to town to inspire, fuel creativity

The Contemporary Arts Center will be playing host to the international creative conference OFFF, which is billed as a "post-digital culture festival," for the second year in a row.

OFFF is an event that encourages innovative and artistic thinkers to join together for collective inspiration. According to OFFF's website, participants will learn from “the most relevant artists of our time.”

“At a glance, what you notice first is the outstanding quality and the international perspective of the presenters,” says Molly O’Toole, director of communications and community engagement for the Contemporary Arts Center. “But it’s also the diversity of the audience. I’ve never been to an event or conference like this where the audience plays such a critical role in the experience.”

The presenters include an array of artists in many fields, “including illustrators, coders, motion graphic designers and more,” according to the event’s press release.

This year's featured presenters include artists James Paterson and James Victore; the acclaimed designer, filmmaker, author, designer and director Onur Senturk, who created animation and visual effects for several high-grossing films (his credits include The Dark Knight Rises).

Though the conference draws big names in the creative industry, its hosts are determined to make the event available to as many people as possible.

“It’s an affordable, accessible price point and fits with both the mission of OFFF and the CAC," says O'Toole. "It’s one of the reasons we felt strongly about bringing OFFF to Cincinnati. The level of access it affords is extraordinary. It’s an event where the region's impressive talent pool—eager students and new and seasoned professionals alike—can mingle and connect with each other and the international figures headlining the conference."

OFFF is an all-day event where creatives of all levels mix, mingle and share inspiration.

Tickets for the event are on sale here.

WHEN: Wednesday, March 6, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (doors and coffee at 8 a.m.)  
 
WHERE: Aronoff Center for the Arts, 650 Walnut St., Cincinnati  
 
TICKETS: $50 ($30 student)

By Sean Peters

Post-iTunes launch, Impulcity is hiring

The discovery of a great local act or a hot new bar should be shared, says Impulcity founder Hunter Hammonds. Immediately.

And it is. Thousands of smartphone users have downloaded the mobile application of the Brandery-trained startup since it launched on iTunes early last week.

An update to the app could drop as early as Wednesday, which would bring significant improvements to the mobile aggregator of entertainment venues. And the new company is hiring, too. They're looking for an Android app developer and an "artist content intern"—someone to write content about venues and events.

Hammond’s team, which includes co-founder Austin Cameron and iOS developer Eric Ziegler, is fine-tuning a VIP program, which will Impulcity users to check-in at a venue and avoid cover charges or receive other VIP benefits. They’re working on more robust context for events, including the ability to play the music released by a new band and produce background on an entertainer or a venue. The app will offer rankings and suggestions based on users’ past choices and an interactive calendar for entertainment-seekers who plan ahead.

Hammonds and his team maintain strong partnerships with venues—they're always asking how they can make the app more useful. “People are tired of the traditional ways of finding stuff to do,” he says. Impulcity will evolve until it captures each city’s unique culture.

Impulcity's short history is one of long-into-the-night planning. Hammond’s team scrapped the first version of the app in September, and rewrote it in a four-day marathon coding session. Their retooled version received Brandery approval in October, and they continued to tweak it until their Feb. 12 launch in the iTunes App Store.

They've raised a reported $400,000 and are seeking new office space. “Our goal is to build, and to last,” Hammonds says. “We have no plans to be absorbed into anything else.” He’s still not sharing his revenue model, but said Impulcity will approach profit-making differently than other social media products.

“We’d love to hire fresh college kids, but universities are teaching them outdated stuff,” Hammonds says. Advice from Hammonds: Learn to make use of Objective-CJava and jQuery. And hurry. He really wants to find an Android developer to help them expand their reach.

By Gayle Brown

CDF's Create Jobs for USA campaign targets Walnut Hills, Pendleton

The Cincinnati Development Fund is soliciting donations to support urban redevelopment through the Create Jobs for USA program, but time is running out to make a difference.

Specificially, CDF wants to help local businesses in Walnut Hills and Pendleton through the targeted fundraising the crowd-sourcing opportunity provides.

“The funding will allow building owners to improve vacant storefronts,” says Jeanne Golliher, president and CEO of the CDF.

Golliher says the funding will help building owners lease their units at attractive rates, “which will lead to job creation and revitalization of street level business districts.” CDF hopes it will create a snowball effect that spreads through the targeted neighborhoods.

Create Jobs for USA was developed by Starbucks and the Opportunity Finance Network to restore and improve underserved urban areas that have suffered through tumultuous economic times. According to the program's website: “In one year, Create Jobs for USA has turned $15 million in donations into $105 million in loans to community businesses, creating or maintaining 5,000 jobs.”

CDF has raised $230,000 in loan capital that will go toward Create Jobs for USA.

“Our board decided that because it is a relatively small amount, we should focus on bringing life and jobs to vacant storefronts in one or two neighborhoods,” Golliher says. CDF's decision to focus on only a few areas will ultimately make a maximum impact in those neighborhoods.

Three loans have cleared in Walnut Hills that will help businesses capitalize off the reversion of McMillan and Taft Streets back to two-way roads. Discussions are underway for development in Pendleton in anticipation of the new casino, but no deal has yet been made.

Donations are being accepted through CrowdRise.com, a website developed by the OFN. The deadline is March 1.

“If you are one of those people who drive through these neighborhoods and ask ‘why don’t they do something about all this vacancy?’ This is your chance to be part of the change," says Goliher.  

By Sean Peters

Thinking outside the box: Home bakery turns Gail Yisreal into cake boss

Going on maternity leave changed Gail Yisreal’s life in more ways than having a new baby to take care of.
 
When she returned to work, Yisreal says she learned her position was no longer there, so she began to look for a different job.

As wife and mother to a blended family of nine children, she might bake up to 11 birthday cakes in a year. But she hadn’t considered turning her knack for kneading dough into earning dough until she baked a wedding cake for a couple from her family’s place of worship. Not only did they like the cake, they suggested she start selling them.
 
Listening to her fans, Yisreal founded A “Mother’s Touch” Cakes with the nurturing tagline, “Making fresh homemade cakes when you don’t have the time.” Celebrating her two-year anniversary as a registered business in August 2012, A “Mother’s Touch” features signature and custom made flavors of fresh, savory gourmet, organic and vegan cakes and cupcakes that are good—and good for you.
 
“I didn’t know anything about decorating, so I took a class to learn more decorating skills," Yisreal says. "And I was shocked to find out that 95 percent of the cakes you buy are box cakes—because everybody wants the decoration. I started doing some research about the trans-fats and artificial ingredients, and I vowed that everything I baked would always be natural and from scratch.”  
 
After working as a waitress for two years and in management at Starbucks for six years, Yisreal developed a love for coffee. She jokes that most ex-Starbucks managers feel they know enough about coffee to create their own line, which she actually did for A “Mother’s Touch.”
 
Having tried organic coffees with weak flavor profiles, she researched and found Dean’s Beans, a fair-trade pioneer that allowed her to design her own custom blends. Her signature A “Mother’s Touch” blend is made with Mexican and Indonesian beans and pairs with her carrot cake as an after-dinner coffee.
 
“I’m really proud of my coffee and the fact that it really was custom blended for what I wanted to complement my desserts,” Yisreal says. And, true to her mission to serve natural, sustainable goods, she says that her blends are 100 percent organic, fair-trade certified and are shade grown.
 
Being on the scene without a storefront hasn’t stopped Yisreal. Instead, she’s building her brand as the “cupcake lady” who networks everywhere and invites people to taste samples of her creations. Yisreal also tapped into hidden markets by hosting deals through social media.
 
“I did a Living Social promotion last year, which was huge,” Yisreal says. “That first day, I think I got 1,500 hits on my website, and probably about 85 deals, which I thought was really good for people who didn’t know who I was.”
 
And even though she sells more cakes today, the ease of transporting cupcakes built her clientele.
 
“When I first came out, because of my financial situation, literally, cupcakes were paying my rent,” she says. After she and her husband separated, she remembers what it was like to go from making an annual salary of $60,000 to less than $20,000 a year. But she doesn’t do it all alone.
 
“I have three almost-teenage girls; 12, soon to be 15 and 17, so they are my preppers,” Yisreal explains. “It’s hilarious because we’ll be in the kitchen and everybody has their big bonnets on, and they’re scraping carrots, mashing fruit, lining the liners. I have a girlfriend who I’ll sometimes sub-contract out to do deliveries. And if it’s a huge event—like for the Autism Foundation, I had to knock out 40 dozen cupcakes—I have two sisters, and at the time I had just split up with my husband so we were in literally an 800-square-foot apartment. The kitchen was all of maybe 150-square-feet, we put out six-foot tables and we were like an assembly line! It was hilarious, but we got it done. It was like an I Love Lucy episode!”
 
By Mildred Fallen

Ignite Cincinnati celebrates fast-pitch creativity

Ignite Cincinnati, which celebrated its eighth edition Jan. 30, is a fun, enlightening way to interact with creative locals.

Composed of presenters who share their ideas, accompanied only by slides and audio, Ignite Cincinnati takes its format from the larger event that is mirrored in cities across the nation. There’s simply not enough time in a creative informational seminar for everyone to have 15 minutes of fame these days, so Ignite Cincinnati trimmed it down to five. From business pitches to comedic farce, presenters’ subjects are not restricted to any specific themes.

“There have been so many memorable moments,” says Ignite Cincinnati’s organizer and producer, Joe Pantuso. “The most daring 'talk' of the evening was probably Daniel J. Lewis who stood on stage for five minutes and didn't talk.”

The title of Lewis’ presentation? "Five Minutes of Awkward Silence."
 
Of course, there are many (more enlightening) topics to enjoy. Pantuso says that, after eight events, Ignite Cincinnati has featured more than 100 talks.
 
“I first discovered the concept when I was doing research into what makes startup ecosystems effective in other towns,” says Pantuso, who heard about the Ignite series from a friend who’d experienced it in another town. “This was in 2009, before the new activity we have around startups in Cincinnati was catalyzed by Cintrifuse and the Brandery.”
 
Encouraged enough to scout for locations, he found success at the Know Theatre, in Over-the-Rhine.
 
“I never really know what is going to happen,” Pantuso says. “I have the presentation titles in hand…but I never know exactly what the speakers are going to say, or how the crowd is going to respond. This is probably my favorite aspect of the event, the thing that makes it magic for me.”

Anyone interested in participating in the next Ignite Cincinnati, visit the website at ignitecincinnati.com, where you’ll find all the information you’ll need to give your own presentation. Volunteers are also always welcome to help manage future events.

By Sean Peters

Cincinnati entrepreneur grows through app creation, develops partner group

While Cincinnati is known for its larger, highly experienced branding and marketing companies, there is a talented force of creative entrepreneurs who work with well-known brands across the county.

One of these marketing entrepreneurs, Mike Zitt, is working with other local creatives to form a group that can offer a wider range of services. This emerging group, called Complete is a way to be more competitive and act as a one-stop shop for brand development and support across platforms.

In addition to Zitt's, companies included now are:

Centogram - Technology Company, Jerod Fritz
Barkan Agency - Media Buying, Michelle Barkan
Wise Productions -  Project Services, Tara Ackerman

"We benefit from a shared short-hand way of doing business together which is more efficient and enjoyable. Different then working with a team of employees, as small business owners, we are more passionate and committed and don't waste time jockeying for the corner office or get bogged down with internal company politics. We know how to run our own businesses well since we have done it successfully for a combined 35 years on our own," Zitt says.

Mike Zitt Inc., specializes in digital marketing with an emphasis on mobile app development. Zitt, originally from Cincinnati, worked in Chicago for eight years. He started out in printing and eventually worked for a company as a production artist and art director.

He eventually started his own company, and in the end, decided to bring it to Cincinnati. His hometown had the right mix of talent and affordability, he says.

"It was easier to start a business here because expenses and labor rates are lower," says Zitt, who is also president of the Cincinnati Chapter of the American Advertising Federation. "I maintained most of my clients when I moved here." 

Zitt has worked fo clients covering a wide range of businesses, including TimeWarnerAetnaDiscoverUnited WayCar-XRE/MAX and Wrigley.

He was an early adopter of mobile app development—in 2007, he entered an early partnership with Jumptap, the leading mobile advertisement network. Since then, his company has designed more than 200 rich media mobile ads, including more than 30 mobile ads for major companies like Dunkin' DonutsLexusHonda and P&G. He created and delivered to the public one of first rich mobile ads with Dunkin' Donuts' “Frost” campaign with Jumptap.

His company is also moving into educational innovation. He's working with some area colleges to create educational support apps.

"Those will be completed very soon—we're working on creating training tools for teachers and classroom work," Zitt says.

By Feoshia H. Davis
Follow Feoshia on Twitter

Collaboration aims to 'Grow the IT economy in Cincinnati USA'

Major regional job-creating organizations have come together to focus efforts on competing for one of the nation's fastest-growing job segments: information technology.

This collaboration includes the Cincinnati CIO Roundtable, a forum of IT leaders who are focused on improving the region’s overall IT ecosystem, along with the Cincinnati USA Partnership and the Partners for a Competitive Workforce.

The CIO Roundtable is led by co-chairs Piyush Singh, SVP & CIO of Great American Insurance, and Geoff Smith, former IT leader at P&G.

"Business leaders in the region are coming together with the common goal of talking about the importance of IT, and its role in the growth of their companies," says Tammy Riddle, IT economic development director for Cincinnati USA Partnership.

Just last week, the organizations came together for a half-day, invitation-only event —“Grow the IT economy in Cincinnati USA.” The event featured presentations from a variety of stakeholders, including the organizers, JobsOhio and CincyTech.

The group is working to meet a wide range of challenges, including creating high-paying jobs through public and private partnerships, creating a strategic plan to grow IT jobs in the region, attracting and training talent, and determining the role of startups.

"One of the key things we're going to focus on are trends that companies are seeing across the board, and how we can match those with Cincinnati strengths and build the street cred of the IT sector in Cincinnati," Riddle says.

Regional universities also play a role in talent creation. Northern Kentucky University's College of Informatics is a leader, as is the University of Cincinnati with its top-rated analytics graduate program, and the University of Miami's innovative digital media program.

Cincinnati has an emerging IT industry. There are about 30,000 Cincinnati residents who are employed in the IT sector, which has an estimated $2.5 billion impact on the country’s GDP. According to the 2020 jobs outlook, it’s also one of the four fastest-growing and best-paying employment sectors in Cincinnati, with an anticipated 10-year growth rate of 26.5 percent.

"We want to take a more proactive approach to growing jobs in this sector," Riddle says. "We want to make sure that our region has what we need to fill that demand, to be able to accomplish growth."

Next, participants will start working on what it takes to grow the IT sector, including conducting a comprehensive assessment of the current IT economy and developing strategies for talent attraction, greater awareness investment and startup activity.

By Feoshia H. Davis
Follow Feoshia on Twitter

No-show Keysocks keep feet happy in heels

Shelby McKee had had it with the bulky shoes and socks that cold Cincinnati winters require. Heading to a Bengals game one crisp evening, she reached into her husband’s sock drawer and nabbed a pair of dress socks. With a pair of cute flats in mind, she cut oblong holes in the tops of the socks that revealed just the tops of her feet when she slipped on her shoes.

Mike Crotty, a family friend who has been in the textile business for years, was able to source out Keysocks in China, and help McKee find the right factory. “We probably had 45 prototypes made in all, and all the factories were puzzled, wondering, ‘What do you mean? A sock with a hole in it?’” McKee says with a laugh.

Several years later, with her multi-talented family and friends helping out with everything from IT to PR to sourcing a manufacturer, McKee’s Keysocks—a name coined by her friends at the Bengals game—are hitting retail shelves.

The business earned an early, fortuitous bump in sales when the product was featured in Real Simple, a consumer magazine that offers hip ways to make life easier. Today, the product is in about a dozen retail stores, mostly small boutiques. “The reason why we didn’t go straight to retail like Target or department stores yet is because no one has ever seen this product before, and if it sat on a shelf, nobody would know what it is,” McKee says. “We started with the Internet and getting it out on social media.”

Although the socks were designed not to show, their open-foot design has spread in popularity from women, like McKee’s friends, to girls, who started asking for fun colors and patterns. Currently, Keysocks are available in black and nude hues. Brown is on its way, along with turquoise-and-gray stripes. Girls' socks in turquoise and a navy/raspberry stripe are also in the works.

Like some small businesses, McKee doesn’t take returns, but she doesn’t do it to save money. In fact, McKee says she encourages any unhappy users to pass along the product, figuring it will easily find a happy home. “I just want everybody to be comfortable.”

By Robin Donovan
 

Openfield Creative keeps an eye on escalating mobile use

Brian Keenan can describe a lot of projects he’s willing to take on as co-founder of Openfield Creative, but traditional advertising isn’t one of them. With the various skill sets in the air at Openfield, it’s probably not because the team couldn’t tackle that type of project, but with a growing demand for mobile-friendly websites, he and his team focus on web and mobile design with an eye to brand identity.

Like so many Cincinnati creative firms, Openfield was founded by DAAP grads; Keenans fellow co-founders are Josh Barnes and Brandon Blangger. The firm typically steps in once an overarching brand strategy has been defined and helps to roll out brand concepts across websites, mobile apps and more. That may mean crafting large graphics, video or digital design for landing pages or app interfaces, those so-called touchpoints consumers use to interact with a given company or brand.

The Openfield team also creates logos and other brand-based design elements and design standards that define, for example, how photography is used with a particular brand, or specify unique design elements that set a company apart for a cohesive, branded look on company materials.

“We’re not an ad agency,” Keenan says. “We’re a design partner who gets in with our clients at a high level, understand the nuances.”
 
The company also offers staff-to-client interaction with anyone from their firm working on a project, rather than farming out interfacing to an account manager or other key staffer.

Keenan says the company name draws on a core value: Anyone (and everyone) is a creative, no matter what their background. Whether it be working with a new client or casting an eye toward the future, each member of the staff is expected to be ready to brainstorm.

“Immediately in front of us, we see a lot more mobile work as clients understand that their audiences are adopting global usage at an incredible rate,” Keenan says, noting that Openfield is creating more mobile apps than ever before.

But he’s more proud of his company’s ability to learn and change than its current skill set. “For all we know, we may not design websites in the future, but we’re confident that there’ll always be a digital experience component. We’ll always have a place using design and smart technology to put together what our clients need.”

By Robin Donovan

For-profit Vine Street Ventures to fund top Brandery grads

Graduates of The Brandery, Over-the-Rhine’s popular startup accelerator, have access to a new pool of potential funding with the recent launch of Vine Street Ventures Fund LLC, a venture capital firm created by Brandery co-founders Robert McDonald, Brian Kropp and Dave Knox.
 
While Vine Street represents a for-profit reach by the nonprofit’s founders, some of The Brandery’s values have translated to the new firm. “The primary goal is making money for our investors," says McDonals. "That said, we expect that the fund will also help the Cincinnati ecosystem by drawing additional top-quality companies to Cincinnati and potentially encouraging them to stay."
 
The fund raised just under $1.4 million, according to an amended U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Dec. 10. Vine Street Ventures reported participation by 42 investors, each with a contribution of at least $15,000. The fund’s initial offering was $2 million.
 
Asked whether the recent addition of new venture capital agencies in Cincinnati made for a competitive atmosphere, McDonald expresses hope that investors would bolster startups at various stages of development.

“To effectively fund a venture track business, we need to have a horizontal offering of funding sources. Vine Street Ventures focuses on the early growth companies coming out of The Brandery, but our portfolio companies will likely need funding all the way from Series A [the initial round of venture funding] through Series ZZ, as the case may be. We are thrilled with the current activity in Cincinnati and welcome any other funds that visit the region," he says.

By Robin Donovan
396 Downtown Articles | Page: | Show All
Signup for Email Alerts