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HCDC launches Business Retention Council with 30K Duke Energy grant

The Hamilton County Development Company is tapping local Hamilton County authorities to identify and aid businesses that are ripe for growth or in danger of leaving the area.

With a $30,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation, HCDC launched a Business Retention Council. The Council allows HCDC to take a more proactive approach to business growth and retention, says HCDC President David Main.

The Council is comprised of economic development and other officials from most of Hamilton County's cities and suburbs. It held its first meeting this month.

"We are putting together a list of businesses we feel have the potential for expansion or may be at risk of leaving," Main says. "We want these business to stay in their communities. We hate reading in the papers that businesses left or went out of business when we could have done something about it."

HCDC is a 30-year-old nonprofit business development agency. The Norwood-based organization runs a business incubator, and is a small business lender.

HCDC has reached out to businesses in the past, but the Duke grant will allow for a more formal business retention program. Retention efforts are crucial to the local economy, Main says.

"Business expansion and retention tends to be overlooked, but it counts for 80 percent of job creation in any community," he says. "It's important to retain, and if possible, expand existing businesses."

Besides connecting with businesses, the Council wants to create an "early warning" system to alert members of any Hamilton County business that is facing potential challenges. The Council wants to find a way to find businesses before they leave or shut down.

Resources the Council could offer businesses include lending opportunities, business counseling, and marketing and sales support. The Council also wants to facilitate open communication with local government agencies.

"We can't always make a difference, but we want to at least have the chance to do something if a business is considering leaving or in danger of closing," Main says.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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MoveMX to innovate mobile gaming

Cincinnati is home to MoveMX, a video game development team that is creating motion-responsive games for mobile devices.

While current generation console gaming platforms already have the ability to recognize body movement in relation to their game’s generated characters and environments, MoveMX is determined to bring that same vitality and energy to tablets and cell phones. By utilizing the devices’ built-in cameras, the games can be controlled through body movement.

MoveMx was created to provide a more immersive mobile gameplay experience,” says Zak Nordyke, founder of MoveMX. “We wanted to give mobile gamers the opportunity to use their bodies as the gamepad. We didn't like the idea of young gamers craning their necks and tapping buttons as the only way to enjoy content.”

Nordyke’s team is currently developing its first title, “The Chronicles of Glover.” It will be an action platform game centered around a young man named Glover who discovers mysterious body armor that grants him heightened abilities. The game is currently in demo stages and is slated to be available to play late August.

Dedicated to stimulating gamers beyond the simple pressing of buttons, MoveMX is lending a hand to the mobile industry by innovating its current technology.

We wanted to bring the motion gaming experience to mobile,” says Nordyke. "It allows users to play movement tracking games everywhere.”

Healthier and more physically engaging than traditional gamepad-controlled video games of yesteryear, motion-tracking with video games is a step (or swing of the hip) in the right direction for the often sedentary video game industry. 

By Sean Peters

Innovative EPA water challenge offers cash prizes for sewer solutions

The region's fifth annual Cincinnati Innovates competition comes with a federal twist, a global challenge and a $10,000 prize opportunity. 

By partnering with the US Environmental Protection Agency, Innocentive, the Cincinnati Metropolitan Sewer District and Northern Kentucky's Sewer District 1, the newly announced Water Challenge competition focuses on the development of low-cost, low-maintenance sensors able to monitor sewer overflows. 

Sewer overflows, which spill untold gallons of raw sewage into waterways after heavy rainfalls, remain a major challenge for cities and a major barrier to compliance with Clean Water Act regulations. Cincinnati Innovates founder Elizabeth Edwards explains this first-ever Cincinnati Innovates/government initiative:

Why is the sewer system ripe for innovation and why Cincinnati?
Cincinnati, like many other major metros, is faced with major infrastructure improvement costs to maintain our 100+ year old sewer system.

Is this the first time you've partnered with a governmental agency and what do you think that signals? Why do you think the EPA is reaching out to basically "crowd source" innovations in how we handle water overflows?
This is the first time Cincinnati Innovates has partnered with a government agency. 

The EPA's Water Research Lab here in Cincinnati is one of the largest in the world. This partnership is just another example of the EPA's efforts to commercialize water technologies in the region.

Contests spur innovation. The EPA's partnership with Innocentive and Cincinnati Innovates is just one way the EPA is sourcing innovation.

How did this partnership come about and what was the process? 
We've been working for several months together with Innocentive to create a prize and a process that makes sense. In defining the prize, we worked with water utility experts on both sides of the river.

What impact could this competition, and the products it support, have on the people of Cincinnati--and beyond?
This competition could save Cincinnati and cities like it millions of dollars a year - and improve safety and water quality. 

The competition is open and online now.

By Elissa Yancey
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Gaslight leads effort to create training program for Ruby app developers

Tech talent in Cincinnati is in high demand but in short supply in some areas. And as the local tech startup economy grows, so does the need for cutting-edge developer talent.

One local mobile and web app development company is leading an effort to develop talent in its corner of the tech world. Blue Ash-based Gaslight is teaming up with Cincinnati-area industry and entrepreneurial leaders to start a training program for app developers using the Ruby on Rails platform.

Gaslight specializes in developing apps through Ruby on Rails. The growing company, which has more than a dozen developers, creates apps and other software applications for growing startups and established brands.

Gaslight co-founder and Ruby developer Bill Barnett says the idea is a practical one. Ruby has become a popular app development platform, and it's become harder for Ruby developers, including Gaslight, to keep up with client demand.

"There is a need for Ruby on Rails support that the market is not meeting at the moment," he says.

The training program is aimed at bringing new developers into the field, and would last about six months. This type of web development school is emerging in several cities across the United States—gSchool in Denver is one of the best known. GSchool is a model for Cincinnati to follow, Barnett says.

"We want to create an avenue for people who want to get into software development, and maybe come from other disciplines," Barnett says. "They might be a recent college graduate who has a degree in medicine or law but has an entrepreneurial inkling. They could be returning from overseas, transitioning from a military career."

Gaslight is still in the planning stages, but it has a record of leadership in the Cincinnati web community, and has hosted several developer Meetups and is the lead organizer of the Queen City Merge conference. Gaslight is working with a number of interested groups to get it off the ground, including NeoGirl Develop It and The Brandery.

No firm date has been set for the training program's launch, but a goal is to start a group of 20-25 students by late this year or early next.

Find out more about Gaslight and what it has to offer at Web School Cincinnati.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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Cincinnati Digital Xchange explores latest strategies, techniques in digital marketing

Top digital marketing trends, techniques and strategies are ever-evolving. New tools, networks, devices and technologies make the rapidly changing space competitive and dynamic. You master one (or five) techniques, and then a new one comes along.

Keeping up with those tools and getting the best out of them is the foundation of a new group, Cincinnati Digital Xchange, which meets downtown once a month to explore the ins and outs of the digital marketing space.

The Xchange was founded by a group of local digital marketing experts as an open place where people can learn and swap ideas. It began as a web analytics group but expanded to include other dimensions of digital marketing as well.

"We decided we wanted to bring in more people in the digital industry," says Xchange's co-founder Russ Shirley, a digital marketing consultant. "We'd focus on social, local, mobile—anything trending or coming up."

The group meets the last Tuesday of each month at Cintrifuse, the region's newest corporate-backed startup investment fund and incubator.

The group has had some impressive, on-trend speakers, including inaugural speaker J.B. Kropp, Brandery co-founder and Twitter V.P. of Strategic Partnerships (and Cincinnatian), who spoke about engagement and how brands are leveraging the platform.

Other speakers include marketing pros from Cincinnati powerhouses like dunnhumby, Possible, Empower MediaMarketing, Rockfish Interactive and Procter & Gamble.

The group has grown quickly—some months, meetings attract more than 100 people. The meetings are free, and Xchange receives major support from Cintrifuse, Empower MediaMarketing and CincyTech.

"The main goal is kind of self-serving," Shirley says. "I wanted to get information that I want to learn, find out things that are not usually accessible to anyone who is outside of an agency."

The next meeting is set for July 30. Stay connected with Cincinnati Digital Xchange through its Meetup page.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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OTR Line collects, posts wait times at popular downtown restaurants

Scott Miller doesn’t like waiting in lines. Not for his driver’s license. Not at the doctor’s office. And not for a meal at one of his favorite restaurants in Over the Rhine.

So Miller and fellow software geek Scott Avera designed a new mobile app to leverage the power of crowd-sourcing and help diners get a real-time sense of the minutes they could spend waiting for tables in the city’s popular urban restaurant scene.

After calling OTR restaurants hourly for weeks to gather preliminary wait-time data, OTR Line launced last Friday to the public in both Apple and Android versions. It's a simple, streamlined app that offers information and a process for gathering in put in clear, easy-to-follow formats.

“The app calculates average wait times based upon history,” explains Miller, who grew up in Anderson Township and now lives in Blue Ash. “But we really want people to report. As people report wait times, the app gets better. The more input you get, the better predictability.”

Avera, a Springboro native who now lives in Hyde Park, brings his experience as former owner of Ascent Solutions to the new business venture. 

“We have been software entrepreneurs all of our lives,” says Miller, 52. 

The key to OTR Line’s success lies in users’ willingness to log wait times, he says. 

The app allows users to scroll through a list of eateries and compare wait times, and it also offers space for restaurants to place ads. “The restaurant will get to play the game as well,” he says.

Miller and Avera plan to approach restaurateurs with OTR Line window stickers later this week; the free app is available for download now.

By Elissa Yancey
Follow Elissa on Twitter.

 

Blegalbloss takes on clunky office document storage with innovative design

The old cardboard document storage box is getting a makeover, complete with ergonomic design, through the work of a Cincinnati startup.

Blegalbloss founder and president Will Scott has created a line of office products that make document storage, organization and use easier.

The company's signature product, BOXIE, is an ergonomic, lockable file box. The tough, rip-resistant boxes have a handle that is curved and slanted to make the box easy to pick up and carry. The box also has a locking feature, is made from 65 percent recycled materials, and is 100 percent recyclable.

Scott, a Northern Kentuckian, previously owned a record management company, and had worked in the financial service industry in sales and accounting.

"When I was in the record management industry, I had some time to think about how people use these storage items, and had a little black book of ideas," Scott says. "Looking at the boxes themselves, I realize they hadn't changed in nearly 100 years."

That's when he went to work and began making the boxes better through design.

"I went about the task to redesign these sorts of things, and to make them stronger," he says. "It wasn't until I watched someone carrying the box that I realized that had been designed totally wrong."

Blegalbloss (pronounced Blee-guhl-bloss) was launched in early 2011, and the BOXIE was first delivered in January. In addition to boxes, the company sells Roo brand document organizers and DominoTwin office supply organizers.

The products are sold through 2,700 retailers. The company's goal is to be in 4,000 retail stores by year's end and 10,000 by 2014, Scott says. Blegalbloss is working to expand the brand globally, and launch other products.

Among Blegalbloss retailers are GoEvolved.comAmazoneBay and Office Depot.

Since most of the innovation is in the products' design, their costs are competitive with traditional storage boxes, Scott says. His company currently has about 45 patents pending and 10 already issued.

"We've built a better mousetrap," Scott says. "We're selling this at the same pricing (as competitors) in the marketplace, with better value and features."

By Feoshia H. Davis

Design Impact for Change Makers uses design thinking to help nonprofits

Design isn't just about how something—like a mobile phone or a vacuum cleaner—looks, but how it works and how users receive and interact with it.

Creative design is most often applied in the consumer marketing world in product development, including packaging and marketing. But a Cincinnati couple is taking design thinking into the nonprofit world through their own nonprofit, Design Impact.

The organization works with social change organizations to help address local and global social issues through creative design thinking. Design Impact has applied this concept to organizations both here in Cincinnati and in rural India where the founders first began testing their ideas.

Design Impact was founded by husband-and-wife team Kate Hanisian and Ramsey Ford. Hanisian's background is in the nonprofit and education sectors, and Ford is a designer with extensive consumer product experience.

Design thinking can help nonprofits meet challenges by giving them a different way to solve, test and measure ideas, says Ford.

There are several key aspects to Design thinking:
  • Identify opportunities to innovate 
  • Apply empathy and creativity to change problems into breakthroughs
  • Uncover hidden insights and unarticulated needs from your customers
  • Quickly and inexpensively prototype new ideas
  • Initiate design thinking in your business, organization or community
Design Impact is holding a two-day seminar for nonprofits that are interested in learning more about incorporating design thinking in their own solving challenges. Design Impact for Change Makers is Aug. 1 and 2, at the Kaleidoscope building downtown, which is located at 205 W. Fourth St., Suite 1140.

Design Impact for Change Makers will be workshop-based and participants are being asked to bring a real challenge they'd like to solve or idea they'd like to explore. It could be anything from offering a new service to better engaging donors, Ford says.

"It's about idea generation, and staying in a creative state of mind so you don't always rely on the same old solutions," he says. "We'll be working through the entire creative process from discovery to creation and verification."

You can register for the event here, and the cost is $275 for both days.

By Feoshia H. Davis
Follow Feoshia on Twitter

Share local history with Touritz

Are you empowered with an abundance of knowledge on a particular area—say, your old stomping grounds? Does downtown's infinite wealth of stories sway you to study up and make a cohesive tour? Then Touritz is your new outlet. By allowing you to share walking guides and videos, this format is bound to uncover little-known facts about our city (and beyond).

Created by Steve Oldfield and Sean Thomas, two local entrepreneurs with a passion for history, Touritz aims to help increase interest in local lore. They also hope it will be a resource for history buffs who want to expand their knowledge base.

Touritz enables everyone who is willing to put in some work to share their own historical observations. 

Though the service is not yet available, anyone interested can sign up for email reminders and updates on launch dates.

By Sean Peters

 

From Cincinnati to New Orleans, riverboat style


Kyle Rouse and his best friends, Bill, Turner and Alex Ross, set out on a river adventure in October 2011. Rouse, a native of Piqua, Ohio, and the Ross brothers, who are from the nearby town of Sidney, traveled on a pontoon boat named the “Rosemarie,” and made the trip from Cincinnati to New Orleans via the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. 

The trip lasted nearly a month—they arrived in New Orleans just in time for Halloween. The idea was hatched and planned while Rouse and the Rosses were in Texas shooting a documentary film for their aptly named 
Ross Bros film company. One of their most recent works, entitled Tchoupitoulas, was one of the last films to be picked up by the late Adam Yauch’s (aka MCA of Beastie Boys fame) Oscilloscope distribution company before he passed away.  

Rouse is now offering the public a unique way to experience this journey for themselves through his self-published book, titled simply, Cincinnati to New Orleans.

The book is primarily made up of images that Rouse took along the way using an old-school film camera instead of a newer digital model.

“Using film instead of a digital camera made me learn to see things intuitively,” Rouse says. “Because I knew I only had a set number of pictures to take, I learned to be more aware of what was happening around me and how to capture something really unique.” 


Along with the pictures, the story of the trip to New Orleans is told via journal entries typed on an old typewriter by Rouse. The journal entries take readers into the minds of the travelers and paint vivid pictures of American life along the forgotten backwaters and rusted-out small towns. 

“You learn a lot about yourself living 24 hours a day around the same people in a small boat stuck out on the water,” Rouse says. “But then, we also learned a lot about the people of America, and I’ll tell you what, that Credence song is right, people on the river are happy to give (referencing the song “Proud Mary”)."

More than two thirds of the way through their voyage, the Rosemarie wrecked and had to be left behind. Despite that setback, the crew did make it to New Orleans. 

After spending several months reviewing his pictures, Rouse began to compile them in order to tell a story. “The images in this book aren’t perfect, but they show emotion, which I think is more important,” he says. Self-published only this past spring, the initial short-run of Cincinnati to New Orleans has already sold out and a second press run is being planned now.

In addition to Rouse’s book, the Ross brothers made a film about the trip, entitled River, which aired initially in eight segments on the Internet. Since then, the four-man crew was invited to Toronto’s Hot Docs film festival to screen the film in its entirety there, where it became one of the surprise favorites.

Rouse says that perhaps the reason why the trip has resonated with people is the longing for adventure within all of us. “In situations like that, you understand just what you yourself can do as a person.” 

Learn more about “Cincinnati to New Orleans” which is also on Facebook. “River” will screen in Cincinnati on Sept. 30 at Washington Park

By Michael Sarason


Empower MediaMarketing creates Disruptive Media Fellowship

Independent media agency Empower MediaMarketing recently created a new Disruptive Media Fellowship at The Brandery, Cincinnati's consumer brand business accelerator.

The $10,000 fellowship will go to a Brandery startup whose idea is most disruptive to the media landscape. The fellowship recipient will be announced later this month, as The Brandery's incoming 2013 class begins, says Empower MediaMarketing's Director of Content Strategy Kevin Dugan.

"It seems that disruptions are taking place almost every day as consumer habits change," Dugan says. "We feel that for companies reacting to that is really more of an opportunity than anything else. If you are helping create the disruptions, it can become a competitive advantage."

Empower MediaMarketing is an independent media agency that plans, buys, creates and proves media impact for its clients. Dugan and CEO Jim Price are also Brandery mentors.

The Brandery launched in 2010 to offer funding, mentoring and partnerships for consumer marketing businesses. Brandery companies receive $20,000 in startup funding, and pitch their companies to potential investors at a Demo Day at the end of the four-month program.

The Brandery is a member of the Global Accelerator Network, and companies from across the country apply to the emerging accelerator. It is annually recognized as one of the elite startup accelerators in the country.

More than 60 mentors work with the companies, which each receive $20,000 in seed money. Leading Cincinnati-based agencies offer free marketing and media guidance to each of the startups.

"As a company, we have been mentoring startups since 2010," Dugan says. "We really enjoy the process and wanted to increase our support (of The Brandery). This allows us to increase commitment and help startups."

By Feoshia H. Davis

Zooted Delivery now available every day

Zooted Delivery brings food to your front door from restaurants around the city that don’t typically deliver. While it was only a weekend operation from the beginning, Zooted now offers service seven days a week, with their delivery radius spanning Hyde Park, the downtown business district, the Banks, Clifton and Norwood.

Created by Sheroz Zindani, a recent graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s business program, Zooted Delivery works in conjunction with more than a dozen restaurants to bring their menu items to hungry customers’ homes. 

The company has a recurring message that it reiterates to customers: “You drink, we drive.” This message targets the late night crowd, which is why Zooted Delivery operates until 3 a.m. on weekends.

Registration is not necessary to use the service—you only need to have access to Zooted’s website. The order is placed online, “zooted” to the restaurant automatically, and the customer need only “sign and dine.” Payments can be made with cash or credit cards. The service and delivery fee is nominal and the convenience is unparalleled. 

Offering a broad range of restaurants, this added service is sure to accommodate nearly every type of palate. If not, it’s likely that whatever type of food they would want already delivers directly, so it’s a win-win for homebodies. 

Interview by Sean Peters

CincyMusic Spotlight hits airwaves

CincyMusic Spotlight is a new radio show dedicated to highlighting new and exciting music in the Queen City. Featured on The Project 100.7 and 106.3, the show’s format provides a much-needed outlet for local musicians. Hosted by veteran band promoters and DJs Venomous Valdez and Joe Long, the show’s end goal is to help expose new local artists to the general public.

“The Project already has added a handful of bands hailing from Cincinnati in their established playlist," says Valdez. "If a song does really well on the show, it has the ability to live in regular rotation. The Project would love nothing more than to help break a Cincinnati band."

Valdez, who is known by just about every venue owner as the booking agent and promoter for Wussy and The Sundresses, is a longtime ally to Cincinnati musicians.

“Cincinnati has a deep, rich musical history," she says. "For many generations, this has been a music town, so it’s in our blood. We have more genres available, more venues catering to original music than most cities larger than us. Overall, I think we have a great support system with musicians, promoters, booking agents and venues that encourages and nurtures the creative outlet."

Listeners can tune in Sunday nights at midnight on The Project 100.7 FM and 106.3 FM. Podcasts will be available on cincymusic.com and cincinnatiproject.com.

By Sean Peters

Relive the glory days with Legit Vintage

Sports fans all have defining moments in their lives that are linked with a favorite team. What Bobby Goodwin does with Legit Vintage is offer direct links to those cherished memories with his ever-growing collection of classic sports clothing.

With his inventory comprised of mostly professional football, baseball, hockey and basketball items, it’s natural for Goodwin to see spikes in particular teams’ sales depending on the season and the success of the teams. For example, right now there are two similar jackets he's offering -- a  Charlotte Hornets and a Cleveland Browns starter jacket. Not surprisingly, the Hornets jacket is five times more valuable.

Starting in March 2012, the 26 year old Miami University graduate has dedicated most of his spare cash to financing his retail venture, which is mostly online for now, though he does sell his wares at events that appeal to his fans.

What makes Legit Vintage a unique retailer is the hand-picked, stylish selections Goodwin himself chooses. His aesthetic makes it very easy to find the perfect vintage piece of clothing—from shoes to hats.

While you can find his inventory on etsy, Goodwin continues to look for a brick-and-mortar site to appeal to casual browsers as well as sports aficionados.

By Sean Peters

LOC Card to replace the need for store loyalty cards

Today, it seems that every retailer has a loyalty card leading to wallets stuffed with disparate loyalty cards and the potential for confusion. Local startup LOC Enterprises hopes to replace the need for store loyalty cards with the launch of its LOC Card.
 
The LOC Card is the first truly universal loyalty card that will not only allow consumers to stop carrying around handfuls of loyalty cards, but it will also allow them to manage all of their loyalty programs on one website.
 
While shopping for his now 12-year-old son around Christmas 2011, LOC’s CEO and founder Jack Kennamer realized the hangups of loyalty cards.
 
“I was standing in line at a sporting goods store, and I heard the cashier ask customer after customer if they had the store’s loyalty card,” Kennamer says. “Most people didn’t want one, but one lady decided to sign up for it, and I could see the guy behind her huffing and puffing while she filled out the registration form. And when the guy in front of me was asked if he had the store’s card, he held up his keychain and said ‘No room for you.’ I figured there had to be a better way.”
 
After that experience, Kennamer spent hours researching loyalty cards and programs, and found that there wasn’t a “universal” loyalty card.
 
“Consumers love to feel special and get free stuff and discounts, but it’s getting to the point where they have to work so hard to participate in loyalty programs,” he says.
 
Kennamer’s company developed a 100-percent consumer-centric card that allows consumers to tailor how they want to engage with each retailer. For example, a consumer may want to interact with Kroger one way and Best Buy another, so they can pick and choose which retailers to provide with their email address.
 
When a consumer signs up for the LOC Card, they’ll set up an account online, and anytime they go to a retailer that accepts the card, they swipe it once and they’re enrolled in that loyalty program. LOC’s website manages all of the loyalty programs for the consumer, so there’s only one email address and password instead of 100.
 
LOC is working with the companies that handle the analytic side of loyalty programs to better service consumers. The company is also building relationships with individual merchants and getting great feedback about the LOC Card.
 
The LOC Card isn’t just tailored to large businesses, though. “The problem small businesses have is they don’t stand a chance because they’re so far down the totem pole when it comes to loyalty,” says Kennamer. “With the LOC Card, you swipe your card at the retailer once and you’re signed up for their loyalty program. After that, it’s up to the consumer to come back, and the retailer can reach out and give the consumer personalized offers to start repeat behaviors.”
 
The LOC Card isn’t available to consumers yet, but you can pre-register on LOC’s website.
 
By Caitlin Koenig
Follow Caitlin on Twitter
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