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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

CrowdHall racks up funders, new political tool

Following the Brandery’s Demo Day, the rising social network CrowdHall has been developing new products and securing new investors.

While CrowdHall developer and CTO Nick Wientge is currently working at the Brandery with marketing and design staff, Jordan Menzel and CEO Austin Hackett have been traveling for business development and fundraising.

“We’re currently in due diligence process with a number of angel investment communities and institutional investment communities that span the Cincinnati area, Chicago, Utah and New York,” Menzel says.

The company is also looking to move forward with Vine Street Ventures.

“We’re also in the process of turning around a new product iteration, some of which has been added onto the site already,” Menzel says. “Another trunk will be coming out in January.”

One of its newest developments, “CrowdHall for Politics,” is an initiative based on a set of principles that CrowdHall created for elected officials: accessibility, responsiveness and innovation.

“We’re going to begin to highlight the elected officials that have committed to demonstrate those principles,” Menzel says. “We’ll be featuring a number of politicians from the federal, state and local level that are using CrowdHall to better keep an open door for decisions, now that the election is over.”

The initiative will be under development through the new year.

“If you’ve been looking for a place that provides you with the tools to be able to ask your questions, share ideas and your statement, and peer vote on the ones you would like to see rise to the top, CrowdHall is where you’re going to go to do that,” Menzel says.

By Kyle Stone

Architectural renderings add dimension to design

Graeme Daley officially launched his business, Daley Renderings, two months ago, but says, with a laugh: “It’s not launched until somebody knows about it.” The Indian Hill native is offering estate, urban and graphic design with a focus on 3-D renderings.

He first got into design and renderings playing a game on his grandfather’s computer.

“At the time (1995) it was intensely crude, really just geometry," he says. "With technology over the past 10 or 15 years, you can now do almost anything you can imagine. The program I use is the same program Pixar uses to make their box office movies and the same program that’s used to make Halo."

Daley focuses on architectural renderings and targets clients, such as architects and real estate agents, whose larger projects won’t find the expense of such a rendering prohibitive. “The ideal person for what I do could either be an architect that’s come up with a showcase design and wants a presentation that conveys that, say, if you’re proposing a new tower or university building and want something to roll out to the public.”

The role of his renderings is to help take 2-D plans and drawings and enliven them. He illustrates with computer-generated videos of his 3-D renderings exactly how a project will look from various angles. Or, as in a recent case, in which Daley was hired by a local real estate firm, he can show different ways a project could appear. In this case, Daley created four potential uses for two adjacent lots, showing how driveways could be curved for privacy and even demonstrating how both houses could be replaced by a single mansion.

Because Daley went through what he calls “the nine-year Bachelor’s plan,” he has some experience in mechanical engineering and industrial design, as well as architecture. (He eventually graduated from the University of Cincinnati's College of DAAP, by the way.) And while he says he might make more money in other states with more new builds, he’s sticking close to home, and enjoys watching Cincinnati grow and improve.

By Robin Donovan

Simple Portrait Project captures personalities in 30-minute sessions

Commercial photographer Jonathan Robert Willis shares an almost stereotypical weakness with some fellow creatives: he hates artificial deadlines.

“I’m really good with hard, fast, we-need-it-yesterday commercial deadlines,” he says, describing the focus of his self-named photography business. When friends and family nagged him for photos, he launched The Simple Portrait Project, which mixes the speed of commercial work with traditional group portraits.

In sessions held once or twice a year, Willis gathers dozens of families or small groups, shooting each in the same space with the same prop. He spends just 30 minutes on each family from start to finish. “It’s great because it’s just enough time to get the best out of the kids before they melt down, and it’s short enough for the dad, who doesn’t want to be there to begin with in many cases,” Willis says.

That means that the family comes in and is posed, photographed and advised about prints, all in a half hour. For the last few minutes, Willis turns a critical eye to each set of photographs, helping subjects select a handful of the best photographs.  Still, he compares the sessions to a marathon, admitting: “It’s literally nonstop from about 9 am until 8:30 pm. I’m a little intimidated by it.” 

The project turns the angsty hair-pulling of traditional family photography on its head and, as it happens, yields eye-catching photos. The families don’t look like they're from a J.Crew catalog, but they don’t look scruffy, either. Not everyone beams, and not everyone is even looking at the camera; Willis says his goal is comfortable, natural poses.

There’s one simple rule for participants: no matching clothes. “I can’t think of a single image where I’ve seen everybody in the same sweater where I’m like, ‘Wow, that was a great idea,’” Willis says. “You have to trust that I’m going to make something great, but you’ve also got to do your part, which is following that rule.”

Willis’ final session for the project in 2012 is Saturday, Dec. 8, with the potential for Sunday sessions depending on demand. He hopes to schedule the first session of 2013 around Easter.

By Robin Donovan

Business growth through diversity topic of local leadership symposium

Job growth is looking up in Cincinnati, and the region is ripe for even more.

"In the last year, we created 29,000 new jobs, ahead of the growth in most of our peer markets," says Chris Kemper, PR director at the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.

A host of variables have spurred our region's growth, including a talented workforce, a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem, a reasonable cost of living and an innovative culture that permeates large institutions to small startups.

But there's one area that's proven to boost the bottom line that more Cincinnati companies can tap into: diversity and inclusion.

Companies that encourage diversity—in hiring, in suppliers, in board appointments and in investment—are among the world's fastest growing. In fact, a 2011 Forbes study found that 85 percent of 321 large companies (with at least a half-billion dollars in annual revenue) believed diversity played a vital role in fostering innovation.

Cincinnati businesses will get a chance to learn more about the perks and importance of inclusion. The real dollars and sense of growth through diversity is the topic of The Diversity Leadership Symposium 2012. The morning event is co-hosted by Vision 2015 and Agenda 360, the region's strategic planning organizations.

"Our overall goal is to discuss diversity and inclusion as a way to drive business growth," says Kemper.

It's a timely topic as our country—and therefore consumers—becomes more diverse and our economy is increasingly global, with buyers and sellers connecting across countries.

The conference's featured speaker is Andres Tapia, international thought leader on diversity and inclusion, president and CEO of Diversity Best Practices and author of The Inclusion Paradox.

The symposium is Dec. 12 at the Duke Energy Convention Center downtown, registration starts at 7:30 a.m, and the symposium ends at noon. The cost is $110 per person, or $150 for a cocktail reception on Dec. 11 featuring Tapia. You can register on the Cincinnati Chamber website.

Diverse by Design: Meeting the Talent Challenge in a Global Economy, a report commissioned by Agenda 360 and Vision 2015, will also be unveiled at the event.

The symposium wraps up with simultaneous sessions. Attendees can pick one of the following:
  • Workplace: Attracting and Retaining Diverse Talent
    Panelists will share best practices in creating and maintaining employee resource groups to engage and retain a diverse talent base.
  • Marketplace: Minority Business Investment as a Strategy for Increasing Inclusion
    Learn how diversity spending can advance a company’s diversity and inclusion efforts while also having a ripple effect in the community.
  • Marketplace: Creating a More Inclusive Community
    Panelists will share strategies for cultivating a welcoming community outside of the workplace to increase diverse talent retention for the region.
By Feoshia Davis

Bold Fusion educates, enchants

“Do you know WHY you do what you do?” Ephipheo founder Ben Crawford’s PowerPoint slide asked the key question of the day at Bold Fusion, the region’s largest convergence of young talent, which took place at Music Hall last week.

This year’s theme—“The Power of Enchantment”—fit speakers Crawford and Guy Kawasaki, former chief evangelist of Apple.

Crawford discussed how “Truth. Story. Love.” motivates everything that Epipheo creates, from promotional videos to marketing. The young founder believes in only employing those who share his vision, and he thinks that human resource departments are absurd.

“How much of a tragedy is it that HR…well, that HR even exists,” Crawford says.

Young professionals in the audience gathered tips like how to smile sincerely and how to create the perfect PowerPoint presentation. The atmosphere was friendly—attendees were comfortable, excited and actively mingled.

“Young professionals have realized their voice in our region,” says Chris Kemper, PR director at the Chamber. “Bold Fusion encourages young professional energy.”

Citing three young professional city council members and causes backed by the YPs, like the Cincinnati streetcar, Kemper believes young professionals are the key to building a more successful city.

“YPs drive vibrant regions, and to have a vibrant region, you have to have a strong heart,” says Kemper.

For young professionals in Cincinnatia, the heart is already here; they’re just feeding off of it.

Bryant Goulding, of RhineGeist and Tazza Mia, moved from San Francisco, where his consulting job left him “starving for creativity and feeling like just a number.” Goulding finds the YP scene here exciting and compelling. “It does parallel the San Francisco startup scene, but it’s more focused,” he says.

Amy Taylor, another Bold Fusion attendee, agrees. “I hope big business is noticing; Cincinnati is a really good place for young energy."

For Carey Rennekamp of Vehr Communications, being a young professional is a huge point of pride. “Yes, I am a YP, and I think it means being bold, being fearless and finding the voice to make a difference."

By Gina Gaetano

Cincinnati Game and Toy Industry Professionals publish Cincinnati Toymakers Holiday Gift Guide

Once home to iconic companies like Kenner, Cincinnati has a long history of toy making. Though no longer here, much toy making talent remains in the Queen City. That talent joined together through a new group, called Cincinnati Game and Toy Industry Professionals.

The group was started by Cincinnati entrepreneur Michelle Spelman, co-creator of the card game Jukem Football.

"When we first started promoting the game, we did it all through social media," Spelman says. "A lot of people started contacting me saying, 'I heard about what you're doing. I used to work for Hasbro,' or 'I used to work for Kenner. I'd love to meet you for coffee and pick your brain."

After a while, Spelman was getting too much caffeine, and not getting a lot of work done. That's when she decided to create a virtual meeting place on LinkedIn.

"I wasn't in a position to help all these people in the way they needed, so I started a social media group," Spelman says. "I thought we'd get 40 or 50 people. We got that in a couple of months. We're now into this two-and-a-half years, and we have almost 300 members."

Not all the LinkedIn members are currently in Cincinnati, but they've either lived here, worked here or have ties to the region. Some have founded startups like Spelman, while others head established regional companies or are high-level executives for major brands.

"People thought when Hasbro left all the toy makers left Cincinnati, but that's not true," Spelman says. "We have a lot of great talent here. It's really a subculture. Our group provides networking that reconnects this fragmented group and uncovers opportunities. It also provides newcomers to the industry w a place to learn from the veterans and find resources and expertise to further their ventures."

In addition to the online meeting spot, local toymakers also come together quarterly for breakfast. At their most recent breakfast, the second annual Cincinnati Toymakers Holiday Gift Guide was released on Slideshare.

The toys include familiar favorites like Play-Doh, Sit 'N Spin, original Star Wars action figures and the Magic 8 Ball, in addition to newer toys and games. The catalog also includes a list of independent, locally owned Cincinnati toy stores.

"If you want to fill the space under your tree with Cincinnati products this year, you could," Spelman says.

By Feoshia Henderson
Follow Feoshia on Twitter

ShareThis founder offers advice for entrepreneurs

Tim Schigel is the chairman and founder of ShareThis, a sharing and engagement platform. He served as the director of Blue Chip Venture Company and was involved with the growth of Nielsen Buzzmetrics, a leading platform for measuring blog sentiment and forums, and Third Screen Media, the first mobile advertising platform.
Schigel will be sharing his experience and tips with other entrepreneurs at the first Startup Grind event in Cincinnati, Dec. 6 at The Brandery.
What was your first startup in Cincinnati?
My first job out of college (CWRU BSEE) was with Pharos Technologies. I was employee number 11. The company grew and became Digineer. I created a pioneering product for remote computer management for the Mac at the time. I also built P&G’s world-wide network. This was all in the early 90s.
Where did you get your idea for that first startup?
I’ve always enjoyed pursuing new ideas. At Pharos, I grew and transitioned from a technical role into the VP of Sales and Marketing, and eventually left to do my own thing. I was also fascinated with venture capital and the fast-paced tech lifestyle of Silicon Valley. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, albeit mostly small business.
Why do you think startups are important to the community?
Startups are the engine of innovation. There is so much freedom to explore technology, business management and business models. This creates a great environment for unanticipated results.

Often great innovations are accidental. It takes the right environment, however, to let those accidents happen. The other factor that is a driving force for startups is time—they don’t have any. It forces the entrepreneur to adapt quickly in all respects.
Do you regularly attend Startup Grind meetings?
No, this is the first one. I’m excited, and anyone who knows me knows that I love to help startups and explore new ideas.
Where do you draw your inspiration from when coming up with new ideas?
Everywhere. I’m a big believer in the cross-pollination of ideas. The next answer to a software problem might come from biology or some other completely different domain.

We should put everything on the table and encourage people to develop a natural curiosity and well-rounded perspective. I also think innovation comes from constraints. Some of the most interesting products have emerged from very constrained environments that act as a forcing function for creativity. Open-ended creativity is actually hard and doesn’t always lead to the most interesting solution.

Finally, I like taking a contrarian point of view. If everyone thought about a problem the same way, you would lack new ideas. Sometimes the biggest disruptive ideas are viewed as out of touch, misunderstood or not even recognized until after they’ve become disruptive.

This is an interesting balancing act for an entrepreneur because you need to be a good listener and respond to feedback, but also stay true to your convictions. The more informed those convictions are, the better. Some people stick to convictions regardless of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Ultimately, the evidence should hopefully support your thesis and when that happens, you know you’ve done something new and special.
By Caitlin Koenig
Follow Caitlin on Twitter

Community classes coming to The Brandery

The Brandery is known for its 14-week program that prepares entrepreneurs for the launch of their startups. But for the next two months, they’re trying something a little different. The Brandery will be offering community classes that cross a spectrum of themes. The classes are relevant to anyone with an idea, working for a startup or with the goal of re-envisioning some of the work they do, says Chelsea Koglmeier, program coordinator at The Brandery.
The sessions will be from 5:30 to 7 pm and will include a presentation followed by a Q&A. Each class is $20 per person, per event.
Sign up for a class below:
By Caitlin Koenig
Follow Caitlin on Twitter
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