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Local pet toy company launches new product via Kickstarter


Zigoo, a Cincinnati-based dog toy company, has launched its first Kickstarter campaign to fund its new Nutty Jar.
 
Like other Zigoo products, the Nutty Jar offers a safe way to give a dog the treats they love — in this case, peanut butter. The Nutty Jar is made of chew-proof, non-toxic and dishwasher-safe materials and lets pet owners spread peanut butter inside the jar for their dogs to enjoy. And unlike many treat dispensers, it's easy to clean.
 
This Kickstarter campaign, running through April 11, has been a welcome challenge for Zigoo founder Zach Day.

“I've always wanted to try Kickstarter, and things fell into place for this toy,” he says. “Finding funds to bring products to life can be difficult for any business, but that's a big motivation to try Kickstarter. ... The experience is something that's hard to prepare for if you have never been through it before. There is a lot to pre-work in trying to nail your pitch, from laying out the backer rewards to developing a compelling video. Then there is flipping on the switch and hoping others will love your idea as much as you do. It's a roller coaster ride.”

Zigoo partnered with Cincinnati-based Rebel Pilgrim Productions to help with their campaign.
 
If the campaign is successful, Kickstarter backers can expect to receive their Nutty Jar in August, with retail availability to follow.
 
Day is a Cincinnati native who pitched for three Major League Baseball teams between 2002 and 2006. He's enthusiastic about Cincinnati's innovative spirit.

“Cincinnati has proved to be a great location to start my company, and its entrepreneurial reputation is growing,” Day says. “I hope to become more involved in the entrepreneur movement in Cincinnati moving forward.”

In addition to the Nutty Jar, Zigoo also produces the Crinkit, a chewable sleeve to turn water bottles into safe dog toys; the Veggout, a chew-based distribution device for carrots or other treats; and the Boing, an easily cleanable tug and throw toy. Zigoo's first toy, the Crinkit, won an Innovation Award from Cincinnati Innovates in 2012.
 
Zigoo pet toys are distributed through independent pet stores nationwide and retail for $9.99-$19.99.
 

Cincinnati startup Lisnr comes full circle at SXSW


AUSTIN, TEX. — It all started on a bus. 

In 2012, before the name “Lisnr” had reached many ears at all, several Cincinnati entrepreneurs joined the crowd on the StartupBus, a kind of accelerator-on-wheels that brings entrepreneurs together for a three-day bus trip where they can develop a business strategy and plan a pitch. The journey allows the riders to connect with important industry figures as well as get a feel for how their concept may be received on a grander scale and ends at South By Southwest in Austin, the annual music, film and interactive media superfestival.

At the close of the 2012 bus trip and subsequent SXSW experience, Lisnr’s journey had begun.

Lisnr is the Cincinnati company known for their Smart Tone ultrasonic technology that transfers data through audio. With a constantly growing client base that includes big names like RocNation, Sony Music, John Frieda and Atlantic Records, Lisnr is on the move.

This year, having quickly surpassed their financial expectations in recent months, the founders decided to bring their talents back to Austin, where it all started.

Lisnr CEO Rodney Williams and his team returned to Austin this week to take advantage of the plethora of opportunities and connections the festival has to offer a growing tech company. SXSW has exploded in recent years, providing attendees with more than just up-and-coming music acts and tech conferences — it's now become a breeding ground for brilliant ideas that hope to soon emerge as established companies. 

With an successful business under their belts, the Lisnr team hosted their very own event right smack in the middle of the city-wide festival on Monday, March 16 (which I attended).

“Three years ago, we were just a team with an idea on a bus,” Williams said. “Now we’re hosting a meet-and-greet at the W. It’s crazy.”

More than 100 people showed up for the event, including members of the investor group Mercury Fund, which has offices in both Austin and Cincinnati and has already invested in the Lisnr concept. Also in attendance were representatives from possible future clients like L’Oreal and CBS Interactive. When I spoke with Williams, he was trying to keep all of the business cards he’d collected from falling out of his pocket.

The Lisnr team has barely had time to breathe since their arrival back in Austin. Following Monday’s meet-and-greet, the team had dinner reservations with a New York company intrigued by their concept, followed by invitations to numerous shows and events until their departure on Thursday. It’s enough to make anyone need a serious nap, but there will be none of those for Williams and his team.

“We’ve worked really hard,” Williams said. “It’s so much fun, and I don’t want to miss any of it.”

Needless to say, Lisnr is doing well for itself. And though they've established a bustling office in New York City, their Cincinnati office on Broadway is still their home turf.
 

enosiX partners with UK-based software services organization to increase worldwide customer base


This week, Cincinnati-based enosiX, the company that's simplified mobile app creation for .NET developers, has added a United Kingdom company to their worldwide network.
 
Green Lemon Company, a software services organization that's been offering SAP solutions to developers for many years, will be adding the enosiX Framework to their preexisting .NET app development resources. The UK company works primarily with businesses hoping to upgrade their data governance strategy.
 
By teaming up with enosiX, Green Lemon avoids spending a fortune on back-end integration when creating mobile apps for their clients. The enosiX Framework has solved the problem mobile app developers have when attempting to connect apps to a company's SAP data system. Green Lemon can therefore eliminate the need to hire SAP specialists or SAP developers.
 
"To remain competitive, enterprises are actively seeking mobile solutions that will improve customer relations as well as empower and mobilize the workforce," says enosiX co-founder and President Philippe Jardin. "With traditional methods and tools, this is costly and time consuming."
 
Green Lemon will contribute front-end developer talent to the equation to seamlessly integrate those mobile apps with each Green Lemon enterprise's SAP system. enosiX's role will be to cut development costs with their unique integration tools and built-in application templates.
 
This UK partnership is a big step forward in enosiX's active effort to create a worldwide network of partners hoping to take advantage of their fast ERP integration technology. Though enosiX mainly targets the SAP community, they also plan to market their Framework to Oracle, Microsoft and other ERP systems and front-end development platforms.
 

Shark Tank success story Neal Hoffman speaks at HCDC March 13


Neal Hoffman is pretty famous.
 
The former Hasbro executive and Procter & Gamble veteran was offered a $1 million investment on the television show Shark Tank in December. The ABC show allows startups and entrepreneurs to present their business plan in front of high-profile investors.

"Thank goodness for the editors who made me look intelligent," Hoffman says of his experience on the show. "I was in there for an hour. They definitely could have made me look dumb."

Hoffman appeared on the show after developing an idea conceived during holiday discussions with his son. Two years before, Hoffman's son pleaded for an Elf on the Shelf, the popular holiday toy/accessory that establishes residence during the Christmas season to bring treats and surprises to the children living there. Since the Hoffman family is Jewish, Hoffman joked that his son could have a Mensch on a Bench instead of an Elf on the Shelf.
 
By the 2013 Hannukah season, Hoffman and his "Mensch on a Bench" had a successful sales record under his belt. By Hannukah 2014, he'd reached revenues of $1 million.
 
The Hoffmans returned to Cincinnati when Hoffman's wife received a promotion at P&G. They now live in Madeira, and the Mensch on a Bench enterprise is still kicking.
 
This Friday, March 13 at 7:30-9 a.m., Hoffman will speak at HCDC in Norwood in the hopes of engaging aspiring entrepreneurs in a discussion on turning a casual idea into a successful business plan. He sees the eKickStart event (register here) as a way to connect with other entrepreneurs in the area.

"When I got started, I didn't realize there was a whole network in Cincinnati," Hoffman says. "It was a very lonely process. Through Cintrifuse, which connected me with HCDC, I realized that there are so many people here in the same boat."

Hoffman says he could talk forever about his story. When he arrived back in Cincinnati four years ago after working for Hasbro, he was looking for a way to explore his passion, the toy industry. Without spending more than $1,000 to get started, Hoffman's joke with his son is now a Hanukkah season essential nationwide.

While speaking at HCDC Friday, Hoffman hopes to emphasize that not all businesses require a huge investment.

"Starting a company doesn't mean going broke," he says. "With crowdfunding, you can test an idea before you bring it to market."

Hoffman is particularly excited about the Q&A section of the HCDC event, saying he's anxious to hear about what other people in his field are doing or hope to do. As for Mensch on a Bench, the business is still doing well, and Hoffman hasn't even had to reach for his Shark Tank millionaire rolodex yet.

"Whatever Mensch on a Bench brings in the future, this has become my resume for the rest of my life," he says.
 

The Brandery's HackOTR debut deemed a success


Seven teams of hackers, designers and marketing specialists joined forces Friday, March 6 for The Brandery’s first-ever HackOTR, and for 24 hours straight they hacked and programmed to come up with a pitchable idea. With help along the way from local startup founders who'd already established themselves, hackers presented their ideas at the end of the hack-a-thon Saturday evening to an enthusiastic and engaged audience.
 
“We were absolutely thrilled with the diversity of people who showed up,” says Emily Cooper, marketing and operations manager for The Brandery. “We had everyone from a high schooler to someone with 30-plus years of experience working together. Everyone chipped in to try to make their teams the best — the work ethic was unbelievable.”
 
Winners were announced Saturday evening, with the “Overall Best Hack” award, sponsored by Cincinnati Bell and Cintrifuse, going to Habitable, a website and app that uses cultural inputs like dress codes to help millennials find a job that fits their lifestyle. As a reward, Habitable received three months of office space at Cintrifuse along with free Dell laptops.
 
“Habitable had a consistent level of quality across the board,” says Connor Bowlan, CEO of Cintric. “Ideation was good, their pitch was good and execution was good. They had a great UX."
 
Other winners included Sideline, whose wearable app for referees and sports fans attracted the attention of The Brandery’s own Strap as the “Best Wearables App.” Team members were awarded with Pebble smart watches.

Another Brandery graduate, Frameri, gave impromptu prizes to two other teams, Informed and Staq — Informed aggregates media recommendations, and Staq helps the user manage credit card payments on one platform. The two teams won glasses and sunglasses for all members.
 
Petbrosia, another well-established Cincinnati startup, selected Pet Plates as its favorite “side hack.” That team put together a dog food recipe compilation site, much like Allrecipes.com for pet owners.
 
Other startup founders simply enjoyed the judging process.
 
“I had a great time judging HackOTR,” Bowlan says. “There was a very impressive level of quality among all the hacks.”
 
The Brandery has already scheduled their next HackOTR for Aug. 7-8. Stay tuned for details.
 

Follow up: ADDYs celebrate Cincinnati advertising icons and newcomers


Local and national advertisers convened at Memorial Hall Feb. 27 to celebrate Cincinnati's 2014-15 American Advertising Awards (ADDYs), with some familiar brands (and familiar advertising firms) among the winners as well as recognition of lesser-known artists and innovators for their work in the field. Organizers had made several upgrades and changes heading into this year's program, and the overall results were favorable.
 
National digital marketing firm Possible took home the Best in Show award with their Downy + Febreze commercial in which actors revel in the extra hour afforded by Daylight Savings Time snuggled in their great-smelling sheets. Possible has won multiple ADDYs in the past, and this year they also took home the competition's first People's Choice Award — attendees voted on their smartphones for another Downy television ad.
 
One of the event's Cinderella stories involved Sunrise Advertising, which took home a whopping seven awards for their "origami" campaign for AAA and another for their Cincinnati USA ad. Sunrise Advertising, whose Creative Director Todd Jessee is a former ADDY chair, hadn't entered the competition before.
 
"I think (Todd) talked the boss into letting him enter this year," says Judy Thompson, Executive Director of AAF Cincinnati (a.k.a. the boss).
 
Another first-time entrant was Forza Marketing and Public Relations, which scored the gold for non-traditional advertising with a port-a-potty ad for The Urology Group.
 
Another favorite of the judges was Northlich, the downtown strategic communications firm that was recognized numerous times for campaigns surrounding Givethemten.org (part of the Joanie Bernard Foundation), a no-kill cat movement that encourages more no-kill shelters and mandated spaying and neutering of pets. Northlich picked up recognition for several elements of the public service campaign, including best sound element (a jingle, essentially) and best collateral (a pack of two orange gumballs that remind you to spay and neuter your pet).
 
"The Northlich Creative Director, Jason Schmall, was taking a lot of bows on ADDY show night," Thompson says.
 
Finally, the show featured an impressive number of entries from students this year. This is the first time the ADDYs have received entries from Northern Kentucky University students, and one of them, Kyle Eli Ebersole, won Best in Show for his poster campaign.
 
You can view all of the winners in the 2015 ADDY showbook. Winners now proceed to regional and national competitions.
 

AAF Cincinnati revamps this week's ADDY awards event


Cincinnati advertising and marketing enthusiasts gather every year to celebrate the most talented members of the industry. This year, the team of volunteers behind the event are catering specifically to the feedback from past years’ attendees, which means better presentations, better entertainment and — wait for it — an open bar Feb. 27 at Memorial Hall.

The American Advertising Awards (“ADDYs”) are sponsored by the American Advertising Federation and involve a three-tiered competition that begins at the local level. Winners of the city competitions move on to regionals and then nationals.

The Cincinnati ADDYs have recruited judges from all over the country, including past ADDY award recipients, advertising executives and even a morning radio personality.

Tara Pettit, volunteer chair of this year’s ceremony, says that this year’s local entries — submitted by everyone from big local agency experts to DAAP students — have serious potential for national recognition. As an AAF volunteer, Petit’s role is to make this event a true celebration of Cincinnati’s particular flavor of media.

“There are a ton of Fortune 500 companies in Cincinnati,” event Vice-Chair Jaclyn Smith says. “The city attracts a lot of talent, and we want (the big companies) to know that we’re utilizing that talent.”

Celebration of advertising specialists is hardly new in Cincinnati. The Advertising Club of Cincinnati emerged in 1904 and evolved into AAF-Cincinnati in the 1980s. Judy Thompson as been executive director of AAF-Cincinnati — and therefore responsible for all ADDY volunteers — since 1982.

This year, the Cincinnati ADDYs are making a point to show all of their local submissions, not just this year’s winners.

“(The artists) were proud enough to submit it, so we’re going to put it on display,” Petit says.

Other adjustments include the ability to see the submissions in their proper medium. For example, instead of displaying audio visual work on a 2D-printed panel, 50-inch monitors will be installed throughout the venue.

Finally, the entertainment. Petit and Smith have managed to secure Second City veteran comedian TJ Shanoff as their MC. Local jazz ensemble Burning Caravan will be providing live music as well. The $75 ticket ($65 for AAF members, $45 for students) also covers unique appetizers from Cuisine East West catering as well as a full open bar.

Winners at all levels of the ADDYs competition are chosen using a points-based system. There are 200 categories of work — ranging from print magazine ads to graphic design to package design — and each piece is judged on its own merit, not in comparison with other submissions. Not every category is represented, and not all of them claim a winner. 

Competition aside, Friday's awards ceremony will help give advertising professionals a reason to stay in the Cincinnati market. Through community events, plenty of help with job placement and formal recognition on a national scale, Thompson and her team of volunteers hope to maintain Cincinnati’s place as an advertising hot spot.

“Our job is to keep the talent here,” Smith says.

The event takes place 6-10 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27, at Memorial Hall in Over-the-Rhine. Attendees are encouraged to come as they are; there's no specific dress code. Register here.
 

Cintrifuse deepens partnership with Techstars Ventures to boost startup mentor and support options


Techstars Ventures, the Boulder, Colo.-based accelerator known for investments in companies like Uber and GroupMe, has teamed up with Cintrifuse to add to their network of successful, fast-growing companies across the country.

Cintrifuse is making its sixth major venture investment in Techstars Ventures due to the accelerator’s reputation as a company builder, not to mention their $150 million Seed and Series A fund. Techstars was attracted to the Cintrifuse mission due to the success of the Cincinnati ecosystem in recent years.

“Cincinnati has large, high-caliber corporations and a thriving startup community,” says David Cohen, Techstars co-founder and managing partner of Techstars Ventures, “so partnering with Cintrifuse will just continue to bolster the region’s flourishing startup ecosystem.”

Techstars Ventures is known for co-investing in companies that have graduated from the Techstars accelerator or are otherwise connected with the Techstars alumni network. Major Techstars players like Cohen are constantly looking to expand that reach, and the Cincinnati ecosystem proved just the market they were looking for.

“Bringing the attention of this Boulder-based startup stalwart to Cincinnati is a testament to the impact of our strategy,” says Eric Weissmann, director of marketing for Cintrifuse.
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The investment in Techstars Ventures comes from Cintrifuse’s Fund of Funds, a for-profit fund that invests solely in other venture funds. With this fund, Cintrifuse hopes to increase venture capital activity in the region.

“Building a startup ecosystem around a fund of funds that’s supported by major corporations is very unique and already garnering national attention for the access it’s providing to both startups and corporates alike,” Weissmann says.

The investment means that Cincinnati startup companies, particular those connected with Cintrifuse, will see their network of mentors and investors expand tremendously. With the implementation of Techstars Ventures’ regional engagement plan, Cincinnati startups will see the benefits of the partnership quite quickly.
 

"Making Space for Makers" brings urban development specialist to Cincinnati this week


The “Maker Movement” has found its way back to the Midwest, and an expert in the field comes to Cincinnati this week to make sure we're ready for it.

Ilana Preuss, former VP and chief of staff for Smart Growth America, is coming to town Feb. 25 to offer her input on small scale manufacturing in Cincinnati and how it has the potential to strengthen our neighborhoods and enhance our overall economy.

While Preuss is in town, she'll give a presentation on the importance of space, planning and policy within the Maker Movement at the 21C Museum Hotel at 6 p.m. Wednesday. At 9 a.m. the following day, Preuss will lead a workshop at the UC Community Design Center that hopes to foster discussion on the steps necessary to expand the manufacturing sector of Cincinnati’s business community.

The Haile Foundation and Cincinnati Made, a local nonprofit dedicated to such a vision, bring Preuss to town as a consultant from Recast City. She concocted the idea for Recast City after working extensively with small scale producers in a community development context.

“(My work) led me to look at development projects where small scale manufacturers are being put in a position to bring life back to old buildings and bring life to a neighborhood,” Preuss says.

In cities like Brooklyn and San Francisco, she says, big companies and nonprofits are backing manufacturing innovation in a way that allows small-scale producers, and the communities surrounding them, to truly succeed. For instance, in Brooklyn a six-building space has developed into a manufacturer haven. As a result, the community surrounding the businesses has been revitalized. Perhaps above all else, the space is providing jobs for surrounding community members, 40 percent of whom don't have a college or advanced degree.

Preuss sees the Midwest as prime territory for those kinds of results.

“The Midwest has a history of manufacturing,” she says. “The people who are drawn back are risk takers, they want to make a difference in the space.”

With the cost of living being so low here, particularly in comparison to cities on the coasts, Preuss believes that small businesses can see a kind of success that may be harder to grasp in a larger market. The best thing we can do for our region is create a manufacturing-friendly environment.

In a lot of ways, the region is already doing that. Cincinnati Made and local manufacturing accelerator First Batch are already promoting small batch makers. Indianapolis has seen significant investment in their budding textiles industry. And in Louisville, GE-backed First Build is creating an innovation space for appliances and electronics. 

With Preuss’ help and continued financial support from private investors and nonprofit interests, Cincinnati has a lot of potential that expands beyond business development.

“The places with the most success have nonprofit and private sector leadership leading the way,” she says. “The piece I find most the most exciting is where economic development intersects with real estate development and reinvestment.”

When Preuss’ work is done on Thursday, she plans to take a tour of Over-the-Rhine, our city’s prime example of where economic development and real estate reinvestment meet. With adequate planning, Cincinnati will hopefully see a similar revitalization surrounding small-scale manufacturing. 

You can find more details on the event's Facebook page.
 

2015 Green Home Tour kicks off this Saturday


With migraine-inducing heating bills becoming the norm this season, it's nice to know that green technology is out there — and on the rise.
 
Though the movement is a slow one, more and more buildings across the tristate area are attempting LEED certification, a green building designation that requires an examination into the design, construction, maintenance and neighborhood development (among other factors) of a certain property or building. A primary focus in LEED certification is energy efficiency, though the prestigious label goes much farther than that.
 
Fortunately, many LEED-certified building, residential and not, are popping up in neighborhoods across town. Thanks to the U.S. Green Building Council and its local Green Living Member Circle, Cincinnati residents have the opportunity to tour some of these properties during the year-long "This is a Green Home" tour, which kicks off this Saturday, Feb. 21.
 
The first stop along the tour is in the Mt. Airy/Northside area, a green home known as the Wright House. With a Gold LEED Certification under its belt, the house also received the City of Cincinnati's CRA Tax Abatement, which is offered as an incentive to pursue such certification. The abatement will save the owners over $40,000 in a five-year period.
 
This particular home received bonus points for limiting the use of turf in the yard, sustainable design of the building itself, regionally-sourced building materials, durability, low VOC coatings and sealants, low water usage, tight insulation, thick air filters and a geothermal heat pump that sends waste heat back into the water heater, among other features.
 
Edward Wright of Wright Design and Pete Subach of Graybach are responsible for the contemporary design and sustainable features of the residence. The tour accommodates 20 people and is already sold out.
 
Additional tours will feature a number of houses like the Wright House. A tour of the Nutter House, featuring the city's only known rainwater flush toilet system, will take place on March 21. There will be a tour of the Imago for the Earth community in Price Hill on April 25, while the Boulter House in Clifton, a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, opens its doors in May.
 
For a complete list of stops on the tour, check out the Green Cincinnati Education Advocacy website.
 

Roadtrippers alum launches international bike donation company


Two weeks ago, Cincinnati native and Roadtrippers veteran Chelsea Koglmeier decided to pursue her dream.
 
Part of the original team of six who turned Roadtrippers from a startup to a success story, she decided to leave her position at the growing Cincinnati company in order to pursue an idea she had while studying in Uganda in college.
 
While in Africa, Koglmeier noticed a staggering problem with transportation. The lack of viable transport between areas could mean the difference between employed and not employed, fed or unfed.

Koglmeier also noticed how empowering something as simple as a bicycle could be for people in these developing countries.
 
"I began to see the power of bicycles to unlock opportunities," she says.
 
Then, after being accepted into the Clinton Global Initiative Conference while at Duke University, Koglmeier had the opportunity to hear a speech by the founder of Tom's shoes, Blake Mycoskie.
 
"I heard him speak and immediately thought, 'What a wonderful place the world would be if every company had a double bottom line,'" Koglmeier says.
 
The double bottom line Koglmeier speaks of involves a company's commitment to both for-profit and non-profit missions. Tom's has done it with their "buy a pair, give a pair" shoes model; Warby Parker has done it with eyewear.
 
Koglmeier left her Roadtrippers position and is now working full-time to accomplish the same thing that Tom's and Warby Parker did, only with bicycles. Her company is Bikes O.R.O.: Bikes of Reckless Optimism.
 
"Because of the rise of the socially conscious consumer," she says, "why not create a sustainable link of capital between one side of the spectrum (the for-profit) and the other (non-profit)?"
 
Koglmeier is currently in the process of establishing a L3C business — a unique fusion of an LLC and a 501c3 non-profit. Ohio doesn't recognize the model yet, but states like Vermont have long embraced the unique business category. Though she may file in another state, Koglmeier does intend to be in Cincinnati for a while to establish the business.
 
So far, she has a simple website that outlines the company's bottom line and informs interested parties as to how they can get involved. By mid-summer, she plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign to start acquiring bikes.
 
Bikes O.R.O. will start with three commuter bicycles of high quality and affordability made by a skilled Australian bike maker with whom Koglmeier has worked before. Intrigued customers buy a bike through Bikes O.R.O., and the profits from that purchase are immediately donated to a non-profit organization in Africa (Koglmeier is already working with several of them). That organization would then present a recycled, fully-functioning bike to a person in need.
 
Koglmeier recognizes the hurdles involved — bike production has a much higher overhead than shoes or sunglasses — but she's more than prepared for the risk and the challenge. Plus she was invited to the Y Combinator Female Founders Conference in San Francisco on Feb. 21 — an entire event dedicated to encouraging women in tech.
 
"If people want to send extra resources to me because I'm a girl, I'm super down," she says.
 
For now, Koglmeier is working full-time on getting the business off the ground. Though she's not selling bikes yet, the process is moving quickly and we should be hearing more from Bikes O.R.O. in the coming months.
 

Introducing UCrush, the "missed connections" of mobile apps


In a frantic rush to fund a snuggle buddy for Valentine's Day? You might be in luck via a new Cincinnati-based app.
 
The recent release of UCrush, a new dating app created by Xavier University alum and HCDC resident Anthony Breen, means that college students can now find that guy or girl they couldn't stop staring at in Astronomy class.
 
UCrush is a geolocation-based app whose database is limited to those who attend the same school or are currently located in the same geographic area. The app is designed for those who see an intriguing person and immediately want to know how to get in touch with him or her. It's kind of like Craiglist's Missed Connections but better — not to mention safer.
 
All information is kept confidential until a connection is made. Even then, the users can communicate through the app — sending messages, pictures — and no identifying information needs to be shared.
 
The app finds people using an identification system that asks the "crusher" to list gender, hair color and clothing style as well as a description of the encounter. The app identifies the location of the user immediately, which helps identify where the sighting may have taken place.
 
UCrush CEO Anthony Breen is a Boston native and a 2014 Xavier grad. Breen came to Cincinnati for college in the hopes of gaining corporate experience before jumping into the startup world. Fortunately for him, he caught the entrepreneurship bug a little early.

The company was born during a brainstorming session with his buddies from back home, Kyle Garvan and Danny O'Connell. Last winter break, Garvan and O'Connell pitched him the idea of a dating website that allows the user to connect with crushes. They looked to Breen to take it one step further.
 
The three were looking for an alternative to the bar hookup scene on college campuses, wanting to create a platform that helps crushes break the ice.
 
"UCrush is here to say that we are giving you the opportunity to be heard, noticed and found," Breen says. "We want to try and take the awkwardness out of that first hello."
 
Unlike Tinder, UCrush requires an actual connection of some sort. Instead of randomly swiping through photos, users will undoubtedly share something in common with the person crushing on them, whether it's the same school, the same workout class or the same sporting event.
 
The app also allows users to rate the "genuineness" level of other users. That rating appears on each user's profile along with photos of the user's "life crushes," which could be anything from a Starbucks latte to a view of Great American Ball Park.
 
"This is not an app for one-night stands," Breen says. "This is for people who are moving toward a date."
 
Though Breen recognizes the potential for abuse, so far the app has been successful. Since its launch in mid-January, UCrush boasts a 90 percent success rate with a 2 percent abuse rate among its 15,000 users. Right now, the app is in active use at Ohio State, University of Cincinnati and Xavier. The UCrush team has plans to expand to over 150 campuses nationwide in the next three months.
 
UCrush is currently headquartered at HCDC's incubator in Norwood. 
 

Science rules: High school paves the way for tech-oriented careers


The recent technology boom has brought a newfound appreciation for science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) courses in high school classes, including at Cincinnati's Mount Notre Dame.
 
Several young women at the all-girls Reading school have already made a name for themselves with their recent Best in State recognition in a national mobile app competition.
 
The app, called Do It, was designed to prevent procrastination by blocking certain social media applications from the user and incentivizing focus on a particular task. Though the six girls responsible for the app concept didn't make it past the regional round of the competition, the experience — combined with MND's curriculum — has some of these girls looking toward careers in the tech sector.
 
And let's face it: The technology sector could use a few more girls.
 
Mount Notre Dame offers a relatively flexible curriculum after freshman year with a plethora of STEM-related options, including engineering. With a focus on hands-on science courses, students interested in the STEM fields also find themselves in a lab at least once per week.
 
Christine Clark is a senior at MND and member of the award-winning team. She feels that the wide variety of courses and freedom to choose allowed her to determine which path she wants to follow next year.
 
"Before I took engineering I thought I wanted to go into the biomedical field," Clark says. "I'm glad I was able to take that because now I know that it isn't for me."

Clark will be studying biology at Miami University next year.
 
Not all of the girls on the Do It team are pursuing STEM-related fields after graduation. Maggie Dolan hopes to go into electronic media and broadcasting and says the STEM courses were the perfect way to test her academic limits.
 
"(Science and math courses) challenge the kind of people who want to be challenged but aren't sure if they're up to par," Dolan says. "When I started at MND, I finally felt challenged."
 
Though the app competition is over, every girl on the team expressed a desire to learn more about mobile app development. With a strong foundational background in STEM courses from their time at MND, chances are good that the tech world will be seeing more from them.
 

Startup jobs in Cincinnati and where to find them


Finding jobs in the startup world can be tricky. The postings are rarely found on traditional job search websites, and many companies hire from within.

The good news for job hunters is that the startup world in Cincinnati is hiring ... and hiring often. Some of the available openings are posted online and some require a little more digging. Here's a list of startup hiring resources, from helpful job boards to career fairs to investment portfolio pages at some of the areas key startup investor groups.

UpTech
If you're looking for a startup job in Northern Kentucky, look no further than the Feb. 9 UpLink career event at UpTech's offices, 112 West Pike St., Covington. In addition to numerous internships, UpTech's startups will be looking to hire candidates for over 30 openings, from sales to design to project management to web development.

The Brandery
The all-star accelerator organization keeps a running list of job openings for their graduate companies on their website. The accelerator's companies are hiring everything from social media managers to designers to front end developers. Part- and full-time positions are available immediately.

Cintrifuse
Runs a constantly updated job board that posts openings from startups across the tristate area.
 
CincyTech
This huge financial supporter of area startups in the area hosts a portfolio page offering a long list of companies that are likely looking for talent.
 
Queen City Angels
The investor group has an impressive roster of companies that have already proved themselves worthy of investor support. QCA's portfolio page, featuring over 40 companies, is another great job resource.
 
The Hamilton Mill
Though the startups at The Mill aren't currently hiring, the incubator will be welcoming Municipal Brew Works in the coming months, a brewery that deserves a second look for career opportunities. 

HCDC, Inc.
Formerly called the Hamilton County Development Co., this Norwood-based group has a large number of companies in their accelerator. Though not all of them are hiring, this list of the companies currently housed there can provide a good lead on who to contact.
 

The Brandery announces $50,000 grants for sixth class of startups


The Brandery's four-month accelerator program for tech startups is raising the bar by providing its newest class members with an additional $30,000 in initial investment.
 
Since 2010, The Brandery, which is partially funded by the Ohio Third Frontier, has provided each of their 10-12 class members with a $20,000 grant in exchange for a 6 percent stake in their company. Their success stories include companies like Roadtrippers, ChoreMonster and Frameri — ones that have already established a national presence since their time at the accelerator. Their continued progress aside, The Brandery is always looking for new ways to attract national noisemakers in the startup scene.
 
"Every year we assess the needs of our startups, the depth of our cohort, the funding environment and how we can continue to compete globally for the best startups," Brandery General Manager Mike Bott says. "This year in particular we felt very strongly that increasing our investment in each startup will allow us to continue to attract the best founders globally and, more importantly, give our startups the best opportunity to succeed."
 
With its sixth startup class on the horizon, the accelerator believes that an increase in initial investment will make sure that the companies are financially sustainable beyond the four-month mark.
 
"Increasing funding from $20k to $50k will afford our startups a runway through the holidays into the spring, giving them an opportunity for more validating data and stronger positioning with potential investors," Bott says.
 
The Brandery is able to provide a higher grant due to an increase in funding from the Ohio Third Frontier. The state's support of technology-based companies has played a tremendous part in turning cities like Cincinnati into startup hubs.
 
Private partners, both locally and nationally based, also continue their support of The Brandery and its companies.
 
The accelerator is now accepting applications for its sixth class of startups, which will enter The Brandery this spring.
 
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