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Creatives can compete for cash and services in Big Pitch contest

For creative business owners looking to grow their business in Cincinnati, there is no time like the present. Announced this month, Artworks Big Pitch, presented by U.S. Bank, offers artists, makers, designers and creative entrepreneurs a chance to claim up to $20,000 in cash prizes, as well as pro-bono professional services.
 
Applications for the Big Pitch are open now and will be accepted through May 16. Applicants will then be narrowed down to eight finalists, each of whom will have five minutes to deliver their pitch to a live audience and panel of experts at the ArtWorks Big Pitch event on Aug. 27, 2014 at the American Sign Museum in downtown Cincinnati.
 
The business with the best pitch will be awarded a grand prize of $15,000 cash. The finalists also will have the opportunity to be awarded an additional $5,000 by popular vote. Two runners-up will be awarded professional services such as legal, accounting and branding support.
 
The Big Pitch is yet another transformative project presented by Artworks' Creative Enterprise division, which also manages CO.STARTERS (formerly Springboard).
 
“A stronger creative community builds a better Cincinnati,” says Caitlin Behle, Creative Enterprise manager for Artworks. “This funding is a huge stepping stone to supporting the greater Cincinnati community. So far the biggest hurdle for us is that it sounds too good to be true.”
 
To provide opportunities for interested applicants to ask questions in person, ArtWorks is hosting two events—the Creative Enterprise Open House on April 24, and ArtWorks Big Pitch Q&A Info Session on May 7.
 
“We’ve been seeing more and more opportunities for web/tech/app-based companies in Cincinnati, but we felt like the handmade creative community was getting overlooked,” says Katie Garber, director of Creative Enterprise for Artworks.
 
As a sponsor and collaborator on the event, U.S. Bank will provide each of the eight finalists with a mentor who will coach them for the 10 weeks leading up to the event. For more information on the event, visit http://www.artworkscincinnati.org/creative-enterprise/artworksbigpitch/
 
 By Mike Sarason

Open Data Startup Weekend pulls in new ideas, new entrepreneurs

Innovation, talent and resourcefulness were all on display this weekend in Covington as local accelerator Uptech played host to the Open Data Startup Weekend. This year, Cincinnati Startup Weekend partnered with Code for America, the nonprofit aimed at connecting citizens with better design and tech services, and Open Data Cincy, a regional initiative to use public data to encourage transparency, innovation and civic engagement.
 
The goal of the event was to foster social entrepreneurship by accessing public data to launch new ventures, analyze patterns and trends, make data-driven decisions, and solve complex problems in our community.
 
A diverse crowd of participants turned up for Startup Weekend, which asks participants to split into groups and create viable startup ideas over 48 hours. Among their ranks were high school and college students, lawyers, engineers, techies, and designers representing several age groups and varying experience levels, from complete newbies to previous Startup Weekend attendees.
 
“I enjoy the fact that people come from diverse backgrounds and working together really intensely,” says Racquel Redwood, who was participating in her second Startup Weekend on an idea called Potholer.
 
“While I work for a large company here, its great that there are opportunities here to explore the entrepreneurial space as well,” says Benjamin Danzinger, R&D engineer at Johnson & Johnson.
 
After spending the weekend refining their ideas, getting advice from the event organizers (who themselves also represent local startups like Choremonster, Lisnr, BlackbookHR and more), running focus groups and scouring data, each group presented Sunday evening to a duo of judges—Eric Avner of the The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and Elizabeth Naramore of GitHub, which provides powerful collaboration, code review, and code management for open source and private projects.
 
First place went to UMO, which addresses “the achievement gap” and is a platform for prospecting students to learn about the true cost of a college education at various universities based on scholarships available, average ROI of the degree they’re interested in and actual published attendance costs. For winning, they received six months of desk space at Cintrifuse, a meeting with a local venture capitalist, and a GitHub gold account—all things to help continue their startup. 
 
Second place was kNOwait, an app that publishes drive times along with wait times at local urgent cares, DMVs, etc. to help users determine the actual fastest option near them. They received desk space at Cintrifuse, legal advice from Taft, and a GitHub bronze account. The next Startup Weekend will take place in November; visit www.cincinnati.startupweekend.org to stay updated.
 
By Mike Sarason

Cincinnati Center for Adult Music Study opens this week

This week marks the opening of a new music education program in Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Center for Adult Music Study (CincyCAMS). Founded by Rachel Kramer, pianist, teacher and arts administrator, and her business partner Mary Chaiken, CincyCAMS will offer programs on all aspects of music in multiple venues around the greater Cincinnati area. 
 
Chaiken and Kramer have been friends for some time, having made music together as a part of Muse, Cincinnati’s Women’s Choir, until Kramer retired from the choir in 2013. In 2014, they’ve decided to become business partners.
 
“I had always wanted to start a program like this,” Kramer says. “Mary had just finished her last grant-based job in medical research—she is a molecular biologist—and was looking to do something new. We got to talking and CincyCAMS is the result.”
 
The programs offered include more traditional lessons, performance groups, lectures covering a wide range of musical topics and more. Programs are intended to be short (nothing more than six weeks) so students will not only cover several topics throughout the course of the year, but will also visit several different venues in various areas of the city.
 
“We want to be the community meeting place for people to come, make music and realize a dream come true,” Kramer says. “We want to enrich lives and inspire adults to make their own kind of music.”
 
CincyCAMS is also looking to collaborate with current music teachers and music professionals in the Greater Cincinnati area.
 
“We will be using our professional colleagues as facilitators,” Kramer says. “We also would like students of our community teachers to come to CincyCAMS for enrichment classes and performance opportunity, and we would like to send cincyCAMS participants who want further study to our area teachers.”
 
To that end, CincyCAMS has already partnered with the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music, as well as with Northern Kentucky University and the Music Teacher’s National Association.  
 
To learn more about the program, visit www.cincycams.com.

By Mike Sarason

The Carnegie takes inspiration from local farming, adopts Community Supported Art program

The Carnegie, Northern Kentucky’s largest multidisciplinary arts venue located in Covington, has announced the inaugural season of Carnegie Community Supported Art (Carnegie CSA), which will allow arts enthusiasts to buy “farm boxes” filled with works of art created by local artists.
 
Inspired by Community Supported Agriculture initiatives (CSAs), which allow consumers to buy food directly from local farmers, The Carnegie’s CSA program applies the same “buy local” ethic to art and seeks to enrich the experience for artists and collectors at all levels.
 
“We hope that this program will bring new collectors in and make it easier for collectors to discover new artists,” says Matt Distel, exhibitions director at the Carnegie. “We included a diverse array of local artists so that no matter what your level of experience buying art is, everyone will wind up with something new.”
 
Local artists whose work will be featured include Antonio Adams, Keith Benjamin, Carmel Buckley, Barbara Houghton, Casey Riordan Millard, Marcia Shortt, Michael Stillion/Katie Labmeier, Chris Vorhees and Joseph Winterhalter.
 
Individuals interested in supporting the Carnegie CSA will purchase a “share” for $350 and in return will receive a “farm box” consisting of nine pieces of locally produced artwork. Featured works could include items such as mixed media prints, a run of photographs or small original ceramics.
 
The actual works created will vary and will be kept secret until July when participants will pick up their “shares” during the Carnegie CSA harvest party. The program is modeled on a similar program created by mnartists.org and Springboard for the Arts in Minneapolis.
 
“It’s a very innovative way of thinking about how we create a community spirit that is supportive of local artists,” Distel says. “We’re looking to make this an ongoing program so that we can continue to include all kind of artists from the area and cultivate new collectors.”
 
Member shares for the Carnegie CSA will go on sale Thursday, May 1, 2014, and will be available for purchase by contacting (859) 491-2030. To learn more about the program, visit www.thecarnegie.com.  
 
 By Mike Sarason

Class is in Session radio program is Cincinnati's newest forum on education

Cincinnati has a new venue for public dialogue on the topic of education in our city. “Class is in Session” is a weekly radio program on 1230 AM every Saturday from 3-4 p.m., created through a collaboration between the Strive Partnership and Parents for Public Schools of Greater Cincinnati (PPSGC). 
 
The show, which began at the beginning of March, is set up to be an open forum where listeners are encouraged to call in and voice their opinions on issues related to education in the urban core.
 
“Our goal is to engage the community and create great discussions in the education sphere,” says Nia Williams, Community Engagement Coordinator for Strive. “This show creates a consistent space for dialogue and provides constant feedback for us that will inform our work.”
 
Strive, a partnership of Greater Cincinnati businesses, nonprofits, school districts and universities working to improve outcomes for every child in Cincinnati, Covington and Newport, reached out to PPSGC because of their experience engaging the community.
 
“We thought radio would be a good venue because we get to share what’s happening and people can offer feedback at any point during the program,” Williams says.
 
So far, topics for Class is in Session have included the achievement gap, poverty, parent involvement and more.
 
“Parent engagement in the education sphere is crucial,” Williams says. “It can fundamentally change how our education system works; we have to do a better job at reaching out to parents and making that happen. That’s why we’re working with PPSGC in the first place.”
 
Class is in Session will also act as a method of sharing positive developments that are happening in the urban core.
 
“We have a lot to talk about as far as early childhood education, the Preschool Promise and more,” Williams says. “We want listeners to be excited and learn how they can get involved.”
 
The Preschool Promise is a campaign to ensure that every 3-4-year-old has access to quality preschool. This promises to get more children ready for school, reading successfully by the end of 3rd grade, and graduating from high school ready for college and careers.
 
To learn more about Class is in Session, visit the Strive Partnership website.

By Mike Sarason

Cincinnati Preservation Collective creating framework to save historic buildings

Cincinnati Preservation Collective (CPC) officially has the designation of being the newest group of engaged local citizens passionate about preserving Cincinnati’s historic properties.
 
Founded in late 2013, CPC came together as a way for Cincinnatians who care about historic buildings not only to meet up and learn from one another about preservation in the city, but also to create a framework that provides a proactive approach to saving such structures.
 
“CPC was started in part because I was having a lot of conversations with people who were interested in preservation, many of them already involved in different neighborhood type organizations, but who didn’t actually have a way to proactively save buildings,” says co-founder Diana Tisue. “As a community, we’ve been through a lot of really dramatic battles saving buildings and I realized that part of the problem was that we were coming in too late. Our cause can’t be one building; it has to be advocating for preservation throughout the city.”
 
Already, the young group has set its sights on five “impact buildings” that have been selected because they are either in danger of demolition or are in need of considerable rehabilitation. Four of the properties are in Over-the-Rhine (including the Davis Furniture Building on Main Street) and one is in Walnut Hills (The Paramount Building on McMillan).
 
“For a lot of people, being labeled a preservationist carries a stigma with it; it’s anti-development or anti-progress,” says co-founder John Blatchford. “But I think what we’ve seen in Cincinnati, in areas like Over-the-Rhine and downtown, is that we’ve benefitted a lot from saving old buildings and making use of them. And it can be done in an economic, profitable way.”
 
In addition to its five impact buildings, CPC is also rallying the community around the idea of preservation in other ways. Last week, they held their first Pitch Party event at Venue 222, featuring 10 presenters each given five minutes or less to present their preservation related projects.
 
The winners were decided by an audience vote, which ended up as a tie between Brendan Regan of OTR ADOPT and Giacomo Ciminello of PlayCincy, who each were awarded $500 in seed funding. The organizers note that just as important as the seed funding was the social capital gained by presenting to a full room of preservation enthusiast; CPC hopes to host the pitch party annually.
 
The next CPC meeting will be on Tuesday, March 25 at Arnold’s and is free and open to the public. To learn more, visit www.preservethenati.com.
 
By Mike Sarason


Visually impaired 'Pixel Painter' from Super Bowl ad exhibiting work at UC

Hal Lasko, the 98-year-old visually impaired grandfather featured in a recent Super Bowl commercial, has brought a broad collection of his creations—landscapes, still life, abstracts—to the University of Cincinnati in February for the first solo exhibit of his pixel paintings. DAAP Galleries at UC is presenting "Hal Lasko: The Pixel Painter" at the Philip M. Meyers, Jr. Memorial Gallery from Feb. 3-March 30, with an artist reception on March 13 from 5-7 p.m.
 
Lasko’s Pixel Painter name is derived from his use of Microsoft Paint as a medium to create art. While to some it may seem like an antiquated program, Lasko's deft use of the program elevates the technique to a fine art.
 
“Hal started working with MS Paint in the 90s, so at the time it didn't seem outdated,” says Ryan Lasko, grandson of Hal. “Now, 15 years later, MS Paint is just a tool to him, like an artist would use a paintbrush and canvas.”
 
Lasko started out as a graphic designer, working in the military during World War II drafting maps. After his military career, he worked on creative projects for several companies and eventually retired from American Greetings in the 1970s. As his sight began deteriorating, it became harder for him to paint. Things took a turn though when his family bought him a computer on his 85th birthday; the computer came loaded with MS Paint.
 
"When I got the computer and saw what the Paint program offered, I started a whole new career almost,” Lasko says.
 
Lasko’s story has captured many people’s attention. A short film about his life made by his son and grandson led to the family being contacted by Microsoft and Lasko being featured in Microsoft’s “Empowering” Super Bowl XLVIII commercial.
 
Additionally, the video caught the attention of Aaron Cowan, program director of DAAP Galleries.
 
“I connected to the video and his work on an artistic, human and very personal level and believed others would as well,” Cowan says. “It also seemed to me he deserved recognition for his work in a formal gallery setting, and I wanted to make that happen.”
 
Learn more about Lasko’s story and the DAAP exhibit.

By Mike Sarason


This Land's Growing Value Nursery to provide sustainable food supply to Cincinnatians

This Land, a local nonprofit that aims to bring educational opportunities to the Greater Cincinnati area in permaculture, green building and sustainable living, is pushing forward its Growing Value Nursery. The nursery, located in Northside, offers more than 120 varieties of perennial edible plants, with the aim of giving permaculturalists and gardeners tools to create “abundant and resilient landscapes.”
 
Braden Trauth, founder of This Land and the Growing Value Nursery, firmly believes in the need to create a sustainable local urban environment and cites the tenets of permaculture as his methodology for how to do so.
 
“Permaculture looks at ecology, understands how ecosystems have worked for 2 billion years and looks at how we can model our human systems off of that,” Trauth says. “It actually pulls a lot of its theoretical framework form industrial design, which is what I’m trained in.”
 
Trauth was initially turned on to sustainable design in the early 2000s by Dale Murray, the coordinator of the Industrial Design Program of the School of Design, in the college of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning at the University of Cincinnati.
 
In 2007, after studying topics such as housing, energy, green business and permaculture around the world, Trauth noticed that Cincinnati was severely lacking in resources for these areas, particularly so in educating the population about them. In 2008, he began teaching permaculture classes in Cincinnati, and in 2011 went on to form This Land to continue to educate and disseminate ideas on how to create systems for sustainable living.
 
“The Growing Value Nursery spawned out of our permaculture courses,” Trauth says. “We realized that we didn’t have a supply line of good plants to supply homeowners, home gardeners, landscapers with diverse edibles; most of what you’d get is mail order, and most of the plants are small. We wanted to do something bigger.”
 
In 2013, the Growing Value Nursery received a $1,200 grant from Fuel Cincinnati, which allowed them to accelerate growth so the program could be more self-sustaining through the nursery and classes.
 
“You talk with Braden for a half hour and you realize that we have world-class experts on permaculture right here in Cincinnati,” says Fuel chair Joe Stewart-Pirone. “Fuel knew we wanted to help launch this project as soon as we saw it.”
 
For more info on the nursery or to schedule an appointment to visit, e-mail info@this-land.org

by Mike Sarason


Cincinnati Chamber launches $1.7M minority business funding campaign

The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator (MBA) announced the launch of the first phase of funding for the L. Ross Love GrowthBridge Fund. The MBA is the Chamber’s economic-development initiative focused on growing sizeable minority firms.
 
The fund will provide flexible debt capital to finance growth projects of established, highly competitive African-American and Hispanic-owned firms in the region. The average loan size will be $175,000. It is anticipated that three to four loans will be made per year. Once they are, they will be the first of their kind in the country.
 
“The combination of the target market, the geographic focus and the financial product makes the L. Ross Love GrowthBridge Fund unique,” says Crystal German, vice president of the MBA and economic inclusion at the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. “The fund will help us grow our impact, the number of firms we touch, and continue to help us fundamentally change the conversation about economic inclusion.”
 
The fund was named in memory of media owner L. Ross Love. The entrepreneur, philanthropist, former Procter & Gamble executive and founder of Blue Chip Broadcasting was dedicated to minority entrepreneurship. During his career, Love created Blue Chip Enterprises, a company that helped African Americans start their own businesses.
 
The fund has raised more than $1.7 million from 28 investors since being announced in June 2013, representing both corporations and private commitments.
 
“The opportunity to make the L. Ross Love GrowthBridge Fund come to fruition was seeded by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, who was looking for opportunities where they could provide financial investments that also created positive social impact,” German says.
 
Since its inception in 2003, the MBA has created 1,800 jobs in Cincinnati. The success of the Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator has served as a catalyst across the country including in Charlotte, Cleveland, Lexington, Dayton and Greenville, where MBAs have since been launched. Learn more about the history of Cincinnati's MBA and how it has become a model for other MBAs throughout the country.

By Mike Sarason

'Raise the Floor' initiative will prepare women for advanced manufacturing careers

Last week, the Workforce Solutions and Innovation Division of Gateway Community and Technical College in Florence, Ky., launched ‘Raise the Floor,’ an initiative designed to promote manufacturing careers to women and to prepare them for stable, highly paid, high-performance production jobs.
 
Raise the Floor has two primary goals: to help women improve their economic well-being and increase the pipeline of skilled workers—in this case women—to ease the current and projected manufacturing labor shortage. The program was developed by a group of women from a variety of employers including Duke Energy, Emerson Industrial Automation, NKY Chamber of Commerce, Northern Kentucky University and more.
 
“This new program was developed by women for women,” says Angie Taylor, Vice President of Workforce Solutions and Innovation. “A consortium of 26 female manufacturing executives and community leaders met throughout the summer and fall to pull the program together, with the assistance of our Dean of Workforce Solutions, Carissa Schutzman.”
 
A Raise the Floor pilot program is currently under way with a small group of women from other Gateway programs who are involved in an introductory class, which will conclude November 8. 
 
The training portion formally kicks off in January when a group of 10 to 15 women are expected to take the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council’s Certified Production Technician class. This four-credit-hour Gateway course ends in May and includes four assessments. When students pass all four assessments, they receive the nationally recognized Certified Production Technician certification.
 
“We are delighted to announce this new initiative that joins our existing efforts to promote manufacturing careers to high school students, displaced workers and veterans,” says Ed Hughes, Gateway President/CEO. “We now have recruitment efforts aimed at four of the five worker populations identified by the Northern Kentucky Industrial Partnership, and we are working to develop outreach to the fifth, which is senior citizens.
 
“The Raise the Floor initiative is a shot in the arm for our extensive manufacturing pipeline efforts,” Hughes continues. “We are very grateful to the United Way, which has co-sponsored this effort, Partners for a Competitive Workforce and all of the 26 women who so generously volunteered their time to develop this dynamic new initiative.”

By Mike Sarason

Financial Opportunity Center offers new model for social service in Cincinnati

The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), the nation’s leading community-development support organization, has developed a new model to help struggling individuals and family progress to a state of stability. The program is called the Financial Opportunity Center, and LISC has partnered with several area organizations, most of them with a specific neighborhood focus, to implement the model in and around Cincinnati.
 
While traditional social service organizations and models have revolved around simply helping neighborhood residents secure employment, Kristen Baker, Program Officer at LISC of Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky, says that a new paradigm is needed.
 
“A few years ago, just around the time of the economic downturn, the United Way had a one-day summit around the theme of financial stability,” Baker remembers. “One of the ideas that came from it was that people felt like the organizations in their communities weren’t doing enough, that a more multifaceted approach was needed to help people move up the economic ladder.”
 
The search for such an approach led LISC to apply for, and eventually receive, a grant from the Social Innovation Fund to develop what became their Financial Opportunity Center (FOC) model.
 
“The FOC is based on best practices from the Annie E. Casey Foundation centers for working families and includes three types of training for clients: employment placement and career improvement; financial education and coaching; and public benefits access,” Baker says.

Thus far, LISC has used the grant to institute FOCs at Cincinnati Works, the Brighton Center (in Newport, Ky.), the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati (in Avondale) and Santa Maria Community Services (in Price Hill).
 
From January to September of 2013, the four Greater Cincinnati Financial Opportunity Centers helped more than 480 individuals be placed in jobs, 150 people retain employment for one year, 78 individuals improve their credit score, 130 people improve their monthly net income and 66 people improve their net worth.
 
“The sentiment used to be that if we could just get people a job, they’d be able to advance,” Baker says. “Especially after the recession, we’ve seen that there are many other issues that have snowballed together. This model is about a long-term relationship with our clients and their communities—it’s about working with people after the initial crisis of being unemployed and developing new and positive habits for the clients.” 

By Mike Sarason


Meals on Wheels provider turns unused kitchen into incubator for local women-owned food companies

Senior Services of Northern Kentucky, located on Madison Avenue in Covington, had a challenge. A switch in the way they operated their Meals on Wheels program left them with an industrial-size kitchen that was hardly being used. So they set about searching for a tenant who would not only be interested in the space, but also in making a difference in the community.
 
Enter Rachel DesRochers, the founder of Grateful Grahams, a successful food manufacturer dedicated to high-quality vegan products and to supporting fellow women food-based entrepreneurs.
 
“We went through a process of vetting each other out,” said Ken Rechtin, Interim Executive Director of Senior Services. “She liked the space and we liked her, but she couldn’t single-handedly take on the cost of the kitchen.”
 
DesRochers then had the idea to bring in multiple vendors to share the kitchen, which would not only offset cost for Senior Services, but would also help others achieve their culinary dreams.
 
Part of DesRochers’ mission is to help empower women business owners; to that end she has already attracted many to join the collective kitchen incubator including companies Love and Fluff marshmallows makers, Delish Dish caterers, vegan Zucchini bread bakers Evergreen Holistic Learning Center, and Piebird Sweet and Savory Specialties.
 
“The space is being used almost seven days a week; it’s really neat to see all of that activity down there,” Rechtin says. “It’s really a win-win-win and has opened us up to some other thoughts of how our organizations can collaborate further. We’ve talked about sending a Grateful Graham out with every Thanksgiving meal as a way to give back, and we’ve got several more ideas we’re still working out.”
 
In addition to the kitchen, the Senior Services location has additional space still available in the building. Rechtin estimates that there is somewhere around 7,000 square feet of available office space.

“We’re very happy to host the kitchen incubator in our space and would love to have more people with new ideas come in to use our facility,” Rechtin says. 

By Mike Sarason


Promising University of Cincinnati student research turns coffee waste into biodiesel

In the long running quest to find alternative fuel sources, University of Cincinnati researchers are adding to the pursuit. They're in the early stages of scaling a process that converts coffee grounds into biodiesel.

Graduate student Yang Liu and doctoral student Qingshi Tu have been working on the project for nearly two years. Their research, which involves burning the grounds for energy after a purification process, was recently presented at the American Chemical Society's 246th National Meeting & Exposition in Indianapolis.

"We have three targets. First we extract oil from the coffee grounds, then we dry the waste coffee grounds in a process to filter impurities. Then we burn what's left as a source of energy generation (similar to using biomass)," explains Liu, an environmental engineering student.

The research is in the proof of concept stage, so it's proven promising in the lab, says Tu, also an environmental engineering student.

"Now we have to see how this will work on a large scale … in the next two years," he says.

The students are working with UC professor Mingming Lu on the process, which began in 2010. The project began small, starting with a five-gallon bucket of grounds from the campus Starbucks.

The project was one of four awarded a $500 UC Invents initiative grant last year. The grant supports campus innovators.

With the magnitude of coffee drinkers in just the U.S., the researchers have plenty of material to experiment with. It's estimated that one million tons of coffee waste is generated in the U.S. alone each year. Most of that sits in landfills.

By Feoshia H. Davis
Follow Feoshia on Twitter
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Scott Belsky kicks off Cincinnati Mercantile Library's new lecture series October 21

Cincinnati's Mercantile Library is reaching into the past with its new 2035 Lecture Series.

The annual series, which kicks off in October, taps forward-looking business leaders to talk about the "future of business, management, design, philosophy, science, and technologies and the ways those will shape the economy of Cincinnati and its region."

"It's a nod to those guys who started up the library," says Mercantile Marketing Manager Chris Messick. "The library was founded in 1835 by young clerks and merchants who were the startup pioneers of their time."

This year's inaugural lecture features creative entrepreneur and best-selling author Scott Belsky who will speak October 21 at 6:30 p.m. downtown at the library. Tickets are $20. You can purchase them here.

Belsky co-founded Behance, a platform that allows creatives to show and share their work online. Adobe acquired the company in 2012, and Belsky is Adobe's vice president of products-community, according to his bio.

His lecture will be based on his book, "Making Ideas Happen," which walks readers through the process of making a creative idea a reality, Messick says.

"We have a lot events where authors speak, but this is something new. A lot of people in the design world use his site to display portfolios online, and we have a lot of activity around marketing and design downtown. I think this will get a lot of interest," Messick says.

The Mercantile is city's oldest library, with a mission "to make a difference through literature and ideas, advancing interest in the written word, and celebrating the best in literary achievement." A diverse group of authors including Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Saul Bellow and Salman Rushdie have spoken at Mercantile events.

The year 2035 marks the Mercantile's 200-year-anniversary, and this lecture series reflects the historic library's mission to remain a relevant part of the city's creative and business community. The library is supported by membership fees, with memberships starting at $55. The library's blog, Stacked, is popular in local literary circles.

Kroger, dunnhumby, and Murray Sinclaire, Jr./Ross, Sinclaire & Associates, LLC are the inaugural sponsors of the 2035 lecture.

By Feoshia H. Davis
Follow Feoshia on Twitter.


New commercial real estate firm fills gap in targeting minority-owned businesses

During his 15-year career in commercial real estate, J.R. Foster didn't see many faces like his in the industry.

As an African-American, Foster found the lack of diversity in commercial real estate particularly striking, considering the changing global marketplace. In many industry sectors, supplier and corporate diversity is considered a business advantage.

"Corporations are spending a great deal of money with minority- and women-owned businesses, but there is virtually zero spend in the corporate real estate space. There are very few minorities who go out and form their own companies after growing their knowledge base," says Foster, who's spent much of his career at Jones Lang LaSalle (formally The Staubach Company), Lehman Brothers and JP Morgan.

That's why this year Foster went out on his own and co-founded Robert Louis Group. The firm is one of the only Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) certified commercial real estate firms in the country.

Foster's background includes corporate real estate leasing assignments, sales, acquisition, financing and M&A transactions. The company has a working partnership with Colliers International to provide its clients services globally.

Foster and his co-founder David Hornberger are working with independent real estate contractors and are in the process of growing their leadership team.

Just as corporations depend on diversity in hires and suppliers to grow their businesses, Foster believes diversity in commercial real estate can help companies reach an increasingly diverse consumers base.

The firm offers brokerage, marketing, financing, property management and other services.

"We're not only focused on real estate, but the way our clients do businesses. We take into account the design of space, strategic locations and business objectives," Foster says.

By Feoshia H. Davis
Follow Feoshia on Twitter
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