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Curb'd now taking applications for Covington parklet designs

The application process is now open for artists and designers interested in Curb’d, a program to create parklets next year in Covington’s MainStrasse and Central business districts. The collaboration between Renaissance Covington and MainStrasse Village Association is funded by the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation.
Curb’d is working closely with businesses in those areas to select parking spaces to house parklets and is preparing to bring designers, artists and engineers into that collaboration.
Businesses already have applied to host a parklet in a parking space in front of their location, and 13 parking spaces have been selected as finalists. They’ll go forward in the design competition, with five businesses submitting their own designs and the other eight working with art and design teams who enter the application process.
The 13 final designs will be judged by a jury panel that will choose which five parklets are actually constructed.
Katie Meyer, Executive Director of Renaissance Covington, is excited to see a wide variety of creative ideas.
“I think that we are going to have a really diverse group of artists and designers and people of different design backgrounds,” she says. “Parklets are being done in many cities right now, and a lot of times they become an extension of outdoor seating. We want to go further than a table and chairs.”
Meyer emphasizes that Curb’d is looking for unique, site-specific designs for interactive installations that activate space. The intensive application process reflects the high standards the project is looking for — those interested in submitting a design must attend a mandatory informational workshop on either Nov. 16 or Nov. 18 in order to qualify to submit proposals by Dec. 2.
The design teams whose installations are chosen to be fabricated will be rewarded with a $1,000 honorarium. Even the teams who go through the design process but whose parklets are not chosen will be compensated with gift cards donated by participating Covington businesses.
The businesses will also benefit, since the parklets, which will be installed from May through October of 2016, are predicted to attract foot traffic to and between the two business districts. They’re intended to help activate the space, make the areas more pedestrian-friendly and bring people into businesses.
Meyer says she’s already seeing excitement from the business community in the few months the project has been percolating.
“There are a couple of businesses that aren’t always engaged that are participating, and that’s exciting,” she says.
Anyone interested in designing a Curb’d parklet should review the application process and attend one of the mandatory informational workshops at Braxton Brewing Company on Monday, Nov. 16 at 6-8 p.m. or Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 7:30-9:30 a.m.

People's Liberty announces second round of Project Grant winners

People’s Liberty moves its experiment with a new model of philanthropy into a second full year of grantmaking, announcing its second round of Project Grant winners on Oct. 16.
The first round of project grants, awarded in April, included ideas as diverse and dynamic as a way to teach Cincinnatians how to build their own Andriod apps, a high-quality print magazine on historic architecture and renovation, a huge interactive retro video game to activate space and a curated online platform for local makers to sell their wares, among others.
As those projects are now seeing the fruits of their labor in the Cincinnati area, the next eight grantees are just beginning their journeys to turn their own visions into reality. They’ll be developing projects ranging from exhibitions focused on both art and science to tools for real estate development to solutions for the sharing economy.
As with all People’s Liberty grants, these projects will be undertaken by individuals, not organizations. Each project is awarded $10,000 and 10 months to complete its work as well as mentorship and resources from People’s Liberty.
The Project Grants are the first of People’s Liberty three major grant programs — also Globe Grants ($15,000 for a three-month installation in the organization’s Globe Building in Over-the-Rhine) and Haile Fellowships ($100,000 and one year to complete a project) — to announce a second round of winners. The first round of Globe Grant awardees were announced in August and the second round of Haile Fellows is scheduled to be unveiled Nov. 4.
The new Project Grant winners are:
1 Degree of Separation by Kailah Ware: An interactive mobile installation using audio and visual components to both ask and answer the question, “What do you love about Cincinnati?”
N.O.M. by Kevin Wright and Joe Nickol: A step-by-step guide to public space activation in pioneering locations and emerging markets to empower community stakeholders to create demand for additional and ongoing real estate development.
The Solar System by Josiah Wolf, Elisabeth Wolf and Matt Kotlarcyzk: The project will create and install a scaled model of our solar system for permanent display in a public setting.
Let's Dance by Gregory Norman and Kathye Lewis: Cincinnati’s long history of ballroom dancing will be reinvigorated through fifth and sixth grade students in South Avondale to instill a sense of pride and confidence.
Plop! by Amy Scarpello and Abby Cornelius: The creative project will add engagement and fun in Cincinnati Parks through the deployment of giant 15-foot bean bags.
State by Nate May: A series of performances featuring MUSE, MyCincinnati, singer Kate Wakefield and other local musicians centering around the premiere of an oratorio about Appalachian migration to Cincinnati.
POPP=D'ART by Janet Creekmore, Ben Neal and Melissa Mitchell: A 1963 Rainbow caravan travel trailer will be converted into a tiny mobile art gallery to introduce affordable art in unexpected places while also elevating exposure and recognition for up-and-coming local artists.
A Sharing Solution by Adam Gelter and Andrea Kern: The project will leverage the power of the “sharing economy” to connect Over-the-Rhine businesses, institutions and public spaces with those who live, work and play there in a way never before attempted.

LawnLife founder pays forward the values of hard work and a well-kept yard

Tim Arnold has given real work experience to nearly 600 at-risk youth over the past seven years, and he’s getting local and even national recognition for his efforts.
Founder of the nonprofit LawnLife, Arnold employs young people ages 16-24 who face multiple hardships in their life and gives them an opportunity to earn a paycheck working in lawn care, landscaping and construction. The work gives them a chance to feel valuable, learn new skills and advance in a trade while earning money, empowering them through economic opportunity, education and accountability.
After winning Social Venture Partners’ Fast Pitch in February, LawnLife recently went to the Philanthropitch International competition in Austin, Tex., where the company was honored as one of the 10 “brightest social innovators” from across the U.S. and Canada.
Perhaps Arnold’s model is working so well because of the founder’s connection to the youth he employs.
“I’m very passionate about these kids because I was these kids,” he says. “I did whatever I could to survive, so I understand what these kids have been through.”
In his own youth, Arnold says, he had trouble with the law many times while trying to survive. What finally enabled him to turn his own life around was his first legitimate job opportunity in construction.
“I applied myself to that job,” Arnold explains. “I started working work.”
He says he began to appreciate the importance of work life, staying late and learning trades from supervisors, and eventually saw the rewards of that work.
That first job started an upward spiral for Arnold. In a few years, he was able to get a real estate license and started rehabbing houses on the side. It was on those rehab jobs that Arnold started hiring young people off the street, trying to give them the same opportunities and instill the value of hard work that had made such a difference for him.
The effort quickly grew into a comprehensive, multi-tiered program. As Arnold hired more youth who wanted to keep working, he started taking them out to mow lawns and do yard work in the community. It soon grew into a nonprofit organization that works with many other area services to reach young people to employ.
“They don’t understand we’re trying to help them,” Arnold says, adding that his young employees take the program seriously as a job rather than a service provided to them.
But LawnLife does help the youth they employ as well as the communities in which they work. Although the employees do lawn care and construction for clients who can pay market rate, Arnold also finds ways to “pay it forward” and clean up community spaces or offer lawn mowing to residents who might not be able to afford to pay for a lawn mower or what a professional company might charge.
Even though LawnLife is getting calls from all over the country and the model might take off elsewhere, Arnold is focused on Cincinnati and making an even bigger impact on the city’s landscape.
“If I can keep one less kid off the nightly news, I’m doing a good job,” he says. “There’s more bad yards than bad kids, I guarantee you.”

Mortar accelerator teaching its second class, planning expansion

At their weekly meeting Aug. 3, members of Mortar’s current startup class christened themselves “Second to None.”
The 17 entrepreneurs are the second group to go through Mortar’s nine-week course of classes and mentorship. They’re now five weeks into the program, modeled after a similar effort from partner Launch Chattanooga, and many are already benefitting from the guidance and education.
Started in 2014 by Derrick Braziel, William Thomas II and Allen Woods, Mortar is not your average business accelerator. The Over-the-Rhine based organization focuses on non-traditional, minority and low-income entrepreneurs, seeking to provide resources to individuals often left out of “renaissances” like OTR’s.
“A year in, we’re starting to see that it is possible,” says co-founder William Thomas.
Along with its course, Mortar supplies entrepreneurs with mentorship from organizations like SCORE and legal guidance through a partnership with University of Cincinnati’s School of Law. It also has a pop-up storefront, Brick, next to its Vine Street offices, which gives new businesses a chance to experiment in a real-world context. Even after graduation, Mortar stays in touch with participants to serve as a resource, a networking tool and an inspiration.
Dana “Nyah” Higgins, founder of JameriSol, which makes vegan and vegetarian Jamaican/Soul food, graduated from Mortar’s first class in April after learning about the program through CityLink. Through the Mortar program, Higgins went from creating dishes out of her home for family and friends to conversations with Findlay Market and a national food chain.
“Initially when I started the class, JameriSol was only an idea that I had had for way too long,” Higgins says. “The men at Mortar — Allen, Derrick and William — gave someone like me, with little experience, the foundation and skills needed to take JameriSol from dream to reality.”
Lindsey Metz is a participant in the new Mortar class. Much like Higgins, she came to the course with an idea: Fryed, a french fry walk-up window in OTR. Although she has food service experience, Metz appreciates the support and the visionary mentality of Mortar’s founders as much as the nuts-and-bolts business advice in the classes.
“I never would have dreamed I could actually do this, but the Mortar founders themselves and the resources they’ve connected me with have shown me I can,” Metz says. “They are extremely knowledgeable guys, but beyond that they are ridiculously supportive.”
The class also includes businesses that are already established but wish to grow. Mike Brown wants to take his business, Brown Lawn Care, from part-time to full-time, adding more clients and employees.
“I’ve really been cultivating all the creative aspects I touched on before, now I’m getting to know them much deeper,” Brown says. “My relationship with clients is really taking off.”
Mortar itself is also taking off. For the second class, the organization received 50 applications, a significant increase over the first class.
“This time it feels real,” Thomas says.
But the Mortar founders aren’t content with the success of the class and Brick in OTR and are thinking of expanding and replicating their model in other neighborhoods. Whatever they do next, it will be visionary.
The “Second to None” class will present its business plans to the public in early October. You can follow Mortar on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for details and updates.

Xavier announces winners of first-ever University of the Future Design Challenge

Xavier University announced winners of its first-ever University of the Future Design Challenge last week, selected from over 75 participants by Center for Innovation staff members, including its brand new director, Dave Zlatic. Using Xavier’s state-of-the-art MakerBot 3D printing facility, the challenge drew participants from across campus — including faculty and alumni — to learn how to use a 3D printer, scan a 3D image and design a 3D-printable piece.
Participants were attracted to the Challenge when Xavier held a week-long 3D printing training session in mid-May. 3D printing expert Poppy Lyttle joined the ranks at the Center for Innovation from MakerBot Industries in Brooklyn to teach the course. She hopes that the seminar and subsequent competition encourages even the least “artsy” students to give it a try.
“There is just so much you can do,” Lyttle says. “Knowing about 3D printing can expand your career options — research, product design and development, engineering, industrial application, architecture, hospital simulation labs. There are uses we can’t even imagine.”
With the course completed, participants were asked to submit their 3D designs for judging. Winners of the Challenge were selected from three different categories: “University Structures of the Future,” “Learning and Teaching in the Future” and “New Technologies.”
The first category asked participants to envision a college campus in the year 2025. The winning submission, created by Megan Bowling, is called the “Releaf Station,” a structure that uses solar energy panels to power a sensory deprivation chamber that will allow students total relaxation between classes.
The second category looked for teaching aids and classroom components that students might see in 2025. The winning design belonged to Xavier Assistant Professor in Chemistry Stephen Mills, who created 3D versions of Acetylene and Allene chemicals to better explain chemical bonding to chemistry students.
The winner in the “New Technologies” category was Leonard Rich, who created a cinder block connector that could be used to prevent soil runoff in raised garden beds.
The first place winners received $150 and 100 grams of free printing for their efforts. Runners-up received 50 grams of free printing at the Innovation Center.
For the full list and photos of the first- and second-place winners, click here.

Start Small housing concept gaining big momentum

Nearly halfway through his year-long People's Liberty Haile Fellowship, Brad Cooper’s Start Small project is starting to gain momentum.
Cooper was awarded the grant based on his proposal to build two 200-square-ft. single family homes on an otherwise unbuildable lot in Over-the-Rhine as a model for net-zero, affordable infill housing. He presented an update on his project, along with information for potential buyers, at a public event May 13 at the Over-the-Rhine Community Center.
Since starting the program, some aspects of Cooper’s design and concept have changed. The houses will now be 250 square ft. in order to accommodate the city’s zoning regulations. The two houses on Peete Street will also be attached to leverage potential energy and cost savings as well as to better fit the historic character of Over-the-Rhine.
Cooper's initial plans for composting toilets and water reuse will also be modified to meet building codes.
“The building codes need to adapt, and I think they will, but it will take time and people calling for the change,” says Cooper, who presented his project concept and suggested code changes to City Council’s Education and Entrepreneurship Committee in February.
The houses will be net zero, with solar panels providing all electricity. Cooper is working with Sefaria, an application that supports high-performance building design, to optimize the homes’ HVAC systems. Each house will have monitors to track the occupants’ energy usage as well as energy production from the solar panels.
As the popularity of the tiny house movement grows, it’s also come under criticism.
“This project is not for everyone,” Cooper acknowledges. “Start Small is providing choice and creating thoughtful infill development.
“The idea that tiny homes encourage less density is a myth. Zoning regulations that require minimum lot sizes encourage less density. Zoning regulations that prohibit two tiny homes being on the same lot encourage less density.”
Although not currently permitted under zoning code, “small homes could be developed as accessory dwelling units, which add density to areas,” Cooper says. “Multiple homes on one lot is permitted in neighborhoods that have adopted Form Based Code, and here I would expect the same density to be met as with a traditional project.”
Cooper encourages residents with concerns about density and other zoning issues to review the draft of the Land Development Code and contact the City Planning Department with any input.
As tiny homes become more common and zoning codes are updated to accommodate their construction, Cooper predicts ongoing evolutions of the concept to make tiny homes more appealing. “
I expect to see tiny homes with shared resources,” he says. “A communal kitchen, shared waste remediation, shared energy production and other communal ideas are a challenge to figure out but would make tiny living more affordable.”
Since January, Cooper has been working to develop financing options for potential Small Start homebuyers as traditional mortgages may be difficult to obtain.
“The main challenge is the unconventional nature of the project,” he says. “There is not a lot for an appraiser to compare the homes to locally, so having a lender feel comfortable with the value of the home is critical.
“Additionally, most mortgages are not held by the initial lending institution but bundled and sold on a secondary market dominated by government-subsidized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Those entities require the home to be at least a 1-bedroom. The tiny homes will qualify not qualify as 1-bedrooms. I’m anticipating the need for a (local) bank or even an individual to step forward and provide a loan to a tiny homeowner. This institution would be willing to take the risk on something out of the box and hold onto the mortgage.”
Initially, Cooper projected the houses would cost $80,000, although it now seems they may list for $70,000. He hopes to have buyers in place before fall so construction can be completed before the end of the year, allowing residents to move in to the homes by early 2016. Cooper has partnered with Working in Neighborhoods to help potential buyers through the process.
Community engagement is a big part of the Start Small project. Cooper hosted a one-day exhibit called “Size Matters” at Assumption Gallery to invite the public to explore ideas about tiny living and affordable housing. In March, Cooper invited the neighbors to 142 and 144 Peete St. to introduce himself and his idea for the property. Keep Cincinnati Beautiful organized volunteers and residents to help clean up the lot in April.
Cooper has also solicited public feedback on the design and amenities of the tiny houses. He plans to hold additional presentations and information sessions in the coming months.
It’s looking like his Start Small project may in fact turn into something big.

Noble Denim looks to Kickstarter campaign to help launch second clothing line

Over-the-Rhine-based Noble Denim plans to launch a new clothing line, Victor Athletics, if its Kickstarter campaign succeeds. The second line will feature vintage-style athletic wear for men and women made from organic materials.
Co-founder Abby Sutton says the new brand is the result of two concurrent trends: customer feedback asking for lower-priced clothing and Noble’s factory asking for more work.

“Noble Denim has worked with the same partner factory in Tennessee for the last two years, and our relationship with them is very important to us,” she says. “We are always focused on giving our factory as much work as possible, but we’ve been hesitant to expand Noble’s production too much because we wanted to keep our focus on limited-edition items.

“We stepped back and saw a gap. There are people telling us they are ready to buy U.S.-made clothing at a more accessible price and factories desperate for the opportunity to grow. That’s why we created Victor.”
Noble Denim and Victor Athletics will operate in tandem but with different products, styles and distribution plans.

Victor Athletics will be sold online and release new styles on the seasonal fashion industry schedule. Online distribution eliminates mark-ups and keeps consumer costs lower, Sutton explains. Noble Denim will continue its small-batch production and retail distribution, which she says will be expanding into new markets.
Victor Athletics is wrapping up an ambitious $100,000 Kickstarter campaign, the company’s first, and Sutton says they pursued it to allow early Noble Denim backers to have a sense of ownership in the company.

“We see the sad state of American clothing today as an issue that belongs to all of us, and we want Victor to be a brand where the customer is deeply engaged in helping us making the change,” she says. “It’s a vulnerable thing to be on Kickstarter, and it’s uncomfortable to be able to measure our success in a very public way. But we want our backers to feel that we are relying on them to make this happen, because we are.

“At the end of the day, no matter how amazing our products are, the statistics won’t shift until people see this story as important and as a story that belongs to them, too. It’s the people’s commitment to our factories that will give them work. Kickstarter creates an all-or-nothing environment where that kind of ownership becomes possible.”
With just a few days left to reach their goal, Sutton says the company’s most effective pitch is to point out that 80 percent of the clothes Americans wore in 1980 were made in the U.S. but that number is down to 2 percent today — causing small-town American factories to close as a result and harming thousands of workers and families.

“By choosing to employ rural American factories again, Victor prioritizes how the clothes are sewn,” she says. “In fact, we’re going even farther by giving 5 percent of our after-tax profit back to the factory to continue to invest in their workers and combat the impact of outsourcing.
“If you wear clothes and you live in America, our story is for you. Our values are important to us, but we also don’t think people should buy Made in America on sentiment alone. At the end of the day, we’re making really awesome clothes.”

The Victor Athletics Kickstarter campaign ends on April 15.

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.

Electric cars welcome at new dunnhumby garage

A new 3CDC development in Cincinnati's Central Business District is making a name for innovation, and it's not a new residential building or office space. It's a garage.
The new dunnhumby Centre Garage, located at the corner of Fifth and Race streets, is the first of its kind to include charging stations for electric cars in its design.
The 1,000-space garage features three Level 2 charging stations that will allow six cars to charge at a time. Electric car users will pay the same parking rate as other drivers and will have access to the charging stations on a first-come first-served basis.
The "green" garage idea is a response to city reports of doubling electric car usage over the past year. The reports estimate that nearly 3,000 electric vehicles requiring plug-in access are now registered in Southwest Ohio.
"We plan to integrate charging stations into any of our future developments that involve the construction of a new parking garage," says Joe Rudemiller of 3CDC.
With the construction of dunnhumby's new office space still ongoing, dunnhumby employees are not expected to use the garage until the company moves in April. At that time, about half of the garage will likely be used by dunnhumby employees. At the moment, the garage is mainly public parking and is used by valet services at the Hilton at Netherland Plaza, 21c Museum Hotel and Metropole Restaurant.
According to a recent 3CDC inquiry, three or four dunnhumby employees currently drive electric cars to work.
If the number of electric car drivers in the city dramatically increases, this garage and others like it will be ready for them.
"The (charging) stations are very easy to install," Rudemiller says. "We'll be able to keep up with the demand quite easily."

One-room schoolhouse at NKU to be transformed into modern learning space

Imagine taking a history course in a building that, by its very nature, is a testament to how far education has come over the centuries. At Northern Kentucky University, plans are underway to create a space that creates that very opportunity, and more.
In the coming months, renovation projects will ensue to turn a one-room, 1850s schoolhouse into a technologically modern learning center. The log cabin-like structure will be equipped with wifi, a smart board and other modern classroom materials. That said, instead of gutting the building, project leader and Masters in Public History professor Dr. Brian Hackett wants to keep the design of the cabin as loyal to 19th century design standards as possible. This means primitive lighting and perhaps a coal-burning stove, if they're lucky.
Dr. Hackett, along with the grounds and maintenance crew at NKU, has been pushing to make this building usable again for years. The cabin arrived on campus grounds in 1979 after being transferred from Grants Lick, Ky. The university's former president, Dr. W. Frank Steely, brought the building to campus to provide a contrast to the modern amenities students were enjoying at that time. For decades, it simply sat on the grounds.
Furthered by a push from the Facilities Management Department at the university, Dr. Hackett finally made a move to change that. After years of bringing his museum management students to the building and asking them, "If someone handed you this building, what would you do with it?" Dr. Hackett finally decided to do something with it.
According to Hackett, the cost to carry out the project is surprisingly low. Financially backed by "money that should have been spent years ago" and aided by the help of dozens of student and faculty volunteers, the renovations should be complete by next spring. Once finished, Hackett and his teams envision that the building will provide a space for all disciplines, not just history.
"Any professor can take their students to the cabin for a class," Hackett says. "[The cabin] is meant to be integrated into the philosophy of the whole university."
That philosophy is characterized by a sense of collaboration. NKU's Ecological Stewardship Institute Initiative, its Masters in Public History Program and even its cabinetry department will all be working together to make Dr. Hackett's vision a reality.
The grounds surrounding the cabin will also serve an important purpose. In the coming months, the fields behind the structure will serve as living laboratories for students studying the sciences.
As for the cabin itself, it will allow NKU students to escape the distractions of the average learning space and truly return to a simpler time.
"I think people are going to use it more than they think," Hackett says. "If you're looking for a place to, say, write the next great American novel, there's really no better option."

Cincinnati startup Lagoon aims to change how we view water usage

A good idea can come at any time, as long as you’re ready to listen to it. There may be no group in town that knows this better than the founders of Lagoon, the Cincinnati startup that seeks to help homeowners understand and reduce their water usage.
Late in the fall of 2013, good friends, entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts Eric Elias and Nathan Heidt wanted to work on a side project together. The two got together, along with Heidt’s lifelong friend Will Wiebe, and began working on ideas to submit to the University of Dayton’s Business Plan Competition.
“An hour before the application was due, we really weren’t passionate about anything,” says Elias, now CEO of Lagoon. “We wanted a market that wasn’t already over-saturated and, ultimately, an idea that we cared about.”
Heidt, now CTO, had just finished a cross-country bicycle trip. Along the way, he saw the impact a drought was having in regions of Texas and California on its farmers and citizens and became inspired to learn more about water usage. The group started thinking about a product that could educate and inspire others around the issue of water usage.
“I just asked Nathan and Will if it would be possible to measure water usage from the outside of a pipe,” Elias says. “They said it could work, and we all knew immediately that we were on to something.”
Fast forward to the present and Lagoon has made major strides forward, and is no longer a side project being worked on out of a barn. The team ended up winning third prize at the UD Business Plan competition and receiving $10,000. The startup has also since been accepted into the 2014 class of the Brandery, the top 10 nationally ranked accelerator located in Over-the-Rhine.
The technology for Lagoon is similar to that of the Nest model in that it reinvents home automation for the digital age. A Lagoon sensor is placed around the outside of a home’s main water line and a Lagoon base station is placed in the home. Using the home’s wi-fi network, the two devices communicate with each other to monitor and track water usage and then send information to the user’s smartphone.  
“As a homeowner, I never really understood my water bill,” Elias says. “It’s like receiving your credit card bill with a single line item—it’s very unclear. Plus, right now, you get a water bill 30 days later. That’s a long feedback loop. We want to bring it closer, to the week, to the hour, to the minute, so you can understand your water usage even for your morning shower you just took.”
Already, Lagoon has entered into a partnership with the Hamilton Mill and the city of Hamilton, Ohio, to pilot its technology with the city’s residents.
“Hamilton is a city that is focused on being eco-friendly and sustainable. Having a smart home water system within their homes fits that,” Elias says.
Lagoon is poised to make even bigger moves as the year progresses. The team urges residents to check out its site and explore how having a Lagoon in their home can help them save money and save the planet.  

GoSun ships first solar cookers, launches online community

GoSun, the Cincinnati startup that developed a portable, high-efficiency and fuel-free solar cooker of the same name, has just begun shipping their first line of products around the world.
The cookers come in two variations, called the GoSun Sport, which can cook up to 3 lbs of food and weigh only 5 lbs itself, and the GoSun Mini, which weighs about 1.5 lbs and can cook 9.5 oz of food. Soapbox profiled GoSun in the fall of 2013, when they were in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign. The campaign ended with GoSun raising over $200,000, making it the most successful Kickstarter campaign ever in Cincinnati. Since that time, things have been happening fast for the GoSun team.
“We’ve already sent out over 1,000 products to 22 countries around the world, making these the first batch of American made high efficiency solar cookers,” says Patrick Sherwin, Founder and President of GoSun.
Additionally, GoSun has launched an online community via Facebook called the GoSun Community Kitchen, where early adopters of the technology can post and view pictures and recipes using the solar cooker.
“We love that people are so excited about the GoSun and are constantly thinking up new ways to use it,” says Social Designer Matt Gillespie.
With the rapid expansion of the company, GoSun has hired six fulltime employees since the fall and that number will likely grow through the end of 2014. At the beginning of the year, they were even offered a spot on the coveted entrepreneurial-themed TV show, Shark Tank.
“They actually approached us and suggested we apply for the show,” says Sherwin. “We seriously considered it for a long time, but in the end, we decided that we’d rather grow our company based on the steady input of users we’ve built up over time, as opposed to hoping for an overnight success.”
To read about the decision in greater detail, you can find the blog post on GoSun’s site here. Whichever way they choose to go, GoSun’s future looks undoubtedly bright. 

Biztech incubator rebrands and shifts focus

Biztech, the 11-year-old business incubator based in Hamilton, Ohio, announced earlier this month its new name and rebranding initiative aimed at attracting early-stage entrepreneurs and companies. Moving forward, Biztech will be known as The Hamilton Mill with the goal to serve as a resource for the entrepreneurial community, particularly in the areas of advanced manufacturing, clean technology (renewable energy, natural gas, water) and digital technology.
“This announcement marks the culmination of many months of effort to redirect and refine the mission, scope and utility of The Hamilton Mill,” says Rahul Bawa, The Hamilton Mill’s Chairman of the Board and Chief Operating Officer of the Blue Chip Venture Company. “As the only incubator in Butler County, it is incumbent on The Hamilton Mill to find new ways of attracting and growing the businesses of the future. The Hamilton Mill is uniquely positioned to bring together entrepreneurs who can build the clean, digital and advanced technologies that will impact all of our lives for the better.”
The city of Hamilton actually owns its utilities department and has been very progressive about providing clean and renewable energy to residents. Anthony Seppi, Operations Director for the Hamilton Mill, is hoping that clients will tap into what the city is doing.
“We’re touting this as a ‘city as a lab’ kind of concept,” he says. “Companies with that fit into this industry can come here, work on prototypes of their product, and have immediate access to resources and customers willing to try them out and give valuable feedback.”
Although the incubator has existed since 2003, it’s only now, with the rebranding and renewed focus, that The Hamilton Mill has made itself known as a regional presence and formed key partnerships with organizations in the entrepreneurial ecosystems of Cincinnati, Dayton and other cities.
“We have a seat on the board of Cintrifuse, we’ve been working with Confluence and with the manufacturing program at Miami University,” Seppi says. “With our new regional partners, we’re going to be making some noise and growing some high-quality businesses.”

Artworks Big Pitch Finalist: Django Kroner, The Canopy Crew

Throughout the summer, Soapbox will profile each of the eight finalists in the Artworks Big Pitch competition, which 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. The competition concludes August 27 at the American Sign Museum with the eight finalists each giving five-minute presentations to a panel of judges. You can read Soapbox’s article on the Big Pitch here.
Magic exists. We just have to choose to let it into our lives. You can be fairly certain of that after meeting Django Kroner, founder and owner of the Canopy Crew.
Launched in November 2013, The Canopy Crew is a custom tree house building and tree care company. As a business owner, Kroner is quite green, but when it comes to tree care, construction, rigging and woodwork, he has several years under his belt already.
At the age of 19, Kroner moved to Red River Gorge, Ky., to pursue his passion for rock climbing. While there, he began working at a cabin rental company building timber frame cabins and living in a tent. Eventually, he decided that he wanted to build a tree house to get off of the forest floor. He spent three years living in the treehouse.
“Living there brought an amazing sense of contentment. No matter what the day held, as soon as I’d go up in the tree house, it’d be a good night,” Kroner says. “Having friends over and seeing how it inspired them made me want to share the magic of tree houses with more people.”
So he decided to leave Red River Gorge, though he still returns frequently, and head to Cincinnati to learn about tree health here to complement the building and rigging skills he learned while in Kentucky.
Now with the Canopy Crew, Kroner is able to build tree houses that not only are safe and sustainable, but also interact with the trees in the healthiest manner possible. He has projects that span the Southwest Ohio/Northern Kentucky region, from Yellow Springs to Eastgate to, of course, Red River Gorge.
“I’m working on developing several tree houses, potentially a tree house village, down at the gorge,” Kroner says. “That way people from around the area can come and experience the amazing perspective that comes with life in a tree house.”
Django became involved with the Big Pitch competition through participating in Artworks’ CO.STARTERS program.
“Artworks has been a huge help for me and my business,” Kroner says. “Through CO.STARTERS and now the Big Pitch, they’ve provided me with some great expertise that relates to me. Starting a business on my own means that I have a thousand questions, and to have something besides Google is huge. If I win the competition, I think that will help me get somewhere that would otherwise have taken three to four years to get to. And if I don’t, it’s still opened up this mentality for me that I can just get after it and start making things happen now.”

Check out these other Artworks Big Pitch finalists:

Metro unveils first ticket vending machine, allowing more flexible public transit

On Thursday, March 27, Metro, Southwest Ohio’s Regional Transit Authority, will unveil its first ticket vending machine. The machine is located at the Government Square information booth near the intersection of Fifth and Walnut in Downtown Cincinnati and provides 24/7 access to Metro passes and stored-value cards.
“This project has been in the works for several years, but it took some planning,” says Jill Dunne, public affairs manager at Metro. “We want to make riding Metro easier, and this is one way we can do just that.”
The machine is similar to standard vending machines, and offers all Metro 30-day rolling passes including Metro/TANK passes, and $10, $20 and $30 stored-value cards. The machine accepts cash (exact amounts only) or credit cards. Up to four passes can be purchased per transaction.
More ticket vending machines will soon be available in the Clifton area near the University of Cincinnati in the new Uptown Transit District and at other high-traffic transit hubs.
“The Uptown Transit District is a big project for Metro this year,” Dunne says. “The new district consists of four distinct areas or hubs that will serve as the major connection and transfer point for many Metro routes and several Uptown shuttles offered by the University of Cincinnati and area employers.”
Currently, Metro is in the construction phase for the shelters in the Uptown area. The machines will be installed later this year once that process is complete.
“This project will better serve the thousands of people riding Metro to and from jobs, education, medical services, and entertainment in Uptown every day,” Dunne says.
Metro is working on additional fare options for customers that will be available in Metro pass sales outlets and ticket vending machines. Metro passes will continue to be sold at a dozen Cincinnati locations and online at www.go-metro.com.
“The good news for Metro is that Cincinnati is talking about public transportation. We are seeing a positive trend with young professionals embracing alternatives to cars. People are seeking green and money-saving alternatives, and Metro fills those needs.”

By Mike Sarason
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