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Vora Ventures connects to local technology ecosystem with first Demo Day


Blue Ash-based private equity group Vora Ventures held its first Demo Day May 28 to showcase companies at various stages of growth and maturity receiving its research and development dollars.
 
“Vora Demo Day was different than a typical accelerator program,” says John Hutchinson, head of corporate development for Vora Ventures. “We presented exciting companies that are well-established and have a record of growth and innovation as well as some of our cutting-edge newer technologies. Our goal for this event was to connect with the local technology community and share the interesting work that we are doing at Vora. ... We have been focused on building our companies and are increasing our focus (now) on contributing to the great Cincinnati technology ecosystem.”
 
Vora Ventures was founded in 2006 by serial entrepreneur Mahendra Vora to acquire and support innovative technology companies. Vora himself is no stranger to the high-tech industry as the co-founder of Intelliseek (now merged with Nielsen Buzzmetrics), SecureIT (now part of VeriSign) and Pioneer Systems (now part of Unisys).
 
Vora came to Cincinnati in 1988 to join Intercomputer Communication Corporation, a firm established by his University of Michigan classmate Kevin O’Connor. After the sale of that firm, Vora launched his own effort to encourage technology innovation in the Greater Cincinnati area.
 
In 2005, Vora and attorney Tim Matthews transformed the 366,000-square-foot Champion Paper plant in Hamilton, Ohio into one of the most advanced technology parks in the country. Vora Ventures was established the following year with 10 employees.
 
As Vora Ventures grew, the company acquired the U.S. Financial Life Center in Blue Ash and developed the 43,000-square-foot facility into the Vora Innovation Center, providing a home to five of its own companies.
 
Vora Ventures now employes 2,000 people with offices in Cincinnati, Dayton and Hamilton, Ohio; New York; California; and Bangalore and Ahmadabad, India. The company was named “2015 Tech Company of the Year” at the Cincinnati Business Courier’s Innovation and Technology Awards.
 
“We are unique within the Cincinnati (entrepreneurial) ecosystem in that we have technology infrastructure, software and services companies and as a group we are equal parts innovator, investor and high-growth technology company,” Hutchinson says. “Cincinnati is a fantastic place to live and work, with a very manageable cost of living. We have many Fortune 500 companies (here), and there is a much richer pool of talent than people recognize. This allows us to attract and retain talent at a cost advantage to some of the more traditional startup communities.”
 
He points out that, despite the national perception that Cincinnati companies can’t compete in the broader technology market, several Vora companies are doing quite well. Vinimaya, for instance, facilitates procurement across 80 countries and boasts a blue-chip customer list featuring GE, Alcoa, Siemens, Visa and the U.S. Department of Energy. AssureCare has contracts to provide managed healthcare software for tens of millions of patients.
 
Vora Ventures currently has a portfolio of 12 companies providing software, services and infrastructure solutions. Six of the companies offered presentations and demonstrations of their products May 28 Demo Day, including:
 
Ascendum, a provider of global IT business solutions that recently acquired FMS, a subsidiary of Turner Construction Co. offering construction and facility management software
 
AssureCare, working with the medical community to help healthcare plans and providers coordinate data and patient care using its MedCompass software
 
CenterGrid, offering businesses IT solutions such as data storage and private cloud-based services
 
Vinimaya, a business-to-business cloud-based procurement system
 
Zakta, a platform promoting social intelligence and collaborative solutions
 
Zingo, an app and in-store experience that allows retailers to customize offers and interaction with their customers. When it opens, Clifton Market will be the first store in the country to use the full Zingo system
 
Other companies held by Vora Ventures include Blue Spring, cFIRST Be Sure, Koncert, Open Commerce and Talent Now.
 
“The response during and after the (Demo Day) was tremendous,” Hutchinson says. “The attendance far exceeded our goals, and the energy and excitement amongst the crowd was inspirational to our team. Many of those who attended were surprised to learn the breadth of technologies currently in the Vora Ventures portfolio as well as the growth and depth of some of our leading companies.”
 
Hutchinson credits community and business leaders for their efforts to promote Cincinnati’s startup, entrepreneurial and technology resources to national and international audiences.
 
“There are so many exciting things happening in the Cincinnati technology community,” he says. “We are enthusiastic about getting more involved and know that we can contribute, lead and benefit from an even stronger connection to the local community. We expect to produce several great technology companies here in Cincinnati in which the entire community can take pride.”
 

UP Cincinnati's next Startup Weekend to focus on female entrepreneurs

 
The Greater Cincinnati startup community is focusing on female entrepreneurs with Startup Weekend Women’s Edition May 29-31.
 
Organized by the all-volunteer UP Cincinnati team, the 54-hour marathon event brings together designers, developers, entrepreneurs and experts to develop and pitch a startup idea, with a focus on connecting and showcasing the talents of female entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs.
 
UP Cincinnati is part of the UP Global network, promoting entrepreneurship, grassroots leadership and community development in cities around the world. Programs include Startup Weekend, Startup Digest and Education Entrepreneurs.
 
“Startup Weekend is encouraging ‘edition’ events, specialized events for women, healthcare, education and many other areas depending on the unique traits and needs of a particular city,” says Startup Weekend organizer and Casamatic co-founder Alex Bowman. “We identified (female entrepreneurs as) an opportunity to potentially grow diversity in the Cincinnati entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
 
The tech industry has come under scrutiny recently for the lack of inclusion in the workplace. Encouraging women entrepreneurs with female-focused startup weekends is a relatively new development for UP Global.
 
“I think the industry as a whole is challenged,” Bowman says. “We’ve made great strides in Cincinnati already with amazing, established groups like Girl Develop It and Bad Girl Ventures. We hope that Startup Weekend Women’s Edition encourages more of this.”
 
Although the startup community often focuses on technology, Startup Weekend welcomes ideas for products and services as well, according to Bowman.
 
“Any and all ideas are encouraged,” he says. “And even if you don't have an idea, that's OK — come and listen to the pitches on Friday night and decide which idea you want to work on over the course of the weekend with a team. Remember, it’s about the experience building the startup, not the idea itself.”
 
The schedule for the weekend is intense, starting on Friday with idea pitches, team selection and role assignments. On Saturday the teams will continue their work, meeting with coaches and mentors throughout the day. The event culminates Sunday with final presentations and judging. Supplies and meals will be provided to registrants.
 
“We just ask that participants come ready for a challenging but exciting weekend,” Bowman says. “It can be exhausting, but it’s a ton of fun!”
 
Bowman and colleagues have recruited what he calls a “dream team” of coaches and judges from the Cincinnati startup community.
 
“Our coaches will be spending time with all of the teams on Saturday, helping them by drawing on their own personal experiences at their startup,” Bowman says. “Our coaches include the likes of Candice Peters and Amanda Kranias from Hello Parent, Becky Blank and Amanda Grossmann from Girl Develop It, Emily Cooper from The Brandery and many more. We are fortunate to have for our judges Wendy Lea (CEO of Cintrifuse), Johnna Reeder (CEO of REDI Cincinnati), Joan Lewis (former SVP of Procter & Gamble) and several others. We’re so excited to have all of them participating and helping out.”
 
In order to participate in the weekend — hosted at UpTech in Covington with lead sponsorship by Kentucky Innovation Network and ezoneregistration is required and spaces are limited. Student discounts are available. Men are welcome to attend, according to the event website, “if they find a female participant to bring them along.”

See a video trailer for Startup Weekend here.
 
For startup enthusiasts who aren’t able to commit to the entire weekend, a special ticket for the Sunday presentations and judging is also available.
 
This will be the eighth Startup Weekend presented by UP Cincinnati and its second special “edition” event, the first being the 2014 Open Data Cincy weekend. Past events have drawn hundreds of participants, and Startup Weekend alumnus Tixers went on to join UpTech and was recently acquired by Florida-based OneUp Sports.
 
Startup Weekend’s “regular” edition will return in November.
 

11-year-old entrepreneur on the "write" path with invention


One of Cincinnati's youngest entrepreneurs has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund manufacturing of his product, Grip Wizard.
 
Eleven-year-old Matthew Meyer invented Grip Wizard (originally named Right-Writer) two years ago while struggling with his handwriting. Grip Wizard is a fabric strap holding the pinky and ring fingers to the palm, allowing students to master the tripod grip necessary for holding a pen or pencil. When Matthew and his mother Elizabeth realized how many other children were struggling with the same fine motor coordination, they decided to pursue making the Grip Wizard available to a wider audience.

Matthew's invention won the Fourth Grade First Prize and Chairman's Choice awards at the 2013 Cincinnati Invention Convention and Grand Prize in the Secret Millionaires Club Grow Your Own Business Challenge, where he met billionaire and investment guru Warren Buffet.
 
“Meeting Warren Buffett was amazing,” Matthew says. “He encouraged me to continue on with my idea and said that ‘the best investment is an investment in myself.’ That means doing well in school, learning from your mistakes, believing in yourself and never giving up.”
 
Over the past two years, mother and son, have worked on refining Matthew's invention with input from occupational therapists, educators and designers.
 
“The main flaw in the original design was the elastic strap,” Elizabeth says. “The pinky and ring fingers could pop out too easily. But the fabric had to be very stretchy and very soft, as a lot of children with fine motor struggles have sensory challenges as well, which led us to a spandex/athletic mesh glove.”
 
Elizabeth and Matthew worked closely with Lisa Grey at Industrial Sew-Tech in Forest Park to modify Matthew's invention for mass production, going through 50 prototypes.
 
“We learned about pattern design and the sewing manufacturing process,” Elizabeth says. “Lisa understood how important finding the right materials and design were for our product. She says, ‘You can find a way to make anything once. Finding a way to make it a million times is my job.’
 
“We are so proud to be partnering with Industrial Sew-Tech so that we can be closely involved in the process and our business can benefit theirs.”
 
The Grip Wizard team also includes Cincinnati artists Erin Barker and Kevin Necessary, who created and animated the logo and brand mascots, Max and Maggy.
 
Matthew and Elizabeth are excited to be part of the startup scene in Cincinnati. Matthew recently attended his first Chamber of Commerce event to network with other business professionals.
 
“When I first start talking, I am a little nervous,” Matthew says. “I worry that they won't like my idea or I'll burp while I'm talking. After I get going though, I’m on fire! It’s exciting to be able to share my invention with people. I think my pitch is good but could use a little work.”
 
Meanwhile, Elizabeth has been helped by Michelle Spelman, a marketing consultant at Live Wire!
 
“She reached out to us after the Grow Your Own Business Challenge and has been a huge supporter of Matthew's invention,” Elizabeth says. “She’s mentoring us in the small business branding and development process. As a mother and business owner herself, Michelle inspires me to continue learning and growing, professionally and personally. We’re really excited about how far Grip Wizard has come, and we still have a lot to learn.”
 
The marketing focus for Grip Wizard is currently students, although the product will be available in adult sizes as well. Recent studies demonstrating a correlation between handwriting development to communication, memory, math and literacy skills are generating renewed interest in reintroducing cursive writing to the curriculum.
 
“Most adults were taught cursive and write in a print/cursive hybrid that suits their style and reflects their personality,” Elizabeth says. “Our children should have the same ability to create their own ‘font’ by learning both styles. Handwriting is the most personal form of communication we have.”
 
Matthew's invention also has potential for other occupational therapy audiences, something the team at Grip Wizard will pursue after getting their Kickstarter campaign funded and production up and running.
 
The Kickstarter campaign to help Grip Wizard “create fine motor magic” ends May 27 with a goal of $20,000. If fully funded, Grip Wizard gloves will be available beginning in September.
 

Cincinnati Public Schools students create apps to "gameify" STEM concepts


Sixth grade math teacher Stephanie Bisher wants to open her students’ eyes to the business world.
 
Each spring, her sixth graders engage in the kind of learning experience most only hope to encounter after reaching adulthood. In 2014, in partnership with locally-owned Madisono’s Gelato, her students at Kilgour Elementary in Mt. Lookout were tasked with designing a mobile application that “gameifies” the ins and outs of the gelato business. The resulting app was launched just last month.
 
Kilgour was one of two Cincinnati Public Schools recipients of a $1.1 million “Straight A” inaugural grant last school year. The grant is intended to provide an incentive to deploy case-based Socratic learning techniques in the grade school classroom.

State-funded tablets in hand, students at Kilgour and Hyde Park School were able to apply skills gained in their STEM-related classes to real world business decisions. The apps that resulted were due to a collaborative effort between Cincinnati Public Schools, Northern Kentucky University's College of Informatics and nonprofit Partnership for Innovation in Education (PIE).
 
Cincinnati-based PIE is dedicated to developing transformational STEM K-12 educational tools that actively prepare students for the workplace. PIE provided mentors for the Cincinnati Public Schools app projects.
 
“It has been our pleasure to participate in this first-ever program, offering a curriculum found currently only in STEM graduate and undergraduate science, medical, engineering, mathematics, law and business programs,” PIE CEO Mary Schlueter said in a letter to Kilgour parents. 
 
The gelato project is now an important and much anticipated part of each Kilgour sixth grader's experience. The task facing Kilgour students each year is that of choosing a new gelato flavor for Madisono’s. From research/development and data collection to cost analysis and marketing, students take the process from start to finish.
 
“The math (the students) are doing is pretty complex, but not a single student complains,” Bisher says. “They use Excel spreadsheets, learn how to input formulas, all the kinds of things adults do in their daily jobs.”
 
The process culminated with a successful marketing campaign for Madisono’s at the Kilgour Carnival.
 
“There is no abstract concept here,” Bisher says. “The students can truly see the value of what they’re doing and self-evaluate as they go.”

The winning flavor last year was Triple Chocolate Dare. This year students will present their new flavor — vanilla with brownies, chocolate chips and a caramel swirl — at the Kilgour Carnival on May 16.

After the winning flavors are chosen, students proceed to the app development stage. With help from NKU informatics experts, last year's students came up with a fun, fanciful app called Gelato Hero. This app and the one created at Hyde Park School, Sweet Revenge, seem to be the first-ever examples of global apps created by elementary school students.
 
Due to the fact that the project placed heavy emphasis on the intersection of math and business as opposed to more advanced tech, Kilgour students had very little to do with the actual coding involved in the app creation. That said, Bisher believes that coding is the next step for tech education at the grade school level.
 
“Kids can absolutely handle it,” she says. “App development can and should be in elementary schools. It’s still in its beginning phases, but it’s definitely on the radar.”
 
Though the Common Core curriculum model allows little room for tech-based training, both Schlueter and Bisher believe a shift in mentality is coming.
 
“PIE is always looking for educators who love technology,” Schlueter says. “This is a relatively new opportunity in the last 5-6 years. We’re just now starting to encourage educators.”
 
Gelato Hero and Sweet Revenge are now available for iOS and Android for $.99 each. A portion of each app's proceeds will return to the school responsible for its creation.
 

Grippable keyboard "stands up" for healthcare industry at HIMSS15


When Mark Parker and his team created the TREWGrip Mobile Dock, a mobile keyboard featuring a "rear typing" design, his goal was come to the aid of the large number of professionals, specifically those in the healthcare field, who spend the workday on their feet.  He was unaware that many of those same healthcare professionals would recommend his product to their patients.
 
"Most of (TREWGrip's) early traction has come from the assistive technology industry and occupational health and safety professionals," Parker says. "Quite honestly, we didn’t think about the health benefits when designing TREWGrip, but there’s something called the 'functional position,' which is the ideal position of the hands/wrists. TREWGrip’s design allows for this ideal hand/wrist position when typing."
 
TREWGrip LLC is a spin-off of Parker's umbrella company, Outlier Technologies, headquartered in the Blue Ash area. The Mobile Dock's rear typing-enabled design requires the user to hold the device much like an accordion, allowing someone to type with both hands without using a surface (or your other hand) for support.
 
The product's multi-faceted health benefits brought TREWGrip to the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference last month in Chicago. Parker's experience at the conference proved that the healthcare market is ripe for change.
 
"A lot of the interfaces being used right now are pretty outdated," he says. "Companies have certain systems in place because there aren't other hardware platforms out there — they have very little incentive to upgrade."
 
According to Parker, doctors and hospitals have yet to embrace new technologies like the tablet over the laptop due to the fact that they don't truly transform their working experience. TREWGrip, on the other hand, does what tablets and laptops can't — it eliminates the need for a stationary workplace.
 
"Approximately 1.3 billion people around the world are considered 'mobile workers' and often find themselves sitting on the floor to get their work done," Parker says. "So if you want to understand what inspired TREWGrip, stand up in your office and try typing this story while holding your laptop or your desktop keyboard."
 
The unique tool still has its limitations. Users need at least half an hour to get used to the new keyboard and at least 8-10 hours of total use to reach their normal level of typing proficiency. The learning curve doesn't worry Parker.
 
"We are targeting the next generation of healthcare workers, emergency medical professionals and medical scribes," he says.
 
In the long term, Parker hopes to see his product evolve from a grippable keyboard to a grippable computer, complete with a screen and microprocessor.
 
"We can't get there in one big step, so we're taking a few smaller steps," he says. "Our first hurdle is getting users to appreciate the benefits of rear typing."
 
Unlike many growing businesses in Cincinnati, TREWGrip's focus on healthcare doesn't place it in the center of the city's startup ecosystem. On the contrary, most of their success has come from outside of Cincinnati.
 
"We are involved and have taken advantage of a lot of the opportunities offered by the 'innovation ecosystem,'" Parker says. "At this point, I think we know most of the players and most of the players know us, but I think TREWGrip is just too far outside their comfort zones to get directly involved."
 
That said, many of TREWGrip's investors are located in Cincinnati. Parker has also established his personal life in the city and doesn't intend to take his technology elsewhere any time soon.
 
"I live in Cincinnati because it’s a great place to raise a family, and that’s more important to me than anything else," he says.
 

Manufacturing accelerator First Batch accepting applications for next class through May 11

 
Cincinnati’s only manufacturing business accelerator, First Batch, is seeking applications for its 2015 class through May 11.
 
In its third year of growth, First Batch will accept six candidates this year, up from two in 2013 and four in 2014. Entrepreneurs participating in the program will receive up to $8,000 in financial support as well as business development services that include strategic planning, branding and marketing.
 
First Batch focuses on physical product development and is open to candidates who have existing prototypes of innovative product ideas. The 2015 class will work out of the Losantiville Design Collective in Over-the-Rhine, where they will have access to 3D prototyping tools and a collaborative work space.
 
“I think the biggest basis for us starting the program (in Cincinnati) was that there was this known expertise in consumer products and branding and a big push for entrepreneurship and tech,” says Matt Anthony, First Batch program manager and director of the Cincinnati Made nonprofit group. “We saw a need to tie that excitement into the often overlooked but robust manufacturing ecosystem here.
 
“With the great things happening in OTR and the urban core and the proximity of a lot of available light industrial space, you can afford to be an entrepreneur and still live somewhere exciting with great food where you can walk to bars and your production space. Cincinnati makes things. We’ve got all the wrap-around services to support it and an accessible urban lifestyle that entrepreneurs want and can actually afford here.”
 
First Batch works closely with the University of Cincinnati Department of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP). Faculty serve as advisors and graduates are potential candidates.
 
“Every year I go to DAAP and personally encourage students to apply,” Anthony says. “In previous years I was disheartened to hear students say, ‘I really want to pursue my idea and passion but don’t know how to turn it into a real company.’ I’m happy that we’re offering an avenue to get design-based product companies started and keep them here.”
 
Participants in the 2013 and 2014 classes have manufactured an eclectic array of products, including musical instruments, textiles, men’s grooming, toys, furniture and home goods.
 
“I don’t know that I would have expected the mix we’ve seen so far,” Anthony says. “I always like to see variety, and in some ways it always reflects both our historic industry but also the future of what’s possible here. I’ve seen a few applicants already for 2015 that might really push the capabilities of what’s possible here in a good way.”
 
Although past participants were all local, First Batch is reaching out to national and international candidates by getting involved in events in places like Buffalo, Philadelphia, Oakland and Detroit. First Batch was also recently featured in Dwell magazine, which helps raise its national profile.
 
First Batch is also seeking sponsors, partners and mentors to help with the 2015 program.
 
“Sponsorship is mostly set up to help cover the costs of the production budget,” Anthony says. “Manufacturing sponsors aren’t necessarily locked in to taking an applicant if the pool doesn’t have a good fit, so ideally we would have a list of potential sponsors that also become judges in the process to decide on projects they’d like to support.
 
“Sponsorship can also come in the form of service donation. Donated services would allow us to select a few applicants that might need additional development support like engineering or industrial design, where we usually have to err on the side of picking entrepreneurs who already have the idea developed far enough and are capable of their own development.”
 
Mentors are a critical part of the accelerator experience. First Batch, with its focus on developing physical products, targets mentors from the manufacturing sector but is also seeking advisers with experience in marketing, technical writing, design and legal.
 
“Our goal is to make a small mentor team around each finalist and have a pairing session within the first week of the program to find the right balance of skill-sets and personalities to help keep each entrepreneur on track with their project road maps,” Anthony says.
 
First Batch will accept applications through May 11 and announce its 2015 class around June 1.
 

Xavier students use 3D technology to help three-legged service dog


Xavier University's Center for Innovation, home of a full-scale MakerBot 3D printing center, has proved once again that innovation comes in many forms.
 
On April 29, Gary Lewondowski's Human Centered Making students fitted a three-legged dog for a prosthetic leg at the Center. The dog, named Tiny, is a service dog for 4 Paws for Ability, an organization that provides aid to children worldwide.

When 4 Paws contacted Xavier in March about Tiny's need for a leg, the 3D-printer-equipped team barely knew where to start. It's one thing to craft a 3D-printed item, quite another to make it a functioning part of a living creature.
 
Fortunately for the students and faculty at the Center, a Xavier alum was able to come to the rescue. Christine Geeding, a prosthetics professional at J.F. Rowley Prosthetics and Orthotics, brought her expertise to the classroom as the Human Centered Making students brainstormed for several weeks.
 
“It was fascinating to explore 3-D printing and how it relates to prosthetics,” Geeding says.
 
Using the Center's new 3D printers, the Xavier students were able to fit Tiny with the flexible inner liner as well as the rigid frame. They also monitored Tiny's first steps to assess the harness suspension and alignment.
 
"Tiny did more than we ever expected," says Mary Curran-Hackett of the Center for Innovation. "Her quick adjustment to the prosthetic was incredible."
 
According to Geeding, Tiny reached a level 3 on the adaptation scale the first day. Most of Geeding's human patients can only reach level 1 on their first attempt.
 
Though the prosthetic itself, designed with software from Cincinnati startup Batterii, is still slightly rudimentary, it's the culmination of six weeks of hard work from the students. They'll now make length and fit adjustments based on what they observed the first day.
 
"It may sound funny to say it this way, but we've taken a huge step in the right direction," Curran-Hackett says.
 

Ocean's first startup class sets sail at April 29 Demo Day


Ocean, the nation's first faith-based business accelerator, presents Demo Day April 29 at Crossroads Church in Oakley to showcase its inaugural class of 10 startup companies. Over the course of the six-month program, each Ocean startup received a seed investment of $20,000 as well as co-working space, intensive training, mentorship and legal and accounting services.
 
“Demo Day is a day,” Ocean Executive Director Genine Fallon says. “It's a wonderful day, it's a glorious day, but it's a day. We've been preparing since the moment our class stepped in here, and they've been preparing for it since the moment they conceptualized what they wanted to build.”

Fallon says that having Demo Day in the Crossroads auditorium commands attention and is the right place for the 10 startups to showcase themselves. She emphasizes that event is about community and is open to the public.

“As the first faith-based accelerator, we want investors, key leadership and city officials to attend, but we are also extremely pleased to be able to present in a space that is welcoming to everyone,” she says. “If I'm hoping for anything, past the normal things that an accelerator hopes for — positive feedback all around for our companies and success tenfold — it is also for that person who has felt that entrepreneurial charge to be sparked to say, 'Yes, I can do it! I'm in the right city. This is the right time. Startup Cincy is the right space for me to be.'

“Demo Day is deep and wide. The depth of what's going to be talked about is moving and is deeply profound, and it's wide because it will bring a wide variety of people who will come and join us.”
 
Participants in Ocean's inaugural class represent an array of content areas and experience.
 
Cerkl, one of the more established Ocean startups, provides organizations with personalized newsletter content.

“Demo Day is going to be a hallmark event to really showcase the Cincy startup movement and to celebrate,” says Sara Jackson, known as Cerkl's Distributor of Pixie Dust. “It will demonstrate that this is one of the best places in the nation to build your business.”

Jackson and Cerkl founder Tarek Kamil have been impressed with their accelerator experience.

“Ocean is itself is a startup,” Kamil says. “To watch the Ocean model has been really good for us. Here, there is no failure — there is success and there is learning. Ocean may be the new kid on the block, but they're right up there with other accelerators.”
 
Alex Bowman and Chris Ridenour started Casamatic in late 2014 to match buyers to homes they'd be interested in buying, manage their schedule of showings and allow them make an offer from its website, with the prospect of receiving a rebate check after the sale closed.

“We both bought homes last year, and the process was terrible,” Bowman says. “We were surprised how every other industry has innovated since 2008 but real estate has not. We had an original idea to completely change the way you buy a home. But over the first months of the accelerator we iterated and iterated and figured out through customer evaluation and meeting with people in the industry that the initial idea we set out to accomplish was crushingly impossible and not what the market wanted at the time. So we decided to refocus.”

Casamatic's focus is now on matching buyers with their “perfect home,” altering them when new homes hit the market and instantly arranging showings.
 
Chris Hendrixson of Blue Seat Media has been working on his baseball app company with partner Jeffrey Wyckoff for several years. Since starting at Ocean, they've hired two developers and plan to launch their product in July.

“Doubling our team has changed everything, and we did not expect to be able to do that so fast,” Hendrixson says. “Up until Ocean it felt like we were on an island and had to encourage each other. Coming into Ocean and the sense of community just ready and willing to help us has been amazing. The classes and mentoring have been great, but knowing there are so many people who have your back is really special.”
 
Lyfeboat recently launched a roadside assistance app for the iPhone, with an Android version to be available over the summer. Co-founders Michael Reha and Phat Le says they're “big into learning and personal growth” and felt Ocean's faith-based program “was a right choice to build a strong foundation as a team” and a great fit for the Good Samaritan attitude central to their company.
 
The rest of Ocean's Class of 2015 includes:

Arena19, a web platform for sponsorship and branding opportunities

benobe, a career exploration app for teenagers

Quality Renters, which helps landlords find tenants

RINGR, offering studio-quality sound recording over mobile devices

Searen, producing affordable water treatment technology for aquaculture and desalination

StreamSpot, which enables live and on-demand streaming for faith-based organizations

Seafaring metaphors abound at Ocean, where participants talk about setting sail on a journey and riding waves, while meeting rooms are named after ports on the Sea of Galilee — apt comparisons for new businesses setting a course for adventure and success.

So come aboard Wednesday, April 29, they're expecting you at Demo Day. Doors open at 12:30 p.m., and the program begins at 1:00 at Crossroads Church in Oakley. Entrepreneurs Elias Roman, co-founder of Songza, and Colleen Arnold, senior vice president at IBM, will also discuss their experiences launching and growing successful companies.

Admission is free, and tickets can be reserved here.
 

Zipscene launches first data management platform geared to restaurants


Cincinnati-based restaurant marketing company Zipscene has launched zDMP, the first and largest data management platform (DMP) specifically for the restaurant industry.
 
Many restaurants use customer relationship management software to handle newsletters, loyalty programs, waiting lists, point-of-sale and online ordering. zDMP broadens typical data analysis by using that software to dig deeper on existing customers and reach people who aren’t current customers.
 
“The zDMP collects and analyzes a customer relationship management system’s database or list to understand the behaviors of those customers,” Zipscene Director of Strategic Marketing Tony Blankemeyer says. “It then works across our data warehouses of more than 250 million identified profiles to enrich the information on those customers and then leverage the combined insights to better communicate with them in the future.”

This targeted approach to data collection and analysis can be a powerful tool for restaurant owners, particularly as they consider how to allocate marketing dollars.
 
“Data can be a restaurant’s most valuable asset,” Zipscene CEO Sameer Mungur says. “The zDMP was built to put restaurant marketers in control of their data and their results. Many restaurants are using marketing and advertising programs, but if it’s all being done in separate silos they stand to lose from not being able to see the full picture of their data.
 
“With our zDMP and expert analysis, we give restaurant marketers the ability to use their marketing spend as a function of the value of each of their guests. Instead of wasting budget on marketing to those who don’t respond, there’s finally a way for restaurants to invest in their guests, and potential guests, who make the largest impact on sales.”
 
Zipscene clients include 60 national restaurant chains. Each receives solution sets customizable to their unique data sources and collection strategies. As restaurants learn more about their current clients, they’re better able to target their marketing outreach, like not sending coupons for steak to vegetarians.
 
Although Zipscene currently is working primarily with large clients, Blankemeyer says, “in the long term we hope to provide a solution for independents and smaller restaurant groups. Big or small, we believe that by decoding the dining decision we can help influence buying behavior through smarter marketing.”
 
In addition to improving relationships with current customers, zDMP also helps restaurants reach new customers. By crunching vast quantities of data, zDMP can find potential customers based on current customer profiles and provide guidance on how to reach them.
 
“Examples of data points we collect and analyze include 400-plus unique demographic data points, 40 socio-economic segment groupings, 40-plus unique buying behaviors and social media that are all tied back to the individual customer,” Blankemeyer says. “We factor in restaurant location attributes such as menu, cuisine types, price, rating, hours of operation and amenities such as wi-fi, valet and more. We also connect relevant information regarding points of interest in relation to the customer or the location such as sporting events, airports, hotels, theaters and more.”
 
Data collection and interpretation is an ongoing effort with every client, he says. As each campaign is completed and evaluated, the results are added to zDMP, then used to refine the next campaign.
 
Although perfection may not be a realistic expectation, Zipscene knows significant improvement is possible with the right data.
 

OTR Chamber hosts Star Awards April 7


The Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce holds its 2015 Annual Meeting and Star Awards luncheon April 7 to celebrate the individuals and organizations who are leading efforts to improve the neighborhood. 
 
The awards recognize individuals and businesses in 10 categories, including New Business, Nonprofit, Entrepreneur and Community Impact of the year. Nominations were solicited at the start of the year from the public through Facebook, Twitter and outreach to Chamber members, stakeholders and the media.
 
“We are really fortunate to have a neighborhood full of stakeholders who are truly passionate about Over-the-Rhine and excited about the momentum,” says Chamber President Emilie Johnson, “as well as the opportunity to nominate and potentially be awarded a Star Award.”
 
In addition to the Star Awards, the luncheon will feature Cincinnati Reds CEO Bob Castellini as keynote speaker.

“We always try to find someone who can share some unique insight and experience with the neighborhood for the keynote,” Johnson says. “This year Bob Castellini will give the big picture of things going in the neighborhood.”
 
Johnson will highlight the Chamber's accomplishments in the past year, including an update on the Business Innovation Challenge, a new Chamber program launched in 2014. The Chamber received 17 applications last year and awarded $1,000 grants to Steam Whistle Letterpress and We Have Become Vikings.

At the luncheon, Johnson will announce the opening of nominations for a second round of the Business Innovation Challenge.

“We have received some fantastic support, including from Fifth Third Bank, who will be a presenting sponsor for the program,” she says.
 
This as been a busy spring for the OTR Chamber, which recently moved its office from 13th and Clay to 14th and Walnut. The new office is located within one block of Vine, Main and Liberty streets.
 
The move was prompted, in part, by the Clay location becoming a “great connector corner,” according to Johnson.
 
“In any kind of urban planning or development the more active uses you can get on your corner, the more consumer-facing businesses, the better,” she says. “We were sitting on an important corner.”

The Chamber has moved offices several times over the years, responding to development needs in the neighborhood. Although a central location is ideal, the space the Chamber occupies within a building is even more important.

“We love to be on the street level,” Johnson says. “It's the nature of our work, and the stakeholders we support are also very much at street level.”
 
Members and neighbors will have an opportunity to check out the new Chamber office space at an open house later this summer.

The April 7 Annual Meeting and Star Awards luncheon begins at 12 noon at Music Hall, with doors opening at 11:30. Tickets are still available, with reservations required by March 31.
 

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.
 

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.
 

UC biologists granted almost $2.5 million for genetic research


The University of Cincinnati's Department of Biological Sciences will receive a significant boost from the National Institutes of Health this month via the Institute's Research Projects Grant (R01), which provides support for health-related research and development.
 
UC will receive $1.92 million over five years for their research into facial abnormalities — ranging from cleft palate to heifacial microsomia — using genome-wide mapping. With the ability to zero in on the precise region of the genome, researchers will be able to identify the mutations within them that may be causing the facial asymmetries.
 
In additional to the R01 grant, UC biology researcher Joshua Gross will receive nearly $520,000 over three years from the National Science Foundation to uncover an explanation of pigmentation loss in cave animals. This research, he hopes, could lead to an explanation for such loss in humans as well.
 
Both projects will use a Mexican cave-dwelling fish as their primary study subject. Unlike their surface-dwelling relative, these cave-dwellers have craniofacial distortions similar to those we see in humans.
 
"One of our most surprising discoveries is that there’s actually a genetic basis for that asymmetry," Gross says, referring to the facial asymmetries seen in the cavefish. "Some changes in the genome have resulted in one side of the face developing differently from the other side of the face. Because this process occurs so often, cavefish are a powerful natural model system for learning about this fundamental biological phenomenon of craniofacial symmetry.”
 
Other members of the team include doctoral candidate Bethany Stahl as well as doctoral students Brian Carlson and Amanda Powers. Both projects should be underway by the end of March.
 

Sweaty business: Eccrine Systems announces $1.5 million in seed funding


For nearly two years now, Eccrine Systems LLC has been in the business of perfecting and commercializing a technology, trademarked "Sweatronics," that uses human sweat as a data-generating tool. Its efforts got a boost last week with the announcement of $1.5 million in seed funding.
 
With technology developed and licensed at the University of Cincinnati, Eccrine Systems uses disposable electronic patches to collect biomarker data. Co-founder of the company and lead researcher on the topic, Jason Heikenfeld sees sweat as "best non-invasive fluid source for secure, real-time monitoring of human physiological function or dysfunction."
 
Contrary to what some may imagine, the "Sweatronics" platform doesn't involve a wearable. Eccrine Systems is less concerned with making this a consumer product and more concerned with the data-gathering potential this technology has in store.
 
"Our efforts are aimed at specialized and regulated medical and business markets that expect proof of data accuracy and chronological assurance," says Robert Beech, Eccrine's co-founder. “There are very large opportunities in areas such as medication adherence, clinical trials management, industrial safety, medical diagnostics, treatment effectiveness, nutrition support and elite performance optimization."
 
The $1.5 million in funding comes from a variety of investors, though the majority of the funding traces back to CincyTech and their partners. The seed-stage investor sees incredible potential for Eccrine's technology.
 
“The implications for real-time trending and interpretation of sweat biomarkers, derived from very tiny amounts of sweat captured under a small electronic patch, are profound,” says CincyTech's Mike Venerable.
 
In turn, the Eccrine team hopes to benefit from CincyTech's market savvy to further promote their product.
 
As for the future of the company, the options are many.
 
"We foresee many high value applications for our Sweatronics platform across medicine, industry and sport," says Heikenfeld.
 

"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.
 
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