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"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.
 

Young scientists unite: UC Blue Ash hosts Science Olympiad March 7


Since 2007, the University of Cincinnati's Blue Ash campus has hosted the Cincinnati Science Olympiad Tournament, a yearly competition that brings together hundreds of junior and senior high school students to show off their skills in several science-related events. The Olympiad comes to UC Blue Ash once again on March 7, featuring 23 events requiring expertise in everything from meteorology to anatomy.
 
Students race against the clock to complete several experiments, both in teams and individually. After six hours of competition, awards are offered to both individual students and the participating school with the highest point tally, though the focus of the tournament is more on highlighting the talents of each individual student.
 
The Cincinnati tournament is one of eight regional tournaments and one of dozens of competitions taking place across the country. If students are successful, they have a chance to compete at the national level. The Science Olympiad is a national non-profit organization that hopes to encourage STEM subject prowess in high schools across the nation.
 
In 2013, the Cincinnati Olympiad joined iSPACE, an organization that offers student, teacher and corporate development courses to promote STEM-related career awareness. The Cincinnati tournament's involvement with iSPACE secures its position as a part of the national Olympiad and reinforces UC Blue Ash's mission to maintain a strong focus on STEM-focused career paths.
 
The March 7 tournament in Blue Ash hopes to achieve a similar goal by providing an entertaining atmosphere and fostering a competitive spirit. It offers young students the opportunity to flex their intellectual muscles in front of a live audience. Depending on their skill sets, participants will have the opportunity to build robots, construct gliders and even collect forensic evidence.
 
The Cincinnati Science Olympiad is open to the public and still looking for volunteers. Contact Steve Schrantz, tournament coordinator, if you'd like to learn more or Danielle Schrantz to volunteer.
 

UK fans bring small batch toy manufacturing to Cincinnati


Two University of Kentucky fans have embarked on a journey to bring locally made collectibles to the region's sports fans.
 
Their business, Monster Mascots, is a small-batch production toy company that draws inspiration from the Japanese monsters of lore. Monster Mascots uses 3D printing technology to create molds for 9-inch mascot figurines which are manufactured and hand-assembled in the United States.

Founders Natalie Mathis and Quincy Robinson are no strangers to the 3D printing game. Their other company, 3DKitbash.com, has established itself as a source for 3D printable toy designs and 3D printer test kits. The company hopes to make 3D printing at home easy and affordable.
 
With a successful company under their belts, the idea for Monster Mascots emerged when Robinson and Mathis were enrolled at First Batch, a Cincinnati manufacturing accelerator.
 
"Since we were already working in this space, we had a natural curiosity for seeing whether we could discover a new process that could push the limits of traditional manufacturing," Mathis says.
 
First Batch helped the team to establish their concept of an American-made series of plastic mascots that mimicked the Japanese tradition of battling monsters. Mathis and Robinson graduated from the program in 2014 and now have a prototype of their product. As die-hard University of Kentucky fans, their first mascot is a bright blue Wildcat.
 
"The idea is that mascots will battle it out, as you see in Japanese monster movies, on a national level in online communities," Mathis says. "We think fans will get a kick out of posting selfies with the Mascot online with messages for UK and for their rivals."
 
The online community aside, Mathis and Quincy see a growing market for sports memorabilia in general. They do recognize, however, that they face a lot of competition.
 
"UK's brand is strong, and we know that fans clamor for UK-related items that represent their personal relationship with one of the most unstoppable teams in history," Mathis says. "The market for this sort of item is also crowded, which is why we differentiated our Monster Mascots using the Japanese monster narrative."
 
Mathis and Robinson first attempted a campaign on Kickstarter, but the idea has yet to pick up steam on the crowd-funding website. While 3DKitbash.com found success with Kickstarter, Monster Mascots needs to find another source of funding.
 
"We've proven that Kickstarter is not where UK fans buy UK-related figures, not yet anyway," Mathis says. "It just isn't the right fit."
 
Instead, Monster Mascots will begin selling their bright blue wildcats through more traditional routes, both on their website and in several brick-and-mortar stores. They will look to obtain licenses from other universities based on the success of their Wildcat prototype.
 
"We're proud of what we've accomplished so far, and we have a vision for the future," Mathis says. "There's a lot yet to do in the space. We're grateful and excited."
 

NASA to coach UC students on technology commercialization


If you mention NASA in casual conversation, it's almost guaranteed that you'll get a reaction — a good one at that.
 
This year, those enrolled in undergraduate and graduate entrepreneurship classes at the University of Cincinnati's Lindner College of Business will be able to add that impressive acronym to their resumes.
 
UC's Center for Entrepreneurship and Commercialization (CEC), a part of the business school, has teamed up with NASA's Ames Research Center to bring NASA scientists into UC classrooms. With a focus on technology commercialization, the entrepreneurship courses will connect students with the globe-trotting NASA scientists via webcam or telephone.
 
The term "technology commercialization" encompasses the varying processes that occurs after certain technology has been patented. That technology could end up sparking the creation of a startup, encourage a partnership with a certain organization or be released into the marketplace.
 
Through this program and partnership, UC students will learn to assess the commercialization of some NASA patents. They'll examine investor options and possible business plans and consult with NASA specialists along the way.
 
CEC Executive Director Tom Dalziel sees this program as unique in that students are able to plan a future for these technologies as opposed to examining the past. Before their careers have even started, UC students will be able to see the immediate effects on their work.
 
"These plans aren’t meant to sit on the shelf," Dalziel says. "The best plans will garner the attention of investors, entrepreneurs and key constituents in the Greater Cincinnati entrepreneurship ecosystem who will want to bring people and resources together to enact them."
 
The NASA partnership isn't the only thing UC is doing to increase their students' post-graduation connections. UC's Small Business Institute allows students to work with startups and other small businesses looking to put together a solid business plan.
 
"This gives our students the opportunity to learn and support company efforts to bring cutting-edge technologies to market," Dalziel says.
 
With practical experience under their belts, it won't be surprising to see UC students flooding the marketplace in the coming years.
 

Mercy Health Cincinnati offers anti-gravity treadmill to rehab patients


Anti-gravity treadmills are nothing new. In fact, most big sports universities have one in their training facility. You can even find a YouTube video of Lebron James and Kobe Bryant trying one out.
 
Fortunately for Greater Cincinnati residents, these machines — which can reduce a user's actual weight by 20-99 percent — are now available at Mercy Health. The Orthopedic Sports and Medicine Center in Anderson Township recently acquired an AlterG state-of-the-art treadmill for their physical therapy patients.
 
Developed first by NASA, anti-gravity treadmills use an inflatable air chamber that surrounds the runner's lower body and actually lifts them as they run. As the runner becomes lighter, the impact on their muscles and joints is lessened. From a physical therapy standpoint, that's a really good thing.
 
Normally, physical therapy patients have to postpone weight-bearing exercise at the risk of causing further injury. With the anti-gravity technology, patients can begin the rehabilitation process more quickly and with far less pain.
 
The treadmills also allow the user to adjust their weight to whatever they'd like. A runner can learn what it would feel like to be 20 pounds lighter just by adjusting the settings.
 
As much as the average physical therapy clinic would love to have one of these machines on its floor, the high price tag keeps that from happening. The recent addition to Mercy Health is therefore indicative of the organization's strong commitment to staying on the cutting edge of rehab technology.
 
AlterG, the company responsible for Mercy Health's particular machine, is based in California. In 2013, the company added a bionic leg to its list of products.
 

Two Hamilton Mill companies attract investor attention


In mid-December, the Hamilton Mill announced a partnership with Queen City Angels, a group of over 50 investors who are strong believers in supporting the region's entrepreneurial ecosystem.
 
The group's attraction to the Hamilton Mill had a lot to do with the fact that many of the Mill's manufacturing and clean tech projects fit nicely into the fund requirements set by Ohio Third Frontier. Two companies in particular that attracted QCA: kW River Hydroelectric and WaterOxyChem.
 
Founded by Paul Kling and Fred Williams, kW Hydroelectric is working on creating a micro-turbine for low-head dams. Since the city of Hamilton and the Great Miami both have low-head dams, the company has found an ideal location at the Hamilton Mill.
 
WaterOxyChem, founded by Kerry Jackson, has created a unique wastewater treatment solution that uses an aerobic environment to algae and other contaminents from forming in sewers. The solution promises to save thousands of dollars for city water treatment.
 
By investing in companies such as these, Queen City Angels is adding to their network and bringing attention to Butler County.
 
"We chose to focus on areas that made the most sense for our base of business," says QCA Executive Director Scott Jacobs. "We have so much expertise within our group that I can find Angels that will immediately know and understand the types of business the Mill is trying to attract."
 
The lead angel on this project, John Bruck, happens to be the owner of an environmental engineering firm, BHE Environmental. With a career focused on renewable power consulting, Bruck has worked as a project manager for both the EPA and the Federal Energy Administration (FEA) and has been active in groups such as the American Wind Energy Association. With his skill set behind them, the Hamilton Mill's clean tech emphasis will likely grow considerably over the next several years.
 
"His background in perfectly suited for Hamilton Mill," Jacobs says.
 
CB Insights recently recognized QCA as one of the top two private seed-stage venture capital investors in the United States. With this new partnership secured, the Mill will now have access to numerous mentors like Bruck as well as other regional resources.
 

Xavier's new Center for Innovation opens for students this week


On Thursday, Jan. 8, Xavier University students will get their first peek at the newly-completed XU Center for Innovation.
 
Over the past several months, the Physical Plant at Dana and Woodward on Xavier's campus has been transformed into a functioning cross-disciplinary space. This week, Xavier RA students will be the first to use the remodeled building as part of their RA training curriculum, which involves an innovation/problem-solving workshop.
 
The Center's purpose is to provide a home base for a newly rebranded and refocused innovation program at Xavier. The center will include classrooms for students as well as workspace for corporate clients and startup companies who come to Xavier to learn how to make their businesses more innovative.
 
The Center's Executive Director, "man on fire" Shawn Nason, is responsible for creating the training program, which is geared to helping organizations up their game.
 
"Shawn is a black belt in innovation," says Mary Curran-Hackett, Innovation Curator at the Center. "Companies that want to learn how to be more innovative are in good hands with him."
 
These programs aside, the Center will also provide open workspaces for professors and staff who are involved in the new School of Arts and Innovation, directed by Tom Merrill, a longtime Xavier faculty member. As a part of the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Arts and Innovation will offer classes in Innovation, Art, Digital/Video/Film, Music and Theater and Rapid Prototyping/Human-Centered Making. They also offer a minor in Innovation Engineering for students majoring in other fields.
 
As for the space itself, the Center maintains the minimalist, industrial character of a warehouse. High ceilings, exposed pipes (painted navy blue, white and gray of course) and a utilitarian feel make it ideal as a center for thinking and development. The modern décor includes Ikea furniture assembled by the Center staff themselves. The team's willingness to quite literally put their sweat and tears into this building only further evidences the passion and determination each member feels for the cause.

When all students return to campus on Jan. 12, the Center for Innovation will be ready for them. An Open House for Xavier students, faculty and community members will be held 2-6 p.m. Feb. 4 to provide a formal introduction to what the space has to offer.

 

Cincinnati Children's to host its first-ever Innovation Showcase Jan. 6


On Tuesday, Jan. 6, Cincinnati Children's Hospital and the Greater Cincinnati Venture Association kick off the new year with a glimpse into the hospital's numerous contributions to the buzzing innovation scene in Cincinnati.
 
The Cincinnati Children's Innovation Showcase is an all-day event set to take place on the medical center's main campus in Avondale.
 
The event hopes to bring together the hospital's innovators, including researchers and clinicians, with people in the startup and venture capital community. The showcase will announce three separate funding opportunities for inventors and innovators who are looking for a way to get their ideas off the ground.
 
"This is our first year doing anything like this," says Children's Hospital's Michael Pistone. "In terms of innovation and commercialization, we're continuing to strategically partner with (the medical) industry and the venture community to form smart collaborations that allow our promising discoveries to advance toward a commercial endpoint."
 
Cincinnati Children's already boasts three successful startups: Assurex, Airway Therapeutics and Enable Injections. The CEOs from these companies will be speaking at noon during the Innovation Showcase, discussing the relationship between startup CEOs and the inventor. A number of other interactive sessions held throughout the day will feature hospital staff along with a number of leaders in scientific impact from across the country.
 
As for the upcoming year, Children's is currently focused on gene therapy as a treatment for sickle cell disease. Cincinnati Children's Punam Malik developed this specific type of gene therapy in 2014, and it will be entering its clinical trial in the coming months. Genomics, which focuses on gene variations, the human genetic code, our surrounding environment and the variety of diseases we contract, is also a significant focus area with room for innovation.
 
"We see Children's as both a research engine as well as an innovation hub," Pistone says. "We're seeing more and more health IT, which presents new opportunities for the region."
 
Cincinnati Children's, Pistone says, is an ideal partner for IT companies, as the hospital can offer the innovation scene a variety of collaboration opportunities.
 
The showcase's emphasis on bringing "the bench to the bedside" is made possible by the Greater Cincinnati Venture Association, which is promoting the event. GCVA is an active participant in the startup community, regularly hosting networking events and meetups for players in the Cincinnati startup scene.
 
"The mission of GCVA is to connect funders and founders," says Vance VanDrake, president of the association. "We are excited to promote Cincy Children's first Innovation Showcase as it fits perfectly with our mission."
 
The event will take place 8 a.m.-7 p.m. in the medical center's "S" building. Both breakfast and lunch will be served, and registration is required for many of the day's sessions. Prospective attendees can sign up for specific sessions here.
 

Local tech company enosiX raises $4.25 million to simplify mobile app development

Another Cincinnati company is taking full advantage of the tech development market, working to fix a key mobile app downfall.
 
enosiX, a Cincinnati-based software company known for their developer-friendly "Framework" for mobile app creation, has a $4.25 million price tag on their first round of funding. Just last week, the company announced its success at the Gartner Application Architecture, Development and Integration Summit in Las Vegas. The company was formed in August at the Chiquita Building, 250 E. Fifth St., downtown.
 
enosiX's software solves the primary problem many modern mobile application developers face: integrating SAP (systems, applications, products). Many Fortune 500 companies use SAP for data inventory and inventory management, among other things, but many modern social applications for your smartphone and other devices don't connect to SAP. If a company wants to access their SAP data system, they can't do so on a mobile app — enosiX is trying to fix that problem.
 
By creating this Framework solution, enoisX is allowing big companies to connect their apps to SAP, therefore eliminating the need to train SAP specialists or pay to hire a SAP-knowledgeable employee. In essence, it's a heaven-sent solution for the development community.
 
The $4.25 million investment came from a variety of sources, including Allos Ventures and Mutual Capital Partners Funds. With the money, the company hopes to increase its staff (now at 15) and expand globally. The solution already has clients in Europe, and founders Gerald Schlechter and Philippe Jardin are currently talking with potential clients in the U.S.
 
Schlechter is a native of Austria who moved here in 2005 to work for Swarovski Crystal. He met his wife, a Cincinnatian, in 2006 and continues living here today. With a background in SAP and experience that crosses international borders, Schlechter decided to start building enosiX's framework after running CNBS, his own consulting company, for a few years.
 
Jardin hails from South Africa and was put in contact with Schlechter when the idea of the enosiX Framework was in its infancy.
 
"Philippe knew the right people, he knew how to start this kind of business," Schlechter says.
 
The company is constantly hiring, Schlechter says, particularly those knowledgeable in SAP and .NET developers. They hope to reach 40 employees over the next year.
 

Making moves: NKU launches startup resource center for young entrepreneurs

Over the past month, Northern Kentucky University has been quietly expanding resources for students interested in innovation. The iNKUbator, a summer program that provides mentoring, financing, workspace and connections to the startup community for select entrepreneurship students, is now in its third year of operation; the first class raised over $1 million in investments.

The program's success aside, founding director Rodney D'Souza wants the university to do more for startup hopefuls.
 
After starting NKU's innovation program in January 2014, D'Souza's emphasis on applied programs is what has led the university to bring in yet another resource.
 
Called "iNKUreka," NKU is now providing a year-round space for students and community members who want to jumpstart their startup idea. The space features a tool called IPAC (the Intellectual Property Awareness Center) that allows individuals to search a large database to discover if their idea is worthy of a patent.
 
"Instead of hiring a lawyer, which can get expensive, they can do this for free right here on campus," says D'Souza.
 
iNKUreka also features a law clinic staffed by students and faculty from NKU's Chase Law School that offers legal help focused on small business development. Kentucky's Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is also a part of the equation, specifically when it comes to involving the community. In addition to these features, the program features a physical space where students can work to develop their ideas.
 
Beyond iNKUreka, D'Souza's involvement has also led to programs like iNKUbiz, which links students to in-school jobs that actually relate to what they're studying.
 
"Small companies need interns," D'Souza says. "We put students on those projects and make sure they're getting paid, just like any other in-school job."
 
NKU is also trying to expand their influence by offering three-day entrepreneurship camp over the summer for high school students. In doing so, the university has found a way to bring students to campus who may not otherwise consider NKU as an option.
 
"Not many people know about what's going on here," D'Souza says. "There's been a big push to inform (the tristate area) of NKU's potential."
 
At the very least, iNKUreka and the other developing entrepreneurship programs send a message that NKU means business.
 

Eight startup myths ... busted

Whether they're actually involved with one or not, people love talking about startups. And amongst all the chatter, several stereotypes have emerged. Here to set the record straight are a few of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky's startup connoisseurs.
 
Special thanks to Eric Weissmann of Cintrifuse for the pitch.
 
 
MYTH: Startups are full of young people in hoodies.
 
"Startup life isn't for everyone. I came from the corporate world where I was used to dressing up more times than not. Now I find myself participating in no-shave November and wearing hoodies, athletic attire. I have even been caught wearing socks and sandals..." – Alex Burkhart, Tixers
 
"Entrepreneurship spans all ages. Out of the 60-plus companies inside HCDC's business incubator at the Business Center, the average age of entrepreneurs is 42 years old." – Bridget Doherty, Hamilton County Development Co. Business Center
 

MYTH: Venture capitalists (VCs) sit on bags of money and live a glamorous life.
 
"(VCs) are hard workers hard workers, very smart, travel a ton and don’t make very many investments in a year. They’re patient and deliberate with their funds (see Dov Rosenburg at Allos Ventures)." – Eric Wiessmann, Cintrifuse
 
"VC's are very much like entrepreneurs. They are out raising money themselves. They are constantly fundraising and tied to performance. They definitely don't just sit back and kick it, that's for sure." – Alex Burkhart, Tixers
 

MYTH: Every startup has to be a tech startup, and every employee is tech-savvy.
 
"We work with over 100 entrepreneurs each year, and of those 10 percent fall into the tech category." (See PetWants, Creative Invites and Events, Project Blue Collar, Functional Formularies.) – Corey Drushal, Bad Girl Ventures
 

MYTH: Startups have to go to West Coast or East Coast to find investors.
 
"(Some entrepreneurs) don't consider the advantages of things like an increased runway because of cost-of-living if you build a company in the Midwest." – Patrick Henshaw, Strap
 

MYTH: There are no women in startups, no women in tech and no system in place to support them.
 
"The Greater Cincinnati/NKY startup eco-system has a friendly and inviting environment for female founders. The latest Uptech class has five female founders, including myself and Amanda Kranias of Seesaw, a family social network. ... We also have a fantastic female founder, Brooke Griffin, at the CincyTech-funded company." – Candice Peters, Seesaw
 

MYTH: If you start your own business, you will have fewer people telling you what to do.
 
"Some people want to start their own businesses to get away from long hours ... or the horrible bosses of the world. However, starting your own business requires a substantial time commitment and possibly more people telling you what to do." – Bridget Doherty, HCDC Business Center
 

MYTH: In the startup world, no one gets paid until you have a big exit.
 
"Many startups have attractive pay and competitive benefits (see InfoTrust)." – Eric Weissmann, Cintrifuse
 

MYTH: Startup owners just eat Ramen noodles and drink beer from their office fridge all day.
 
"Not just Ramen — if you add hotdogs, it makes it that much classier and better tasting." – Patrick Henshaw, Strap
 
"There is never a problem finding beer. No keg per say, but always a case of Miller Lite or craft beers in the fridge." – Alex Burkhart, Tixers

Breaking Brad: People's Liberty names 2015 fellowship winners

People’s Liberty announced today that its inaugural Haile Fellowship grants are going to Brad Cooper and Brad Schnittger, who will each receive $100,000 as well as co-working space with additional design and communications support at the new People’s Liberty office in Over-the-Rhine. The fellowship officially begins on Jan. 12 and will run throughout the 2015 calendar year.

Cooper’s project is Start Small, which plans to build two 200-sq.-ft. zero-net-waste houses. When finished, they'll stand on concrete foundations and be fueled by solar panels, making them self-sustaining and long-term investments in the community.

Schnittger's project is MusicLi, a music publishing platform to afford local musicians the opportunity to properly document, register and publish their musical compositions to an online library, allowing advertising agencies to license and purchase more Cincinnati music. Schnittger is co-founder of local music and design agency The All Night Party and a member of the popular rock band The Sundresses.

"I can't begin to express how rewarding it was to call both of the grantees, to let them know they'd be taking on their dream projects next year," Jake Hodesh, People's Liberty's vice president of operations, said in this morning's announcement. "Both indicated how their lives would never be the same. Knowing that our work has the potential to change people's lives, that makes my job worthwhile. January can't get here soon enough."

Better for buyers: Shelfie and Popad give consumers control

The folks over at Popad hate advertising.
 
"It disrupts your experience," says John McClelland, co-founder of the company. "What if people in your community could make the ads you see … your friends, your family?"
 
McClelland and his Brandery-trained team are self-proclaimed data geeks. Their chief technology officer, Luke Libraro, has an RFID (radio frequency identification) card in his hand that allows him to enter the Brandery building with a simple wave.  Their "boy wonder" engineer, Skylar Roebuck, was head of product at a company called Mobiquity by the time he was 25. And Rachel Bires, their Instagram connoisseur, is actually a licensed attorney who is unbeatable at darts.
 
Together, they have created an interactive app where users can submit a photo of themselves using or displaying a particular product. That photo, after a series of votes by other Popad users, then becomes available to Popad clients for purchase. In return for their submission, the creator of the image will receive royalties if their "ad" is purchased. Right now, all submissions come through Instagram.
 
The idea behind Popad emerged when McClelland's wife posted an Instragram photo of his (presumably very cool) shoes. When friends saw the photo and subsequently bought the shoes, a lightbulb turned on. By allowing regular Joes to submit photos of themselves actually using or enjoying a product, Popad hopes to create a stronger, more authentic personal connection with the consumer. This, they believe, is much more effective than advertising in the abstract.
 
"There's more of a dialogue now—there's been a fundamental shift in how people are operating," McClelland says.
 
Consumer communication is a key part of another Brandery graduate's business plan. Shelfie was founded by Edward Betancourt, a quinoa-obsessed runner with mad programming skills, and C.J. Acosta, a Reddit loyalist with a knack for marketing and pink hoodies. Together, they've put together a data-generating application that has already seen stellar success in in-store audits.
 
The app itself gives shoppers the power to do something about an absent product on the shelf. If they notice a product is missing, they simply snap a "shelfie" of the empty shelf, send it through the app, and are rewarded for their participation with points that they can redeem later.
 
"Think of it as an easy, one pic review of the in-store experience," Acosta says.
 
By generating real-time data, Shelfie could potentially create solutions ranging from contacting sales representatives at the site to arranging to have the missing product shipped to a customer's home.
 
For now, Shelfie is looking for investors. By staying in marketing-friendly Cincinnati, or "the little city that could," Acosta and Betancourt have made incredible connections and are building on the consumer-first approach that was born during their time at the Brandery.
 
"The concept of tackling the problem, from the consumer's side, proved to be the radical and most disruptive thing we could do," Acosta says.

The customer is always funnier: The story behind Barefoot Proximity's new CIO

The existence of Chief Innovation Officers (CIOs) at growing creative companies is nothing new. It is, however, a role that is becoming more and more necessary as newer businesses emerge and already-existing companies fight to stay relevant. Barefoot Proximity, a Cincinnati-based advertising and communications agency, recently hired its new CIO both in response to this trend and to make sure that any opportunity to disrupt convention—or "innovate"—is seized will full force.
 
The man filling this role, Troy Hitch, is a character. His creative background in theatre and musical production is immediately apparent upon meeting him; he is animated, sarcastic and quick on his feet. After graduating from Northern Kentucky University, Hitch dabbled in everything from medical text illustration to creating interactive installations for the Cincinnati Zoo. As a creative individual, Hitch always knew that the Internet was a powerful tool. In 2004, he and a partner started their own content-generating studio, Big Fat Brain.
 
Big Fat Brain was based in Covington and dubbed a "new media studio" by its founders. Hitch and his partner made webisodes and short-form video content for companies looking to vamp up their websites.
 
"It was lo-fi production value, high content value stuff," Hitch says.
 
Big Fat Brain's national success led to a connection with the former president of CBS radio who had just started MyDamnChannel, an entertainment studio and distributor of web and TV content. Big Fat Brain's work with the company, which involved producing numerous creative webisodes, is what ultimately led Hitch and his partner to realize the power of consumer input.
 
"We could actually engineer a connection [to the user]," he says.
 
This realization came to a head with the success of Hitch's trans-media web video series, "You Suck at Photoshop," in 2008. The episodes, which have reached 100 million views to date, centered around a pissed-off guy, whom the viewer never sees, begrudgingly providing a YouTube tutorial.
 
When an overwhelming amount of fans insisted the "You Suck at Photoshop" guy was comedian Dane Cook, Hitch and his partner realized they could use that user connection to their advantage. They brought Dane Cook onto the show, and the Internet exploded.
 
Today, as the CIO at Barefoot, Hitch hopes to find more opportunities to truly involve the customer/consumer/audience when considering strategies for his clients. By integrating their inclinations and preferences in every way possible, Hitch hopes to expand on the opportunities presented to the company. As the person in charge of hiring Barefoot's creative department, he also plans to draw in talent that knows how to deal with that kind of data.
 
"This is not about me anymore," he says of his work. "The consumer is fickle—there are a million different options these days. We need a value exchange. My job is to engineer [the material] so that other people can create and think and inspire."
 
According to Hitch, the power of the media is that people want to participate. CIOs, he says, are necessary because the consumer expects something different than what the old agency formulas can deliver. That said, if it were up to him, the word "innovation" would be cut right out of the title.
 
"Innovation is an overused and abused word," Hitch says. "I like to describe my role as embracing complexity and delivering simplicity."
 
Every company's CIO may see their role differently. Still, when individuals like Hitch are hired to force companies to think way beyond the box, "innovation" in inevitable. 

RevolutionUC's hackathon brings young tech talent to Cincinnati

These days, the internet is littered with lists of life "hacks" that take everyday frustrations and make them mind-blowingly simple. This weekend, from November 14-16, students from across the tri-state area will spend two sleep-free days programming to create real solutions to real problems at the second annual hackathon, RevolutionUC, at the University of Cincinnati.
 
Local engineering and business data group Zipscene joins the list of sponsors for the event's second run. The hackathon provides a space for hundreds of talented students to hash out ideas for some sort of product or service that provides a solution to a common problem (a hack). During the two-day event, participants create a basic business plan that is detailed enough to implement into the University system. Last year's winner was a campus safety smartphone tool that sends a discrete call for help and uses GPS to track an individual's location when they may be in danger. UC is currently considering the tool's integration into its campus safety system.
 
Attendees can expect rows and rows of computers, laptops and charger cords with students congregating on the floor, in the corners, and on lounge chairs at the 800 Baldwin location, a part of the UC College of Engineering and Applied Science. Not many hackathon participants sleep; those that want to are encouraged to bring a blanket and a pillow. All meals are provided, from breakfast from Panera to lunch from Jimmy Johns and Currito to dinner from Adriaticos and Alabama-Q. Insomnia cookies will be providing sweet treats as well.
 
RevolutionUC is largely student run, and this year's event expects a turnout of more than 300 hundred young, creative minds from UC, Ohio State, Perdue, Kent State, Wright State and the University of Dayton. As a sponsor, Zipscene is there all weekend to support and mentor the students in attendance. That, and scope out a little talent for themselves. Last year, Zipscene hired two students they encountered at the hackathon.
 
Some hackathon participants continue working on their hacks long after the competition comes to a close. The exposure and connections gained at this weekend's event give them a leg-up in the industry.
 
Contestants will be judged based on the utility of their products, the creativity and technical difficulty involved, and overall polish. All experience levels are welcome, and high school and graduate students are equally encouraged to sign up.
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