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New Biomedical Informatics Certificate Program at UC announces first bonafide graduate

The future of medicine lies at the intersection of data analysis and medical science.

That's the general consensus at the University of Cincinnati, at least. Biomedical informatics, an interdisciplinary field that enables better understanding of health and biomedical information, has found a home at UC.
The new UC program, which combines expertise from the College of Medicine and the College of Engineering and Applied Science, announced its first graduate in May, Dr. Benjamin Landis. An MD, Landis completed his Certificate in Biomedical Informatics while finishing up a three-year pediatric cardiology fellowship at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.
Landis' clinical work involved a great deal of research, so the opportunity for expansion of knowledge in informatics arrived at the perfect time.
"The practice of medicine is becoming a data analysis problem," Landis says. "Understanding what tools and techniques are available is essential."
His primary focus is in pediatric cardiology, specifically thoracic aortic aneurysms. When this type of aneurism occurs in children and young adults, there is normally a genetic reason for it. Landis' work uses genome sequencing data to analyze the impact of genetic modifiers on those who are afflicted with the disease.
"There is a real push for understanding the genetics of disease and incorporating genetics conditions in new ways," he says.
Most medical students and residents won't fully understand the technology behind genetic sequencing by the time they graduate. The informatics portion of Landis' education gives him a unique opportunity to fully understand and interpret the data he compiles.
Though UC's program is brand new, the informatics faculty is well-versed in the field. Landis' exposure to experts in this subspecialty was considerable, and the connections he made helped to jumpstart his career in the field.
Landis is now a part of the cardiology faculty at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. A secondary appointment at Riley's Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics will allow him to continue his research on thoracic aortic aneurysm and congenital heart malfunction.
"The ability to have an affiliation with a bioinformatics group is invaluable," Landis says. "It's the ticket to understanding biology and medicine going forward."
As for the future of UC's program, though the first year offered just a certificate, this semester promises the addition of a Biomedical Informatics PhD Program. In the coming years, students may also obtain a Master's degree in the subject.

Strap welcomes Mondelez International to Cincinnati to begin working with two of its brands

In cities like Cincinnati where marketing is king, “you are what you buy” is a familiar phrase. But the minds behind Strap, the Brandery-born human data intelligence startup, believe that “you are what you buy” and “you are what you tweet” are hardly relevant in today’s marketplace.
“We say you are what you do,” says Patrick Henshaw, COO at Strap, “whether it’s an activity, the food you eat, body metrics, sleep metrics. With that data, we can paint a more precise picture (for our clients).”
Strap’s approach to human data recently earned it a visit from Mondelez International, the global snack food leader. In June, Strap applied to be a part of Mondelez’s Shopper Futures Program, an initiative that brings together entrepreneurs and leading retailers to improve the customer experience. Last week, Strap announced that it’s been accepted into the program.
Strap will be using its human data intelligence platform to pitch a branding/marketing strategy for Trident, one of Mondelez's major brands.
Mondelez officials will visit Cincinnati this week as a part of an immersion tour. The Strap team will then have 90 days to come up with a pilot campaign for Trident. Convenience store Kum & Go will be Strap's acting retail partner for the project.
Strap’s technology integrates with smart phones and wearables to passively collect data ranging from a person’s physical activity to their sleeping habits. Strap can then offer data science to the brand to help them support their mission.
“And the data is not tainted by your social habits,” Henshaw says.
Strap has been an active part of the #StartupCincy movement for a couple of years now. Since graduating from The Brandery, the startup has moved into 84.51° in downtown Cincinnati as one of their Entrepreneurs-in-Residence, joining fellow Cincy startups Hello Parent, Casamatic and HireWheel. Strap also has a presence in San Francisco to better service existing clients.
“We’re wherever our customer is,” Henshaw says.
Though Strap is growing rapidly and this work with Trident will only propel them further, the company is still rooted in Cincinnati.
“You don’t have to head out to San Francisco to find innovation,” Henshaw says. “We love being a part of the movement that is proving that there is innovation outside of Silicon Valley.”
In Cincinnati, Henshaw and his Strap colleagues also act as mentors for The Brandery, UpTech and Ocean. Henshaw sees these mentorship programs as a great way to help budding companies avoid the pitfalls of the startup journey.

“A 30-minute conversation could have saved me two months when we started,” Henshaw says.

New round of People's Liberty grants available as first year starts to wind down

The next few months will be busy at People’s Liberty, with new grantees announced, current grantees premiering project results and two grant application deadlines.
Last week, the organization announced the three winners of their Globe Grants for 2016, an opportunity that gives projects $15,000 and three months to create some kind of innovative installation or programming in the People’s Liberty Globe Gallery space on Elm Street across from Findlay Market. The 2016 group of grantees features a photography exhibit of African-American men as Kings, a “toy library” for both children and adults and a chain-reaction space-filling machine art installation reminiscent of Rube Goldberg. Winners Nina Wells, Julia Fischer and Michael DeMaria should provide some captivating experiences in the space in its second year of installations.
The first year has one exhibit left: Deep Space, a nontraditional installation by Amy Lynch, Joel Masters and J.D. Loughead that provides an environment for creativity rather than presenting its finished products. It aims to be an “indeterminate space, a nebulous nurturing envelopment where creativity can thrive unencumbered.”
Deep Space will open with an event during Over-the-Rhine’s Final Friday on Oct. 30, finishing out the first full cycle of one of the three main People’s Liberty grants. The first two Globe Gallery projects were Jason Snell’s Good Eggs (March-June) and C. Jacqueline Wood’s Mini Microcinema (July-Sept. 3).
People’s Liberty launched a little over a year ago to provide opportunities for “new philanthropy” in Cincinnati. Founded by Eric Avner and Amy Goodwin via the U.S. Bank/Haile Foundation and Johnson Foundation, the philanthropic lab invests in individuals and human talent rather than the traditional model of foundations making grants to nonprofit organizations.

“I think this model gives us the opportunity to advance someone’s career,” says Aurore Fournier, a program director at People’s Liberty. “Sometimes we can even help them figure out what they want to do next.”
She expects People’s Liberty to continue expanding its marketing to reach an even wider pool of potential grantees.
“We want to strive toward even more great applicants,” Fournier says. “We want people to come from all over the I-275 beltway area.”
Fournier encourages everyone with an idea to apply for two upcoming grant opportunities. The first, due Wednesday, Sept. 9, is the Project Grant, which gives each winner $10,000 to complete a short-term project in Cincinnati.

The previous round of projects ranged from a cultural dance event to real-time arrival signs at Metro stops. Several of that group of grantees have their own milestones coming up this fall.

Alyssa McClanahan and John Blatchford just published the first issue of their Kunst: Built Art magazine with a series of events in Over-the-Rhine. Mark Mussman’s first class of Creative App Project students will premiere their finished Android apps at the Globe Building on Sept. 14. Giacomo Ciminello’s Spaced Invaders had a successful first test in Walnut Hills recently.
The Project Grantees aren’t the only ones making progress.

The first two recipients of the full-year $100,000 Haile Fellowship are also coming to the culminating stages of their projects. Brad Schnittger will soon launch the MusicLi platform to help connect local artists to music licensing opportunities, while Brad Cooper’s Start Small tiny homes project is due to break ground in October.
The application for next year’s Haile Fellowship will be open until Oct. 1, with a variety of opportunities for applicants to consult with People’s Liberty staff about their ideas.
Fournier sees the Haile Fellowship and Project Grants as a way for individuals not only to realize their ideas but to learn and grow in the process.
“This is not just a learning experience for us,” she says, “but also a learning opportunity for the people we fund.”
People’s Liberty staff members are proud of the work they’ve done and the people and projects in which they’ve invested so far. The five-year project will continue until 2020, when the team and funders will take some time to reflect on their work, its impact and what might be next.
“We’re extremely happy with the results,” Fournier says. “The opportunities are endless, and I think only time will tell with People’s Liberty.”

Unleash your inner child at 2015 Mini Maker Faire

Next weekend, the Cincinnati Museum Center wants to remind everyone what it's like to be a kid again. A 21st Century kid, that is.

That means live demonstrations from YouTube celebrities, high tech robots, 3D-printed phenomena and interactive activities like laser painting. They'll on be on display at the third annual Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire Aug. 29-30.
Inspired the national Maker Faire movement born out of San Mateo, Calif., and sponsored by Make magazine, Cincinnati's event is hosted by one of dozens of chapters across the country. Referred to as The Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth, its goal is and always has been to showcase invention, creativity and resourcefulness while entertaining to the fullest.
Cincinnati's Mini Maker Faire is one of 120 independently-organized events modeled on the larger-scale Maker Faires. This year, Cincinnati brings together over 30 makers and inventors to showcase their gadgets and discoveries.
While the event is about as kid-friendly as it can get, the team behind the Mini Maker Faire hopes to draw in adult crowds as well. The Museum Center will be presenting a wealth of information on the history of innovation in Cincinnati along with promises of drag-racing power tools, 3D-printed prosthetic hands and a racecar custom made by University of Cincinnati students — just about every age group will find something worth exploring.
For the little ones, the Duke Energy Children's Museum will offer projects like painting with lasers, playing with puppets and building cities out of paper.
The event will also include a celebrity appearance. Eepybird, the famous duo responsible for the Coke-and-Mentos YouTube video that sparked appearances on Letterman, Ellen and Blue Man Group performances, will conduct one of their Coke-and-Mentos experiments to kick off the Mini Maker Faire.
The Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire will also host area artisans and crafters to sell their handmade items in the Rotunda throughout the weekend.
The event is scheduled for 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free to Cincinnati Museum Center members and holders of their All Museums Pass ($14.50 for adults, $10.50 for children). Tickets can be purchased online or at the museum.

DAAP class presents new visions for OTR Brewery District

On July 30 students from UC’s College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning (DAAP) presented ideas for Cincinnati’s Brewery District — the area of Over-the-Rhine north of Liberty Street — and Brewing Heritage Trail.
The students had been working on their designs in teams of four or five as part of the class titled Design Systems: Re-Envisioning Cincinnati’s Brewery District. Each year the studio class works with a real client to create real solutions, and this year’s client came into the picture through university connections. Steve Hampton, executive director of the Brewery District, is an architect and DAAP graduate.
The students’ projects are helping the Brewery District develop its Brewing Heritage Trail, which is envisioned as a world-class walking tour and district celebrating Cincinnati’s brewing history that would bring heritage tourism into the area.
“Being able to access all this young talent is fantastic,” Hampton says. “I love that with this kind of studio you’re going to get a variety of options.”
Hampton is looking forward to putting some of the ideas into practice in the Brewery District. The students are also excited about the prospect, as the district has become a passion for many of them through the course of the project.
“They felt the passion for the neighborhood,” says professor David Eyman. “It took one walk through the area for them to fall in love with it. So what they did was 200 percent of what you usually see from a class.”
“We put our hearts and souls into this,” student Caycee Boyce says, “and a lot of time!”
Her classmate Jenny Beruscha adds, “It’s interesting how a bunch of students with the same education could come up with such different designs.”
Their July 30 presentations showed the variety of ideas they worked on as well as some similarities.
Many students emphasized the need for public gathering spaces, drawing on the brewing heritage connection and the inspiration of biergartens as places to bring people together. Better lighting and seating was a common theme to improve safety and comfort in the neighborhood. Several groups also emphasized public art installations, consistent signage and gateways at main intersections to define the district’s boundaries and overall feel.
Many of the young designers gave nods to brewing history and OTR’s heritage while integrating modern twists. The browns and ambers of beer even worked their way into the aesthetics of designs as main colors, along with materials like wood and steel inspired by the brewing process and the brick texture already ubiquitous in the neighborhood’s architecture.
At the same time, the groups worked to make sure their designs were fresh and modern.
Two groups actually rejected the connection of beer itself, favoring the idea of “brewing” as a metaphor for creating or making and focusing on the district as a daytime space for residents to complement OTR’s thriving nightlife scene south of Liberty Street. One group even expanded its scope from the Brewery District to the entire branding of Over-the-Rhine.
The presentations were hosted at Roadtrippers in the Brewery District, an app and website that aims to help travelers drive to the most interesting places on their journeys. This was another UC connection, as Roadtrippers has DAAP graduates on staff.
The students were critiqued by a panel of judges ranging from DAAP faculty and successful professional designers to Brewery District representatives and a practicing OTR brewmaster.
The students’ range of possibilities and quality of work impressed even their professors.
“Who better to design the future than the future themselves?” professor Kelly Kolar, who runs Kolar Design, asked after the presentations.
With all of these new ideas, the Brewery District’s future looks full of possibility.

TEDx and NewCo host outstanding conferences dedicated to Cincinnati's innovation activity

Cincinnati innovators took the spotlight at two major events earlier this month, starting with TEDxCincinnati, which packed downtown’s Cincinnati Masonic Center July 9 with 1,000 attendees.
“We definitely had a mix of participants, from first timers to repeat attendees,” TEDxCincinnati Director/Organizer Jami Edelheit says. “We sold out in three weeks even with a larger venue, and our waiting list was close to 200 people. We already have some exciting things in the works for the next main stage event.”
The five-hour event, emceed by Local 12’s Bob Herzog and Atlanta-based actress Allison Wonders, featured 23 presentations, including TED talks and performances. A mix of local and national speakers covered subjects ranging from hope and perseverance to new technologies and human trafficking.
TEDx talks were presented in two two-hour blocks, separated by a dinner break and the opportunity to explore Innovation Alley, where participants could get a Thai Yoga Massage, touch a snake from the Cincinnati Zoo, get a taste of the Maker Space at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, write a love note to Cincinnati, experience virtual reality with the University of Cincinnati and take part in activities presented by event sponsor United Way of Greater Cincinnati.
Among the highlights of the evening:
• Social justice advocate Jordan Edelheit’s live webcast with Dan from the Marion Correctional Facility to talk about poetry and TEDx events at the prison;
• A cheetah visit from the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden;
• Four Chords & a Guy, who performed decades of popular songs in a few minutes accompanied by simple music and a great sense of humor; and
• Aidan Thomas Hornaday, a 14-year-old philanthropist who speaks eloquently about the need to give and plays a mean blues harmonica.
Edelheit is thrilled with the response to TEDxCincinnati.
“It was awesome having Alex Faaborg come from Google Virtual Reality,” she says. “We had a line out the door for registration, and the first 100 people received a Google CardBoard Virtual Reality Glasses. Ed Smart and his Operation Underground Railroad met with Cincinnati Players before the event to discuss modern-day slavery. They’re now talking about collaborating on a program later this year.
“We loved including the some of the children from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and The Aubrey Rose Foundation in the finale with Eliot Sloan from Blessed Union Souls singing his hit song, ‘I Believe.’ As a result of that performance, Toby Christenson, Chris Lambert and Chris Lah are collaborating with Eliot to do a fundraising CD for Cincinnati Children’s Charitable Care Fund. They plan on involving community kids and Children’s Hospital patients. How exciting for this to be one of the many positive outcomes from TEDxCincinnati.”
Videos of all the TEDxCincinnati talks and performances will be available online in August.
On July 23, NewCo Cincinnati offered the field-trip version of a TED-type program, with 85 companies across the region hosting nearly 900 participants. From Northern Kentucky to Blue Ash, NewCo hosts brought attendees into their offices, breweries and factories for a unique and personal experience with Cincinnati innovators.
NewCo hosts were primarily startups but also included agencies, nonprofit organizations, higher education institutions and a couple of large corporations. Attendees could build their own schedule by geography, field of interest or subject.
A VIP reception to kick off NewCo Cincinnati was held July 22 with over 200 attendees.
The next day’s main NewCo event was divided into six one-hour sessions, with 30 minutes of travel time allotted between each session. Attendees trying to get from West Chester to OTR may have scrambled, but many sessions were located in the urban core and plenty of NewCo participants took advantage of Red Bike to move from session to session.
NewCo sessions varied greatly in content and style.
At the OTR Chamber of Commerce session, held in the Crown Building adjacent to Findlay Market, short presentations from the Chamber, Findlay Market and Red Door Project were followed by audience questions and discussion.
SpiceFire took participants on a tour of its stunning offices in SangerHalle on Race Street, gave a brief presentation, then broke up the group for a hands-on activity that provided a taste of its client experience.
Rockfish gave a short presentation, then let attendees try out Google Glass and Oculus Rift or just enjoy the view of downtown from their Mt. Adams perch.
A panel discussion by Cerkl, Activate Cincinnati, Starfire, Girl Develop It and Bad Girl Ventures looked at the local startup ecosystem from a female perspective.
At the end of the day, NewCo hosted a wrapup party at the Christian Moerlein Taproom for all attendees and hosts to do some networking while sharing their experiences of the day.
Both TEDxCincinnati and NewCo Cincinnati did an outstanding job of highlighting innovative activities taking over the region, not just in the startup community but in nonprofits and the arts as well. Yet, as the organizers of both events have said repeatedly, the 2015 hosts and presenters were by no means an exhaustive representation of Greater Cincinnati’s exciting entrepreneurial growth.
The depth and breadth of creativity in the region will ensure that the 2016 versions are just as compelling to attend. As word gets out about these events, expect those tickets to sell out even faster next year.

Creative App Project to build community by teaching Android app development

As a self-described amateur app developer, Mark Mussman wants to make the tools for creating Android apps accessible to as many people as possible. His dream is becoming a reality through the Creative App Project (CAP), which will teach a dozen non-techies how to design, build and market Android apps this summer thanks to a People's Liberty Project Grant.
“The thing is that it's not that difficult (to make an app),” Mussman says, “but it's easier when you have someone there helping you along the way.”

He would know. Although he isn’t a professional app developer, Mussman created his own Android app, Cincinnati Hill Challenge, to supplement his experience of using the Map My Fitness apps. Once he created his first app, he started to realize its potential impact by collaborating with users to host events and challenges around Cincinnati. He began to meet new friends at the events.
“I thought it was pretty neat,” he says. “We started to build community around this app.”
It’s the potential to build community through building apps that Mussman felt made the project a perfect fit with People’s Liberty. The philanthropy organization’s resources, connections and approachability have been instrumental in getting his project off the ground. He especially appreciated getting to meet other grantees.
“Part of what was great about it was connecting with the people on other people's projects,” he says. “It was a really collaborative spirit.”
The spirit of collaboration will carry over into the first CAP class. As the participants meet on Monday evenings for 12 weeks over the summer, they’ll first create an app together as a group, then proceed to realize their individual app ideas. Along the way they’ll also learn how to manage the apps, use analytics and market their creations, eventually helping develop resources to make future app development accessible to the general public.
Mussman wanted to recruit a diverse group of participants to create these apps and to impact a wide swath of Cincinnati’s population.
“Really I wanted it to be people who are involved in their community or looking to get more involved in their community and the Cincinnati community,” he says.
Recruiting women has been difficult, he says, but in many other respects the class will be very diverse. He’s happy with the racial balance and the variety of neighborhoods represented. There’s also a great diversity of age, with participants going into their senior year of high school as well as those much older and deeply ingrained in their communities. Even the ideas for apps vary greatly, including architecture, nutrition and much more.
Accessibility is also why CAP will focus on Android apps. While Apple IOS developers must pay roughly $100 on a yearly basis, an Android app requires only a one-time fee of $25. Android apps also take much less technical equipment to develop — Mussman says they can be created from any computer, tablet or Android mobile device.
“This isn't something you necessarily have to have programming skills to do, just basic Word skills,” he says. “If you can use Microsoft Word and the internet, you’ll be good to go.”
Mussman isn’t intimidated by the idea of starting with technology basics. He’s been working in adult education for seven years and has seen tech skills become increasingly important in that field — for example, the GED recently became an entirely computer-based test. But a potential skills gap presented extra hurdles for some of Mussman’s students who had been out of school for decades.
“I was doing a lot of really heavy technology education, you know, with people who didn’t even know what a mouse was,” Mussman recalls. “You had to start at the beginning.”
With this experience, he’s confident the CAP program can start at the beginning to give participants the tools to create apps and bring people together around them.
“I hope that we’re able to not only teach people how to make an Android app but also create opportunities for different community events and for people to gather together to strengthen their communities in some way that benefits them and also benefits the Greater Cincinnati area,” Mussman says.
The first public CAP event will be a launch and showcase of all the apps in September. Until then, you can follow the project on Facebook and the Creative App Project website.

TEDxCincinnati sells out July 9 event, looking to expand in 2016

Even before the speakers for the sixth annual TEDxCincinnati were announced, the July 9 event, themed “Accelerate,” has sold out. (UPDATE: speakers/performers are now listed here.)
“One of the things that’s interesting about TEDxCincinnati is that it’s not one speaker that makes a great event, it’s this combination of all different types of speakers and performers,” says TEDxCincinnati Director/Organizer Jami Edelheit. “It’s not like a demo day. It isn’t a company getting up and promoting what they’re doing. It’s not like a typical conference where there is a keynote speaker, then everybody else.
“It’s an event where every single story has some sort of impact or message. And it is the combination of speakers that makes it so fun and compelling.”
TEDxCincinnati speakers, still unannounced, will come from an array of disciplines, including technology, education, health, arts and social justice. This interdisciplinary approach encourages people to explore subjects and ideas that may be unfamiliar.
“TEDxCincinnati is about storytelling, sharing ideas, innovation, looking at things from a different perspective and opening your mind,” Edelheit says. “I am always amazed at the end of our shows when we ask people, ‘What was your favorite?’ If I ask 10 different people, I get 10 different answers because people are touched by different things. If you come to this and you aren’t touched by something, I would be shocked.”
This is the third consecutive sell-out year for TEDxCincinnati in increasingly larger venues. The July 9 event is being hosted at the Cincinnati Masonic Center downtown, next to the Taft Theater, with a capacity of 1,000 attendees. Given the interest, organizers might add seats to the hall and advise those without tickets to join the waiting list.
The conference is an off-shoot of the popular TED Conferences, though individual TEDx events are self-organized. Both Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati host student-run chapters.
Choosing the speakers and performers is an ongoing part of Edelheit’s work. TEDxCincinnati accepts speaker applications and nominations through its website and hold auditions at a special happy hour.
“Last year the (happy hour) event completely filled up,” she says. “We pick some applicants to audition in front of a panel of judges and an audience with a prepared 2.5-minute presentation. It’s not an open mike, it’s like a mini show.”
In addition to local applicants and auditions, TEDxCincinnati also brings in outside presenters and performers.
“I work with a lot of people in Silicon Valley and around the country,” Edelheit says. “I’m always looking for people we can bring in to share their stories with Cincinnati. We also have advisers in different sectors throughout the community who will refer people. That combination gives us a pretty great pool of presenters and performers.”
A new addition this year is TEDxCincinnati Youth, a group of 100 high school students from the region who will help with the program. A few will even present.
“We realized that many teachers are using TED Talks in the classroom,” Edelheit says. “The idea is to build a community of thinkers and doers among high school students and expose our youth to TEDxCincinnati, giving them the opportunity to talk with young professionals and other people. For them to see what the future holds — after all, it’s their future.”
As part of its 100th anniversary, United Way of Greater Cincinnati is the presenting sponsor of the 2015 TEDxCincinnati.
“They were in the audience last year and thought the different ideas and perspectives were amazing and that it would be really fun to expose their audience to TEDx,” Edelheit says.
For those lucky July 9 ticket holders, Edelheit recommends arriving by 3 p.m. for check-in. The event will start promptly at 4 p.m. To prevent disruption of the presentations, latecomers will have to wait to be seated.
The program starts with 90 minutes of speakers and performances, followed by a break for participants to explore Innovation Alley, where they can purchase food and drinks, network and explore.
“The idea is for people to have a bit of interaction,” Edelheit says. “Last year there was virtual reality, Google Glass, some robotics, things like that.”
This year’s Innovation Alley will include a Foundation Way to showcase the work of local organizations.
“The reality is that the people off the stage are just as important as the people on the stage,” Edelheit says. “There’s a wide range of participants in the audience, from students to CEOs. Innovation Alley is a time when you can just turn and start up a conversation with someone you would never have met before and time to reflect on some of the things you heard on the first half.”
The second half of the program will start promptly at 7:15 p.m. and wraps up at 9:30.
The entire July 9 event will be recorded and uploaded to the TEDx website in August. Edelheit encourages people to watch and share the videos, as each view raises the profile of Cincinnati speakers and performers and could draw the attention of the larger TED organization.
As the event continues to grow — from 300 to 1,000 attendees in three years — Edelheit is already considering options for the future.
“We need a full day like other cities have,” she says. “The question is, is Cincinnati ready if we did a full-day event?”

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.
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