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Where are they now? hiVelocity catches up with three promising companies

Katie Hill (center) and Commuter Advertising in Dayton. Photos Ben French
Katie Hill (center) and Commuter Advertising in Dayton. Photos Ben French

The easiest part of starting a small business is, well, starting a small business. Keeping it going -- and growing -- takes dedication, planning, evaluation and consistency. A little help from an investor or business mentor doesn't hurt either. Here's how three such companies have fared.

Commuter Advertising

Nearly a year ago, Commuter Advertising co-founder Katie Hill and her partner (and husband) Russell Gottesman won the top prize at the 2010 University of Dayton Business Plan Competition. The pair had moved to Dayton from Chicago after getting their first advertising contract with the Dayton Regional Transit Authority.

Commuter Advertising is a practical, yet ground-breaking business that creates and sells local audio advertising on commuter trains and buses. Since last year, the company has expanded its service market from five to seven contracts, including one with Chicago's Pace transit system which shuttles 34 million riders a year. The Chicago contract nearly doubled the size of the company's rider reach, Hill says.

Since last year Commuter Advertising has hired 15 employees and is now up to 22 total. Two of the company's most recent hires were University of Dayton grads who are working for the company's sales call center. In addition to its headquarters at The Entrepreneurs Center in Dayton, the company also has a production studio in Chicago.

Hill says the UD competition, which awarded the company a $20,000 top prize and provided a business mentor, helped the company achieve its next level of success.

"We got a lot of momentum out of the UD Business Plan Competition win. (Competition mentor and former Berry Company CEO) Dan Graham has been an amazing resource to us; he helped with our fundraising effort. We've gone on and closed our Series A round with Draper Triangle Ventures of Pittsburgh, who found us through the competition. The round also included local investors from Dayton and the UD Flyer Angels; we were first investment for the new student-run angel fund," Hill said. "This capital has allowed us to go after more contracts and continue to grow. We are really excited."


Last year, Danny Stull had just launched Venturepax.com, a website that relies on user-generated content to identify, photograph and write about outdoor activities for families in the Cincinnati area where he lives. The site has social networking elements including user profiles, a comment feature and place "check-ins" similar to foursquare.

Since then, Stull, a recent Miami University grad, has made some real progress in promoting the site and turning it into a viable business with national reach.

Last fall, he was picked to join the first class of The Brandery, a tech-based seed stage consumer marketing venture accelerator. The Brandery offers funding, mentoring and partnerships around local consumer marketing businesses during an intensive 12-week course. At the program's end, the class members, including Stull, pitched the company to 150 investors, press and members of the business community in downtown Cincinnati.

"That experience cooks you as a startup and gets you ready for the big leagues," Stull says of The Brandery. "It gives you all the resources you could possibly need, and at the end you get to talk to a room for of investors from across the country."

That pitch led to follow up meetings and Stull has just closed an investment round that includes CincyTech, a public-private venture development organization serving southwest Ohio, and a private Cincinnati investor.

Being a part of the Brandery, with other tech entrepreneurs encouraged Stull to gain his footing in the sometimes overwhelming world of entrepreneurism and growth.

"Being around people who understand early stage startups, I found out its OK not to have everything out. But to flip that around, I also had the realization that this is the big leagues. You can't fake it, you have to be 100 percent committed to your company," Stull says.

Stull has hired two part-time employees and two interns this summer. He's also expanding the site by sharing content with out-of-state partners including Keen Communications, which specializes in outdoor adventure books and maps. Venturepax is also developing iPhone and Android applications, which Stull believes will explode the site's use.

Indigo Imp Brewery

A year and a half ago, Matt Chappel and his and wife Kathy were a few months into their new venture The Indigo Imp Brewery, a small batch microbrewery in Cleveland. Matt, a longtime home brewer turned his passion into a full time business after fashioning his own brew house system using generic dairy farm equipment.

Shortly after launching, The Indigo Imp Brewery had four varieties on local store shelves: Blonde Bombshell, Jester, Gatekeeper and Winter Solstice, a seasonal spiced ale. One attention-getting bottle in each six pack is hand-dipped in wax.

Since then, the company's growth has been slow but steady, says Matt, a former CAD operator. The beers have made their way into nearly 100 carry out and convenience stores, pubs and restaurants in Cleveland, and more recently, Columbus. The couple also has a small retail shop, open late Friday afternoons.

The Indigo Imp Brewery has brought on an intern this summer, and Chappel is planning to hirie at least one part-time employee this year. The couple is still self-distributing the Belgian-style brews, but Chappel is planning to soon seek a distributor, increase production and expand the company's reach.

"Right now my wife and I are still doing a majority of the work, but we are actually getting to a point that we have to bring someone else on if we want to grow," he said.

You can follow Feoshia on Twitter @feoshiawrites

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