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Insivia broadens its services, expands its staff

When Andy Halko founded Insivia right out of college in 2002, he was more of a freelancer, picking up projects piece by piece. Today, the company is a full-service marketing firm working out of the Agora in Midtown.
“We’ve really evolved into a strategic marketing firm for our clients,” says Rick Scheeser, Insivia's director of operations. “Nowadays we’re their entire marketing department. We have a more strategic partnership with our clients, and we have a lot more control over what we do.”
Over the past year Insivia has developed its client base, grown into a 16-person company, and is looking to add a back-end developer and an account executive.
“Before we had lots of one-off projects,” says Scheeser. “Now our clients are more our partners; we’re working with them on a long-term basis.”
Scheeser says Insivia has developed a niche market in the manufacturing industry. “It really helps us understand how we can use technology in their businesses and communicate with their clients,” he says regarding developing an expertise in the market. “I don’t think you could be in Cleveland without helping manufacturing companies.”
Another niche evolves around small tech startups. But Scheeser says no matter what the industry, Insivia gets to know the inner workings of the client. "It’s all about learning about our clients,” he says. “We focus on long-term objectives from a marketing perspective. It allows us to really own the results, instead of just one small piece.”

Source: Rick Scheeser
Writer: Karin Connelly

As CLE-based Acendex looks to fill senior tech positions, it trains entry-level staffers

Since 1988, Beachwood-based Acendex has been the go-to IT consulting company for businesses looking for information and communications systems. “We’re like the IT department for companies too small to afford the talent and too large to not have high-end support for their systems,” says Jonathan Husni, founder and president of Acendex.
The Acendex philosophy is to let their clients focus on what they do, while Husni and his team build the right voice and data networks to help them do those jobs.
With the local economy improving, business has picked up. To cover the increased business, Acendex is looking to add three or four senior network engineers to its 14-person team. But Husni is having trouble finding talented people to keep up with client demands.
“Just finding folks who have the skill set I’m looking for is very, very difficult,” he says. “The guys who have been with me who are successful have been with me 10 to 15 years.” Like many IT companies, Husni finds that applicants have the training, but they don’t have the hands-on experience. “A lot of people have the credentials, but they don’t have the experience to back it up,” he says.
So in the meantime, Husni came up with a solution. He hires entry-level people and puts them in the field with clients who want someone on-site 40 hours a week. They have the knowledge for basic support and at the same time have the backup of senior level staff if there’s a more advanced problem.
“They get the opportunity to get real world experience, but when they get stuck they can call our senior engineers.” Husni says. “It’s a sort of proving ground. It works for the client because they get 40 hours of help at a low cost. It works for me because they get the training they need.”
Source: Jonathan Husni
Writer: Karin Connelly

Downtown Cleveland Alliance hosts first all-Ohio BID conference

As millenials, empty nesters and other demographic groups flock to downtowns across Ohio, business improvement districts -- or BIDs -- are playing an important role in ensuring that these areas are clean and safe and that residents, office workers and property owners have the amenities they need to thrive.

A business improvement district is a defined area within which property owners pay an additional tax to fund projects and services that enhance the area. Downtown Cleveland has a BID, and the organization provides basic "clean and safe" services, organizes events and markets downtown to prospective residents, visitors and businesses.

This week, Downtown Cleveland Alliance, which manages the downtown BID, organized the first all-Ohio BID conference, bringing together BID leaders from across the state to network and learn about issues they share in common.

"It came from the idea that there's not a unifying organization or conference for BIDs," says Anna Beyerle with DCA. "We can learn a lot from other BIDs across Ohio. The idea was to get in the same room and throw out ideas and best practices."

Topics included food truck legislation, downtown transportation, farmers markets, placemaking, and office and retail recruitment strategies.

Participants also enjoyed several tours of downtown Cleveland and the surrounding area and had a chance to learn from Cleveland's redevelopment.

Beyerle says the conference will help BIDs, such as the one in downtown Cleveland, to become more effective. "We're up for renewal in a couple years, and we're looking at how we can improve."

Source: Anna Beyerle
Writer: Lee Chilcote

Enterprise Community to offer $35k in innovation grants in Cleveland

Enterprise Community Partners is hosting its second annual Leadership in Community Innovation Awards, providing the winner with a $25,000 unrestricted grant for non-profit organizations that are creating community development solutions in Cleveland.
Last year’s winner was the Ohio City Market District, which attracted 30 new businesses to the neighborhood through its grant program, creating 300 jobs.
This year, in addition to the Community Innovation Award, Enterprise is introducing the Nurture an Idea Award, which recognizes a group with an innovative idea. The winner will receive $10,000 and a team of advisors that will help bring the idea to fruition.
“The Nurture an Idea Award is about the future,” says Kathy Matthews, an Enterprise program director. “It’s an award for an idea that hasn’t been implemented yet and needs the wind at its back to move it forward.”
In addition to the $10,000 awarded to the winner, a few finalists will be selected to participate in a Crowdrise fundraising campaign. Ohio Savings Bank will award $10,000 to the organization that raises the most money.
The application deadline is September 6.

Sources: Kathy Matthews
Writer: Karin Connelly

Lakewood's Ideation Challenge will award access to key resources

Lakewood is looking for a few entrepreneurs to join its business community through its third annual Ideation Challenge. Interested parties submitted business plans for consideration through last week.

"If people qualify we invite them to give a quick elevator pitch,” says Mike Belsito, director of Ideation for Startup Lakewood and co-founder of e-Funeral.

Four finalists will give a two-minute elevator pitch in front of an audience and a panel of judges at a Startup U event on August 27. Two winners will be announced at the September Startup U event.
The theme of this year’s challenge is “access,” as in access to resources often out of reach to new entrepreneurs. The winners of the challenge will receive a lunch meeting with Lakewood mayor and entrepreneur Michael Summers; a half hour meeting with investor Christopher Celeste; an elevator pitch session with Belsito, SociaGram co-founder Ryan O’Donnell and DecisionDesk co-founder John Knific; a scholarship to a nine-week Bad Girl Ventures course; and other useful tools to get their businesses started.
While only one of the winners must be a Lakewood resident, the hope is that both winning businesses will set up shop in the city. “We hope that some of these businesses get started in Lakewood, but it’s all about helping people,” says Belsito. “The goal of the competition is to help people take the next step with their ideas for new products or businesses.”

Source: Mike Belsito
Writer: Karin Connelly

Boomerang brings stress relief to Cincinnati office workers

Meredith Amann, owner of Work Flow Yoga, moved back to her hometown of Cincinnati last December after spending six years in San Francisco, two years in Philadelphia and three months in New York. She completed SpringBoard Cincinnati, a small business planning and development program, earlier this year and launched Work Flow in June.

What sets Work Flow apart? It's the yoga studio that comes to you, offering up stress relief for you and your employees.
Work Flow classes are based in the tradition of Ashtanga and Hatha yoga, and they focus on safe alignment and maintaining the connection to your breathing. The sessions are non-competitive and are designed for beginners and those with more experience. They are 30-60 minutes and can be held once or twice a week in your workplace.
“It’s nice to have flexibility in terms of me coming to them,” says Amann. “It’s one person traveling as opposed to a group of people—and it’s one car on the road instead of 20.”
When Amann decided to pursue her yoga training and move to Cincinnati, she thought about a brick-and-mortar studio. But she decided she wanted to offer yoga to those who sat at their desks all day long, and a traveling studio made more sense for that.
To date, Amann has taught yoga classes at a handful of small nonprofit companies. If you’re interested in having a class taught at your office, call 513-370-9088 or email Amann at [email protected] to schedule a meeting.

By Caitlin Koenig

HCDC launches Business Retention Council with $30k Duke Energy grant

The Hamilton County Development Company is tapping local authorities to identify and aid businesses that are ripe for growth or in danger of leaving the area.

With a $30,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation, HCDC launched a Business Retention Council. The Council allows HCDC to take a more proactive approach to business growth and retention, says HCDC President David Main.

The Council is comprised of economic development and other officials from most of Hamilton County's cities and suburbs. It held its first meeting last month.

"We are putting together a list of businesses we feel have the potential for expansion or may be at risk of leaving," Main says. "We want these business to stay in their communities. We hate reading in the papers that businesses left or went out of business when we could have done something about it."

HCDC is a 30-year-old nonprofit business development agency. The Norwood-based organization runs a business incubator, and is a small business lender.

HCDC has reached out to businesses in the past, but the Duke grant will allow for a more formal business retention program. Retention efforts are crucial to the local economy, Main says.

"Business expansion and retention tends to be overlooked, but it counts for 80 percent of job creation in any community," he says. "It's important to retain, and if possible, expand existing businesses."

Besides connecting with businesses, the Council wants to create an "early warning" system to alert members of any Hamilton County business that is facing potential challenges. The Council wants to find a way to find businesses before they leave or shut down.

Resources the Council could offer businesses include lending opportunities, business counseling, and marketing and sales support. The Council also wants to facilitate open communication with local government agencies.

"We can't always make a difference, but we want to at least have the chance to do something if a business is considering leaving or in danger of closing," Main says.

By Feoshia H. Davis

Northeast Ohioans flock to national work training program

WorkAdvance, a national program that provides low-income and low-skilled individuals with employment training, in conjunction with Towards Employment, a Cuyahoga County-based employment readiness agency, and seven other collaborators, has enrolled 465 local participants in its training program.

Enrollment began in June. The participants are receiving skills training and career services in manufacturing and healthcare. Rebecca Kusner, director of WorkAdvance, says two-thirds of the Cuyahoga County participants are from Cleveland.
The WorkAdvance program is part of a study to show that low-skill and low-income people with barriers to employment can meet companies’ needs if they are offered coordinated skills training and career coaching. “Often, people get GED services, but not technical training,” says Kusner. “WorkAdvance puts together all the services people need to not only get a job, but continue along a career pathway so they don’t end up back on public assistance.”
Northeast Ohio is one of four sites nationwide in the study. The program operates through federal funding from the Social Innovation Fund and under a local investment from the Fund for Our Economic Future.
Manufacturing and health care are two areas most in need of trained workers, Kusner says. “We talked to employers in both fields and asked them where they feel the pain,” she explains, adding that qualified welders were particularly in demand in Northeast Ohio.
Participants receive training at places like Tri-C, Lincoln Electric, and Lakeland Community College. Kusner reports that 30 percent of those participants in jobs after training have already received wage increases.

Source: Rebecca Kusner
Writer: Karin Connelly

Cincy entrepreneurs set to launch multimedia digital portfolio platform

Today the web is a crucial link between employer and employee. Your first contact with a potential employer is almost always online, and it can be hard to stand out.

That's why two Cincinnati entrepreneurs are set to launch a platform that allows job seekers and college students to more completely, creatively and simply show what they're made of.

Kevin Mackey and Stephanie Hughes, founders of GlueWorks LLC, are launching their first product, Talent Showcase. The online platform is a multimedia portfolio that allows users to display and share their important workplace skills and attributes.

Talent Showcase, set to go live July 31, allows users to customize their profiles from a number of available features. With Talent Showcase, job seekers can use video, PDFs, audio, pictures and more to show and sell themselves. Talent Showcase has a workplace assessment feature that will list your top five workplace competencies (out of 84 assessed).

"You can upload your resume, a first impression video or elevator pitch, songs, letters of recommendation, class projects," says Mackey, who has a background in marketing and finance. "It's like an interview before the interview."

GlueWorks will allow users to share their profile from the site.

The platform is a modified idea of Hughes', an NKU professor. Originally, she envisioned the site as a way to connect college students to former professors and businesses. Students can be hard to find once they graduate, and GlueWorks was formed to increase the "stickiness" between them, she says.

Like many startups, the idea evolved, though the core concept remains the same: high-quality connection. Talent Showcase stands out from sites like LinkedIn because of its focus on displaying individuals' talents, Hughes says.

"Glue offers a much more digestible tool," she says. "If I'm an employer, I don't want to navigate my way around a (social media) profile. Glue presents information in a much more standardized, digestible way for employers. It doesn't make the job of the employer difficult."

And what's good for employers, is good for employees.

Those interested in Talent Showcase can sign up on the GlueWorks website. It's free for individual users. Organizations like colleges and universities or chambers of commerce can also purchase a white-label version of the system, which includes a search portal and an administrative portal for providing advice and feedback on their members' Talent Showcases.

Eventually, as Glue builds its user base, employers will be able to purchase regional or national recruiting memberships for a monthly or annual fee.

By Feoshia H. Davis

Software Craftsman Guild launches boot camp in Akron

The Akron-based Software Craftsman Guild (SWC) has opened the first regional software development boot camp featuring intensive training for seven apprentices over 12 weeks.
“There is a severe shortage of qualified software development talent nationally,” says Eric Wise, President at SWC. “Our hiring network partners struggle with finding enough talent for their staffing goals and are reaching out to organizations like ours to identify intelligent and motivated people to fast track into the skill sets that are in demand.”
Wise walks through what participants will experience in the boot camp, saying the program is broken down into various technical aspects. “This program is very intense and besides the full-time work in the lab with the mentors, apprentices typically put in another 20 to 30 hours per week doing project work.”
Ultimately, Wise believes participants will benefit most by being surrounded by fellow apprentices who are in the same situation. “The best thing for the apprentices is that they are with up to a dozen other people who are going through the same learning curve that they are,” he explains. “They have a relatively consequence-free environment to experiment and really dive down into the material that they can't get from other sources.”
Various experts in the field are involved in the program, including Eric Ward who has a strong Java background. “He will be launching a parallel cohort this fall in the Java and open source stacks,” Wise says. Rounding out the team are Sarah Dutkiewicz and David Basarab who have both found success in consulting. If others would like to drop by, Wise says they are welcome. “We have an open door policy for IT professionals in our region to come in, visit and do presentations for the apprentices so that they can hear other voices besides ours and learn as much as they can about the field they are getting into.”
Wise and his team are excited to be part of the growing entrepreneurial scene throughout the state, especially in Akron. “Our region has been doing a great job through incubators and other initiatives to move the economy more towards knowledge work,” he says, noting their special place in meeting the technical talent gap. “We are proud to be retooling existing talent to place where needed as we bring brains into the region from other states.”
Source: Eric Wise
Writer: Joe Baur

Blue Ash-based Gaslight leads effort to create training program for Ruby app developers

Tech talent in Cincinnati is in high demand but in short supply in some areas. And as the local tech startup economy grows, so does the need for cutting-edge developer talent.

One local mobile and web app development company is leading an effort to develop talent in its corner of the tech world. Blue Ash-based Gaslight is teaming up with Cincinnati-area industry and entrepreneurial leaders to start a training program for app developers using the Ruby on Rails platform.

Gaslight specializes in developing apps through Ruby on Rails. The growing company, which has more than a dozen developers, creates apps and other software applications for growing startups and established brands.

Gaslight co-founder and Ruby developer Bill Barnett says the idea is a practical one. Ruby has become a popular app development platform, and it's become harder for Ruby developers, including Gaslight, to keep up with client demand.

"There is a need for Ruby on Rails support that the market is not meeting at the moment," he says.

The training program is aimed at bringing new developers into the field, and would last about six months. This type of web development school is emerging in several cities across the United States—gSchool in Denver is one of the best known. GSchool is a model for Cincinnati to follow, Barnett says.

"We want to create an avenue for people who want to get into software development, and maybe come from other disciplines," Barnett says. "They might be a recent college graduate who has a degree in medicine or law but has an entrepreneurial inkling. They could be returning from overseas, transitioning from a military career."

Gaslight is still in the planning stages, but it has a record of leadership in the Cincinnati web community, and has hosted several developer Meetups and is the lead organizer of the Queen City Merge conference. Gaslight is working with a number of interested groups to get it off the ground, including NeoGirl Develop It and The Brandery.

No firm date has been set for the training program's launch, but a goal is to start a group of 20-25 students by late this year or early next.

Find out more about Gaslight and what it has to offer at Web School Cincinnati.

By Feoshia H. Davis

Cincinnati Digital Xchange explores latest strategies, techniques in digital marketing

Top digital marketing trends, techniques and strategies are ever-evolving. New tools, networks, devices and technologies make the rapidly changing space competitive and dynamic. You master one (or five) techniques, and then a new one comes along.

Keeping up with those tools and getting the best out of them is the foundation of a new group, Cincinnati Digital Xchange, which meets once a month to explore the ins and outs of the digital marketing space.

The Xchange was founded by a group of local digital marketing experts as an open place where people can learn and swap ideas. It began as a web analytics group but expanded to include other dimensions of digital marketing as well.

"We decided we wanted to bring in more people in the digital industry," says Xchange's co-founder Russ Shirley, a digital marketing consultant. "We'd focus on social, local, mobile—anything trending or coming up."

The group meets the last Tuesday of each month at Cintrifuse, the region's newest corporate-backed startup investment fund and incubator.

The group has had some impressive, on-trend speakers, including inaugural speaker J.B. Kropp, Brandery co-founder and Twitter V.P. of Strategic Partnerships (and Cincinnatian), who spoke about engagement and how brands are leveraging the platform.

Other speakers include marketing pros from Cincinnati powerhouses like dunnhumby, Possible, Empower MediaMarketing, Rockfish Interactive and Procter & Gamble.

The group has grown quickly—some months, meetings attract more than 100 people. The meetings are free, and Xchange receives major support from Cintrifuse, Empower MediaMarketing and CincyTech.

"The main goal is kind of self-serving," Shirley says. "I wanted to get information that I want to learn, find out things that are not usually accessible to anyone who is outside of an agency."

The next meeting is set for July 30. Details are available on the group's Meetup page.

Writer: Feoshia H. Davis

TechPint lets Northeast Ohio entrepreneurs and investors share ideas over beers

When Paul McAvinchey moved to Cleveland in April 2012 with his wife Rebecca to lead product innovation for MedCity Media, the seasoned entrepreneur was impressed with the entrepreneurial community here.

“When I got here, I was really excited to see all the startup activity going on,” McAvinchey says. But the native of County Tipperary, Ireland, who has also lived in Chicago, Munich and Dublin, was surprised that there were no informal events bringing all the startup organizations together. “I was used to having events where all the disparate groups came together to share their thoughts and ideas.”
So McAvinchey set out to start TechPint, a casual gathering for entrepreneurs and investors in internet technology. He made hundreds of phone calls and brought the area’s startup organizations together to plan the first TechPint event, which debuts tonight at 5:30 p.m. at Market Garden Brewery. Can't make it? No worries. McAvinchey plans to hold TechPint every three months. Space is limited to 150 people. Tickets are $12 each for preregistration and $15 at the door. Registration details are available here.
McAvinchey calls TechPint a “mini-tech conference in a bar with pints.” But that doesn’t mean TechPint isn’t a valuable resource. “It’s a really casual setting with drinks,” he says. “But we’re focused on a value-driven event where you are likely to go home with new ideas to work on or new things to think about.”
Many of the major startup organizations are on board, including JumpStart, Bizdom, LaunchHouse and MedCity Media. Speakers will be Mike Belsito, founder of eFuneral, John Knific, founder of DecisionDesk, Josh Walsh, founder of Designing Interactive, and Bizdom’s Paul Allen.

Source: Paul McAvinchey
Writer: Karin Connelly

Venture for America inspires two Cincy entrepreneurs to keep their talents in Ohio

When James Fayal and Ricky Ishida moved to Cincinnati last summer to focus on start-ups, they had given little thought to launching their own.

But less than a year later, the Milton Street housemates have embarked on one of eight national Venture for America initiatives (two from Cincinnati) that demonstrate just how much they have come to embody the entrepreneurial spirit. As members of the inaugural Venture for America class of fellows, the Zest Tea founders exemplify the essence of the national, startup-generating project designed to attract and retain top collegiate talent in “flyover” cities like Cincinnati.

Both moved to Ohio to work for startups that intrigued them. Fayal, a University of Maryland grad, chose to work with CincyTech, while Ishida of Cornell landed at ZipScene

Given the intense work schedules of startups, it’s no surprise that their idea for their own start-up grew out of a blend of personal experiences and frustration. Both preferred tea to coffee -- Ishida based on experience dating to his childhood in Japan and Fayal from his high school days. Still, neither could locate traditional teas with enough caffeinated punch to help them get through the extended days of the startup world.

Instead of complaining, they began a search for a coffee alternative. They found no tasty tea product on the market that provided coffee caffeine levels. That's when Fayal and Ishida knew they were on to something. They just didn’t know what.

“We started developing our own [tea] blends,” Fayal says. There was Cinnamon Apple Black Tea and Pomegranate Mojito Green Tea; Blue Lady Black Tea and Moroccan Mint Green Tea. “We started playing around with some tea extracts, with additional antioxidants, and caffeine,” he adds.

By blending tea extracts with high quality teas, they focused on good (read: not bitter) taste while boosting caffeine levels. 

What began as a beverage born of personal interest became a business plan very quickly over the last month thanks to another VFA innovation. The non-profit launched a national awareness campaign through RocketHub aimed at nurturing their young Fellows’ community involvement and startup aspirations. Members of the first class of VFA fellows were encouraged to enter a startup competition of their own, with cash prizes awarded to the top three already crowd-funded ideas. 

They created a RocketHub site for “Zest Tea - Bold Teas With An Energizing Kick,” and started raising money. To sweeten the pot, they turned the very funding process into a bit of a game, wherein folks who donate get to help decide which teas will make it to market first. 

"We figured we’d let the funders make the final decision on the first four," says Fayal, who enjoys all eight of the blends on the ballot, but admits to a particular fondness for Pomegranate Mojito and Cinnamon Apple blends as well as the more traditional Earl Grey.

Writer: Elissa Yancey

Blackstone Launchpad opens fourth location on Case Western campus

The fourth Blackstone LaunchPad opened on the CWRU campus on April 23, providing a place for aspiring entrepreneurs to gather, learn and get advice.

“LaunchPad is aimed at students seeing it and saying, ‘I have an idea,’” says Deborah D. Hoover, president and CEO of the Burton D. Morgan Foundation. “It’s aimed at students walking in and talking to people and an idea takes off.”
The Burton D. Morgan Foundation in Hudson and the Blackstone Charitable Foundation announced in November 2011 that they had committed $3.2 million over three years to open LaunchPad locations in Northeast Ohio to train area student entrepreneurs.
The LaunchPad is a venture coach program developed at the University of Miami, Florida in 2008. The program provides participants with advice and mentorship to take business ideas to fruition. Students are matched up with venture coaches to guide them through the development process.
The other Northeast Ohio LaunchPads are on the campuses of Baldwin Wallace University, Lorain County Community College and Kent State University. The goal is to create 150 new sustainable companies in the next five years, which could generate as many as 3,000 jobs. Hoover says they expect to exceed that goal.
More than 40 students already are registered with the CWRU LaunchPad and 16 are exploring their business ideas. “More than 400 student ventures are underway among the four campuses,” says Hoover. “We think that’s pretty great.” Registration is ongoing.
Nearly 200 people turned out for the opening in CWRU’s Thwing Center. “It was great, we were really pleased with the way it went,” Hoover says of the opening. Attendees included Case president Barbara Snyder and Bob Sopko, director of the CWRU LaunchPad, as well as Joan Solotar, chair of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation and Vinny Gupta, chair of the Ohio Board of Regents.

Source: Deborah D. Hoover
Writer: Karin Connelly
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