Posts Tagged ‘startups’

Cincinnati’s Cintrifuse Connects Entrepreneurs, Big Companies and Tech Funds

Monday, December 12th, 2016

During my visit to Cincinnati earlier this month, I had to pleasure of meeting key people from Cintrifuse and a few of the regional accelerators. The website says Cintrifuse is “Where Dreamers, Disruptors and Doers Connect” because “the world needs innovation. Entrepreneurs, BigCos and Tech Funds need each other. An active network ensures they can connect. And at the heart of that network is Cintrifuse.”

At Cintrifuse, I met with Wendy Lea, who has been CEO since 2014, and Eric Weissmann, Director of Marketing. Ms. Lea is “an accomplished Silicon Valley executive with deep experience in marketing, sales, and customer experience.” Ms. Lea serves on several boards, including Corporate Visions (San Francisco) and Xyleme (Boulder) as well as still being the executive chair of Get Satisfaction (San Francisco.)

Ms. Lea said, “Cintrifuse was born to answer this question: What will it take to create a thriving startup ecosystem in Cincinnati? Cintrifuse is a not-for-profit public/private partnership that exists to build a sustainable tech-based economy for the Greater Cincinnati region. Our purpose is to advocate for entrepreneurs leading high-growth tech startups– attracting, inspiring, and supporting them on their journey. The goal of Cintrifuse is to lower starting costs of business, especially businesses with the potential for high growth and that are disruptive technology. The Cincinnati Business Committee wanted to see how they could be relevant and formed Cintrifuse in partnership with the City of Cincinnati and EY. They wanted their kids to be able to come back to Cincinnati. The Cintrifuse Syndicate Fund is at $57 million and invests in VC firms outside of the region with the understanding they (VCs) create a regional engagement plan. There’s no stipulation that they invest in Cincinnati startups, but just be involved in the ecosystem. This includes reviewing deals, participating in events, and meeting our Limited Partners (LPs) most of whom they would love to meet with anyway – Procter & Gamble, Kroger, the University of Cincinnati, etc.”

She said, “We own and manage a 38,000 sq. ft. building in the economic area known as “Over the Rhine.” We got the building mortgage free, but put $17 million into improving the building. We opened in 2012. We provide services to 285 members companies – advisory services (such as mentoring and office hours), connections to talent, funding, and customers, as well as operating co-working space in downtown Cincinnati. We are part accelerator, part incubator, and part co-working space to move a company to the next ‘Lily pad’.

Ms. Lea added, ” The ‘headroom’ at Cintrifuse is wide. There is a strong appetite for new technology, new ideas, and disruption. Cintrifuse is a census taker – 300 startups are on our database across industries. We have brought is $160 million into the region for their startups, and we give them lots of exposure to VCs. One of our success stories is Everything But the House, which started in Cincinnati. They just raised $41 million, and Cintrifuse made the introduction to their investors.”

She explained, “Cincinnati has more Fortune 500 companies than anywhere else outside of San Francisco Bay area, so we created a Customer Connections program to share information between large companies and small companies. Our Customer connections program is taking 15 startups to Israel to present “innovation briefs.”

She would like to see Cintrifuse expand all over the world similar to TechStars in Boulder, CO with which she was involved when she lived in Boulder. She said, “Tech Star is the largest global network in the world with 28 centers, and their graduates have created 800 companies. Cintrifuse hosted their   reunion of graduates called FounderCon in the fall of 2016.”

The next day, I met Jordan Vogel, now V. P. of Talent Initiatives with the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, who worked for Cintrifuse for three years as director of the entrepreneurial ecosystem., He gave me more background information on Cintrifuse, saying, “It was created by Cincinnati Business Committee, composed of the top 30 CEOs in region and  the Cincinnati Regional Business Committee, composed of about 100 CEOs of somewhat smaller companies. When Chiquita left, the leaders became concerned and asked “What does the future look like? What should it be? They decided they needed to promote the next P&Gs of the world. Entrepreneurship was the key. They commissioned McKinsey & Company to conduct a comprehensive study on what would make the Greater Cincinnati region more attractive to startup entrepreneurs and outside investment. The study revealed the region’s strengths and gaps. Cintrifuse was formed to leverage the strengths and fill in the gaps. There are four universities in the region, but there was no path to commercializing technologies being developed”.

He added, “Funding was needed, so they created a fund of funds. They raised $78 of which $57 million went into a syndicate fund. To be part of the syndicate, Venture Capitalists had to commit to take a look at startups and be committed to engage with two to four trips per year to the region to meet with entrepreneurs. The purpose was to create a food chain.”

According to its StartupCincy Resources page, “Cincinnati lays claim to one of the most vibrant startup ecosystems between the coasts.” Home to The Brandery, one of the nation’s Top 10 accelerators; HCDC, the #1 incubator in the State of Ohio; CincyTech, one of the Midwest’s leading seed-stage investors; Queen City Angels, a private, seed-stage venture capital investor ranked #2 in the nation; four universities committed to innovation; and now the country’s only faith-based accelerator – there is a ton of innovation activity in this town!”

The Cintrifuse webpage lists the following accelerators as collaborative partners:

  • ArtWorks CO.STARTERS (formerly SpringBoard) “is a nine-week business development program that helps aspiring and seasoned entrepreneurs examine assumptions and turn business ideas into action.”
  • Bad Girl Ventures “is an educational and micro-finance organization dedicated to inspiring and supporting women entrepreneurs in all the key elements of their business.”
  • The Brandery “is a seed stage startup accelerator ranked as one of the top programs in the United States. It runs a 4-month program in Cincinnati, Ohio, focused on turning your great idea into a successful brand driven startup.”
  • First Batch ”It is a five-month accelerator that is the first business accelerator in the nation to focus on scaling physical product companies using local manufacturing. Cincinnati’s long history as a center for consumer products, branding, and manufacturing make it THE place for growing a business creating and selling tangible goods.”
  • MORTAR was started by three minority community members in the downtown area called “Over the Rhine.” “It is called ‘Mortar’ because people are the mortar between the bricks of the buildings and the founders believe that the neighborhood’s residents have the potential to create booming enterprises – just footsteps from their homes.”
  • Minority Business Accelerator – “its mission is to help accelerate the development of sizable minority business enterprises and to strengthen and expand the regional minority entrepreneurial community. It works with companies under $1 million in revenue to connect them with large companies who want to diversify their supply chain.”
  • Ocean is a faith-based “accelerator for startup growth by focusing on the purpose that drives founders…and their companies.”
  • UpTech “is designed to attract and accelerate entrepreneurs who have the next big idea to make the world a better place. Its mission is to create an informatics industry in Northern Kentucky. It is especially well suited to support entrepreneurs who benefit from our partnership with the NKU College of Informatics.”

It lists the following incubators in the Cincinnati region, which also collaborate with Cintrifuse:

  • bioLOGIC is a life sciences incubator.
  • Hamilton Mill “is a Southwestern Ohio small business incubator for green, clean, water, digital and advanced manufacturing technologies. Conveniently located between Cincinnati and Dayton in the original pioneer town of Hamilton, OH.”
  • Hamilton County Development Center (HCDC) “is a nationally recognized startup incubator in Southwest Ohio that helps entrepreneurs launch successful innovative businesses. It just spun off an accelerator called Pipeline for water product development.”
  • The Northern Kentucky ezone (NKY ezone) – “It works collaboratively with several organizations that provide funding assistance to fast-growth, high-tech companies. Its team will work with you in assembling the necessary information, plans, and presentations to apply for these opportunities.”

Over dinner at Cintrifuse, I met with the heads of three of the accelerators, Matt Anthony and John Spencer with First Batch and JB Woodruff with Uptech. Two entrepreneurs also joined us for dinner, Konrad Billetz, CEO of Frameri, and Paul Powers, CEO of Zoozler LLC and Physna LLC. Frameri makes the world’s first interchangeable prescription frame and lens system. Mr. Billetz was previously part of the Brandery four month accelerator program in 2013. He said, “We got $20,000 as part of the program, and then we did an Indiegogo crowdfunding and got about $100K to get into full production. We were on Shark Tank in 2015, but we turned down the deal we were offered. We found a lens manufacturer in Dallas, TX, but still do some production in-house.

Mr. Powers said, “Physna is a member of Cintrifuse. I started Physna in December 2015, and we are developing software that will lead the revolution in 3D printing. I am also the CEO of Zoozler LLC that is about two years old. Zoozler is a tech development company (including websites, apps, digital marketing and media) and has an initiative for local startups requiring help in tech development.”

I connected with Matt Anthony by phone after I returned from my trip to find out more about First Batch. Mr. Anthony said, “I founded the accelerator in 2013 to overcome the gap between a well made early prototype and being able to make the first batch of product at manufacturing scale. Over the next four years we grew the program to educate and connect entrepreneurs to overcome the additional hurdles to scale, including legal, marketing, distribution, and more. We’re unique nationally in that we’ve focused on utilizing the strength of our local manufacturers, which tied with the heritage in physical consumer products and branding make for a perfect set of resources to grow new physical product companies. We operate out of a 10,000 sq. ft. maker space on the 4th floor of a former brewery, located in the “Over the Rhine” area. The program itself is five months of rigorous learning from regional experts, product testing, development, one-on-one mentorship, and $10,000 in funding to get into actual production. Companies must all come in with a working prototype and an understanding of their business to really get the most of the five short months. Some of our companies have been making their product for years and are looking to expand their production beyond themselves. The goal of the program is to get the companies into the first stage of production and actually selling products in order to set them up for future growth and funding.”

For example, one of their companies, Textile House, used the funding to make a couple hundred garments for their fall fashion line. They already raised an additional round of funding through a Kiva micro loan to bring their spring line to market in early 2017.


He added, “We started out with two companies in 2013, four in 2014, five in 2015, and six this year. We started this year in June and our 2016 class just culminated in a Demo Day on November 9th. We try to check in with graduates to continue to ensure growth, and about half of the companies each year choose to stay on as members of the maker space.”

When I asked him to describe how their program works, he said, “After an open application, our companies are selected through a series of interviews that end in a final juried selection. Once the program starts our cohort meets as a group twice a week, and one-on-one at least once, often with speakers, manufacturer visits, branding support, and other individual consultation sprinkled in between. We start the week on Monday mornings reviewing business concepts and readings, ranging from learning more about the types of entrepreneurial personalities via E-Myth, and later how to start prototyping and quickly testing product ideas via Lean Startup and marketing channels via Traction. We are primarily funded through grants and donations of time and materials, and don’t currently take an equity position in our companies. We look to help grow companies by connecting to resources down the line from ECDI, Queen City Angels, Cintrifuse, even other accelerators.”

With so many accelerators and incubator programs to nurture startup companies, Cincinnati is off to a good start to achieve its goal of re-industrializing the Cincinnati region. Other cities in the United States that were formerly major industrial centers would do well to follow the example of Cincinnati in setting a goal of re-industrializing their city to create more higher paying jobs and restore prosperity.


Innovative Products Win Best Invention at San Diego Inventors Forum Contest

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

Ten companies competed for the best consumer product of the year at the 9th annual invention contest of the San Diego Inventors Forum on August 11, 2016 held at Coleman University. The San Diego Inventors Forum (SDIF) meets every 2nd Thursday in Del Mar (just north of San Diego) and has been the nursery for hundreds of ideas of local San Diego inventors for over 10 years.

The San Diego Inventors Forum is a non-profit organization that provides a year-long education program at monthly meetings where keynote speakers cover the full spectrum of what inventors need to know to go from capturing a design concept to how to get their product to the market. I have been involved with SDIF for seven years, first as a member of the steering committee and mentor to inventors, and now as a director on the board after SDIF incorporated in 2014.

Our meetings cover topics such as harnessing creativity, patents, trademarks & copyrights, licensing, video and internet marketing for inventors, finding funding/investors, and planning and giving presentations. I give one of the presentations each year on “Manufacturing 101 – how to select the right processes and sources for your products.” All of our meeting presentations have been videotaped for the past three years and can be viewed on YouTube and are linked at the SDIF website:

The meetings also provide unique opportunities for inventors to connect with people and services they may need to develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence needed to bring their product to market and profitability.

At the end of each year, SDIF hosts a competition where ten inventors have the opportunity to present their product to an audience of 75 – 100 people. The number of votes by members of the audience determines which inventors receive the top prizes ? 1st prize is $1000, second is $500, and third wins $250.

President Adrian Pelkus said, “This was one of the most competitive contests we have ever had. Each of the products was so innovative, unique, and useful that it was tough to choose the best consumer product. There was only a five vote spread between the first place winner and the third place winner.”

The winner was Greg Wawrzyniak for his PaintWell Caddy. The two models attach easily to any kind of a belt and hold the brush and roller in place with embedded magnets when not being used. The small size holds a small roller and paintbrush for painting trim and the larger size holds a large roller and brush for painting walls. For further information, contact Greg at

Second place went to Dean McBain for his Alive Iris Biometric security system solution that comprises a dual parallel authentication ID system that analyzes an individual’s iris independently. The system identifies the individual as well as verifying the “alive” status simultaneously. For further information, go to

Third place winner was Dan Garcia and Kirsten Hanson Garcia for their Sipsee – the only universal, sanitary, reusable, portable bottle plug. The Sipsee enables you to immediately be able to identify your bottle among a myriad of identical bottles at home, parties, sporting events, picnics, campsites, and other places. The plug has a cover that can be attached to a lanyard or key chain for handy use. For further information, contact or go to their website

Other contestants were:

Marvin Rosenthal for his Enforcer dog leash ?  a innovative leash with three ergonomically designed handles to allow owners/handlers to choose how much control they have over their dog, especially designed for military or law enforcement applications. For further information, contact

Van Dexter Duez for his Pieceptions – an easy to use baking device that allow you to create two pies in one for flavorful combinations, as pumpkin and pecan, cherry and chocolate silk, and spinach and Lorraine quiche. For further information, contact

Robson Spiane for his Pro RiseTM seat assist product that allows seniors, wounded veterans, and post-surgical individuals to rise from their seats independently without motors, pistons, or hydraulics.  It allows an individual to use their upper body to assist their legs in rising up or descending into a seated position. It is portable and can be secured too many types of seating. For further information, go to

Josh Rifkin for his Bit Viper ? a right angle hand tool that holds two interchangeable bits in one small easy to use tool. For further information, contact

Mr. Tam Phuong Tran for his patented, new age eating utensil that makes grabbing and picking up food easier than traditional chopsticks. For further information, contact

Alex Robertson for his Lumasoothe Low Level Light Therapy (LLLT) device to provide an advanced, cost-effective, non-surgical home treatment  for pets that are suffering from various conditions, including arthritis, back pain, wounds, hair loss, skin discolorations, and more. For further information, contact Luma-Tech, LLC at

The San Diego Inventors Forum is one of 45 different accelerator or incubator programs in San Diego County, and San Diego is a hotbed of innovation. One of the more well-known accelerator programs is the CONNECT Springboard program that helps to create and scale great innovation companies through access to the resources that entrepreneurs and growing companies need most – People, Capital, & Technology. I joined the team of Connect mentors last year and had the pleasure of mentoring a company that came in second in the San Diego Inventors Forum invention contest last August – Bixpy for their lightweight water jet system that adds propulsion to water sports and can be used by kayakers, standup paddle boarders, divers and other water-sports enthusiasts. Houman Nikmanesh, founder and president of Bixpy, just graduated from the CONNECT Springboard program in July. SDIF has often been a “feeder” organization for entrepreneurs who want to found a company rather than license their technology.

The San Diego region has long been a hot bed of innovation. In fact, a report released in April by “the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office shows that the San Diego region comes in ninth for the number of technology patents granted with over 34,000 patents, among other metropolitan areas from 2000-2013.

The amount of technological intellectual property granted in the region has more than doubled in the last decade, with 4,805 patents awarded in San Diego County in 2013, up from 1,724 patents in 2000. The region had a total of 34,605 patents from 2000-2013.”

However, according to an article in the L. A. Times on July 13, 2013, “the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which ranks cities around the world by calculating ‘patent density,’ or the number of patents produced per a certain level of residents” ranked San Diego as the second most innovative city in the world. The OECD ranked Eindhoven, a city in the Netherlands, as the most innovative city in the world that year.

“Eindhoven, for example, churned out 22.6 patents for every 10,000 residents, dramatically outpacing the 9 patents per 10,000 residents produced by San Diego. The top 10 list includes four American cities and 6 European ones. San Francisco follows San Diego at No. 3, while Boston clocks in at the seventh spot and Minneapolis at No. 9.”

The San Diego Inventors Forum is a member organization of United Inventors Association of America (UIAA), and our SDIF president, Adrian Pelkus, is on the board of directors. Mr. Pelkus also participated with other members of in testifying before a Congressional committee in Washington, D. C. in opposition to legislation that would have destroyed the patent system as we know it (H.R.9, The Innovation Act and S.1137, The Patent Act).

We welcome all inventors in southern California to attend our meetings, which are held at the conference facilities of AMN Healthcare in the Carmel Valley area of San Diego the second Thursday of every month at 6:30 PM. The availability of Kickstarter and other crowdfunding mechanisms is providing the opportunity for inventors to get their products into the marketplace faster than ever. It has been exciting to see the successful launching of new products of so many of our San Diego Inventors Forum members in the past two years.