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Sociagram adds a personal touch to online gifting

Ryan O’Donnell has created a way to add a personal touch to online gifting. The founder and CEO of Sociagram has created an online cloud-based platform to create customized personal video messages. O’Donnell recognized that people enjoy sending e-cards and adding other personal touches when they send online gifts.

O’Donnell started Let’s Gift It in 2011, an online group gifting site, but quickly recognized the market wasn’t there. “What we learned is we were in a startup graveyard,” he says. “There was low perceived value and a high level of complexity to integrate it.”
But the idea behind Let’s Gift It led to Sociagram in 2012. “Since 1996, the only option was printing out a gift message on a packing slip that gets sent out with the product,” explains O’Donnell. “We realized we need more than that. With Sociagram, grandma and grandpa live in another state, they can click a button and sing happy birthday to their grandson. Dad can then record the grandson opening their gift.”
Retailers can also incorporate Sociagram into their gift options. Sociagram clients include 1-800-Bakery, Ashland Addison Florist Company and Mak·a·boo Personalized Gifts.
Sociagram recently received a $250,000 investment from JumpStart to further develop its platform. “They’ve been great partners,” says O’Donnell. “They’ve helped us think it through.” O’Donnell just moved Sociagram’s offices to Cleveland from New York. “Cleveland has been a very receptive place for us,” he says. He’s currently working out of the FlashStarts offices.
The company currently employs two software developers and two marketing and sales people, as well as an intern. O’Donnell plans to hire an additional four people as the company grows.

Source: Ryan O’Donnell
Writer: Karin Connelly

DAAP grad embraces innovation, nurtures young Design Geniuses

Rebecca Huffman’s circuitous route to UC’s Fashion Design program both inspired and informed her non-traditional senior thesis, Design Genius. More methodology than consumer good, Design Genius is a learning module that teaches students the value of education and the building blocks of problem-solving as they design their own products.

Unveiled at UC’s DAAPWorks, Design Genius takes a fresh approach to making learning relevant for kids of all ages, which is exactly what recent grad Huffman, 24, who works for LPK, wanted. 

“I knew that I wanted to do something that would help kids,” says Huffman, who spent a year working as a preschool teacher before starting her design training at DAAP.

As she considered what her culminating project for college would be, she thought back to a studio class in which she’d designed and created a real project, then put it up for sale in real life. Through that process, and its embrace of design-thinking, she saw the value of the disparate classes she’d taken through her academic career, from math to marketing and writing to psychology. And she felt empowered.

Her work as an LPK co-op increased her experience with design-thinking, an approach to problem-solving more often seen in Fast Company than elementary schools. 

“Design Genius is an attempt to solve the problem that our kids are facing by instilling a greater sense of educational purpose,” she says. 

She describes Design Genius on her website as “the culmination of five years of study and extensive research on the Creativity Quotient, Design Thinking in education, the concept of ‘failing forward,’ sociocultural trends impacting Generation Z, and the educational and social development of Tweens.”

What that looked like, in the end, were three, one-and-a-half hour sessions in two schools—St. Ursula Villa and Pleasant Ridge Montessori—in three different classes. Fourth and fifth grade students examined case studies in the form of fictional diary entries. Then, they ideated, revised and designed real products to help solve the problems of their fictional “customers.” 

“They learned everything I was trying to teach them,” Huffman says. “It was amazing.”

The students not only learned from the project, they loved it. Huffman received unprompted thank-you notes and testimonials when the students presented their products. She’s convinced that with a little tweaking, she can develop a fully functional learning module that can help young students not only design products, but create and sell them. 

By Elissa Yancey
Follow Elissa on Twitter

University of Cincinnati professor leads national PTSD treatment study

University of Cincinnati professor is one of three leading investigators in a national study that is comparing two treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

The 17-site, $9 million study will take about three years to complete, and it will involve approximately 500 veterans at VA medical facilities across the country, says UC Clinical Psychiatry Professor Kathleen Chard.

Researchers will compare two proven PTSD treatments:

Prolonged Exposure (PE), which allows patients to work through painful memories by re-experiencing traumatic events in  safe and supportive environments, and to engage in activities they've avoided because of trauma. Prolonged exposure also emphasizes education about treatment, common reactions to trauma and breath retraining.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), which focuses on patients' thoughts and feelings. This approach emphasizes how traumatic experiences changed the patients' thoughts and beliefs, and how those thoughts influence current feelings and behaviors. Patients identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts through structured therapy sessions and practice assignments.

The Institute of Medicine and the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences have endorsed both PSTD treatments, which are used for both military and civilian patients. One of the study's goals will be to determine which treatment works better when a patient has other problems, like depression or substance abuse.

Chard is co-author of the CPT military/veteran manual and the national CPT implementation director for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"Both are gold standard treatments, but what we don't know is, if I have patient 'X,' which one should I put them in," she says. "What we have now is informed patient choice. We tell them about the treatments and they can decide what to do. We don't have solid research about what works best."

Chard is also director of UC's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience PTSD division, which is based at the Cincinnati Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center facility in Ft. Thomas. It likely will be one of the 17 testing sites.

The findings of the study will have an impact that reaches beyond treatment for members of the military, as PTSD has been diagnosed in people who have never been in the miliary, but who have seen or lived through dangerous events, including survivors of physical and sexual assault, abuse, accidents and natural disasters.

By Feoshia H. Davis
Follow Feoshia on Twitter

iOTOS connects everyday appliances to smart phones, wins best in tech award

Chris Armenio and Art Geigel like having everything they need right at their fingertips. Pairing smart phones with tinkering on a hobbyist level, the two came up with iOTOS, a way to control everything from the garage door opener to the coffee maker through smart phones and tablets.
Armenio and Geigel developed iOTOS through the LaunchHouse Accelerator Program last year. Based on a technology known as “the Internet of things,” the tech wirelessly connects consumers and businesses to the things they use every day. The Internet of things market is expected to hit $14.4 trillion in the next 10 years.
“It started as an easy way to control hobby projects through a website or email for the hardware hackers,” explains Armenio of their NiOS wireless hub. “As we started looking out there, we found more and more diversified companies were looking to fit this stuff with their commercial products.”
The technology and iOTOS’ offerings are growing in popularity as the concept and demand takes off. The company was named “Most Promising Startup” at 2013 NEOSA Tech Week’s Best in Tech awards last week.
So far, the company has sold its technology to garage door opener retrofit packagers.  iOTOS recently announced pre-sales of its NioGarage, a retrofit WiFi garage door system. “We’re in pretty advanced talks with a few Northeast Ohio companies,” says Geigel.
iOTOS has four full-time employees, including Armenio and Geigel, two salespeople and three part-time employees. The company recently brought on Jim McGreevy as vice president of business development.

Sources: Chris Armenio and Art Geigel
Writer: Karin Connelly

NEOSA Tech Week enjoys record attendance, showcases best of tech in CLE

NEOSA Tech Week brought 1,600 attendees to events around Cleveland last week, tripling its numbers since it first started three years ago. “It’s really inspiring to see the region recognizing the value and importance of the IT industry in Cleveland,” says NEOSA director Brad Nellis.

From the NASA International Space Apps Challenge, which had 34 local participants in a worldwide event of 9,000, to the much-anticipated Best of Tech Awards, to educational events and job fairs, Tech Week highlighted both the emerging technology companies and the more established and growing businesses in the region.
“We saw a lot of new companies we hadn’t seen before and that was kind of cool,” says Nellis. In particular he cites iOTOS as a standout winner in the new Best of Tech category Most Promising Startup. “These guys showed a high degree of promise. iOTOS holds the opportunity to be something big coming out of Northeast Ohio.”
UrbanCode, which announced Monday that it has been acquired by IBM, won Best Software Product. “UrbanCode really stands out in the market,” says Nellis. “It was cool that we give them an award on Thursday, and on Monday they announce they’ve been acquired. We’ve been following them for a couple of years and they’re a company that’s growing like wildfire. They’ll probably double in size again this year.”
Hyland Software won Tech Company of the Year, Vox Mobile won Best IT Services Company, and DecisionDesk won Best Emerging Company. Nellis points out that all of the finalists are impressive companies as well, having emerged out of 60 nominations in five categories. Six CIO of the Year were named in various categories by Crain’s Cleveland Business.

Source: Brad Nellis
Writer: Karin Connelly

Life Blinx helps users turn Facebook pictures into actual photo albums

Made for people who don’t want to store all of their recorded memories digitally, Life Blinx offers a tangible way to preserve photos—by creating real-life photo albums right from your Facebook account.
Created by Darcy Crociata, who also works as a marketing and networking consultant, Life Blinx was propelled by The Brandery and CincyTech

“So many people are living their life on Facebook with nothing outside [of the site] to show for it,” Crociata says. “This is digital scrapbooking meets the real world.”
To create an album with Life Blinx, you simply register through your Facebook account and select which photos will go into your book. It’s a very quick process that Crociata says is best fitted for busy people -- not those looking to painstakingly plan out every single detail of the book.
The books are created by Print Management in Fairfax. Crociata describes the partnership as a blessing to the small business, because they have a professionallly equipped staff and facilities at their disposal. The two companies connected through the Brandery as well. 
The service is not without its hiccups, of course. 
“Every time Facebook changes, we have to adapt,” Crociata says. Users of the massive social network will know Facebook’s platform seems to change as frequently as the weather forecast. Life Blinx struggles to maintain composure amid Facebook’s many bugs. So far, they’ve been successful.
A growing company, Life Blinx is on the lookout for new staff. Interested applicants should have a technology background and experience maintaining company websites. 

By Sean Peters

Mason Tech Center opens its doors to innovative startups in SW Ohio

The City of Mason is part of a private-public partnership to house and grow tech-based startups in the Cincinnati suburb. In late May, the city will invite businesses and local media to an open house of the Mason Tech Center, a renovated office building just off the Mason-Montgomery Road corridor.

Top Gun Sales Performance, a global sales support organization that provides consulting, training and personnel for Fortune 500 clients, began the $4 million renovation at 5155 Financial Way last February. The growing company, expected to create 500 new jobs in the next five years, occupies the first floor of the tech center.

Through incentives offered by the City of Mason and Mason Port Authority, Top Gun renovated additional space to create the Mason Tech Center for startups in digital IT, biohealth IT and technology sectors.

One company, ConnXus, has already moved into the center. The three-year-old company is an online service that connects diverse and small businesses with companies that are seeking to expand and diversify their supplier bases.

"The Mason Tech Center is a unique alternative to a traditional startup incubator," says Sue Oswalt, vice president of operations and member services at Connxus. "By bringing together public and private resources, the City of Mason is building a location and community that is a great fit for a company like ours. We were excited to be the first startup company in the Mason Tech Center."

The tech center has about 25,000 square feet of available space and can accommodate up to 20 companies.

"Through an innovative partnership with Top Gun Sales Performance, these young companies can access energetic office space at below market rates, tap into a network of peer companies and an infrastructure of resources, which can propel them further, faster," says Michele Blair, director of economic development for the City of Mason. "To use an analogy, we aren't just planting a seed and waiting for it to rain. We've bioengineered the soil and are watering it regularly so the seed can grow faster, stronger."

By Feoshia H. Davis
Follow Feoshia on Twitter

EVIS provides emergency evacuation technology for healthcare facilities

In case of fire or some other emergency, the need to quickly evacuate patients from a hospital or nursing home can often create confusion among staff members and rescue workers.
That’s what Saundra Stevens observed teaching and conducting emergency evacuation drills during her 25 years as a hospital R.N. and a nursing home consultant. “To confine the spread of fire, smoke and vapors, staff immediately shut all patient doors when an alarm sounds,” she says. “With all the doors shut, however, the dilemma was always how to identify which patient rooms had been evacuated and which hadn’t.”
Concerned, Stevens turned to her son, Rob Fuller, an engineer, to see if they could come up with a solution. They established EVIS, which stands for Evacuation Identification Systems. The Cincinnati-area company has developed two emergency evacuation products -- the Evacuation Status Indicator (ESI) and the Evacuation Status Module (ESM).
“ESI is a manual device made of metal that’s mounted on the wall outside an occupied room adjacent to the door handle,” Fuller explains. “The device is hinged and held in a closed position. When the device is opened, it reveals an embossed ‘E’ shape that’s tactile, reflective and visual. During an evacuation, the rescuer opens the device after they ensure the room is empty.”
The Evacuation Status Module is an electronic version of the Evacuation Status Indicator.

“The ESM software provides a real-time overhead view of any floor within the facility,” Fuller says. “The floor plan view contains markers for each room and indicates what the status of the room is – evacuated or occupied. It also provides room temperature, hallway temperature and any motion present inside the room. All this information is available to rescuers at a safe location and enables them to better manage the evacuation, making it faster, safer and more efficient.”

The University of Cincinnati Hospital is currently installing the Evacuation Status Module.
According to Fuller, the company’s two emergency evacuation systems are the only products of their kind on the market. 
The company has received funding from Ohio Third Frontier.
Source:  Rob Fuller, Saundra Stevens, EVIS
Writer:    Lynne Meyer

University of Dayton snags $412,000 award to help area manufacturers

The University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) has been awarded $412,000 from the Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership to assist small to mid-size manufacturers within the Dayton area solve problems.
A research and development arm of the University of Dayton, UDRI plans to use the awarded funds to better serve companies within the region that have the capability to create jobs and make an impact on the local economy. Larrell Walters, Division Head of Sensors Systems at UDRI, says companies with less than 50 employees often face problems they are not equipped to solve.
“[They] really don’t know all the resources that are available to them,” Walters explains. “We are basically helping them connect the dots to things that can help them solve problems, move their technologies forward, help them create more revenue and more jobs.” After discovering a company’s problems, Walters and his team are oftentimes able to connect two different companies together that otherwise might not have known of their existence. This ultimately leads to new relationships and new growth opportunities.
Companies interested in receiving help can visit fastlane-mep.org for more information. No matter if the problem is technical or workforce related, Walters promises a quick response. “Fill out a short form, and we promise to get back to them within 48 hours.”
UDRI’s launch goal is to work with six to eight companies per month. “That might not sound like a lot,” Walters admits. “But if you can work with seven, eight companies a month solving real problems, that create a lot of opportunity for the state of Ohio and the people of Ohio.”
Source: Larrell Walters
Writer: Joe Baur

Cincinnati's SocialPoint combines social media into one, user-friendly feed

SocialPoint is a new web-based service that combines major forms of social media into one feed. Users can control what services they’re accessing with simple clicks, which helps make the management of personal profiles much simpler.

Created in Cincinnati, SocialPoint was developed by a local team of techies who wanted to make the social media experience more efficient.

“We found that we were spending a lot of time every day checking in with our friends on all our various social media sites, and that we needed a solution for ourselves, so we developed SocialPoint.Me,” says Chris Burnett, SocialPoint’s vice president of marketing.

SocialPoint makes it very easy to navigate between different profiles on connected accounts, which still provide the standard features offered by the original sites. For example, if you wanted to check your Facebook account, SocialPoint gives you the option to filter specific categories. If you are just interested in seeing photos uploaded by your friends, you’d select the preset on the easy-to-navigate sidebar. Your search can be as specific as you want. Plus, you're still able to chat with your Facebook friends with SocialPoint. 

Similar features are also available for Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+, FourSquare and AT&T.

While most social media apps are aimed at business owners who are more interested in tidying up their “online estates,” SocialPoint is intended for personal users who want to continue sharing and keeping up with friends in the many ways the expanding idea of “social media” allows.

A mobile app will soon be available, along with an early summer update with additional social media customization options.

SocialPoint’s office is in the heart of downtown, and all of their funding comes from Chicago West Pullman LLC, which is headquartered at 600 Vine Street. 

By Sean Peters

Grupo Xela marketing firm offers insight into Hispanic community

Grupo Xela is a marketing research agency that specializes in Hispanic demographics. Founded by Jose Cuesta in 2003, the company found success in Cincinnati by communicating an authentic and carefully researched Hispanic perspective to Procter & Gamble and QFact, among other locally owned businesses.

Originally from Colombia, Cuesta earned a BA in industrial engineering at Javeriana University. He came to Cincinnati in 1998, where he earned an MBA from Xavier University. Cuesta’s mother is originally from Cincinnati, and he was prompted by his family to move to the Queen City.

“You don’t go to Cincinnati unless you have a reason,” Cuesta says. “But there’s always a reason to go.”

After earning his degree from Xavier, Cuesta began working for Cincinnati Bell as a manager for various departments.

Cuesta founded what would eventually become Grupo Xela with his brother-in-law. Their first business attempt was as coffee distributors for regional restaurants, but their work in the city helped them realize the Hispanic community’s marketing potential. Prompted by the fact that Hispanics were the most rapidly growing minority in the country, Cuesta knew he could offer a very important perspective to P&G—Cincinnati’s powerhouse corporation.

By interacting with Hispanic panelists sourced from Cincinnati, Columbus, Louisville, Indianapolis, Chicago, Atlanta and Miami, Grupo Xela’s chief concern is gathering qualitative market research.

The company has since gone international, with a United States' headquarters in Cincinnati, and a Colombian office in Bogota, with plans to expand into more cities and countries soon. 

By Sean Peters

Flashstarts looking for tech startups to join fast-paced accelerator program

In the penthouse of the historic Palace Theatre, Charles Stack is hoping to foster a few new tech companies -- 10 to be exact -- in Cleveland’s newest business accelerator, FlashStarts.

Stack started FlashStarts in October 2012 and will hold his inaugural startup class this summer. “Come in with a half-baked idea and we finish baking it, slap some cash for equity, and start it in three months,” he explains.
Teams of two or more can apply to be one of the 10, but Stack is also looking for 10 interns and even potential entrepreneurs who don’t have an idea yet, but want to help build on somebody else’s idea. “Even if you don’t have teammates or an idea, you can apply and we’ll put you with a team and you will get equity with that team,” he says. “There are a lot of smart people out there who may not have a teammate.”
Stack is against the “cookie-cutter approach” to starting new businesses. Instead, he helps each company with their unique needs. “As soon as you apply, if we like the concept we begin the process of launching the company,” he says. Stack immediately gives the teams individual challenges, like researching the patents or market size.
“The key to making that business successful is getting the team familiar with us and us familiar with them,” Stack says. “It’s really not the same for every business. Different opportunities require different tools.”
Stack is raising $1.1 million to invest in the companies. Teams will receive up to a $20,000 investment -- $11,000 plus $3,000 for each team member. FlashStarts in turn gets eight percent equity in the company. Teams can potentially receive up to $200,000 in follow-on funding upon completion of the program.
Stack already has identified six potential candidate teams. He is accepting applications until May 10. Stack also is looking for mentors and advisors. FlashStarts has partnered with DecisionDesk to facilitate the application process and recently brought in Jennifer Neundorfer as managing partner.

Source: Charles Stack
Writer: Karin Connelly

Expected to draw 5,000, Entrovation in Cleveland is no 'little high school event'

The Beachwood Junior Achievement Company program, which hosted the Green Dream Showcase for the past five years, will bring Entrovation to the Beachwood Community Center (25325 Fairmount Blvd.) on Friday, April 19 from noon to 7 p.m.

Twenty high school seniors from Beachwood, Mayfield, Brush and Solon high schools spent the school year planning Entrovation -- a combination of entrepreneurship and innovation -- which will showcase 170 area companies including 10 student companies.
“Some people think this is a little high school event, but it’s not,” says Greg Perry, Beachwood High School marketing and Junior Achievement teacher. “People will walk away saying, ‘I can’t believe students did this.’”
Kevin Eisler, a Brush High School senior is one of the students who has been planning Entrovation. “Entrovation showcases how small business and big established businesses are being innovative in their own field,” explains Eisler. “It’s cool to see where all our hard work is going to. It’s almost like we’re entrepreneurs ourselves, working together to make this happen.”
Esme Eppell, a Beachwood High School senior, says the whole experience has encouraged her own entrepreneurial spirit. “The guest speakers who have come in have been really inspirational,” she says. “They’re all normal people who had ideas for a business and became hugely successful.”
Organizers are expecting more than 5,000 attendees at Entrovation. In addition to the exhibitors, six food trucks and the Game Craze truck will be on location. The Burton D. Morgan Foundation is sponsoring an Innovative Entrepreneur of the Year competition. Using smart phones attendees can vote for their favorite entrepreneurs. Prizes range from $3,000 for first place to $500 for third place.
Many exhibitors will have merchandise for sale and a raffle offers a chance to win gift s and services from local companies. Leikin Motor Companies is offering the chance to win a convertible Mercedes-Benz for a weekend.
The group has raised nearly $100,000 so far. Proceeds from the event will be used to build a model for an innovative classroom, based on their visits to places like LaunchHouse and Bizdom. They also plan to make a donation to PediaWorks, which develops and manufactures medical devices for children.

Sources: Greg Perry, Kevin Eisler, Esme Eppell
Writer: Karin Connelly

CWRU researchers turn to squid beaks for medical inspiration

Researchers at CWRU have developed a material that can morph from stiff to soft, making its gradient properties potentially useful in medical implants. The research was conducted by professors Stuart Rowan, Justin Fox and Jeffrey Capadona of the macromolecular science and engineeringchemistry and biomedical engineering departments, and Paul Marasco of the Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
The inspiration for the new material came from studying the properties of squid beaks. “Squid beaks are a stiff material, but they have to attach to very soft tissue,” explains Rowan. “They don’t have any bones per se. Imagine a piece of steel attached to a piece of plastic and you started bending or putting stressors on it. Things would start to tear, and that’s obviously not very good for the squid.”
Capadona, Marasco and Rowan came up with the idea after reading a research paper published in 2008 at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Rowan and his team looked at how the squid’s beak transitions from hard to soft material. “How the squid solves the problem is with a gradient design that goes from hard to soft when wet,” explains Rowan. “We created a material with a similar kind of structure. We tried to mimic the architecture and properties.”
The nanocomposite material the researchers developed changes properties when wet -- going from a rigid material to a soft material. It potentially will prove useful in medical devices such as diabetic glucose sensors, prosthetic limbs and central vein ports. The researchers are now working with the Cleveland Department of Veterans Affairs to develop uses for the material.
The research was recently published in the Journal of the American Chemistry Society.
Rowan and Capadona previously had studied the properties of the sea cucumber, developing a self-healing polymer that is useful in coating. Rowan enjoys taking his cues from natural phenomena.
“As a materials person, I can learn a lot from seeing how nature has evolved to tackle the challenges that we see in our world, too,” Rowan says. “Nature makes a wonderful variety of very cool materials. The key is in understanding how nature does that.”

Source: Stuart Rowan
Writer: Karin Connelly

Accupoint Software introduces new features for ISO compliance

The International Standards Organization (ISO) specifies detailed quality management systems that help organizations meet customer and stakeholder needs, as well as rigorous regulatory requirements pertaining to various products. Companies and organizations that pursue ISO certification must complete and maintain these demanding requirements.

Obtaining certification is a lengthy, complex and exacting process, according to Jeff Cianciola, president of Youngstown’s Accupoint Software.
The company recently introduced new features to its InterLink software to help companies with ISO compliance.

“InterLink helps companies manage and administer the tremendous amount of documentation, policies, procedures and instructions required to meet the various ISO standards,” he explains. “Our system takes an integrated approach to managing the health and safety, environmental and quality requirements for ISO certification.”

According to Cianciola, a new calendar is among the software’s updated features. “It allows for integration of audit and training schedules, permits, meetings, projects and management review modules. We also have a new email function, expanded report creation capabilities, drill-down metrics dashboard and a new change control module to track document process modification.” He points out that InterLink is Cloud based, so all of a company’s team members can access it from anywhere.

Accupoint’s target client areas are manufacturing, oil and gas, construction, mining and industrial service organizations.

Cianciola notes examples of ISO requirements in the manufacturing industry. “In the area of document control, manufacturers are required to use the most up-to-date blue prints for a project. Also, if a problem is discovered in any area, there are specific processes to follow to make sure it’s addressed promptly and corrective action is taken so it doesn’t happen again.”
Accupoint Software, which was established in 2007, has six employees and plans to expand by the end of the year.
Source:  Jeff Cianciola, Accupoint Software
Writer:    Lynne Meyer
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