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Independent video game developer Loreful creating role-playing game "Ambrov X"

Creating today's complicated video games definitely isn't child's play.

Aharon Cagle, a marketer turned video game entrepreneur, is leading a 15-person team in creating a new role-playing game, "Ambrov X." He's CEO and founder of Loreful, an independent video game development company launched last fall.

Cagle, who's worked for Brand Populace and EmpowerMedia Marketing, is a passionate gamer who decided to turn that passion into his life's work.

"I hit 40, and I was like, 'I love games so much more than I love marketing.' I'd been a creative marketing director, so I knew I could lead a team of this size. So I wrote the business plan and started Loreful."

Cagle is working with a team of writers, designers, developers, visual arts, voice actor, animators and more to bring life to "Ambrov X."

Much of the team is already in Cincinnati, while others are moving here for the project, Cagle says.

"We're in the process of pulling people here to Cincinnati," he says.

The game garnered exposure during the recent Cincy ComicCon and Cincinnati Comic Expo.

"We have a playable pre-alpha version of the game we've been showing around. It's not necessarily how the game will ultimately look, but it shows the larger vision of what we want to do," Cagle says.

Set for release in early 2015, "Ambrov X" is being developed in partnership with the Science Fiction franchise Sime~Gen. The game is based on the Sime~Gen Universe novels that envision a future where humans have divided into two subspecies: Gens and Simes.

Gens produce a life energy that Simes need to survive. The novels center on the subspecies' struggle for co-existence.

"We're basically taking that story 1,000 years in the future. The humans have learned to live with this genetic catastrophe and are beginning to explore space," Cagle explains.

"Ambrov X" is planned for release on Windows, OS X and Linux through STEAM, a game-distribution platform. The game will be released in five episodes, ranging from three to five hours each.

Loreful is in the midst of a $500,000 Kickstarter campaign to help push development, set to end Oct. 5

By Feoshia H. Davis

PowerGenie aims to take a bite out of passive energy waste

Unless they're unplugged, your television or DVD player are never truly off.

Through what's known as "passive" or "phantom" energy, household appliances drive up your energy bill even after you flip the off switch. And unless you unplug those appliances, there's no easy way to stop it.

That could change if a team of young Cincinnati entrepreneurs gets their energy-saving power outlet on the market. The PowerGenie, envisioned as a smart version of a traditional power strip, is the first product under development by Sustain-A-Watt Energy Solutions.

Passive energy is a big money and energy waster. It can add up to $40 a month to an average home's energy bill, or $5 billion a year across the U.S., says company co-founder and recent University of Cincinnati grad Rod Ghavami.

Appliances plugged into the PowerGenie can be turned off through a smart phone application that users can control from any location. The patent pending PowerGenie is still in the early development stage, but has won several business and innovation competitions. Most recently, it was a winner in the Cincinnati Innovates competition, winning the LPK Design and Branding Award.

"We have a proof-of-concept prototype, basically a Frankenstein prototype," Ghavami says. "Since graduation, some of the people on our team earlier have disappeared, and we've brought on some new people who are excited about the project and want to work on it."

The PowerGenie started as a class project for the electrical engineering student.

"As part of our senior design project, we came up with the idea of monitoring real-time electricity consumption from an outlet. That's how the PowerGenie came to be," Ghavami says.

After winning a Green Energy Business competition, the idea was further refined.

"We realized we could turn this into a real product and help the average person save energy," he says.

The PowerGenie is designed for residential use, but the technology could be expanded eventually for business use, Ghavami adds.

LPK will be soon working with the company on marketing and consumer design. The company is also seeking angel investment and is working on a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds. The goal is to create a product ready for production by early next year.

By Feoshia H. Davis

Cincinnati-based MoveMX to innovate mobile gaming

Cincinnati is home to MoveMX, a video game development team that is creating motion-responsive games for mobile devices.

While current generation console gaming platforms already have the ability to recognize body movement in relation to their game’s generated characters and environments, MoveMX is determined to bring that same vitality and energy to tablets and cell phones. By utilizing the devices’ built-in cameras, the games can be controlled through body movement.

MoveMx was created to provide a more immersive mobile gameplay experience,” says Zak Nordyke, founder of MoveMX. “We wanted to give mobile gamers the opportunity to use their bodies as the gamepad. We didn't like the idea of young gamers craning their necks and tapping buttons as the only way to enjoy content.”

Nordyke’s team is currently developing its first title, “The Chronicles of Glover.” It will be an action platform game centered around a young man named Glover who discovers mysterious body armor that grants him heightened abilities. The game is currently in demo stages and is slated to be available to play late August.

Dedicated to stimulating gamers beyond the simple pressing of buttons, MoveMX is lending a hand to the mobile industry by innovating its current technology.

We wanted to bring the motion gaming experience to mobile,” says Nordyke. "It allows users to play movement tracking games everywhere.”

Healthier and more physically engaging than traditional gamepad-controlled video games of yesteryear, motion-tracking with video games is a step (or swing of the hip) in the right direction for the often sedentary video game industry. 

By Sean Peters

Interactive comic proves effective tool for kids with autism

What has been a lifelong love of comics and video games for Tamar Medina has turned into an interesting business. Medina and his co-founders developed J-Lynn Entertainment in 2011. The Cleveland-based company makes video game comics -- interactive comics in which the reader controls the outcome.
In July, Medina began test marketing the video game comics at conventions. “The feedback we got at the comic conventions was great,” says Medina.
But at the conventions, Medina also got an unexpected reaction. Parents and teachers approached him to say his video game comics would be a helpful tool for children with autism. After some research into autism, Medina and his team discovered their games were perfect for cognitive training, collecting performance data, and research in autism spectrum disorders.
“Kids with autism have trouble reading and comprehending certain words,” Medina explains. “But reading a comic and seeing what’s going on with pictures, the kids really adhere to technology.” Because the comics are interactive, they also help autistic children develop their social and decision-making skills.
Medina went to top experts for help in developing a line of games specific to kids with autism. “At the end of the game, we put statistics on the social choices they made,” says Medina of one feature he’s incorporated. “We wanted to have it be fun and be interactive.”
J-Lynn Entertainment is still developing its regular line of video game comics and is talking to investors. The company has five employees. Medina says they are hoping to bring on a full-time programmer, and envisions J-Lynn will employ 25 to 50 people within the next five years.
“The passion is awesome and we think our product will be great, not only in improving the autism condition, but also identifying it,” says Medina. “I believe we have the ability and skills for growth. J-Lynn is currently polishing its prototype and hopes to release it this fall for android.

Source: Tamar Medina
Writer: Karin Connelly

YBI portfolio company is first futures-driven capital market for digital entrepreneurs

Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI) portfolio company, OAREX (Online Advertising Revenue Exchange), has become the world’s first futures-driven capital market for digital entrepreneurs.
OAREX provides capital to digital business owners – smart phone app developers, website and YouTube channel owners – that have sold advertising space on their digital property. “The market is futures-driven because the amount of capital provided to them is based on their expected future advertising revenues over the course of the next three, six, nine or 12-month period,” explains owner Hanna Kassis.
This makes funds more readily available to people and businesses who are scared away from banks because of the risk and cost associated with raising capital. “OAREX is neither a lender nor an investor,” says Kassis, who has personally financed his company. “[We] merely pay and guarantee digital business owners their future ad revenues today by providing them with lump sum cash up front.” Interested entrepreneurs can learn more from a video presentation at the company’s website.
Though OAREX is now in Delaware, the company remains a portfolio company of YBI and Kassis hopes to one day return to the Steel Valley where he taught economics at his alma matter, Youngstown State University.
In the meantime, Kassis is happy to heap praise onto YBI, saying the incubator has played a “pivotal role” in the company’s success so far.
“They’ve been available as a resource for connecting OAREX with potential investors and clients, and providing tech support,” he explains. “Members of the YBI team have also helped in the development of the business model and tackling the complex issues of bringing the company to market.” Kassis continues, noting a YBI board member also serves as an advisory board member with OAREX. “The connection between the two entities is very strong and successful.”
Source: Hanna Kassis
Writer: Joe Baur

Ohio Game Developer Association to host Columbus expo in September

Aug. 31, 2013 update: The Ohio Game Developer Expo has been moved to Saturday, December 7, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Ohio Union.

The Ohio Game Developer Association is hosting an expo at The Ohio Union in Columbus on Saturday, September 14. It’s the first statewide event of its kind for the growing industry.
Steve Castro, a 2004 DeVry Columbus graduate and co-founder of the association, is excited to discuss the upcoming expo and growing community. He started the organization after seeing California’s “close-knit” development community. “They share ideas and code,” says Castro. “I wanted to build that up in Ohio.” The association launched at the end of 2012.
Since then Castro has been surprised to find a number of independent developers across the state. Unfortunately they were unaware of each other. “That’s what the Ohio Game Developer Association is all about,” says Castro. “We want to connect these developers and build awareness of who’s doing this.”
“Who’s doing this” includes Matt Maroon of Akron-based Blue Frog Gaming and Stephan Smith of FreshGames in Columbus – two of the few brick and mortar gaming development companies in the state. The two developers will also be speaking at next month’s expo.
Castro, who is also the co-founder of ClickShake Games with Jay “Zeebarf” Ziebarth, describes the expo as a festival where people can gather to share ideas and he welcomes all developers of gaming technology. He is anticipating a presentation from a motion capture and 3D software company and hopes attendees will be able to test out the motion capture suit. Castro added that, with more than 40 booths on the showcase floor where gamers can "try and buy," he's confident there will be plenty of games on hand for mobile devices and laptops to test out.
For Castro, the ultimate goal of the event is to “excite and empower” game developers and to put Ohio on the map. “We want people to be excited about development,” he says. “And we want people to realize you can do it in Ohio.”
Source: Steve Castro
Writer: Joe Baur

Nextdoor app connects Cincinnati residents

Last month, the city of Cincinnati adopted Nextdoor, a free, private social network that aims to improve community engagement between the city and its residents, and to foster neighbor-to-neighbor communications.
Each of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods will have its own private Nextdoor neighborhood website, which is accessible only to residents of that neighborhood. City administrations and several city departments will also use Nextdoor to share important news, services, programs, free events and emergency notifications to residents, but they won’t be able to see who is registered to use the site or the conversations among residents.
Founded in 2010 in San Francisco, Nextdoor’s mission is to bring back a sense of community to the neighborhood.
“We all remember what our neighborhood experience was like as kids, when everyone knew each other, looked out for one another and stayed in the community longer," says Sarah Leary, co-founder of Nextdoor. “We want to invoke that nostalgia for neighborhoods.”
To date, Nextdoor is being used by about 17,000 neighborhoods across the country. In June, Nextdoor partnered with New York City and Mayor Bloomberg to communicate with the city’s 8.3 million residents. The site plans to roll out in other major cities like Cincinnati over the course of the next several months.
Nextdoor also recently released its iPhone app. “We’re really putting the lifeline of the neighborhood into the palm of the residents’ hands,” says Leary. “The common thread is an interest in using technology to make connections with neighbors. But it doesn’t stop there—once people have an easy way to communicate, they’re more likely to get together in the real world.”

By Caitlin Koenig

CLE-based BoxCast to expand courtesy of JumpStart investment

When Gordon Daily founded BoxCast in 2008 after a funeral director asked his business partners to create a way for family members to privately observe funeral services at his chapel, he had no idea the concept of simple, live streaming video would be so popular.
Today, business is booming, especially in the church and on athletic fields. BoxCast allows anyone with a camera to stream live video to BoxCast’s cloud-based service. Users can then watch the video anytime, anywhere.
“We have eclectic audiences looking to do things they’ve never been able to do before,” explains Daily. “It’s simple and affordable because no one has to be a technical expert to stream live video.”
With JumpStart’s recent $250,000 investment, things are moving even more quickly. “The JumpStart funding was the jump start of our company, it really was,” says Daily. “Until we had the funding, we couldn’t do what we really needed to do.”
What BoxCast needed to do was hire the right people to implement and market the company’s technology and build the right business relationships. “Now, it’s all happening,” says Daily. “The pieces are coming together. A lot of partnerships are coming together.”
Daily says a lot of high schools, colleges and churches are interested in BoxCast for their sporting events and other activities. But he says he’s also seen a lot of unique potential customers surfacing. “There are a lot of neat ideas -- interesting and unique entertainment venues that never had video,” he says. “People with specific, eclectic interests that didn’t realize they could do it.”
BoxCast has grown to 12 employees and Daily is looking for an administrative person to help around the office. To accommodate the growth, BoxCast recently moved into a 4,000-square-foot office at Burke Lakefront Airport.

Source: Gordon Daily
Writer: Karin Connelly

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

OTR Line app crowdsources wait time info for Cincy diners

Scott Miller doesn’t like waiting in lines. Not for his driver’s license. Not at the doctor’s office. And not for a meal at one of his favorite restaurants in Cincinnati's popular Over the Rhine neighborhood.

So Miller and fellow software geek Scott Avera designed a new mobile app to leverage the power of crowd-sourcing and help diners get a real-time sense of the minutes they could spend waiting for tables in the city’s popular urban restaurant scene.

After calling OTR restaurants hourly for weeks to gather preliminary wait-time data, OTR Line launched last Friday to the public in both Apple and Android versions. It's a simple, streamlined app that offers information and a process for gathering in put in clear, easy-to-follow formats.

“The app calculates average wait times based upon history,” explains Miller, who grew up in Anderson Township and now lives in Blue Ash. “But we really want people to report. As people report wait times, the app gets better. The more input you get, the better predictability.”

Avera, a Springboro native who now lives in Hyde Park, brings his experience as former owner of Ascent Solutions to the new business venture. 

“We have been software entrepreneurs all of our lives,” says Miller, 52. 

The key to OTR Line’s success lies in users’ willingness to log wait times, he says. 

The app allows users to scroll through a list of eateries and compare wait times, and it also offers space for restaurants to place ads. “The restaurant will get to play the game as well,” he says.

Miller and Avera plan to approach restaurateurs with OTR Line window stickers later this week; the free app is available for download now.

Writer: Elissa Yancey


College with Friends app brings social media into the college search process

Two years ago, Matt Benton and his partner Jeremy Amos had an idea for adding social media to the college search process. So they quit their jobs doing investment work at KeyBank to develop College with Friends, a free mobile app that allows users to build a list of schools and see where their friends are going.

“It’s a way of saying, 'Hey, I want to go to Ohio State; who else wants to go there?'" says Benton. "The main idea is seeing who your future classmates might be."

It also gives colleges an alternate way of contacting students who are interested in their schools, as opposed to blindly marketing through the mail.
“At Key, time and again we heard parents complaining about kids going to college,” recalls Benton. “In addition to financing, they were getting all this mail, and kids wanted to know where everyone else is going. We wanted to create a time and a place for the college search and solve a lot of these problems.”
The app contains all the academic information prospective students need about the schools, and shows what friends are looking at those schools. Benton and Amos launched the app in January after talking to schools about their marketing process.
“We spent a ton of time with colleges,” says Benton. “The number-one thing they do is mailings through buying zip code data. We create the ability for colleges to come in and connect directly with the kids interested in going to that college.” Benton and Amos also talked to high school students about what they’d like to see in College with Friends.
Benton and Amos plan to add a news feed to the app, in which students can share their campus visits.
Right now the two work with a development firm for the technical aspects of the app while they focus on the design side. Benton says they plan to move the technical side in-house, as well as hire a “pretty sizeable” sales force.

Source: Matt Benton
Writer: Karin Connelly

Cle-based Plotter app developers win SXSW accelerator competition

When Tom Nolan was at South by Southwest (SXSW) last year, he was moved by the startup companies on the stage during the business accelerator. “It was inspiring to see the companies go and pitch their hearts out with something they’ve been working on for months and years,” Nolan says. “I remember sitting in the audience and I had the idea for Plotter and I thought, ‘I’m going to go home and work on it.'"

Plotter is Nolan’s social mapping app -- just launched for iPhone on March 1. Plotter allows users to not only perform typical mapping functions, but also lets users interact and view friends’ maps or plot multiple destinations.
Nolan quit his job last September to develop Plotter and hasn’t stopped since. “We kind of hit the ground running in October and November,” he says. “We logged thousands of hours in a short amount of time.”
Nolan and his three partners, Chad Milburn, Tim Zeller and Chris Jungjohann, applied in November to compete in the SXSW accelerator in the social division. In December they got word that Plotter had beat out more than 500 companies for the chance to pitch their app at the conference last week.
The Plotter team made it through the first round, giving a two-minute pitch to judges and investors and made it into the final three in their category. They went on to give a five-minute pitch and a 10-minute Q & A before they were declared the winner.
The next step is to roll out Plotter for Android. Nolan also wants to target the auto industry. “We’re talking to car manufacturers to bring Plotter in dashboards of cars,” he says. “We want to become the first mapping app in cars. The in-dash systems are so outdated.”
Nolan says he plans to keep Plotter in Cleveland and expand the team as soon as possible. “It’s been kind of a whirlwind,” he says. “We need to figure out the next steps and what direction to go in.”

Source: Tom Nolan
Writer: Karin Connelly

UC App Lab on MainStreet unveils mobile app suites on iTunes, Google Play

Students and faculty have launched their first mobile app suites out of the new UC App Lab on MainStreet.

The University of Cincinnati opened the App Lab, a campus mobile application development center, a little over a month ago. It's a physical space where students, faculty, staff and alumni can develop apps for smartphones and tablets. It's located with ResNet and MobileCats wireless store on MainStreet, and is the only space of its type in the region.

The first two app suites are geared toward the campus community. One is for current students, while the other is for alumni.

Through Blackboard Mobile Learn, current students can access a UC campus map, check grades, track shuttles, access university sports and campus news and events. The app is free for current UC students. The Alumni app accesses campus news and networking events. It allows alumni to donate to the college, volunteer at the college, and connect with other alumni via their social networks, among other features.

This is the just the start for the App Lab, which is working with local businesses and organizations to create new mobile apps.

"We are moving pretty fast," says Nelson Vincent, vice president of UC Information Technologies. "We're working on a second release of the alumni app, and working with some startup companies to see if they are a good fit."

The App Lab is a way to cultivate the region's mobile app development talent. It's a growing part of web commerce and everyday life for millions of smartphone users. In 2012, the average person used some form of mobile 127 minutes a day, Vincent says.

"It's a real generational shift," he says. "Who doesn't have a smartphone today with apps on it? And folks who do this work in Cincinnati are in very short supply."

As the app development program matures, UC is considering partnering with private businesses for mentorship and co-op opportunities.

"This is a really exciting time," says Vincent. "A community of people are coming together to make this happen, and we think this is going to take off."

By Feoshia H. Davis
Follow Feoshia on Twitter

Cincinnati entrepreneur grows through app creation, develops partner group

While Cincinnati is known for its larger, highly experienced branding and marketing companies, there is a talented force of creative entrepreneurs who work with well-known brands across the county.

One of these marketing entrepreneurs, Mike Zitt, is working with other local creatives to form a group that can offer a wider range of services. This emerging group, called Complete is a way to be more competitive and act as a one-stop shop for brand development and support across platforms.

In addition to Zitt's, companies included now are:

Centogram - Technology Company, Jerod Fritz
Barkan Agency - Media Buying, Michelle Barkan
Wise Productions -  Project Services, Tara Ackerman

"We benefit from a shared short-hand way of doing business together which is more efficient and enjoyable. Different then working with a team of employees, as small business owners, we are more passionate and committed and don't waste time jockeying for the corner office or get bogged down with internal company politics. We know how to run our own businesses well since we have done it successfully for a combined 35 years on our own," Zitt says.

Mike Zitt Inc., specializes in digital marketing with an emphasis on mobile app development. Zitt, originally from Cincinnati, worked in Chicago for eight years. He started out in printing and eventually worked for a company as a production artist and art director.

He eventually started his own company, and in the end, decided to bring it to Cincinnati. His hometown had the right mix of talent and affordability, he says.

"It was easier to start a business here because expenses and labor rates are lower," says Zitt, who is also president of the Cincinnati Chapter of the American Advertising Federation. "I maintained most of my clients when I moved here." 

Zitt has worked fo clients covering a wide range of businesses, including TimeWarnerAetnaDiscoverUnited WayCar-XRE/MAX and Wrigley.

He was an early adopter of mobile app development—in 2007, he entered an early partnership with Jumptap, the leading mobile advertisement network. Since then, his company has designed more than 200 rich media mobile ads, including more than 30 mobile ads for major companies like Dunkin' DonutsLexusHonda and P&G. He created and delivered to the public one of first rich mobile ads with Dunkin' Donuts' “Frost” campaign with Jumptap.

His company is also moving into educational innovation. He's working with some area colleges to create educational support apps.

"Those will be completed very soon—we're working on creating training tools for teachers and classroom work," Zitt says.

By Feoshia H. Davis
Follow Feoshia on Twitter

11-year-old toledoan may be youngest app developer on the market

Jonathan Buchanan, 11-year old son of Perrysburg-based lawyer Matthew Buchanan, may be the youngest developer to have an app in the Apple App Store coded entirely on his own. The $.99 education app ChipTrading is a fun, innovative take on math created when Buchanan was 10.
Although already young on the developer stage at 11, Buchanan was first introduced to coding five years ago. “When I was six, my dad introduced me to basic web pages,” he recalls. “After a while, I got interested in doing iOS apps.”
The idea for ChipTrading came from a mathematically themed game Buchanan and his classmates played at Maumee Valley Country Day School. “It’s a physical game,” he explains, adding that he and his fellow students wanted to be able to play the game outside of the school. “I had the idea to make it in app format, so we didn’t need these special pieces.”
Eschewing help from his father, Buchanan developed the app entirely on his own. “This was a completely self-made venture,” his father adds. But Buchanan gives his father some credit. “He made the app icon and filled out the paperwork.”
Reluctant to rest, Buchanan is eager to discuss his upcoming projects, including updates to ChipTrading, a networking platform with his father, and another app that allows the user to write their own music. “I play the violin, and I wanted to make an app for the iPad that will let you write music on the iPad and have it sent to the iCloud,” he explains.
His long-term plans are characteristically ambitious, as well. “I ultimately plan on starting a computer company that integrates hardware and software. Like Apple.”
Sources: Jonathan Buchanan, Matthew Buchanan
Writer: Joe Baur
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