UpTech funding winners creating the future of Northern Kentucky
For Adam Treister, 24, inspiration for innovation came from a frustrated place. He was a student of architecture at the University of Cincinnati, spending long hours designing imaginary buildings he knew would never break actual ground. Shouldn't there be a way, he wondered, for students to participate in real-world projects and design viable buildings for their own cities?
He decided to channel his frustration into creating an easier way for students and businesses to connect for project work through the Internet.
The start-up that resulted from his innovation, Student Designed
, is one of eight new ventures chosen by UpTech to receive its first round of $100,000 investments. Along with the money, the young companies will get office space, professional support services and assistance from the College of Informatics
at Northern Kentucky University.
"Being a part of this program and working with the mentors they've gathered is invaluable," says Treister, now an architect at City Center Properties (CCP). "The ties to the College of Informatics will be especially helpful. Being able to test my product in such a high-tech learning environment is a great opportunity."
In March, Student Designed partnered with CCP and brought 34 interior design students together to develop ideas for re-using the Guildhaus building on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine. Now Student Designed is focused on building stronger relationships with universities, including NKU.
UpTech is a partnership between Northern Kentucky Tri-County Economic Development Corporation (Tri-ED), Vision 2015, Campbell County Economic Progress Authority, and Northern Kentucky University. A business "super-accelerator," its goal is to attract high-tech businesses to the region to energize economic growth. The program is funded by independent investors who own a nine percent stake in each venture.
Bill Cunningham is president of OneMorePallet
, another UpTech winner. OneMorePallet began, as so many strokes of genius do, as a graceful solution to a simple problem -- a small, but usable, excess capacity on shipping trucks. Cunningham credits his business partner, Sandy Ambrose of Without a Doubt Warehouse in Fairfield, with the idea.
"She said, 'I've got some excess capacity on my trucks and one or two more pallets on them would me make more profitable.'"
OneMorePallet enables small shippers to purchase the leftover space on cargo trucks at a significant discount. Shippers can enter their shipping information and how much they're willing to pay, the site will match them with available carriers, and everybody walks away with a little extra cash.
Cunningham says that the ability to work with other entrepreneurs is what he finds most appealing about the accelerator.
"You can't do this alone," says Cunningham, who has been a part of five company launches throughout his career. "In most accelerators people learn from their peers as much as they learn from coaches. It's very powerful to work in a group with others who are facing the same challenges."
A year from now, Cunningham expects OneMorePallet to be serving over 1,000 shipments per month to all 50 states -- right from the heart of Northern Kentucky.
"We hope to have 15 different freight carriers that share our values of high quality, great responsiveness and experiencing enchantment with our services," he says.
Elizabeth Edwards is the founder of Crowdspark
, a platform that allows users to create online contests. Online contests -- everything from the X Prize
to school science fairs -- are a $500 million market, she says, with over 100,000 contests launched every year. But they're all built from scratch. Crowdspark aims to change that by creating an easy-to-use in-the-cloud contest builder with no pricey web development fees or special coding skills.
Edwards says she is looking forward to tapping the brain trust the accelerator has assembled.
"The line-up of mentors and pro bono services they have gathered is absolutely incredible," says Edwards. "Launching a business can be a lonely echo chamber by yourself. There's no one around to bounce ideas off of. I'm looking forward to working with an entire team as opposed to going it alone. I'd like to get help with strategies for launch and business partnerships."
Having a major client in the region could be the factor that determines whether the young companies stay in Northern Kentucky or leave, so business partnerships will be a key part of the program, says Brian Hennigan, one of UpTech's founders.
"Part of what we've discovered is that if a company has a big client here that's an important sticky factor," says Hennigan of the effort to lure businesses to put down roots. "We want to make our region sticky. That's why we want to make those connections between businesses."
UpTech requires that each start-up company move to Northern Kentucky for six months as part of the program. The hope is that they will stay here. Relationships are a powerful force, and Hennigan says the ties the entrepreneurs develop in the region, especially with the College of Informatics, will act as glue to entice them to remain in Northern Kentucky.
This first round of winners will be one of five rounds of start-ups that UpTech plans to work with. The goal is to develop a cluster of 50 local companies that will grow and add to the economic vitality of Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati.
Makeuphaulic founder and UpTech entrepreneur Brinda Chaterjee says she feels strongly that the region will become a destination for high-tech business.
"I'm committed to building this area as a high-tech corridor," says Chaterjee, who founded her website, dedicated to gathering beauty related video blogs and tutorials into a searchable interface, last year. (The site is not yet public.)
"Northern Kentucky is a big part of that. Cincinnati has a rich business history. It has the talent, the people and the resources. It's ours for the taking."
Even in the national community of high-tech accelerators, UpTech stands out, she says.
"The opportunity is incredible. The amount of money they are offering is more than most, and the amount of time they offer is more too. The alliance with the College of Informatics is without question an extraordinary opportunity. This is ours to sculpt into what we want it to be."
The first round of UpTech funding winners are:
7 Moose Games
, a software developer offering 3D simulation products geared towards the health, oil and gas, mining, academic, manufacturing and public safety industries. The company specializes in the "gamification" of business and training software.
, a developer of real-time data fusion software that helps water utilities lower energy costs, reduce water leakage, improve service reliability and enhance the quality of tap water.
, an on-demand content platform that allows users to create online contests.
, an Internet-based business application with a social media interface that connects musical instruments with owners, retailers, repair shops and schools.
MakeupHaulic, a website dedicated to aggregating beauty-related vlogs into a searchable interface.
, a website that provides small shippers the ability to purchase excess capacity from Less-Than-a-Truckload carriers at a significant discount.
, an online tool that allows businesses and universities to connect through a marketplace where businesses outsource projects for university professors to review and assign to their students as class assignments.
Text and the City
, a mobile marketing company that combines text messaging, a conventional website and mobile website to connect users on a hyper-local basis.
A panel of national informatics, futurists, business analyst and investment experts from leading companies, such as CBS, Cisco, Dell, Procter & Gamble, SAP, Scripps, and Summus Software served as the contest judges.
Learn more about UpTech here
Logos of the winners of the first round of UpTech Funding
UpTech - Accelerating Big Ideas
Epipheo mentors UpTech start-ups
Casey Barach, co-founder of UpTech and Vice President for Entrepreneurship at Northern Kentucky Tri-ED, addresses the crowd at the celebration for UpTech winners at Newport Hofbrauhaus.
All photos courtesy of UpTech