The Brandery Class of 2015

The Class of 2015 is officially locked, and we couldn’t be happier. We have a killer lineup of founders ready to take their startups to the next level. Here’s some fun facts about the group. We’ll be sharing one hint about the startups every day on our social media accounts for the next ten days— the cartoons will demonstrate the problem each of the startups is solving. Any guesses to the markets we’re tackling this year?

2015 Application Data Is Out


New year, new records. Applicants to our Class of 2015 have, again, topped our charts. Here are the stats:

  • Total applications increased by 10% — our most ever.
  • Applications came from 32 states— the most being Ohio, California, and New York, in that order.
  • About 20% of applicants were from Ohio.
  • Applications came from 48 countries— after the U.S., the most being India, Canada, and the UK.
  • A little over 50% of applicants had at least one minority or female co-founder.
  • Roughly two-thirds of our finalists visited Cincinnati over the last few weeks— many of them flew in just for their 30 minute interview. That is dedication!

When choosing companies, we look for 1) a great idea with a sizable market, 2) a great team with varied skill sets, and 3) how well the startups’ needs fit into our capabilities. We saw dozens and dozens (maybe even hundreds) of startups who fulfilled the first two requirements, but just weren’t a good fit for us. It’s not fair to either of us to take equity in a business we can’t help.

That being said, our sixth class of startups begins on June 16. We couldn’t be more excited to finish up the selection process and welcome the founders. If you applied, look for a decision email by the end of the week. Thank you to all applicants— this pool was the highest in quality and number we’ve ever seen. We remain dedicated to finding a resource for entrepreneurs in Cincinnati that fits— either way, we hope to see you at a Brandery event soon!

As for the new class, our plan is to share some information about the founders in June. You’ll hear more about the startups in July, but trust us, this class has serious promise. Looking forward to sharing more soon.

RentShare and Chalky Announce Acquisitions

“This acquisition is a huge milestone and is a testament to all the hard work and dedication we’ve put towards our product and company. We’re thrilled to be joining the i3 Verticals team and I’m incredibly appreciative of all The Brandery did for us over the years to assist in kick-starting and growing RentShare, helping lead us to this opportunity.”

- Ian Halpern, CEO, RentShare

We’re thrilled to announce that two graduates of The Brandery, RentShare (2011) and Chalky (2013), have been acquired. RentShare has been acquired by i3 Verticals, a technology-centric payment company focused on providing solutions to its clients throughout the U.S. Chalky has been acquired by Admittedly, a platform that helps high school students find their dream schools and get accepted.

Charlie and Isaac, the co-founders of Chalky

“The Brandery had a strong positive influence on our foundation and early progress,” said Isaac Madan, CEO of Chalky. “We learned aggressively during the program via a diverse set of mentors and fellow founders.”

When companies enter The Brandery each year, many dream of some day being acquired. It’s exciting to see our graduates reach that inflection point, and we’re anxiously anticipating the next big thing these founders will do. Congratulations to the RentShare and Chalky teams!

Startups in the Class of 2015 to Have New Housing Option

Picture this: You’re a three-person team of entrepreneurs with the next big idea, from, let’s say, San Francisco or NYC or Vancouver. You just got accepted to The Brandery and need to move to Cincinnati within three weeks for the kickoff of the program. You’re spending 18+ hours a day working on your startup. Housing in a new city is the last thing you have time to worry about.

We’re constantly asking ourselves (and our alums), “What can we do to make our entrepreneurs’ lives a little easier?” Year after year, finding affordable housing, close to the office, with a landlord who’s willing to negotiate a short-term lease is a major pain point. What if you could just check a box and know you’re getting the best deal in the best neighborhood?

We’re thrilled to be working with Urban Sites to bring affordable startup housing to our neighborhood in downtown Cincinnati, Over-the-Rhine. For those who live in town, we know the renaissance of the neighborhood is one of the most incredible success stories in the city. The way the few blocks around our office have exploded with restaurants, bars, businesses, and startup offices in the past few years has been inspiring. However, living in the “trendy” neighborhood sometimes comes with trendy prices. Instead of more entrepreneurs moving into the neighborhood where the entrepreneurial spirit is so perfectly represented, more were moving away. If we want this area to become the startup hub we know it can be, we need founders living in it. Rent prices will be slightly subsidized, making them affordable for entrepreneurs’ budgets.

Here’s what’s within proximity of our new startup house:

  • The Brandery – 3 blocks
  • Frameri (2013 graduate) HQ – 3 blocks
  • Sqrl (2013 graduate) HQ – 4 blocks
  • The new Cincinnati startup hub, which will eventually house The Brandery, Cintrifuse, and CincyTech – 2 blocks
  • Roadtrippers (2011 graduate) HQ – 6 blocks
  • Modulus (2012 graduate) HQ – 7 blocks
  • Choremonster (2012 graduate) HQ – 6 blocks
  • Dozens and dozens of incredible, award-winning restaurants and bars, an urban market, concert venues, breweries, and a huge portion of the creative class living and working within 10 blocks

The building will be ready for move-in on June 1, just in time for our 6th accelerator class. Read more about the initiative in the Business Courier.

Procter & Gamble To Offer Up To Two Fellowships to Brandery Companies in 2015

As an expansion of P&G’s continued support of the Cincinnati startup ecosystem, two fellowships will be offered to Brandery companies in the 2015 accelerator cohort. As with our other fellowships, any startup that applies will be considered for the fellowship. Here are the benefits:

1. Direct access to P&G mentors & experts who will help the startup better prepare for solution driven engagements with potential large customers.

2. Active connections with P&G brand teams and executives to inform solution design and go-to-market strategy.

3. Pre-commitment to a paid in-market pilot with a P&G brand as part of The Brandery experience.

4. Opportunities to engage with global senior executives on business strategy.

Specifically for this fellowship, The Brandery and P&G are looking for startups that excel in one of three core areas: Connected Products and Platforms, Seamless Brand Building & Commerce, or Big Data & Analytics. You can read more about these three categories here.

“We’re thrilled about Procter & Gamble’s continued support of The Brandery and our startups. If you’re a startup looking to sell to marketers or work with CPG companies, there is not going to be a better opportunity to change the trajectory of your business.”

–Dave Knox, Co-founder, The Brandery

Procter & Gamble has been an active supporter of The Brandery, including hosting startup pitch events at P&G for brand tech companies, participating in Brand Fusion, helping lead workshops (like Growth Hack Day) and mentoring startups.

P&G’s fellowship offering is going to directly impact startups in our accelerator program, adding even more fuel to the fire for #StartupCincy.

The final deadline to apply to The Brandery is April 16. Apply now.

Beautiful Design, Advanced Tech, Fantastic Delivery: Hack OTR is in the books!

7 teams of hackers, designers, and marketers came together for 24 hours over the weekend our very first hackathon, HackOTR. The participants sat in on talks with startup founders, pitched their concepts, hacked the night away, and then presented their final products at the end of the 24 hours. The winners were:

- Sideline, winner of 2014 Brandery graduate Strap’s “side hack” for Best Use of Strap. Sideline is a wearable app that helps referees and fans keep track of sporting events in real time. The team won brand new Pebble smart watches and Strap t-shirts.

- Pet Plates, winner of Petbrosia “side hack” for Best App for Pet Parents. Pet Plates is a site for pet parents to submit their best pet food recipes— think AllRecipes for pet owners. The team won a $250 cash prize, Petbrosia t-shirts, and Petbrosia pet food trials for up to 10 people.

- Informed, a site to aggregate different types of media recommendations from people that know you, and Staq, a mobile app that helps you manage and pay off all of your credit cards in one place. The founders of Frameri were so inspired by the talent on these teams that they decided to do an impromptu prize: glasses or sunglasses for each member of the teams ($200 value each).

- Habitable, winner of “Overall Best Hack,” sponsored by Cincinnati Bell and Cintrifuse. Habitable is a website and app that helps millennials find the best job for them based on cultural inputs such as dress code, work styles, and relationships among employees. They won new Dell laptops and 3 months of office space in Cintrifuse.

“I had a great time judging HackOTR. There was a very impressive level of quality of the hacks across the board. Habitable won because they had a consistent level of quality all around— ideation was good, their pitch was good, and execution was good. They had a great UX.”

- Connor Bowlan, CEO of Cintric

Other sponsors included Brandery graduates Roadtrippers, Venn, and Modulus, as well as overwhelming community support from Chick-fil-A, Red Bull, Daisy Mae’s Market, KIND, Holtman’s Donuts, Happy Belly, Coffee Emporium, 3CDC, Fusian, Insomnia Cookies, and FastSigns. These are the kinds of things that are fueling the Cincinnati startup ecosystem, and we couldn’t be prouder to be involved.

We had such a blast this weekend that we’ve already set a date for the next HackOTR: August 7 and 8, 2015. Save the date and keep checking hackotr.com for updates.

InnovateHER is Coming to #StartupCincy


We’re excited to announce our partnership with UpTech, Covington, Kentucky’s startup accelerator, to bring the Small Business Administration’s InnovateHER competition to the Cincinnati startup ecosystem!

InnovateHER is a pitch competition and business challenge that focuses on companies that primarily benefit women and families. If this competition is anything like others we’ve been to in town, these entrepreneurs will not disappoint. One startup will be chosen as Cincinnati’s nominee for the finals, in which 10 companies from around the country will pitch in Washington, D.C.

If you’re interested in pitching, we need your application by March 5th at 11:59 pm. You can read all the details about what is required as an applicant on the SBA’s website.

If you’re interested in attending, make sure you get your ticket as soon as possible. We have a feeling it’s going to be a great night!

Stay tuned to Twitter and the event page for announcements on who our awesome panel of judges will include and who has been chosen to pitch at the event. All the information you need and the application are on Eventbrite.

Introducing HackOTR!

You know who’s awesome? Our interns are awesome. You know what’s even more awesome? Our past interns teaming up with our new intern to plan a hackathon at The Brandery.

Michael, Brian, and Ian, our interns from fall 2014, are spearheading a 24-hour hackathon at The Brandery from March 6 at 5 pm to March 7 at 5 pm.

HackOTR is an inclusive community hackathon. We’re looking for excited individuals who want to contribute their skills in design, programming, product development, and marketing to solve problems and have fun. Anyone is welcome to register! You do not need to be a programmer, be in a startup, or have previous experience with hackathons.

Prizes will be offered to teams with the best hacks at the end of the hackathon. Hacks will be judged on the following criteria: creativity, usefulness, usability, and delivery. HackOTR will feature judges from The Brandery’s network of experienced mentors and experts, as well as from our sponsors. The mentors offer significant experience with startup ventures, product development, and technology.

For inquiries about sponsorship, please send a message to our Brandterns.

Register for the hackathon here.

How To Stand Out When Applying To The Brandery


[Editor’s Note: This post is by co-founder of The Brandery, Dave Knox. Dave, along with the rest of The Brandery team, will be reviewing applications for the next few months as we recruit startups for the Class of 2015. By day, Dave is the CMO of Rockfish. Read more of Dave’s blog posts and thought leadership here.]

Did you know that getting into a top tier startup accelerator is actually statistically more difficult than getting into Harvard? For its Class of 2018, Harvard accepted around 5.9% of their 34,000 applicants. In 2014, The Brandery accepted half that percentage with <2.5% of applicants being offered a spot in the program (a number we consistently see with other top-ranked peer programs).

So what should a founder do in order to get their application to stick out? After reviewing thousands of applications over our five previous classes, here are a few best practices I have seen work to help your startup stand out from the crowd. None of these are hard and fast rules, but more what I personally look at when I am reviewing our applications.

1. Become a known entity

If there were only thing that a startup could do when applying to The Brandery, this would be it. It amazes me how many startups apply for The Brandery but do not do any personal outreach. It is pretty easy to find out the decision makers behind our program. All of the founders and staff are listed on the website. All of us are very open about our contact info with emails and Twitter. And we hold a ton of events during application season where you can meet Brandery staff, alumni, and mentors in person. Yet despite this, an amazingly low number of applicants take any steps to reach out beyond their written applications. One of the keys to standing out is to have champions that believe in your team and your company. You can increase your odds of finding those champions by putting in the extra effort to meet the people behind the selection process.

2. Get a personal introduction / endorsement

Speaking of finding champions, one of the best ways to stand out from the crowd is with a warm introduction from someone in the Brandery network. We have an amazing group of mentors, investors, and alumni that are part of The Brandery family. If I get an email introduction from any of them telling me that “so and so startup is applying for The Brandery and they are awesome”, then I put that application on the top of my list. For instance, we had one application a few years ago that had a so-so initial product. But right before they applied, I received an email from an investor I trusted who said the startup had “one of the best mobile product teams” they had ever seen. Needless to say, that type of endorsement changed how I viewed the application right off the bat.

3. Do not be a “Me Too” Startup

Every year, The Brandery receives around two dozen applications that are best classified as “Me Too” Startups. The common theme of these companies is that they are a small twist on whatever the hot startup happened to be that year. When Groupon was gearing up for an IPO in 2011, we had an influx of companies with takes on the Daily Deal space. When Instagram was bought in 2012, our application inbox was flooded with photo startups. The shame with these applications is that I often don’t spend the time digging into the team because I’ve already dismissed the potential of the idea right off the bat.

4. Prove your hustle instead of telling us about it

Every startup talks about having the perfect “Hacker, Hustler, and Designer”. But it is interesting how often The Hustler actually doesn’t show their hustle. If you want to see hustle, talk to Michael Wohlschlaeger, CEO & Co-Founder of Ahalogy. When Michael applied to The Brandery, he and his wife were living in China. That year, The Brandery was having a “get to know us” happy hour during applications at a local bar in Cincinnati. Michael showed up at the event, where we learned that he flew from China to St. Louis (where his family was from) and then drove six hours from St. Louis to Cincinnati— just for the happy hour. That is the definition of hustle. I knew at that moment I would place a bet on Michael as an entrepreneur no matter what. Since Ahalogy has been ranked the fastest growing startup in Ohio the past two years, I think Michael has lived up to that reputation for hustle.

5. Apply early

Do not wait to the last minute to apply. Yes, the final deadline to apply is April 16th, but don’t make the mistake of waiting that long. All of us are reading applications as they come in, and I personally have a ranking of my top 10 applicants that is evolving in real-time. If your company has applied early, that has given me a longer time to learn about you, the company, and your team. I have been able to research the space you are playing in and talked with other investors about the opportunity. If you apply at the last minute, you are “forcing” me to make a quick decision about whether you should be a company we interview and accept.

All that being said, applications to the Class of 2015 are open now. The deadline is April 16.

The Brandery's New Accelerator "Deal": $50,000 Per Company


This summer, the sixth cohort of companies will be joining us at The Brandery. What an amazing first five years we have had (note: information on our five year anniversary celebration will be forthcoming – you need to be there)! Five years later, we remain more focused than ever on our mission of accelerating startups by building powerful brands. Our core approach of layering inspiring brands on top of dazzling technology and driven founders has proven to be a recipe for success. Like the beef Bolognese recipe of your great-grandmother, we are less than enthusiastic to make adjustments to the formula.

But, who are we kidding? We’re an accelerator — evolution and retooling shouldn’t be limited to our portfolio companies. Excellence can be found in rational and thoughtful change. As such, in 2015 we will be announcing some core changes to our accelerator program that will provide our participant companies with an even stronger platform to grow.

We are excited to announce our sixth cohort of companies will receive a total of $50,000 of capital from The Brandery. This will be split into two tranches: (1) $25,000 in for a six (6) percent warrant upon beginning the program, and (2) another $25,000 through an uncapped convertible debt note to each company that completes the sixth week of our accelerator program.

Some accelerators offer more cash than The Brandery and some offer less, but after having 45 startups go through our accelerator, we believe $50,000 is the right amount. We have always had two juxtaposing beliefs about the capital that we provide companies: first, our companies need enough capital to focus solely on building a great company, and second, The Brandery funding should not provide such a substantial runway that the startup loses its sense of urgency. We believe $50,000 will accelerate our startups to the next step, whether that’s raising a round, bootstrapping with revenue, or moving onto the next thing.

The Brandery has always felt strongly that the “deal” needs to be explicit at the outset. Some accelerators offer more capital but hinge the capital on different performance metrics or, in some cases, the discretion of the accelerator’s investment team. We think this is unfair to the startups because it does not provide them with the ability to plan their burn and so that there is not an investment decision that adversely impacts the relationship between the accelerator and its participating founders. As such, the second tranche of $25,000 will be invested purely on the temporal requirement of each company making it through six weeks of our program.

And that’s not all! We’ll have more big news to break in the next week or two. We can’t wait to share.

If you’re interested in learning more about The Brandery Accelerator, go to brandery.org/accelerator, or apply now.

Guest Post: Stop Building Features


[Editor’s Note: This post was written by 2014 graduate Connor Bowlan. Connor and his co-founder, Rhett, originally were accepted to The Brandery with their fashion and beauty advice app, Lookit. Throughout the course of the program, their startup evolved to what is now: Cintric, a joint venture between Connor’s company and another startup in the program. You can read more about their journey through The Brandery in this recent Soapbox article.]

Features are one of the worst things a startup can build into an early-stage product.

Features distract the company. Startups find success in innovative solutions to big problems. These solutions form the core of products, and are where the customer finds value they’re willing to pay for. At an early stage, startups should be focusing all their efforts on finding the best version of their solution by iterating on their core product. Feature development distracts from this task.

In one of the earliest versions of our application “Lookit,” we had a little robot character that guided the user through the signup process. The robot even had animations that would progress with each letter the user typed for their name and password. Was it neat? Definitely. Is animating the registration fields spending time improving the core product? Definitely not.

Features distract the product.

When creating a product that’s new, one of the biggest challenges is crystallizing exactly what it is. This applies in both the minds of the team and the end users. The simpler the product, the easier it is to understand what it’s purpose is and how to best achieve it. Features add complexity, and complexity distracts from the core purpose of a product.

In a later build of “Lookit,” we experimented with gamifying the platform. We built a series of “trinkets” that users could win by contributing to the community and gambling in a slot-machine feature. Session time skyrocketed to an average of 14 minutes, but we weren’t solving the problem we had set out to. It drew users away from the core of the product, and away from where we were able to give the most value.

Features distract the user.

When you’re building something new, the end user will have to learn how to use your product. Adding features means the user has more learning to do before being able to draw value from the product and use it effectively.

In the second build of our application “Quack,” we tried to solve one of our user-experience problems by adding another feature. This feature did away with one of the core rules of our product in order to get around a relatively small issue. In doing so we completely confused the user by introducing a competing ruleset, and made them go through another permissions process, all to implement a feature that ended up not being enjoyable for them to use.

Features are often wasted.

Startups frequently change their core products in significant ways as development progresses. When the product changes, features that have been developed often don’t have a place anymore and must be scrapped.

There is a fully complete card-based version of “Lookit” sitting on a bitbucket server somewhere that will probably never see the light of day. It has voting, a gorgeous UI, face-detection, and quite a few more features. Ultimately though, none of those matter. They’re great bits of design and coding that had to be thrown out because the core product they were built on wasn’t strong enough.

Once a product has matured enough to where it’s solving a user’s problem in the most efficient way possible, then features can be introduced to make that process enjoyable for the user to engage with. This must be done slowly though, so as not to confuse or overwhelm the user.

This is where the CPO role really shines, as their job is not just to guide what the product is, but also to guide what the product isn’t.

Building a product without features can be difficult. In the early phase of a startup, it can be challenging to avoid getting carried away in an environment where the product roadmap is set in something more akin to clay than concrete. This is where the CPO role really shines, as their job is not just to guide what the product is, but also to guide what the product isn’t. A good CPO will aggressively maintain development focus on the core of the product, even when features might be exciting or easy to complete.


At Cintric, we help developers build efficient mobile location services into their apps, from early stage startups that want to use location as a basis for their core experience, to large enterprises that wish to add location features to their existing and established apps. Cintric can be used to integrate rich location components that add a tremendous amount of value to the core of a product. Even including customizing experiences via demographic information and precise analytics of where users engage with different parts of the app.

If you’d like to chat about how Cintric can improve your mobile app with efficient and easy to setup location services, or you’d like to simply tell me why I’m wrong about features, contact me at connor@cintric.com.

Brandery Graduates Dominate Forbes' 30 Under 30 Lists

Yesterday, Forbes released their lists of the top 30 game-changers in each industry for 2015. The lists include the co-founder of Instagram, the President of Y Combinator, and, oh, and eight Brandery graduates. They represent four companies, three of which are still operating. Here are our people Forbes chose:

1. Eric Elias, William Weibe, William Blum, and Nathan Heidt, Lagoon, Class of 2014

Eric and the Lagoon team are on a mission to empower households and cities to control water usage. In addition to The Brandery, the Lagoon team was also accepted to a hardware accelerator, Highway1, where they developed their product, nailed down about manufacturing, and learned about distribution. Lagoon also won SXSW Eco’s Startup Showcase in the Clean Web category. You can watch Eric pitch SXSW here.

2. Jay Finch, Class of 2012

Jay came through The Brandery back in 2012. He’s moved on from his venture at the time, but his legacy lives on! He’s now the Senior Advisor of Domestic Finance for the U.S. Treasury. Jay runs the MyRA program at the Treasury Department, which offers government alternative independent retirement plans. Before his life on The Hill and at The Brandery, Jay worked at Goldman Sachs where he started two business units, each with $2.5 billion in assets under management.

3. Konrad Billetz, Frameri, Class of 2013

We met Konrad fresh out of Notre Dame’s MBA program in 2013 as he and his team were beginning to develop the first interchangable eyewear company. Now, Frameri is headquartered right down the street from our office and continues to receive accolades from major publications as they scale. Earlier this year, Konrad won Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest pitch competition in Cincinnati.

4. Rujul Zaparde and Kevin Petrovic, FlightCar, Class of 2012

Earlier this year, Rujul and Kevin took the title of youngest entrepreneurs to ever raise $20 million, so we’re not surprised to see their names on the list. They interviewed at The Brandery the day after their high school graduation and never looked back. We can’t wait to see what cities FlightCar will land in next!

Also on the list were Brandery mentor Adam D’Augelli (True Ventures) and speaker Mattan Griffel (One Month), who presented to the Class of 2014 on Growth Hacking. We’re honored to have been surrounded by such great talent across the board!

Congratulations to all the 30 Under 30 winners. Keep doing work!