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InnovateHER is Coming to #StartupCincy

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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

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[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.