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Why You Need The Brandery Agency Partnership: Interbrand & Oros

When Michael Markesbery and Rithvik Venna entered The Brandery’s 2015 cohort, they faced a problem that many startups have to deal with: a trademark issue that meant their company, Lukla, not only needed a great brand, but a new name to begin with.

Oros creates outerwear that uses NASA technology called aerogel (the same stuff they put in spacesuits!) to protect wearers from extreme environmental conditions without the heavy weight and bulk of traditional outerwear. This amazing innovation deserved a brand that was just a special.

After being paired with Interbrand, a global brand agency with an incredible team in Cincinnati, the group got to work on crafting a name that would inform the entire brand identity. With the company’s vision and brand strategy in mind, the new name became Oros, the Greek word for mountain. This name represents adventure, challenge and conquest and reflects the essence of the original name, Lukla.

Interbrand explored Oros’ target customer and came up with some strong themes that informed their logo and brand design. The brand proposition “Conquer Your Everest” became a common thread throughout the design process – with the logo creating a visual link to a mountain right down to the unique, custom packaging design that embodies the same essence of a peak. The packaging design for Oros was so strong, in fact, that Interbrand received an “Outstanding Achievement” mention in the 2016 Dieline Awards competition, highlighting the best in consumer packaging design worldwide.

Oros graduated from The Brandery in October 2015 and raised a $1.2 million seed round last year, led by NCT Ventures. A recent Forbes article, Why Ohio Is The Best State In America To Launch A Startup, featured their journey and included this quote from Markesbery: “Because there are more Fortune 500 companies headquartered (in the Midwest) than anywhere else in the world, that means is that there are dozens of incredible branding, marketing, and advertising companies here…Our packaging has won eight different international awards already because we just happen to have one of the best companies in the world doing that right here in Cincinnati.”

We really couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Special thanks to Interbrand for being a dynamic agency partner year in and year out!

Brandery 2017 applications are open until April 29. Apply via F6S or AngelList. Have questions regarding the program or your application? Contact us at info@brandery.org!

From Corporate to Startups: My First Year at The Brandery

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When I left Toyota in 2015, I wasn’t entirely sure about what my next step would be- I just knew that no matter where I landed, I wanted to make an impact. After my first year as Program Manager of a nationally-recognized accelerator, I can honestly say I feel like I’ve accomplished just that. The Brandery consists of just 3 full-time employees, which means there’s always a lot to do, and plenty of ways to make a difference. I learned a lot last year, especially from the standpoint of being new to the tech startup scene. I present to you 10 key learnings that are hopefully not so generic to the point of boredom, yet general enough that you can apply these points to your day-to-day, regardless of what you do for a living.

  1. The Importance of Initiative. There’s a difference between being a go-getter and being a go-fer. If you’re waiting for someone to give you something to do, you’re not passionate about what you’re doing. Take the lead on projects. Actually see things through to completion. Don’t join the all-too swelled ranks of the all talk, no action army.
  2. Learn from as many people as possible. People always ask me: “If the accelerator only runs for sixteen weeks, what are you doing the rest of the time?” Fair question, and one I would have asked a year ago. I’ll tell you what I spent the vast majority of my first two months doing: meeting people. Not just any people, mind you- I spent mornings, afternoons, and evenings chatting with Brandery staff, alumni, mentors, investors, community partners, and anyone else even remotely associated with StartupCincy in an effort to learn as much as possible about what the accelerator has gotten right, but more importantly, what it could do better. And with every person I talked to, that was one more connection, one more dot that I could call on during the program to help our newest class.
  3. Learn just enough to be dangerous, not an expert. Listen, I’m no startup wizard, nor do I claim to be. I’m a former automotive engineer with an MBA who just happens to enjoy program management (sick, I know). When I first started at the Brandery, I was “assigned” a stack of books to read to immerse myself in the startup scene. Zero to One, Startup Communities, Venture Deals, The Lean Startup- I made sure to read them, but I definitely could have done with the Cliff’s Notes. Here’s what I recommend doing instead: get Flipboard and start following the heavy hitters like Inc., Entrepreneur, Fast Company, First Round Review, VentureBeat, and TechCrunch. Save the articles that mean the most to you, or ones you think your cohort or colleagues may find interesting. Hell, show some initiative (see 1.) and Slack it over to them immediately. These articles will serve as great jumping off points for conversation and insightful feedback when you have 1:1 time with your startups.
  4. Organization is imperative. I can’t emphasize this one enough, folks. When you’re not in program, you’ll think you’ve got everything under control with your 25–30 emails per day. Inbox Zero? Fat chance once you hit Day 1. From there on out, you’ll be responsible for ensuring each of your companies are getting what they need to succeed daily, and as Program Manager, you’re the first point of contact most of the time. There are several ways of accomplishing this: Slack is a great tool, as is Trello, whose bandwagon I have yet to hop on. Nope, this PM uses the tried and true notebook and three-ring binder to stay on top of things. I (try to) make a checklist each morning consisting of the top ten things I need to get done (prioritized by deadline, ease of completion, and whether I like whoever I’m doing it for- kidding).
  5. Communication, Communication, Communication. With an ever-bountiful inbox comes the potential to forget to respond to people on a timely basis. This is something I struggled with early on, and have only now been able to barely get control of. Block out time during your day to respond to emails- whether it’s a detailed response or a short “I’ll get back to you on this tomorrow”, the punctual reply will show respect for the other person.
  6. There is no task beneath you. Odds are you won’t have the luxury of a large staff that can cater to your every whim (and if you do, congratulations- don’t blow it). This means that you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and get dirty more often than you would have thought. I worked with our Office Manager a number of times to help set up events, our Demo Day, and even our lunches. Don’t think that just because you’re the Program Manager, you’re exempt from this stuff. Subscribe to the “all boats rise” mentality and be a team player.
  7. Realize that your startups’ wins are your wins. Never have I ever taken credit for someone else’s work; I refuse to do that and will always acknowledge and recognize an individual or group’s work. However, as a Program Manager, you’re tasked with providing your cohort with a quality curriculum, meaningful connections, and resources that will help them succeed. You’ll know you’ve done a good job when you get a “thank you” or when your founders tell you that they’ve reached a new milestone because of something you were able to provide or be a part of. Don’t be ashamed of feeling good about these moments. Finding individual wins as a PM may be difficult, but the ability to connect your startups’ successes to something you had a hand in makes the job all the more worthwhile.
  8. Still maintain some semblance of a life outside of work. I’ll admit, this one was tough at times. As a Program Manager, you may feel that the success of your startups rests solely on your shoulders, and because of that, you need to be there for them 24/7. This isn’t the case. Sure, there will be days (and nights) where you’ll scramble to provide a time-sensitive response or connection, but for the most part, you have to remember that your startups are adults (for the most part) and are ultimately responsible for their own success. In my case, 2016 was a challenging first year- not only did I pivot from corporate to startups, but I also got married a few weeks after our Demo Day. You can imagine the work it takes to not only manage a cohort but plan a wedding at the same time. For me, I made the decision to put my personal life ahead of work when I could. This meant not being able to support as many social/community events as I may have wanted to or felt obligated to, but at the end of the day, my personal relationships are far more important than my professional relationships.
  9. Do your research. If you’re an old pro when it comes to your industry, this may not be as relevant. However, for me, leaving the automotive world and joining the tech startup scene left me with no understanding of the industry. Luckily, my GM didn’t hesitate throwing me into the fire- I met with VCs, sponsors, agencies, and startups almost immediately, not knowing what the hell they were talking about. ARR? Cap tables? Investment thesis? I was overwhelmed almost every day, early on. Reading the books in #3 helped, but so did simple research ahead of my meetings. LinkedIn is a great resource, as are the websites for whoever you’re meeting with or talking about. Please, please don’t “fake it til you make it.” BS is easy to sniff out, especially when you’re speaking with seasoned veterans of the startup community.
  10. Be an advocate for your community. This may not be as important for established ecosystems like the Bay Area or New York City, but for startup communities in the midwest, you have to work twice as hard to ensure your environment is in the same conversation/train of thought for founders, investors, media, and sponsors. This isn’t always easy, and it certainly take a village, but you can do plenty as an individual. Write a blog. Tweet. Share stories. Reach out to universities, high schools, middle schools, and summer camps, and build a presence at those levels. Share with your audience the wins and good news, but also share the bad news- people can learn from both. Don’t always paint a rosy picture, but do maintain a relentless optimism about where your community is headed. Meet challenges head on, and commit to bettering an aspect of your community. Work with other dedicated individuals to do this. It will be hard at first, but when you get that first win under your belt, you’ll be further motivated to do more.

With our 2017 program beginning in mid-June (applications open now, by the way), I’ll be reflecting on these ten points daily. Last year, I struggled with finding a balance between the creative, open-ended nature of startups and my structured, Japanese-influenced drive for efficiency and performance. My goal this year is to find that balance and give our founders what they need to thrive, during our program and beyond. If you have any advice to impart, don’t hesitate to reach me!

Brandery Office Hours Coming to a City Near You!

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We always love meeting startups during our office hours here in Cincinnati, but we know that not everyone can make it here. Phone calls and Skype aren’t always the most beneficial either. That’s why we’re excited to announce that we’ll be visiting a city near you over the next few weeks. Take a look at where and when we’ll be in town, and apply for office hours by clicking on the city.

Read This First!
– We announced a sharpened focus for this year’s cohort. Read more here .
– Get your application started on F6S or Angel List .
Follow us on Twitter for our latest updates.

Brandery Office Hours Schedule

3/25 Nashville
3/28 San Francisco
4/6 Columbus
4/11 Atlanta
4/12 Boston
4/13 Ann Arbor
4/13 Detroit
4/26 Chicago

If you have any questions, email us at info@brandery.org.

A Future Built On Our Past

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Around this time seven years ago, the idea of The Brandery was just starting to come to life. We didn’t have a building to call home. We didn’t have any funding. We didn’t have any employees. But we had our pitch deck and we were just crazy enough to think we could make this thing happen.

In other words, we were just like the startups that we one day hoped to help.

Seven years later, 66 startups have graduated from The Brandery, raised over $130 million in funding, and we have been consistently ranked as one of the top programs in the country. And in that time, the landscape of entrepreneurship and accelerator programs has changed. And it is time for us to change with it.

Many people do not realize it, but the underlying legal structure of The Brandery is based upon a 501©3, the mission of which is to support entrepreneurship in Cincinnati and the Midwest. Since day one, everyone involved in The Brandery has been involved because of that mission. The equity that we receive from startups in exchange for their participation in The Brandery does not go to investors. Instead, it sits in an endowment that we hope to use in the support of entrepreneurs.

I write that because in 2010, the city that The Brandery calls home was a very different place for entrepreneurs. There was no #StartupCincy as a rallying cry for the region. Aspiring founders didn’t have role models like EBTH, Dotloop, Assurex, or Modulus to show them the way. Cintrifuse did not exist and Union Hall was not the home of our hustle. As such, we viewed The Brandery as the opportunity to be an injection of talent into our ecosystem. It could be a reason for local entrepreneurs like Chris Bergman of FamilyTech to jump into the tech startup world. It could be a reason for entrepreneurs like Jim Fisher of Roadtrippers to move to Cincinnati sight unseen. We wanted it to be a reason to believe that Cincinnati and the Midwest could be a destination for startups – and the Venture Capitalists that invest in them.

We are a long way from ringing the bell and declaring success in that mission. But we have made amazing strides. As we move into 2017, The Brandery is refining the focus of the accelerator program in order to do our part in better helping entrepreneurs. As our announcement stated in early March, we are focusing the 2017 class (and beyond) on digitally native vertical brands (DNVBs) and the retail/marketing tech companies that give these brands a new way to reach consumers.

In many ways, our future is about us doubling down on our past. We are called The Brandery because we believed (and still do) that the skills of building a brand could be as valuable for tech startups as they could be for large consumer packaged goods. We also believed that we could uniquely involve mentors from the halls of large CPG companies who were leading their organization’s efforts in embracing digital marketing and marketing tech. Those two premises still hold true today and even more so as we sharpen our focus.

The other reason that I am excited about this sharpened focus is the impact it will have on the founders as they go through the program and become alumni. Every year, I am asked the question of what helps a company achieve success in The Brandery. And every year, my answer is the same: the companies that help others the most are the ones that succeed the most themselves. This continues after Demo Day where the founders who give the most back to the Brandery community are the ones who continue to shine. With this new focus, every startup in the class will be complementary in same way. They might be able to partner together with a consumer brand serving as a customer to a marketing tech startup. Or they will be able to share best practices on B2B customer acquisition or user retention for digitally native vertical brands.

We have come a long way in seven years, but I look forward to seeing how much further we go thanks to the startups that join The Brandery family in the years to come.

Dave Knox is the co-founder of The Brandery, Managing Director of WPP Ventures, and author of the newly released book Predicting The Turn: The High Stakes Game of Business Between Startups and Blue Chips .

Why You Need the Brandery Agency Partnership: Spicefire & Goodwipes

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Over the last few weeks, we’ve been telling you all about our sharpened focus on Digitally-Native Full Stack Products (CPG are part of that) & startups that support these kind of companies (both large and small) for our 2017 cohort. If you haven’t had a chance to read over our thought process behind this shift, check out this blog post from a few weeks ago when we made the announcement.

As our General Manager Tony Alexander said in his blog post earlier this week, “While we always added some value to everyone who came through the program, the truth is we can help some companies tremendously and others in only limited ways. This is a function of the talents of our staff, mentorship pool, and the intrinsic nature of our close network of partners and sponsors. Pretty much everyone in our network is well-positioned to add tons of value to these kind of startups.” To illustrate this point, we’re going to share some of the success stories of Brandery alumni who fit into the categories of companies we’re looking for.

Meet Goodwipes, graduates of Brandery’s 2016 cohort. They are serious about being clean.

Charlie, Maria, and Sam: Team Goodwipes

Goodwipes had already sold 1 million body wipes at independent retailers and on Amazon when they came to Cincinnati last June on a mission to refine their brand and strengthen their company. Each company in our accelerator is paired 1-to-1 with a world-class creative agency, of which there is a high concentration in Cincinnati ( aka BrandHub, USA ), which is one of the most significant reasons Goodwipes applied to The Brandery. We spoke to Sam Nebel, Co-Founder of Goodwipes, for his thoughts on why The Brandery’s program is so uniquely suited to help a CPG company.

Goodwipes worked with Spicefire to create a brand as fresh as their products. “They did nothing but GIVE, GIVE, GIVE”, Sam says. “Time, energy, attention, passion, experience, knowledge and patience. They shared. They worked with us through seemingly simple, yet extraordinarily arduous critical thinking exercises to define Goodwipes as it is today: a modern, better-for-you take on wet wipes that empowers people to do more, feel good, and live clean. We could not be happier with Jason Hargis and the Spicefire team. I’m talking endless hours of their busy time they gave us. If you understand how an agency works, time is money, and they spent extra time working with Goodwipes. It was really humbling and incredible to be given so much time and energy by such a talented group.”

The Goodwipes Branding Case Study

Goodwipes's Branding, Pre-Brandery

With the majority of Goodwipes’ sales occurring online, having a slick brand and packaging wasn’t nearly as important to them; with their goal of appearing on more brick-and-mortar shelves, it was more important to create eye-popping visuals that would appeal to customers looking up and down the personal care aisle. The Spicefire team helped to create a beautiful, modern look for their packaging, which also carried over to their advertising and web presence.





Spicefire’s collaboration and work with Goodwipes is just one reason we’re excited about our 2017 program; our agency partners have always yielded fantastic work no matter the type of startup we’ve paired them with, but now that we’re looking to work with more consumer-facing brands and the technologies that support them, the Brandery Agency Partnership should prove to be even more successful.

Sam wanted us to publish his personal number so that anyone interested in talking about applying to The Brandery could call him – we are going to spare him, but we’d be happy to answer any questions you might have about the 2017 application process. Contact us at info@brandery.org!

Mistakes Were Made

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$130,000,000+ raised by our companies.
Over 400 jobs created.
A Top-10 accelerator in the US.

There are a lot of great stats that I often use when talking about The Brandery. However, if you’ve ever heard one of my talks before, you know that the most important statistic to me is this one:

100% of our participant companies said the program was worth it.

No doubt this remains true today. That said, I’ll be the first to admit we are hanging on to that 100% by the skin of our teeth.

The Brandery team has done a lot of thinking on how to get better in 2017. Our conclusions are that we have slipped in two main areas: type of company selected to be in the program and the stage that company was at when chosen.

When The Brandery was started in 2010, the goal was to bring great talent to Cincinnati. That’s why, in every class, most of the teams come from outside the city. The initial thesis was to choose consumer-facing, high growth companies but we quickly created a lot of wiggle room there to accommodate talented founders over any other factor. I don’t necessarily think that was a bad decision, but we certainly lost focus on other variables. A talented round peg can succeed in spite of the square hole, but it’s not exactly ideally sustainable.

After many years of great results, and a particularly great 2015, we got over-zealous in thinking we could move the needle for anyone we brought in. While we always added some value to everyone who came through the program, the truth is we can help some companies tremendously and others in only limited ways. This is a function of the talents of our staff, mentorship pool, and the intrinsic nature of our close network of partners and sponsors. See here for more about the types of companies we are going after in 2017. Pretty much everyone in our network is well-positioned to add tons of value to these kind of startups.

We also overestimated our ability to take early teams and will them over the line to funding (as we have in years past). Historically, we average close to $2MM in funding per company, but out of the gate in 2016, our alumni did not find great success fundraising. Some of this is the function of the environment, but a lot is on us as well. The current state of venture funding requires significant traction to raise a proper seed round. What was needed to raise an A Round in 2012 you now need for the seed. This means we need to find talented teams that have already hit that product-market fit, raised a bit of money, and are looking to get to that next level. It’s almost impossible to get a small team with just a barebones MVP there in the span of a 16-week accelerator program.

If there was another miss it was simply around expectation setting. Past performance is no guarantee of future results but we didn’t do a great job of correcting the expectation that, as with past Brandery classes, a good majority of our companies would be able to raise a round of funding soon after Demo Day. We need to do better in preparing our companies for the reality of what comes after they leave us.

Running a startup is all about building, testing, refining – and repeating. I look at The Brandery in the same way. We can’t get better unless we’re honest with ourselves about where we fell short. Will our sharpened focus work? I think it will, but the only way to find out for sure is to dive in. I’m looking forward to an exciting 2017 – and learning even more.

We’ve seen a lot of accelerators shut down in 2016/17. It is a tough model if you have lulls/gaps. That said, we’re going to continue to be a strong pillar of the StartupCincy ecosystem for many years to come. Our drive to learn, evolve, and grow is the reason why. I welcome anyone and everyone to help us continue to get better!

Build Your Best Brand in Cincinnati

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Prior to announcing our sharpened focus for 2017, I spoke with several of our closest mentors, investors, and supporters to share the news with them and get their thoughts. Overwhelmingly, their responses sounded something like the following:

“It’s about time.”
“What took you so long?”
“This is a no-brainer.”

While there are various reasons this focus didn’t happen sooner, we’re all excited about the new direction. In the minds of most everyone in The Brandery network, our decision to recruit and invest in digitally native vertical brands (DNVBs) and the retail/marketing tech companies that support them was a long overdue one. However, a lot of folks outside our network may be wondering why this is; after all, what’s so special about a midwestern city like Cincinnati compared to similar business ecosystems on the west and east coasts?

Cincinnati is BrandHUB USA

More than anywhere else in the country, businesses here are equipped to build better brands. It started with Fortune 500 companies like Procter & Gamble, Kroger, and Macy’s establishing their headquarters in downtown Cincinnati. For a long time, these powerhouses developed incredibly strong internal organizations devoted to understanding their consumers, and thus built tremendous brand loyalty. Over time, these professionals went on to build independent agencies, consulting firms, and think-tanks dedicated to consumer marketing and branding. Today, Greater Cincinnati is home to more than 200 consumer product companies and upwards of 60,000 industry professionals, as well as several globally-renowned agencies. Nowhere else in the country can you find more consumer branding expertise per capita than right here in Cincinnati.

When The Brandery started in 2010, our goal was to leverage this unique and unfair advantage in developing the next great tech-enabled startups. Since 2010, we’ve paired each of our startups with an elite branding agency located here. These are agencies comprised of highly-talented professionals working with globally-recognized brands one day – then working with the young & hungry startups within our cohort the next.

It doesn’t stop with our agency partnerships; data science and analytics firms like Quotient (formerly Coupons.com), 84.51, The Nielsen Company, and others have all chosen to operate in Cincinnati because of the wealth of talent and customers they can find here. Many of our mentors work within these organizations, providing our startups with an intimate, insider’s knowledge of consumer understanding.

To be clear, branding is only one part of the equation. After all, what good is a solid brand and great customers if you can’t reach them? Being located in Cincinnati means easy access to 25 of the largest metro regions, over half of all US manufacturing establishments, and half of the US population. This is a major reason why Amazon is building their $1.5 billion Prime Air hub here, and why major logistics operations are locating here every month. This growth is perfect for small and up-and-coming retailers who may not be selling in brick-and-mortar yet and appreciate the ability to ship their products out quickly and efficiently.

If you’re a startup building the next great consumer brand or tech to support these brands, Cincinnati is the best place you can be. With more than 60,000 branding, marketing, and design experts within reach, The Brandery will help you accelerate your startup to success.

Brandery 2017: Applications Open March 6th!

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Since our 2016 Demo Day last October, we’ve been busy supporting our 2016 grads and planting the seeds for our 2017 accelerator program. Today, we’re happy to announce applications to Brandery 2017 will be opening on MONDAY, MARCH 6th. This year we have a much clearer focus on the type of companies we are looking for.

Over the past seven years, we’ve had 66 companies graduate The Brandery program. More importantly, we’ve learned a lot from our founders – and learned even more about how we’re able to help them. For us, it means going to back to basics. Cincinnati is referred to as the Branding & Marketing Capital of the World, thanks to the presence of storied consumer companies like Procter & Gamble, Macy’s, Kroger, and many others. If we’re going to continue our goal of bringing top-notch startups to Cincinnati and improving their odds of succeeding, we need to ensure they find customers early – and often.

To that end, we’re going to be placing a significant emphasis on recruiting, interviewing, and accepting startups that operate in the world of Digitally-Native Full Stack Products (CPG are part of that) & startups that support these kind of companies (both large and small). In essence, we’re looking for companies in the following areas:

Digitally-Native Products – Companies that have built a physical product and sell primarily online, but would also potentially value retail connections.

Examples:
• Brandery grads Goodwipes & Oros
The Honest Company

Retail Tech & Digital Commerce – Companies working to bridge the gap between digital and physical shopping through use of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and analytics.

Examples:
• Brandery grads Shelfie (acquired by Infoscout) & Skip
Basket (founded by Brandery mentor Andy Ellwood)
Belly (founded by Brandery mentor Logan LaHive)

Marketing Tech – Startups that are focused on CRM, mobile marketing, analytics and sales technologies.

Examples:
• Brandery grads Ahalogy & AdAdapted
• Shift (founded by Brandery mentor James Borow)
Cerkl (founded by Brandery mentor Tarek Kamil)

We know that we’ll be able to better support startups in these areas. An added benefit will be the greater potential for internal collaboration. There is no reason our startups couldn’t work with one another over the course of the program, and we’ll do everything we can to encourage this.

We’re very excited to continue our mission of helping great startups become even greater by building their brand. If you’re interested in applying (or know anyone else who might be) check out the links below:

F6S: www.f6s.com/branderyaccelerator2017
Angel List: https://angel.co/the-brandery