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How's business? A look at 9 Tri-State startups of the more than 90 profiled by WCPO

'Shark Tank' break, rebranding part of journeys
Posted: 7:21 AM, Jul 14, 2017
Updated: 2017-07-16 11:16:19Z
How these 9 Tri-State startups are doing now
How these 9 Tri-State startups are doing now
How these 9 Tri-State startups are doing now

I’ve done features on more than 90 startups since I started writing about them for WCPO.com 18 months ago. Here’s a story about how nine of those startups are doing now.

I’m happy to report that despite some close calls, eight of them are still in business.

VPcabs LLC

This Fairfield maker of virtual pinball machines is still reaping the benefits of founder Brad Baker’s appearance on the ABC-TV show “Shark Tank.”

During the episode , which aired in May 2016, entrepreneur Daymond John agreed to invest $200,000 for a 25 percent stake in the company.

Baker took the deal, and he’s found John “an awesome guy to work with” who’s helped the company close licensing deals and line up new distributors.

The episode Baker appeared in re-airs on CNBC every few months, Baker said, and each time VPcabs gets another boost in orders. “It’s always like free money,” he said.

Before the show aired, the company had done about $400,000 in sales, he said, but since then it’s done more than $1 million. Last week, it released a new tabletop or wall-mounted machine that begins shipping this month.

Meanwhile, the company’s creating its own games for a line of coin-operated machines. He expects they’ll end up wherever arcade games are played, in business.

The company’s making a profit, has no debt and is in a good position to grow, Baker said. “It’s hard to find the light at the end of the tunnel some days, but we’re still working on it,” he added.

Blackbook HR (now Talmetrix)

Originally, this Downtown-based company made personalized “blackbooks” for new hires recruited to Cincinnati, which told them how they could get connected and involved in the community . From there, its mission evolved into creating apps to gauge employee satisfaction and prompt employee engagement.

When the company launched an updated version of its product at the end of last year, it changed its name to Talmetrix, a mashup of the words “talent” and “metrics.”

Prospective buyers would often ask Blackbook sales people, “What’s up with the name?” said CEO Chris Powell. “That’s no way to start a sales conversation,” he added.

To the original apps that enabled companies to survey their employees, Powell said, the update adds an “intelligence engine” that allows customers to aggregate multiple data sets. They can use that to, for example, map out the relationship between employee engagement and customer satisfaction.

The company hit $1 million in sales in 2016, Powell said, and he expects it to reach $2 million in 2017. It now has 14 full-time employees and plans to hire another five by year's end.

Transparent Sports

Close to 25,000 people use the sports-injury reporting platform provided by Transparent Sports , the most recent of several businesses started by Hyde Park resident Gregory McGrath.

But in August, two state high school athletic associations plan to begin deploying it. Once all the schools are involved, McGrath expects the number of users to jump to more than one million. The company is also in talks with five other state associations, he said.

“It’s a sea change,” he said.

The company has 11 full-time employees, including him and his co-founders. He expects that number to grow to 15 as the two associations come on board.

The company got a big boost after it competed in the Top 50 contest for sports-innovation startups of the London-based HYPE Foundation. That led to presentations at sports venues such as the NFL Draft and a tech forum at the European soccer championships, McGrath said.

Through the foundation, Transparent Sports was introduced to the IBM Watson team, McGrath said, and was accepted as an IBM Global Entrepreneur.

Later this month, the company plans to launch an Indiegogo platform to raise money for an upgraded version of its app. The new version will use IBM Watson’s platform to give parents insights into how their child got injured and offer suggestions about how to prevent further injuries.

“We’re more driven by the mission than we were a year ago,” McGrath said. “We expect to be more driven in a year, because we will have learned more.”

Patrick McGinnis, creator of Thirty, poses with some of his product inside the Queensgate warehouse that serves as his office.

Recov Beverages

The Queensgate beverage maker got a big boost on July 1 when United Dairy Farmers began offering Thirty, a workout recovery drink like Gatorade, in 174 of its Ohio and Kentucky stores.

“That was kind of a big home run for us, to say the least,” said Recov founder and CEO Patrick McGinnis.

The deal with UDF puts Thirty in close to 500 stores, McGinnis said, including several Speedway, Shell, BP and Kroger stores. He declined to disclose sales figures.

The question he gets most from people is, “Where can I buy it?” To help answer that, Recov added a “Find Thirty” feature to its website.

Thirty’s available in just Ohio and Kentucky now, he said, but he’s hoping to make it available in at least seven states by the end of the year. This summer, he’ll work on getting samples to the public at stores, restaurants and festivals.

“The biggest challenge is still educating people as to what the product is,” he said. “Once people try it, we get a lot of repeat business.”

Ohio Valley Beard Supply LLC

In 2014, its first full year of business, this Over-the-Rhine startup had $35,000 in sales. Every year after that, sales have doubled.

Co-founder Scott Ponder expects that trend to continue this year, with the company hitting between $120,000 and $150,000 in sales. The company makes products for scratchy beards that, in the company’s words, “turn porcupines into kittens.”

Most of the sales growth has come through the company’s relationship with Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, which has four stores in the Tri-State.

Ohio Valley Beard Supply has its products in 65 Fresh Thyme stores, Ponder said, and Fresh Thyme officials have told them that their products represent 20 percent of the chain’s men’s care sales.

“As they grow, we grow,” he said.

In the coming months, Ponder and co-founder Patrick Brown hope to get an audience with the management of Phoenix-based Sprouts Farmers Market, a grocery chain which Ponder says is similar to Fresh Thyme.

Nearby Accupack Midwest Inc. still manufactures their beard elixir, the company’s flagship product. They’re working on getting Accupack to also manufacture their washes and conditioners, which they now make by hand.

That would give them more time to work on growing the business. Both Ponder and Brown still hold down other jobs.

I Got This LLC

The future didn’t look so bright for this company on April 7, the day after its Kickstarter campaign ended. Montgomery residents Rich and Denise Schramm had hoped to raise $25,000 to bring to market their app that helps kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder get things done .

But the campaign netted only $9,116.

The Schramms decided to keep going, however, and dipped into their personal savings and investments to fund the project, Rich said. He declined to say how much they’ve put in.

The beta version of the app is in testing now, he said, with about 300 app users participating. The Schramms plan to have a soft launch for the app in July, Rich said, with a public launch in August.

Meanwhile, he’s talking with potential investors who’ve expressed interest in helping fund the company.

“We’re moving forward,” he said. “We’re too far along to let it go.”

The feedback he gets from beta testers has been great. Some have sent notes saying that they burst into tears, he said, just knowing that the product’s in the works.

“It’s just something that the world needs,” he said.

The founders of Healthcast are, from left, Tobias Theobald, Glenn Lawyer and Tariq Khaleeq.

Healthcast

The creators of Healthcast, an app that aims to give users real-time data about health problems where they live , have an ambitious goal for the coming year.

By February 2018, the Covington-based company hopes to have at least 100,000 users, co-founder Glenn Lawyer said.

He’s confident that can happen, because once the company gets its app right, it can scale up quickly on a national level through marketing.

The company planned to launch a beta test with 500 testers on July 5, he said. the company will use the results of the test to decide what features it wants the final version to have.

It’s considering such options as predictive analytics based on a user’s particular health vulnerabilities, Lawyer said. For example, it could warn a user about weather conditions that could trigger sinus headaches.

Another option lets users know who’s been feeling poorly in their social media network -- if those people choose to share that information. It would even enable a user to send virtual flowers, along with a get-well message.

Tilr

This Downtown company launched its app that connects workers to jobs in September 2016, and it has grown quickly.

It now has more than 13,000 active users, about 200 companies on the platform and has booked more than 92,000 work shifts, chief operating officer Summer Crenshaw said.

Those users are in Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton. But the company plans to expand in Ohio and neighboring states, with its goal to be in 26 markets by 2019, she said.

The company has been making money from day one, Crenshaw said, but declined to disclose sales figures.

It opened a second location, in Toronto, where its product team is now headquartered. The company has 32 full-time employees and is looking to hire marketers and sales people.

In January, the company delivered on a promise to make health insurance available to the workers who accept gigs through the site, Crenshaw said. Dental and vision insurance is also available, with a 401(k) or another savings vehicle coming soon, she added.

The company’s raised $4.5 million from investors to date, she said, and it's actively soliciting more funds. It hopes to raise $1.5 million more by the end of July, she said.

Fanvester

It seems that it’s hard to break into show business, even if you’re not trying to get in front of the cameras.

Founded by four 20-something Cincinnati residents, Fanvester seemed like a great way to get popular artists to make a stop in a particular town.

Think of it as crowdfunding for the entertainment industry .

Using Fanvester’s website, fans would chip in their money to bring an act here, and Fanvester would aggregate them. If the artist agreed to perform, their payments would become tickets. If not, they’d be refunded.

But Fanvester’s founders learned that the entertainment industry doesn’t work that way, co-founder Alex Yungvirt said.

“It’s a very greedy industry,” he said. “If they think people can raise 45, they will ask for 60.”

Also, it’s very difficult to create an entertainment business in the Midwest, he said, because most of the talent agencies and performance-rights people live on the West Coast. The industry is heavily reliant on relationships and tenure, he said, which Fanvester didn’t have.

The founders had wanted to make Fanvester an automated system, he said, but they found that they couldn’t make it work the way they had envisioned it.

So, in October 2016, Fanvester shut down. Meanwhile, Yungvirt and one of his Fanvester co-founders have started a new business they call Team Flora, which consults on digital solutions and innovation strategy.

He felt sad about closing down Fanvester, he said, “but at the end of the day, you don’t want to beat a dead horse. So that’s what it came down to for us.”