Price Hill housing rehab jumps into new business

Posted at 8:00 AM, Oct 17, 2015

CINCINNATI -- The non-profit community development corporation Price Hill Will has received a fair share of attention about its small but successful housing rehab effort in a neighborhood of about 33,000 that overlooks much of Downtown Cincinnati from the west.

Now the organization is trying to stimulate interest in filling vacant storefronts on State Avenue in Lower Price Hill and along Warsaw Avenue in East Price Hill.

Step one in what’s been labeled “Startup Price Hill” is a free event designed to attract business owners or those who just have a good idea for a business on Oct. 22 at the BLOC Coffee Co., 3101 Price Ave., which is kind of the center of the universe for the people who keep the neighborhood humming.

“Our role is to find some startups that can open up in an old storefront and revitalize the streetscape,” said Keith Schneider, who heads a company called SQUARE1, which he started several years ago when he was the managing director of BioLOGIC, a life science accelerator located in an old building a few blocks from the heart of Covington’s business district.

Schneider said SQUARE1 – as in “Start at Square 1” – expects at least 20 people to attend a session that will provide a broad overview of all of the information and services that are available for anyone who wants to explore creating a business in a neighborhood where stores closed as loyal customers moved to the suburbs and began spending their money at malls.

What happens after that first meeting at BLOC Coffee will be determined by the people in the room, Schneider said.

“It’s all based on who shows up and what they need. If everybody says they need help with marketing, that would be the topic for the next session,” Schneider said.

In recent years, the Cincinnati region has been recognized nationally for having a strong lineup of business accelerators such as Cintrifuse and the Brandery, Schneider said. But like most accelerators, their emphasis is on what Schneider calls “ultra high-growth companies” that might expand explosively in a short period of time and produce millions of dollars in revenue.

Schneider said SQUARE1 can provide help for companies like that. But he said he’s also searching for “evergreen” companies that might “create 20 or 30 or 40 jobs and stay in the area.”

Based on what’s happened at similar startup events in Ludlow and Madisonville earlier this year, Schneider said he believes Startup Price Hill will produce a small group – he calls it a “cohort” – that will return for sessions that will focus on nuts and bolts issues every business owner must address.

Those topics include creating a business model and plan, idea validation, customer identification, web design, funding and growth strategies, he said.

“We want some strong businesses that are going to be able to draw people here and support the neighborhood,” said Sam McKinley, director of community and business engagement for Price Hill Will.

Like its housing rehab efforts, most of which are concentrated in high-visibility locations in the neighborhood, Price Hill Will is hoping to find some businesses that would be willing to occupy buildings that “…make an impression and are on our front porch,” McKinley said.

Like Schneider, McKinley said there’s no way to determine what sessions – if any – would be held in the future because no one knows what priorities will surface at the Oct. 22 event.

“Holding sessions once a week would be ideal, but we have to find out who shows up, what they want and what their schedules are,” McKinley said.

Both Price Hill Will and Square1 are getting support from the Local Initiatives Support Coalition (LISC), which is said to be the largest community development organization in the country. It has a Cincinnati office that oversees programs in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

The Price Hill event is part of an LISC initiative that focuses on “commercial corridor revitalization” and tries to get entrepreneurs “connected to the local economy,” said Kathy Schwab, executive director of LISC’s local office.

Startup Price Hill is just one example of how her organization “helps connect residents in the community to opportunity,” said Schwab, who stressed that LISC focuses on helping people make connections that can improve their neighborhoods.

Schneider said some good ideas emerged at both the Ludlow and Madisonville startup events.

One of the people who attended the Ludlow session had an idea for an app that would provide better background checks on job applicants, Schneider said.

“Everyone has an idea for an app. I just talked to someone today who had an app to create a better relationship with your wife,” he said.

Startup Price Hill will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 22, at BLOC Coffee, 3101 Price Ave. For more information and to register visit StartAtSQUARE1.ORG.