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All eyes on the future of city's digital economy at TechniCLE Speaking summit

An upcoming tech summit hosted by Jones Day is the continuation of a critical discussion about Northeast Ohio's economic future, event creators say.
 
Returning for a second consecutive year, TechniCLE Speaking will put tech entrepreneurs, educators, government officials, private investors and nonprofit thought leaders all in one room to discuss the major issues facing a burgeoning industry.
 
"It's important to be supportive of this growing community," says Jennifer Stapleton, an associate with Jones Day, a Cleveland law firm that works with tech companies, entrepreneurs and venture-backed companies. "This (event) lets us network and understand where there are resource gaps."
 
The half-day program, scheduled for April 14, offers short talks, moderated panels and public debates on subjects such as bolstering local technology education and meeting the lifestyle demands of digitally-savvy young professionals. Featured speakers include Phenom CEO Brian Verne, whose recent op-ed piece in Venture Beat decried Cleveland's risk-averse venture capital market.
 
Though Verne moved his company to San Francisco, providing a forum for Cleveland-based start-ups is a step in empowering smart young entrepreneurs who can lift the region to global relevance, says Stapleton.
 
"There can be a lack of knowledge about what the city can do to help these companies," she says. "Nothing but good can come from putting thought leaders and county officials together to generate new ideas on how to make (entrepreneurs) more successful."
 
TechniCLE Speaking is sponsored by Cleveland City Council, with Councilman Joe Cimperman acting a member of the planning committee. Last spring's summit drew about 170 attendees, a figure program officials expect to exceed this year.
 
Panels will focus on nurturing Cleveland's start-up nucleus over the long-term. For example, a discussion on growing the local talent pool will speak to aligning curriculum standards with tech industry best practices. Meanwhile, a talk featuring Blue Bridge Networks managing director Kevin Goodman and other entrepreneurs will dissect Cleveland's vision of an innovative city full of cutting-edge talent.
 
The area's business environment is not known for flexibility or an appetite for risk, an approach that must evolve if Cleveland wants to compete worldwide, says Stapleton. For now, however, spending a day with a group of enterprising young go-getters shows the city has their back.
 
"That's the goal of this summit," Stapleton says. "To explore opportunities and continue to help ourselves." 

TechniCLE speaking is free, but registration is required. To register or for more information, please email Grace Brennan.
 

Delivery service sprouts up, offers nutritious eats for downtowners

Many time-crunched office dwellers are at a loss when it comes to choosing lunch, says Sarah Melton, founder of Young Sprouts, a new made-to-order meal service that delivers farm-fresh food to downtown workers.

Research shows that typical corporate meal breaks aren't beneficial to overall worker productivity, especially when good nutrition is not on the menu, Melton says.

“Many people want to eat healthy, but not a lot of them have the time to make the meals the way they should be made," she says. "That’s where we come in.”

Young Sprouts' bicycle-delivered meals are an organic answer to less-than-healthy lunches that can be obstacles to better business, says Melton, who launched her company last November.
 
Melton’s venture follows a trend in corporate meal delivery, where services like LunchOwl and SowFood have work-better agendas underlying their menus. A 2011 study in Population Health Management states that poor eating habits are responsible for more than 60 percent of low productivity. In 2013, Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) reported that a nutritious lunch could raise worker efficiency by as much as 25 percent.
 
Melton and her chef prepare “nutrient-dense,” box-ready meals. Try chicken sandwiches, nori rolls, chilis and soups, all freshly prepared at the Cleveland Culinary Launch and Kitchen. The menu ranges from $4 yogurt parfaits to $9 penne pasta dishes. A summer menu will focus more on cooler, salad-leaning items.

A counselor-turned-foodie, Melton initially conceived the idea of Young Sprouts while working with ex-cons, impoverished families and other at-risk individuals. She's since hired on some of the people she counseled as delivery riders.

Melton aimed to make Young Sprouts happen mostly to “prove that there could be a viable business like this," she says, "keeping food sourced mostly local, avoiding the big box stores - that it’s all possible.”

The “healthy” theme runs throughout the operation from the uniforms worn by delivery people to the compost-friendly boxes housing the meals. Melton aims to align Young Sprouts with strict environmental standards set by the nonprofit B Lab. In addition, the company donates a portion of sales to 1% for the Planet, which directs the funds to a sustainability-oriented nonprofit of Melton's choosing.
 
The food entrepreneur's overall goal is to get all of her goods sourced from Ohio farms within a 100-mile radius. Melton made a connection with Cleveland-based Green City Growers for that very purpose.
 
The all-green image is paying off, says Melton. Young Sprouts customers are smitten with the concept and its meals, especially the chili brisket.

“Instead of having some carb-laced lunch that gets catered to your meeting, they bring these really whole, actually good-for-you meals,” says Carl Baldesare, an avid Young Spouts user and head of Keep It Local, a community organization that promotes small businesses. “It’s amazing.” 

As marketing execs and financial reps continue to rave about the nascent company's meals and mission statement, Melton remains cognizant of the reason behind the good feedback.

“I don’t think it’s well-known how connected our physical health is to our mental health,” she says. “I want to use to this business to bring this to people’s attention. And, of course, to make healthy eating easy.”

Cleveland Neighborhood Progress announces finalists for Vibrant City Awards

Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP) has announced 21 finalists for its 2016 Vibrant City Awards. Winners will be revealed on May 2 at the second annual Vibrant City Awards Lunch, hosted by CNP and presented by Key Bank and Community Blight Solutions.
 
“We are proud to convene community partners and stakeholders to celebrate city neighborhoods. These leading efforts in neighborhood revitalization are what help us all create a vibrant city,” says Joel Ratner, president and CEO of CNP. “The organizations and individuals being honored have displayed tremendous passion, dedication and collaboration. We’re excited to recognize them for their successful efforts in community development.”
 
CNP received more than 70 nominations for this year's awards.
 
“The complete list of nominations tells an inspiring story of neighborhood transformation that is taking place in Cleveland," says Jeff Kipp, CNP's director of neighborhood marketing for the organization. "From community development corporations to corporate partners and everyone in between, there are amazing people performing incredible work in our neighborhoods.”
 
Additionally, CNP will present the Morton L. Mandel Leadership in Community Development Award and the first ever Vibrant City Impact Award at the May 2 luncheon. During the event, civic leaders, community development professionals, local developers, investors, realtors and passionate Clevelanders will gather to celebrate neighborhoods at the Cleveland Masonic Auditorium, 3615 Euclid Ave., an iconic structure located in Midtown on the RTA Healthline. A locally sourced meal catered by chef Chris Hodgson of Driftwood Catering will be served. This event is open to the public. More information and registration details are available online.
 
The 2016 Vibrant City Awards finalists include:
 
• CDC Community Collaboration Award
 
Ohio City Inc. – Station Hope
Held in May 2015, Station Hope, a collaboration of Ohio City, Inc., Cleveland Public Theatre, Saint John’s Episcopal Church and Councilman Joe Cimperman, was a free multi-arts event that celebrated the history of St. John’s Church, the triumphs of the Underground Railroad, and contemporary struggles for freedom and justice. Station Hope featured a diverse selection of theatre and performance ensembles, including more than 30 companies and 150 individual artists.


 
Slavic Village Development – Cleveland Orchestra at Home in Slavic Village
In spring 2015, The Cleveland Orchestra At Home in Slavic Village residency brought a world-class orchestra to the Broadway Slavic Village neighborhood. Partners included Slavic Village Development, the Cleveland Orchestra, Broadway School of Music and the Arts, the Broadway Boys and Girls Club, cultural organizations, and area churches and schools. In April, the orchestra performed a free public concert for an audience of 1,000 at Our Lady of Lourdes Church. The residency continued throughout the year with a host of events.
 
Stockyards, Clark Fulton, Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office – La Placita
In 2015, the Stockyard, Clark Fulton and Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office partnered with the Hispanic Business Center and local businesses and entrepreneurs to launch La Placita, an open air market near the intersection of Clark Avenue and West 25th Street that featured 24 local vendors and cultural offerings for five Saturday events that attracted thousands. The events also served as an effective venue to showcase “La Villa Hispana,” which is home to a growing ethnic population in the City of Cleveland.
 
• CDC Placemaking Award
 
MidTown Cleveland – East 55th Street railroad bridge mural
The railroad bridge above the intersection of Euclid Avenue and East 55th Street has been transformed into a symbol of the innovation and emerging economy embodied in the MidTown neighborhood and the Health-Tech Corridor. The mural, designed by Twist Creative, Inc., includes a graphic of DNA molecules, and logos of MidTown Cleveland, the City of Cleveland, BioEnterprise and the Cleveland Foundation.


 
Slavic Village Development – Cycle of Arches
The Cycle of Arches installation evokes allusions to nature such as trees or grasses bending in the wind, while nodding to the industrial heritage of the community by representing the neighborhood's "steel roots" with its steel tube construction. Part of the $8 million Broadway Streetscape and Road Improvement Project, the installation is located at the intersection of E.49th Street and Broadway Avenue. Jonathan Kurtz, AIA, designed Cycle of Arches. Partners included Slavic Village Development, Land Studio and the City of Cleveland.
 
University Circle Inc. – Wade Oval improvements
University Circle Inc. recently invested in several improvements to Wade Oval including a permanent musical park that offers four large-scale instruments, benches, Adirondack chairs and a chalkboard with the “This is CLE to Me…” tagline emblazoned across the top. Visitors are encouraged to creatively express themselves in this eclectic area.


 
• CDC Economic Opportunity Award
 
Famicos Foundation – Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program management
Famicos Foundation weaves together a diverse portfolio of economic opportunity programming to aid family financial stability in the Glenville neighborhood. In 2015, the organization helped complete 1,917 tax returns with a total refund of $2.3 million for residents. 549 of those returns were for EITC clients and those individuals received $869,000 in refunds. Also in 2015, while participating in a pilot program, Famicos referred 90 tax preparation clients interested in receiving one-on-one financial counseling to the Community Financial Centers.
 
Stockyards, Clark Fulton, Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office – La Placita
The Stockyard, Clark Fulton, Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office was instrumental in the planning and implementation of "La Placita," which served as a catalyst project encouraging collaboration between the local CDC and stakeholders in the community. This initiative served as a business incubator for new businesses with free business training and as an accelerator for established businesses. Situated in an economically challenged food dessert, "La Placita" also served as an access point for fresh, affordable produce and culturally relevant prepared foods and ingredients.
 
University Circle, Inc. – Business outreach and development efforts
In 2015, University Circle Inc's business outreach and development efforts included three key components: the Uptown Business Association (UBA), NextStep: Strategies for Business Growth and a financial literacy and QuickBooks bookkeeping program, all of which fostered networking amid business owners in the greater University Circle area. UCI consistently convenes the 17 NextStep alumni, a current class of nine business owners, 65 UBA members, and seven bookkeeping program participants at UBA meetings to network, enhance their skills and find new opportunities. 
 
• CDC Neighborhood Branding & Marketing Award
 
Northeast Shores Development Corp. – Welcome to Collinwood website
With the help of the CDC, the neighborhood has taken its brand as Cleveland's premiere artists’ neighborhood to a new level with the Welcome to Collinwood website. The homepage offers an artistic display of images and designs, and visitors are met with compelling copy that boasts the compelling opportunities available to artists in Collinwood. 
 
Slavic Village Development – Rooms to Let
St. Rooms To Let, a temporary art installation in vacant homes created by Slavic Village Development, was a successful marketing event that changed perceptions about the surrounding neighborhood. In May 2015, more than 1,000 visitors toured St. Rooms to Let, which included installations by 30 artists, live music performances and activities for children.


 
Clair Superior Development Corp. & Campus District, Inc. – Night Market Cleveland
St. Clair Superior Development Corp. and Campus District Inc. teamed up last summer to spark awareness, foster a creative economy, and bring attention to the hidden gems of AsiaTown and the Superior Arts District with Night Market Cleveland - a series of four summer events with local art vendors, Asian food and cultural entertainment. The inaugural season attracted a staggering 50,000 attendees and garnered coverage in 22 media publications.
 
• Corporate Partner Award
 
Community Blight Solutions
Community Blight Solutions focuses on understanding, solving, and eliminating blight. Prominent solutions currently include promotion of the organization's SecureView product and the Slavic Village Recovery Project, which aims to align demolition and rehabilitation to eradicate blight one block at a time and fosters corporate volunteerism amid the area's for-profit partners. The project is also focused on gaining access to a critical mass of real estate owned properties and those that are abandoned with the intention of either demolition or rehabilitation.
 
Dave’s Supermarkets
Dave’s Supermarkets' portfolio of stores sells products that match the profile of the communities they serve while their employees and customer base reflect Cleveland’s diverse population. Asian, Hispanic, African American and Caucasian residents all feel at home at Dave’s Supermarket. Dave’s has provided significant financial support in the form of food donations to community organizations, churches, and neighborhood groups. The local chain employs over 1,000 people in 14 stores, providing health care and retirement benefits to hard-working Cleveland residents.
 
PNC Bank
PNC was the lead sponsor of UCI’s summer concert series, Wade Oval Wednesdays – WOW! - a free weekly concert that draws up to 5,000 attendees. In addition, PNC supported UCI’s Clean and Safe Ambassador program expansion from seasonal to year-round with twice as many staff.  Additionally, PNC supported the creation and development of a children’s map and activity book to complement UCI’s newest education initiative, Circle Walk, a 40-point interpretive program set to launch in May 2016.
 
• Urban Developer Award:
 
Case Development – Mike DeCesare
Mike DeCesare of Case Development has been a pioneer in residential development in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood, which he also calls home. He successfully finished the Waverly Station community in 2015 and completed the Harborview development at Herman Avenue and West 54th Street.
 
Geis Companies – Fred Geis
Fred Geis instigated the MidTown Tech Park, which boasts nearly 250,000 square feet of office and laboratory space leased to health and technology firms, and is part of the growing Health-Tech corridor. One of Geis’s most transformational projects is The 9, into which Geis moved its headquarters from Streetsboro. This spring, Geis will break ground on an Ohio City project converting the industrial Storer Meat Co. facility into 67 market-rate apartments. Fred Geis was also recently appointed to the Cleveland Planning Commission and will donate his stipend to the Dream Neighborhood refugee housing initiative.
 
Vintage Development Group – Chip Marous
Vintage Development Group provides well-built multi-family residential properties in Detroit Shoreway and Ohio City, thereby helping to support the associated commercial districts with residential opportunities and financial support. Not to be content with the footprint of his Battery Park project, Marous has executed plans for expanding it. His passion for complete, walkable urban development is made possible through established relationships in Cleveland’s urban neighborhoods.
 
• Civic Champion Award:
 
Joseph Black – Central neighborhood
Joe Black is committed to Central neighborhood youth. He is currently the Neighborhood Engagement Manager for the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland. As the leader of the engagement team, he is responsible for fostering a seamless experience for youth and families to progress through their education from cradle to career. Black’s passion was sparked by personal experiences with the inequities linked to men of color, and has since matured into a responsibility to serve “at risk” communities. He is a tireless, dedicated community volunteer, mentoring youth at his day job as well as during his free time.
 
Charles Gliha – Slavic Village neighborhood
Lifelong Slavic Village resident Charles Gliha strives to improve the neighborhood with art, civic engagement and business development. As founder of Broadway Public Art, he has championed the Warszawa Music Festival, is the founder of Street Repair Music Festival, organizes the Polish Constitution Day Parade, and volunteers at Rooms to Let. Gliha is an active member of the Slavic Village Neighborhood Summit planning committee and hosts cash mobs and live music events in area retail establishments. He also created a printed business directory and garnered $25,000 in grants for the neighborhood.


 
Alison Lukacsy – Collinwood neighborhood
A Cleveland transplant turned North Collinwood artist, advocate and promoter, Alison Lukacsy sees opportunities where others see problems. She has secured over $20,000 in grants, resulting in projects such as Storefront Activation utilizing debris from Adopt-a-Beach cleanups, Phone Gallery - Cleveland's smallest curated art gallery, a Collinwood Vibrancy Project, Yarn n’ Yoga on Euclid Beach Pier, Euclid Beach Book Box, and Bus Stop Moves RTA shelter exercises.
 

Cleveland Education Compact aims to improve relations between charter and district schools

While organizations such as the Transformation Alliance are working to make sure Cleveland’s Plan for Transforming Schools ensures every child in Cleveland receives a quality education with access to a selection of schools, the Cleveland Education Compact is doing their part by helping the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) and the city’s 65 charter schools work together to bring excellence throughout.

The Compact is a collaboration between CMSD, the Cleveland Foundation and Breakthrough Schools, which is a network of public charter schools. The group came together last year after the associated schools received a $100,000 planning grant from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2014.
 
The Compact’s goal with the planning grant is to unite all those partners via a common goal that includes cooperation between the CMSD and Cleveland’s publicly funded charter schools and improve the educational options in Cleveland.
 
“Essentially, the district and Breakthrough Schools were doing some collaboration already,” explains Lindsey Blackburn, project manager for the Compact. “We applied for the $100,000 grant to get things going.” Blackburn adds that the term “compact” refers to both the group and the document they wrote.
 
Now the planning is underway and a group of 40 people from a dozen schools and organizations met in February for a brainstorming session and to form subcommittees. The executive committee meets monthly to discuss the subcommittee topics, which include record sharing; professional development; special education; facilities; funding; and policy/advocacy.
 
The Compact’s executive committee, which consists of five direct representatives and five charter representatives, meets once a month to ensure the planning phase is carried out before the grant runs out later this year.

“The last two areas have a lot of overlaps so it may make more sense to combine them,” says Blackburn. “Each subcommittee has co-chairs: one representative from the district and one representative from the charters.”
 
The group will meet again on April 5 for additional planning and outlining. “This is an exciting time because this is actual real work,” Blackburn says, adding that they will look for the areas that are easiest to tackle first, then address the more complex issues.
 
"We will look at the ones we can win first, like sharing professional development resources – if a speaker comes in, opening it up to all compact members,” she says. “There will be topics that will prove to be more complex and may not be solved in this round of collaboration.”
  
While the Cleveland Education Compact is not affiliated with the Cleveland Plan, the two groups still share common missions. “The Compact is similar [to the Cleveland Plan] in the sense that it is all about finding areas where district and charter schools can work together.,” says Piet van Lier, executive director of the Transformation Alliance, the organization charged with making sure the Cleveland Plan is executed. “But it wasn’t written into the Cleveland Plan.”
 
However, van Lier does see the two groups complementing each other. “Since the Cleveland Plan envisions a portfolio district with good schools, both district and charter, and allows the district to share levy money with partner charter schools, the two really are different sides of the same coin.”
 
Blackburn says future fundraising options will be considered to keep the Compact going once the planning grant expires. 

Transformation Alliance is a Fresh Water sponsor.

MidTown Cleveland names health-corridor head as new executive director

For almost two years, Jeff Epstein led efforts to attract health-tech and high-tech businesses to the Cleveland Health-Tech Corridor in Midtown. As the newly named executive director of the MidTown Cleveland nonprofit, Epstein expects a smooth transition in helping guide development of the entire two-mile stretch connecting downtown with University Circle

Epstein, named to the position by MidTown Cleveland's board on March 10, will coordinate marketing, business growth and real estate/amenity expansion for the area, including the tech-centric corridor which he previously spearheaded. In the Midtown position, he replaces Jim Haviland, who left the group last August and is now director of local government relations at The MetroHealth System.   

According to MidTown Cleveland, Epstein's work in the self-styled innovation hub resulted in more than 1,800 new jobs and 500,000 square feet of new or renovated office and lab space. Working in the 1,600-acre tech corridor, which contains four world-class healthcare institutions and more than 140 high-tech companies, was an experience Epstein says has prepared him for strategizing Midtown's continued makeover.

"I've built some tremendous relationships over the last 18 months," says Epstein. "There are a number of partners eager to work with us."

Though Epstein's duties with the corridor will continue, the nonprofit will hire on a project manger and additional staff to bolster its mission. For now, the new executive director is meeting local property owners on redevelopment and safety/security issues. Epstein is also looking ahead to various projects planned for 2016 and beyond, among them University Hospitals' proposed women's and children's primary-care clinic on Euclid Avenue.

MidTown Cleveland has several other projects in the pipeline, along with neighborhood-connecting events like "The Chomp," a seasonal weekly midday food truck rally on East 46th Street between Euclid Avenue and Prospect Avenue.

"As an organization we'll look at all the ways we can play an active and smart role in community development," Epstein  says.  

While Midtown is growing, there are pockets that need to be stronger, adds the nonprofit official. Gaps in retail amenities means driving five minutes to University Circle for a cup of coffee or after-work drink.

Meanwhile, areas surrounding Midtown should be included in the larger-scale revitalization effort, be it through job opportunities or projects that add value to underserved neighborhoods. Epstein points to partner group JumpStart's "core city" program, which provides investment and advice to minority and low-income businesses owners.

"There's such potential to transform this district," says Epstein. "I'm excited to be part of a team that's going to be working toward that." 

Forbes editor: Cleveland must foster rise of the "digital native"

Not long ago, young entrepreneurs were designing software or other technological advancements far away from the old-guard industries that didn't rely on high-tech innovation to succeed.

Now that technology has infiltrated most every business, these youthful "digital natives" have a professional advantage, and it's up to Cleveland and similarly sized cities to be part of this powerful sea change, says Randall Lane, editor of Forbes.

"It's not just a Silicon Valley, or Austin, or Boston phenomenon," Lane says of what he believes to be a historically unprecedented event. "It can be a Cleveland phenomenon, or Minneapolis, or any city that wants to grow and tap into this audience."

Tech-savvy millennials grew up never knowing a time without the Internet, meaning their brains are wired for the intricacies of digital entrepreneurship from the jump, Lane told Fresh Water during a March 15 interview, a day before he spoke on the topic at the Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center on the Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) campus.

"This is a generation that no longer thinks that working for a big company is the be-all and end-all," says Lane, creator of Forbes'  popular 30 Under 30 lists as well as author of You Only Need to Be Right Once, which chronicles the rise of the young tech billionaire. "They understand there's no lifetime job anymore. The safest career move is becoming an entrepreneur and building an opportunity for yourself." 

The fact that high-tech ideas can take root virtually anywhere is a potential boon for Northeast Ohio, Lane says. Cleveland already has a critical mass of talent from CWRU and other nearby universities; it's a matter of convincing a sizeable percentage of these go-getting agents of change to stick around.  

Ultimately, Cleveland faces the same talent recruitment challenges as Pittsburgh, Columbus and other mid-sized cities that host academic institutions, Lane says.

"Regional schools here are already a national draw," he says. "The easiest thing for these smart, ambitious people to do would be to stay."

A walkable urban city has long been in Cleveland's plans. Creating that exciting culture, along with an environment that nurtures entrepreneurship, can help attract and keep the bright millennial tech heads who are transforming the business world.

"You've got to have enough for young people to say, 'I can plant a flag and grow with this place,'" Lane says. 

Online bulk ticketing platform Groupmatics hits the big leagues

The way individuals purchase tickets for sporting events has changed dramatically thanks to the Internet. However, the computer age hasn't had the same impact on group sales, which still heavily rely on telephone, in-person or conventional mail communication.

Online-based group ticketing platform Groupmatics has effectively stepped into the bulk ticketing gap, notes company founder Matt Mastrangelo. Launched in 2012, Groupmatics has grown significantly through a focus on streamlined group event management for its now 50 partners, which include professional sports franchises as well as performing arts organizations like PlayhouseSquare and Cleveland Play House.  

Billed as a "tool that makes your job as a sales rep and a group coordinator easy," the company targets clients such as Josh Burdine, director of ticket sales for the Cincinnati Cyclones, and Joe Rugo, director of group sales for the Phoenix Suns. Groupmatics aims to help them sell more group tickets, make the process easier and provide them with valuable customer data.

The company's online platform lets buyers set up a custom page with event information, seating charts and ticket-purchasing options. Groupmatics also provides sales support along with data on who bought ducats, how many seats were sold, and how much money has been collected.

"We're giving group managers the tools to market an event, which drives up ticket sales and allows teams to identify buyers within the group," says Mastrangelo, 34.

Larger sales comprise 15 to 60 percent of an organization's bottom line, says the young entrepreneur. Groupmatics makes its money through a licensing fee while also getting a piece of the ticket sale. The company's unique system has caught on, resulting in a burgeoning client base Mastrangelo expects to include 90 organizations by year's end.

"There's never been a platform out there that focused strictly on group sales in regards to sports and entertainment," Mastrangelo says. "Our team comes from the sports/sales side, so we built our platform based on what we wished we had as sales reps."

Mastrangelo's 10 years selling seats for both the Browns and Indians showed him how much unnecessary work was put into a bigger outing. The cumbersome, mostly paper-based process of collecting money and distributing tickets also led potential future ticket purchasers to slip through the cracks.

"What really pushed me was seeing these teams sitting on a pile of leads, but unable to collect buyer data from members of a group," says Mastrangelo.

Information is gold for Groupmatics' clients, says the company head. Teams and organizations can cultivate data, ostensibly uncovering the precious leads that one day may be converted into future sales. For Mastrangelo, there's satisfaction in helping his clients sell smarter.

"They're looking for ways to make their lives easier," he says. "It's inspiring to be able to bring something new and fresh to an otherwise old-school industry."

Inaugural Cleveland Humanities Festival: Remembering War

The first Cleveland Humanities Festival (CHF) will unfold beginning March 30 with an array of events exploring the impact of war on society and culture. Amid the more than 20 performances, readings, screenings and tours, participants will consider, from a humanistic perspective, our capacity for brutality and the possibility of transcending it through the power of art.

Here is a sampling of the offerings, which will play out in venues big and small across Northeast Ohio through April.

Hiding in the Spotlight: The Power of Music and the Human Spirit, will feature Russian/Ukrainian Jewish music prodigy Zhanna Arshanskaya, who performed music for Nazis during World War II to avoid execution and became a prized pianist and music professor. She will join a discussion of a documentary about her life, followed by a recital on March 30 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Simon and Rose Mandel Theater, Cuyahoga Community College East Campus, 2900 Community College Ave.

Warrior Chorus, a major new national humanities program by New York’s Aquila Theatre Company, has trained 100 veterans in four regional centers to present scholar-led public programming based on classical literature. On Sunday, April 10 from 3 to 5 p.m. at MOCA Cleveland, 114000 Euclid Ave, the New York Warrior Chorus will perform, followed by a moderated discussion.

Men in War (1957), is a Korean War drama from acclaimed director Robert Ryan, who is best known for his psychological Westerns and films noir. It tells the story of an American platoon commander whose weary soldiers are cut off behind enemy lines. The film will screen on April 21 from 6:45 to 9 p.m. at Cleveland Cinematheque, 11610 Euclid Ave.

Other diverse events include a discussion on the art of armor at the Cleveland Museum of Art, a poetry reading at the Happy Dog at Euclid Tavern and a tour of notable veterans' resting places at Lake View Cemetery.

Most of the lectures, movies and shows are free and open to the public, although some require registration. Some include a fee, such as the Monuments Tour ($10), which includes area icons such as the Soldiers' and Sailors Monument and others that are not so well known (try: the Smoky War Dog Memorial in the Metroparks, which commemorates the “tiniest hero of WW II”). More information and a complete list of event is available here.

“The idea is simple: bring together the strength of our world-class humanities organizations around a topic that has affected all of our lives in profound ways, large and small,” said Peter Knox, director of the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities of Case Western Reserve University, which is coordinating the event, in a release. “We hope people think about this topic in new and challenging ways, with the humanities as our gateway.”
 

Experimental theater aims to purchase iconic century building

Experimental theater company convergence-continuum (con-con) has raised 10 percent of the funds needed to buy the Liminis building, 2438 Scranton Rd., its home since 2002.

Con-con's board launched a $200,000 capital campaign in January to purchase the property in the Scranton South Historic District in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood from Clyde Simon, the company's artistic director and a founding member. The building can be had for $130,000, the exact amount Simon needs to pay off mortgage and closing costs. The remaining $70,000 would be placed in reserve for future repair and operation costs.

Simon, 69, will not be making a profit from the sale, he notes. The theater official, along with co-founder Brian Breth, paid $160,000 for the space in 2000, spending another $100,000 for a new lighting system and other improvements. Board voice president Geoffrey Hoffman, a realtor with Howard Hanna, recently estimated the property's market value at $230,000 to $250,000.

"I'm taking a loss from my initial purchase price, plus all I've invested in upgrading the property in its conversion into a theater," says Simon.

Selling below market value is no problem for Simon, who single-handedly manages the 6,000-square-foot building while living in the theater’s backstage apartment. Not only have the duties of ownership become financially untenable, Simon says, using an extension ladder to clean the gutters isn't how he wants to spend his golden years.

"I want the company to stay right where it is," says Simon, who bought out his partner Breth's share of the 150-year-old structure in 2005. "I've been doing less of the artistic stuff to keep it going."

Simon is confidant con-con can raise the needed money before the end of 2016, when he would need to put the theater on the market. Con-con is already receiving cash donations, and will be approaching foundations for funding help in spring. In addition, $200,000 is a fairly modest amount when compared to a capital campaign arts' scene that can run into the tens of millions.

"Our board is working their connections," says Simon. "Their enthusiasm makes me optimistic."

Simon looks forward to being relived of his managerial responsibilities so he can focus his energies on directing, acting and set designing.

"I'm only directing one show this year; before that I was much more active," he says. "I want to be a bigger part of the exciting stuff rather than having to pay the mortgage and fix the roof." 

Teens turn to glitz and glam, away from cancer, during prom dress event

Selecting a prom dress is a rite of spring for millions of teenage girls. An event hosted last weekend by the local arm of a Florida-based nonprofit aimed to bring that same feeling of joy to Cleveland teens battling cancer.

About 100 young women took home 125 prom gowns during a "Dress Extravaganza" held at the Mandel Jewish Community Center. The two-day happening was organized by A Prom to Remember, a group dedicated to giving teen cancer patients a fun, anxiety-free night away from treatments and hospital beds.

Young women, accompanied by family and friends, chose their prom-going garb from more than 1,000 donated dresses, says Rosey Malkin, Cleveland co-chair of A Prom to Remember. Gowns were provided by individual donors along with area shops like Bella Bridesmaids in Rocky River. A seamstress was on hand to make any minor alterations the girls needed.

Along with dresses, participants selected a bevy of shoes, jewelry and wraps. To prepare the girls for their glamorous evening, Brown Aveda Institute was on site offering nail services and massages. The entire event was held at no cost, allowing attendees to concentrate on feeling beautiful without having to worry about the price tag, says Malkin.

"Our (organization) survives based on groups donating services," she says. "So many people had a part in this."

Thanks to the wide-ranging effort, the teens will wear their new dresses at a special prom on April 8 at The Ritz- Carlton in downtown Cleveland. Organizers expect 175 girls to arrive with dates, friends or family in tow. The teens are patients from three hospitals: Akron Children's Hospital The Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals.

Some of the girls are newly diagnosed, while others are officially cancer-free. Chemotherapy and surgeries have resulted in hair loss or other physical changes, all of which planners have accounted for by inviting patients' nurses and physicians to the night out.

"We have kids who feel crappy from undergoing treatment," Malkin says. "We're creating the safest environment possible for them."

Despite the precautions, picking a dress and going to prom offer the girls a sense of normalcy their daily lives may be lacking.

"It's a few where hours where they don't have to think about how sick they are," says Malkin. "They can just go and have a really good time." 

Nonprofit tackles LGBTQ teen bullying

"That's so gay" is a phrase common in most high-school settings, says Liz O’Donnell, co-founder of Dare2Care, a Cleveland nonprofit aiming to create a harassment-free environment for lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-questioning (LGBTQ) students.

The slur's casual nature, often used alongside words like "fag" or "dyke," typifies the many insidious ways LGTBQ students are bullied, says O'Donnell. According to the Human Rights Campaign, nine out of 10 students who identify as LGTBQ experience harassment and nearly two-thirds feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation.

Dare2Care is shedding light on what group officials believe is a hidden issue by training students as anti-bullying ambassadors. The goal is to inspire these young people to create communities free of harassment and intimidation.

"(LGBTQ) is often a taboo topic among school administrators," says O'Donnell, a mental health professional who launched the organization in 2011 with co-founder Don Wismer. "But students who attempt suicide are far more likely to identify as LGBTQ, or are perceived by their peers that way."

The nonprofit will endeavor to educate Greater Cleveland high school students on the importance of leadership and diversity through a free workshop on March 11 at St. Edward's High School. The workshop, held in partnership with the Global Youth Leadership Institute, will address color, culture and class, with participants encouraged to share their personal stories. About 90 students are expected to attend the program, along with 17 faculty members from representative private and public schools.

"We wanted to invite different schools that normally wouldn’t interact with one another,” says O'Donnell. "In that space, we'll already be creating a level of diversity that requires students to think differently."

Ideally, attendees will leave with an understanding of their personal identities, while recognizing their fellow students without the crutch of harmful stereotypes. The event, the second such program offered by Dare2Care, is reaching people at that critical stage of development where identity is being shaped, O'Donnell says. Those emerging from the workshop, meanwhile, will ostensibly have the tools to confront bullying in a non-punitive manner.

"Kids should be able to understand the impacts their words can have," says O'Donnell. "It's more than anti-bullying: We want to give students skills that allow them to make broader decisions in the larger world." 

Cleveland Tango School embraces the city with Argentinean flair

It may take two to tango, but it also takes two to run a promising dance company. For Micaela Barrett and Alberto Cordero, owners of the Cleveland Tango School, settling in Cleveland early last year warranted much more than picking a location to host dance lessons. It was about creating a community.
 
“There’s definitely an untapped market here,” Barrett says. “There’s definitely an amazing opportunity for tango – especially for a younger generation.”
 
The Barrett-Cordero duo officially set up shop last March in the Canopy Collective, where they began teaching authentic Argentine tango lessons. In February, they found a permanent home at Vision Yoga, 1861 West 25th Street in Ohio City – a location they feel comfortable in because of its close proximity to other arts communities like Gordon Square.
 
Coming from New York City, the couple says that after a year in Cleveland teaching and hosting tango get-togethers, known as milongas, they are confident their new digs are ripe for a developing tango scene.

Although the Cleveland Tango School has only been around for a year, Cordero and Barret are eager to contribute to an already-exuberant community of Cleveland tango enthusiasts that has existed for about 13 years. The dedicated Cleveland dancer can find a milonga happening nightly, from Lakewood to Brooklyn Heights, which makes Cleveland the city in Ohio for tango aficionados.
 
Viva Dance Studio on E. 38th Street hosts its Milonga Nueva twice a month, and Mahall’s Cleveland Tango Bowling Marathon in Lakewood sees on average, 130 people at the weekend-long dance-a-thons. To add to the mix, Cordero and Barrett encourage what’s natural for them as tango experts: to harness the dance’s communal bond via weekend getaways to Detroit milongas with students or just relaxing over drinks after a local session.
 
Cordero and Barrett, who’ve been together after serendipitously meeting in a master class three years ago, were set for a change from the New York scene after a trip to Argentina in early 2014. So the two decided to relocate to a city with “fertile ground” for their own company.
 
After some research, and noticing the rising popularity of established schools in Northeast Ohio, Cordero, a former Puerto Rican radio journalist who later taught dance at Hunter College in New York, and Barrett, a lifelong milonga-hopping New Yorker, had found their spot.
 
“We wanted to put Cleveland tango on the map,” Cordero says. “There are cities around the United States, New York or Chicago, let’s say, where it’s considered a pedigree to be a tango dancer from that city. Our goal is to make Cleveland one of those centers.”
 
Fit for beginners or experienced dancers, Cleveland Tango caters to the novice as well as the aficionado. With three to four classes taught weekly, from Tango 101 to Wednesday late-night practices, Cordero and Barrett lead about a dozen students through hour-long instruction on everything from musicality and turning patterns to mastering the close embraces Argentine tango is known for. “Intimate” is a suitable descriptor for Cleveland Tango. 

"If you're here," Barrett says, "then you're going to be dancing."

Learned from his studies of Buenos Aires tango masters such as the legendary Horacio “El Pebete” Godoy or Mariano “Chicho” Frumboly, Cordero peppers his lessons with anecdotes of tango’s lusty history. These cultural tips are “coming from people,” he says, “who very much lived and breathed the dance.”
 
He and Barrett are confident that novices, with even just Tango 101 under their shoes, will be set to hit the milongas in about a month. Why wait any longer?

“We like to say we teach a lot of ‘self-defense dancing’ for that reason,” Barrett jokes, “meaning that we want to make it easy for people to go out really quick and dance. That’s just the fun of it.”

As Cordero and Barrett adjust to their new space on W. 25th, the two say they look forward to weaving in with Ohio City’s evolving art scene. As their class sizes increase with the incoming demand (they’ve booked two world-renowned dancers from Buenos Aires for a special class because of it), the two are taken aback how much community they’ve created thus far.
 
“To see a man in a suit go out next to a young cat in a full beard with tattoos up and down his arms is incredible to me,” Cordero said. “That confluence of worlds is just amazing – that people are dancing together.”

Two artists pair up to make web-based millennial drama, comedy

Jasmine Golphin began writing screenplays when she was 13 years old, although she’s not so proud of her early work. “They’re teenage angst scripts that will never see the light of day,” the Cleveland Heights resident promises, “but it’s been a long-term passion for me, almost embarrassingly so.”

Now Golphin, 29, is a little more confident in her work. While working as program director for MyMedia, a program for teens interested in journalism and video production, she founded the production company Welcome to Midnight in 2010. The company has put out more than eight works since.
 
At the same time, Nordonia Hills area resident Erin Johnson, 26, was pursuing her own writing interests while working as a quality assurance and marketing associate at Ardleigh Minerals, an industrial recycling company in Beachwood.
 
Both women were working on their own projects when, in October 2014, a mutual filmmaker friend introduced them. The two hit it off and eventually they collaborated on the web series To New Beginnings, which follows six young adults’ lives and covers topics such as class, family issues and mental health. The six-episode series launched on Facebook in December.
 
“'To New Beginnings' is a product of its time,” says Golphin, the series’ writer and director. “The story is about real people, not idealized versions of ourselves.”  The entire show is based in Cleveland and features local musicians and artists.
 
“It very much takes place in Cleveland with plenty of Cleveland references,” Golphin says. “And it’s very much purposeful. It’s a running gag that everything takes place in Cleveland and centers around Batman.”
 
Johnson works on the marketing team. “It’s been great working with Welcome to Midnight,” she says. “There’s an emphasis on telling stories that aren’t normally told and in a novel way.”
 
Golphin and Johnson plan to make two more seasons of “To New Beginnings,” with shooting to begin in May and a release date for season two late this summer.
 
In the meantime, the pair is working together again on the comedic web series “The Adventures of Fab Jenkins,” premiering in March.
 
“'Fab Jenkins' is a Blaxploitation-inspired web comedy following the journey of Cleveland-based stylist, Fabio ‘Fab’ Jenkins,” explains Johnson. “Fab, with the help of his Fab Squad, must save the city from an onslaught of bad fashion caused by the expansion of fast fashion retailer, Eternally 16.”
 
But there is a local purpose as well. "The show also aims to showcase the independent fashion and beauty community in Greater Cleveland and beyond,” Johnson says.
 
“Fab Jenkins” was written by Johnson and her mother, Cynthia K. Johnson, after a random, casual conversation. “We were talking one day, and my mother was holding a blow dryer as if she were a secret agent,” she recalls. “It then led us into a back and forth conversation where we imagined a character who was a stylist with agent/superhero-like tendencies.”
 
After fully developing the script, getting advice from some local pros, “Fab Jenkins” began production via Welcome to Midnight, with Golphin directing. Johnson is co-creator and producer of the show that includes local award winning actors and plenty of Cleveland sightings throughout.

In search of Lake Erie: Tracing streams' paths and histories

When Jim Miller retired as a Cleveland Heights probation officer nine years ago, he developed a rather unusual hobby: he began tracing the brooks and streams flowing through Cleveland’s east side, seeking out where they exist and where they flow underground all the way to Lake Erie.
 
“I began just looking at local waterways, trying to detect them and their link to the lake,” Miller recalls, adding that some streambeds are exposed and others have been erased over the decades. "When you look at it, it’s often a strong economic reason.”

Miller explains the economic correlation: he often found waterways that were buried on smaller properties, while the streams ran open on larger plots of land. “On a 1912 plot map, on the bigger lot sizes the stream is in the open,” he says. “By Coventry School on Lancashire Road, it goes under. By the Rockefeller estate and Forest Hills Park, it’s open.”
 
Miller’s interest in the waterways was piqued 15 years ago after reading his friend and Green City Blue Lake director David Beach's account of a bike ride along the Dugway Brook watershed, which runs through the Heights, into East Cleveland, Cleveland and Bratenahl before emptying into Lake Erie.
 
“You have to get some pretty good rubber boots to do this," he says. "It’s often not so clear what land you’re on. It’s often city land or hasn’t been lived on for 100 years. You have to do a lot of research to find out, because it’s kind of no-man’s land.”
 
Miller explains that “Dugway Brook is one of the bluestone creeks that were of great economic benefit to the early European settlers in the 19th century,” he says of the long-gone quarries, "but which then were deemed of no value in the 20th century." Much of Dugway was buried in culverts.
 
Miller has also traveled portions of Green CreekDoan Brook and Nine Mile Creek, much of which is under Belvoir Boulevard, but there are sections still flowing in the open. “It’s in a steep ravine, so it couldn’t be built on,” says Miller. “If it had been a park, it would have been covered over.”
 
In fact, Miller cites a section of Dugway Brook between Lee Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard, near Cain Park, that was filled in during the 1980s to make way for a parking lot. Residents resisted the parking lot idea so the land remains vacant, although no water can be seen.
 
A reclamation success story, however, exists along a portion of Nine Mile Creek in South Euclid across from Notre Dame College. The city created a wetland area and planted native plants such as milkweed to attract birds and monarch butterflies. “It really looks nice and that branch of Nine Mike Creek has taken on life,” Miller says. “It isn’t the way it looked 100 years ago, but it’s nice.”
 
Further down, on Euclid Avenue, the creek now runs buried beside Luster Tannery, a circa 1848 building on the Cleveland-East Cleveland border. The tannery diverted essential water from the creek for its work in the 19th century. “When you get to Euclid Avenue, there is a building there that is probably the oldest industrial structure in the city,” explains Miller. It’s made of solid stone and the creek runs through the building.”
 
But Miller’s true love of the east side watersheds lies in Dugway Brook. He’s had marker signs erected, mostly along Lee Road in Cleveland Heights. “You probably didn’t even know this little stream had a name,” he says. “We can have wetlands there, so you can have water soaking in to prevent runoff and attract birds.”
 
Miller encourages people to keep an eye out for natural dips in the road – often indicating the presence of Dugway or other area watersheds.  
 
His treks have sometimes been perilous, but it’s worth the journey. “It’s very hard to walk and see these things,” he warns. “In many cases, it’s quite difficult. You go down and it’s a steep slope. You have to do it slowly.”
 
But Miller frequently co-leads tamer walks around these creeks and watersheds. In 2014 he helped lead a tour of Dugway Brook east branch from Cain Park down to Forest Hills Park.
 
Another walk, led by Roy Larick, along with Miller and Korbi Roberts, is tentatively scheduled for May. "Cleveland Heights Rocks & Waters 2016: Nine Mile Creek" is part of the annual Preservation Month, co-sponsored by the Cleveland Heights Historical Society, Cleveland Heights Landmark Commission, Noble Neighbors and Heights Library.
 
On sidewalks and forest paths, the hike follows Quilliams Creek on its course to join Nine Mile Creek. Participants will learn the local geology, ecology and history as well as discuss how best to conserve this unique bluestone landscape. 
 
Miller has documented his explorations through a photo journal on Facebook. He’s also logged his trips along Dugway on YouTube.

Cleveland healthcare companies attracted more than $200 million in new investment last year

Those with an eye on local healthcare-based technology maintain that Cleveland is emerging as a powerful base for medical know-how. For proof of this trend, observers point to the latest Midwest Healthcare Growth Capital Report.

Last year, Cleveland's healthcare industry attracted $201 million in new investments across 34 companies in the areas of medical devices, biopharmaceuticals and healthcare IT, according to the report released Feb. 17 by BioEnterprise. Cleveland ranked third in health-tech funding among major Midwest cities, trailing only Minneapolis ($418 million) and Chicago ($217 million).

"We have a wonderful foundation of biomedical-driven innovation," says BioEnterprise CEO Aram Nerpouni. "There's a critical mass developing."

2015 marked the fourth consecutive year that Cleveland garnered more than $200 million in biomedical investment activity, Nerpouni notes. In that time frame, Northeast Ohio healthcare firms have raised more than $1 billion.

The overall increase is in response to a burgeoning research base as well as funding from local and national investors and state sources like the Ohio Third Frontier program, Nerpouni says. Northeast Ohio's recent success helped place the Buckeye State second overall ($331 million) among Midwestern states that regionally attracted $1.5 billion in healthcare investment last year.

Not mentioned in the report was record Cleveland-area acquisition activity valued at more than $4 billion, says the BioEnterprise official. The two largest gains during 2015 were Steris's $1.9 billion purchase of British company Synergy Health and Rite Aid/Walgreens acquiring pharmaceutical firm EnvisionRX as part of a $2 billion deal. In addition, medical device company CardioInsight was bought by Medtronic, while health IT business Explorys was brought into IBM.

"Companies (like Steris) that grew up here are starting to make their own acquisitions in other places," says Nerpouni. "It's a sign of the overall robustness and maturity of the industry."

Though the numbers are impressive, work is required to bring additional investment to the area's early-stage biomedical companies, Nerpouni says. While local investors may wary about sinking money in younger firms, programs like Ohio Third Frontier are offering pre-seed funding to accelerate the growth of startup tech-based enterprises.

Nerpouni expects more dollars to flow in as the region's healthcare sector continues to establish itself. "All the ingredients are there," he says. 
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