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Made in Cleveland: boobs & belly

In 2008, Courtney Micatrotto was teaching Cleveland moms pre- and post-natal fitness when she noticed a problem - her pregnant participants were frustrated with the lack of truly comfortable maternity wear options. When the issue started to affect attendance, Micatrotto knew it was time to take action, and a new business was born.
 
Well, not right away: Seven years after generating the idea, Micatrotto is now launching boobs & belly, a Cleveland-based activewear company designed to keep its child-bearing clientele both active and comfortable throughout pregnancy. 
 
Boobs & belly offers a line of tank tops, pants and bandeaus that Micatrotto says blend high-end fashion and functionality. Made to fit moms through pregnancy and into motherhood, each locally manufactured piece boasts moisture wicking and shape retention capabilities.
 
For example, the "ultimate tank" has expandable side panels and adjustable straps, while a capri waist band sewn into the pant allows for higher-impact activities as well as support for a growing belly. With maternity activewear being such a niche market, creating a line that combines functionality, versatility and style gives the startup a unique flair, its founder says.
 
"I want moms to be motivated to work out and feel good about how they look," says Micatrotto, a licensed trainer and Pilates instructor. "Pregnant women do Crossfit and run marathons, so you can't limit what your line's going to be."
 
As a mother of three, Micatrotto bills boobs & belly as a venture made for moms, by a mom. Navigating the textile industry as a novice was no simple task, however. The Aurora resident's search for a manufacturing partner took her to New York, Florida and Michigan. She eventually found both a pattern maker and manufacturer in Cleveland, a pair of discoveries that fill her with hometown pride.
 
"To work with my pattern maker and manufacturer face to face has been incredible," says Micatrotto, who also received much-needed branding and business advice from her siblings, Candace Moore and Bobby Kingsbury. "Having labels that say 'manufactured in Cleveland' is a pretty cool thing."
 
Micatrotto's inventory of 35 tanks, 50 pants and 60 bandeaus is currently available on her website. The newbie entrepreneur has been hosting trunk shows on her Facebook page, and recently had a showing at the Womb Wellness Center in Solon. Plans for a winter pregnancy self-care event, meanwhile, include a showcase of boobs & belly clothing.
 
Initial product runs will be smaller, but Micatrotto expects those to pick up as word of the business spreads. Among her fans is Meghan King Edmonds, otherwise known as a "Real Housewife of The OC."
 
For now, Micatrotto is excited to sell Cleveland-made maternity clothes that "make women feel beautiful at every stage."
 
"Everyone who's put on the outfit has been extremely happy," Micatrotto says. "As long as I do my job spreading the word and getting moms interested, the company can do really well." 
 

Purveyor of hemp denim touts sustainability, eyes pop up locations

For some, the word "hemp" conjures up images of burning joints or bongs filled with white smoke.
 
Brian Kupiec is looking to change that perception with a new denim jeans brand that harnesses what he believes are the endless opportunities of hemp fiber. Called Magu Studios, Kupiec and his partners Val Garkov and Garrett Durica started the company in Cleveland two years ago.

After months of preparation, the trio is readying its first run of Japanese Raw Hemp Denim Jeans. The name delivers what it promises, interweaving industrial hemp with cotton for extra durability and bacteria resistance. Hemp carries environmentally-friendly properties as well, needing half as much land for growth as cotton. The leafy plant requires little to no pesticides and needs less water per growing season than "the fabric of our lives."
 
"We're highlighting sustainability and want to use our brand as inspiration for others to utilize hemp in their clothing," Kupiec says. "Industry trends are leaning toward more sustainable fabrics and ethical consumerism."
 
Magu Studios' hemp is cultivated in China, then shipped to Okyama, Japan, a city known in fashion circles as a source for high-quality denim. Kupiec, 22, a Kent State University double major in fashion and business marketing, says he and his partners saw a hemp-sized hole in the market and decided to fill it. His company name derives from the Goddess Magu, also known as the Hemp Maiden.
 
Kupiec and other supporters of the oft-misunderstood fiber point to the plant's myriad industrial applications, from medicine to building materials. Though hemp can't be used as a narcotic, the startup owner has fielded numerous queries about his company's relation to cannabis.
 
"People automatically ask us if our jeans are made of marijuana," says Kupiec. "Hemp gets grouped in with weed, but they should be viewed as two separate things."
 
Despite the stigma, Kupiec has gotten mostly positive responses to the business model, a trend he expects to continue in the next month when Magu Studios opens a pop-up shop in either Gordon Square or Ohio City.
 
Wherever it lands, the shop will carry the company's first 100 pairs of slim jeans in standard deep indigo. Different colors and fades will be available next year. By that time, Kupiec would like to be a budding voice for fashionable, sustainable garments.
 
"Creativity and innovation are what drives us as a business," he says. "We want others to have that same innovation and not be afraid to offer sustainability along with quality."  

CAC grant panel reviews region's newest art projects

Arts experts from around the country are converging on Cleveland this week to evaluate grant submissions from 193 nonprofit groups seeking dollars for their culture-related activities.
 
Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) is hosting its annual panel review meetings at Playhouse Square's Idea Center for the second straight day following the event's September 26 kickoff. CAC's Project Support grant program promotes cultural efforts of all sizes, with applications reviewed this week set to impact the community in 2017.
 
Panelists are weighing 77 grant submissions of up to $35,000 during CAC's first round of evaluations, with the drama unfolding in front of a live audience comprised of applicants, media and interested citizens. An online panel is assessing the remaining 116 applications for entries capping out at $5,000 each.
 
CAC executive director and Karen Gahl-Mills says the transparent process allows residents to see exactly how CAC grantmaking backs projects that benefit the region.
 
"Whenever you're dealing with public dollars, it's important the public has an ownership of the investment," says Gahl-Mills. "We take that very seriously."
 
Eligibility rides in part on how much a group is already spending on arts programming, as well as the amount of the grant they can match. Fresh, interesting projects that connect with the community can run the gamut from music therapy to science experiments carrying a creative twist. For example, last weekend's Ingenuity Fest is eligible for funding due to its experimental fusion of art and science.
 
"Show us your budget and how this is a good investment," Gahl-Mills says. "Prove to us that you can carry out your plans."
 
Final grants for 2017 will be announced at a public meeting of CAC's board of trustees on November 14 at the Mandel Jewish Community Center. Since 2006, the organization has invested more than $140 million in 300-plus groups, paid for by a penny-and-a-half county cigarette tax. So far this year, CAC has bolstered 152 organizations with $1,651,624 in project support, to go along with ongoing general operating support for area cultural institutions.
 
CAC will continue to get citizens involved in its decisions, thanks to an online survey that asks respondents about their favorite area arts experiences. While the questionnaire won't impact the 2017 panel review, it will help shape how CAC uses future funding.
 
"We work hard to answer how we can support the region's cultural life," says Gahl-Mills. "The survey draws a picture of what people are doing, and that can relate to grantmaking." 

Bakery with Latin flair set to open in Brooklyn Centre

"If you don't try anything, you never know what will happen."
 
Such is the mindset of Lyz Otero, owner of Half Moon Bakery, a soon-to-be-opened seller of traditional Latin pastries and empanadas. Otero took the leap with a little help from the Economic and Community Development Institute (ECDI), an organization that in August announced more than $530,000 in loans to 21 Cleveland-area businesses.
 
Nineteen of those loans were to new minority- or women-owned ventures, with Puerto Rico native Otero receiving $50,000 for equipment and improvements to her 1,200 square-foot space at 3800 Pearl Rd. Otero and husband Gerson Velasquez are using the funding to pay contractors and architects, as well as buy stove hoods and other gear. ECDI also provided the couple with financial management and computer classes.
 
Otero is aiming for an early November launch for a bakery offering a dozen types of empanadas. The new entrepreneur looks forward to stuffing the half-moon shaped pastry turnovers with endless combinations of meat, vegetables and fruit.
 
"It will almost be like a pizzeria, but with empanadas," says Otero. "Everything you put on a pizza can go on an empanada."
 
Vegan and gluten-free empanadas will be on the menu, joining Latin cuisine like rice and tamales. Fresh bread, cupcakes and other delectable confections round out the selection. Otero will create the bakery's pastry products, with her husband serving as chef. During the next month, she expects to hire on two cashiers and an additional cook.
 
While the smaller space will focus on take-out orders, patrons can eat inside on stools along the window. Outdoor seating, meanwhile, is a possibility for warm-weather months.
 
Opening the business has been both exciting and nerve-wracking. Though no stranger to the restaurant industry - past employers include Zack Bruell and Michael Symon - there's nothing for Otero like working for herself. Friend Wendy Thompson, owner of A Cookie and a Cupcake, encouraged her to start a bakery with a unique Latin flair.
 
"We're focusing on gourmet empanadas, which nobody else around here is doing," says Otero. "You never see a place like this where there's so many different kinds of empanadas."
 
Ultimately, Otero wants to leave a delicious, profitable legacy for her three children, ages 4, 6 and 7.
 
"I've always dreamed to do this," she says. "I had to step up and follow my dreams, because nobody was going to do it for me." 

ECDI Cleveland is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.

Help shape the future with CAC

This weekend, Northeast Ohioans will flock to IngenuityFest for their annual dose of funky fun. The effort is just one popular area project supported in part by Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC). In 2016 alone, the tax-payer funded organization bolstered 152 organizations with $1,651,624 in project support. That's in addition to an array of grant programs and ongoing general operating support for the area's cultural institutions and groups.

To help inform future decisions, CAC is reaching out to regular janes and joes to get their input via a brief online survey. The Help Shape Our Future survey takes just a few minutes and asks about what sorts of things you enjoy and find enriching. The move will help decide how funding will be allocated over the next ten years. The survey closes on Oct. 1.

Other efforts supported in part by CAC include the Historic Gateway Neighborhood Corporation's 2016 Take a Hike Tours, May Dugan Center's Music Therapy for Senior Citizens and the Slavic Village Development's 2016 Rooms To Let exhibition.

Take the online survey before Oct.1.


 

JumpStart marketing director champions the 'She' of 'CLE'

JumpStart Inc. partner and marketing director Amy Martin is at the forefront of a venture development organization that in the past decade has injected $35 million into more than 80 tech companies. JumpStart revamped its website last December as part of a new mission statement ensuring entrepreneurs of all racial and social backgrounds have access to capital.
 
This work, along with Martin's "side hustle" as co-founder of lifestyle blog She In The CLE, has kept the Westlake resident busy during what she views as an upturn for Northeast Ohio's economic development future. Martin recently shared her Cleveland-centric excitement with Fresh Water.
 
In what ways has JumpStart expanded its reach into the entrepreneurial community?
 
Investing in high-tech companies with the potential to transform communities and create jobs has always been at the core of what we do. However, over the last two years we've taken a strong leadership role on diversity. Earlier this year, we launched the $10 million Focus Fund, a pre-seeded fund that invests in minority and female tech entrepreneurs.
 
JumpStart has always invested in diversity - about 30 percent of our portfolio is made up of minority- or women-owned companies - but we thought we could do better.
 
What is JumpStart's new marketing strategy all about?
 
We have so much knowledge within Northeast Ohio's entrepreneurial economy, and venture capitalists used to investing on the coasts are seeing Cleveland as a hub for innovation. So we're taking a proactive approach around content marketing, pushing four to five pieces of new content every week.
 
Producing content raises our visibility, with an end goal of getting the national media's attention. We've been in USA Today, Forbes, Fast Company and were mentioned on CNBC. What we're doing is storytelling that's newsworthy, like investing in a Cincinnati company called Lisnr that has funding from Intel Capital.
 
Is JumpStart going to be involved with more out-of-region investments?
 
Traditionally, JumpStart has only invested in Northeast Ohio. We launched The NEXT Fund (a $20 million for-profit venture fund directed at early-stage technology startups throughout the state) and the Focus Fund to invest in high-tech entrepreneurs across the state. We also want to strengthen relationships with groups like CincyTech and Rev1 Ventures, which have very similar missions to ours.
 
We started working with them saying we needed to help each other. Additional capital beyond an initial investment is so positive for a company. If we have strong relationships with organizations in Columbus and Cincinnati, that's going to help startups garner additional investments. What's good for the state is good for all of us. We're not going to be the next Silicon Valley, but we can continue to strengthen the region as place for investors to take note of.
 
Your "She In the Cle" blog recently celebrated its first anniversary. What has creating a resource by and for women meant to you?
 
This started as something of a passion project. My co-founders (Shibani Faehnle and Christina Klenotic) saw that women didn't have the platform they needed to tell their stories and be leaders who can inspire other women. We had to remind people of what immense women leadership we had here. When we started the blog a year ago, we saw how much women had to say. We recently had (Armond Budish's chief of staff) Sharon Sobol Jordan write a post about her daughter that got 60,000 views.
 
I've written posts about being a stepmom, and the emails and calls I've received in response showed me the power of this platform. Looking back on the year, "She In The Cle" is at the top of my list of things I'm most proud of. My career and family are important, but this has been such an emotionally rewarding project.
 
Has the blog's success been a surprise?
 
It's definitely gotten more of a groundswell than we thought it would. I got an email from someone in San Francisco who wanted to move back to the Midwest, and asked if moving to Northeast Ohio would be a step back for her. I told her to come here, because Cleveland is a place for strong women. 

CPL celebrates unique kid-friendly biographies with award and events

Cleveland Public Library (CPL) bills itself as a place for Clevelanders of all ages to dream, create and grow. To that end, a unique award championing youth-friendly biographies is encouraging children to discover more about the wonderful world around them.
 
The Norman A. Sugarman Children’s Biography Award, a biennial prize created by CPL in 1998, goes to writers and/or illustrators of biographical works for kids grades K-8. It also stands as the nation's only award of its kind, selecting U.S.-published winners based on original research and documentation, says Annisha Jeffries, youth services manager at CPL.
 
A Sept. 21-22 event at the main library recognizes this year winner, Anita Silvey, for her book, Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall, a colorful exploration of the famous scientist's early years leading to her tireless work with chimpanzees.
 
On Sept. 22, Cleveland Museum of Natural History curator Yohannes Haile-Selassie leads a workshop featuring interactive primate education followed by a reading from Silvey. Meanwhile, 2016 honorees Duncan Tonatiuh (Funny Bones) and Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming) will be on hand for additional workshops and discussions. All three authors will relay their process in choosing to pen a biography during a Sept. 22 panel moderated by children's writer Tricia Springstubb.
 
Highlighting actual people or events through biographies allows Cleveland youth to learn subjects they may only be privy to in classrooms, Jeffries says.
 
"Normally, non-fiction books are set aside for school research," she says. "The great thing about a biography is that the person is real and someone kids can look up to. It's a chance to learn about someone on a level students may not have before."
 
The Sugarman Award was established by CPL supporter Joan Sugarman in memory of her husband, Norman, a Cleveland tax attorney. Presented in alternate years in celebration of National Library Week, the award's past winners including Buzz Aldrin and Wynton Marsalis. A nine-member, library-appointed committee led by Jeffries evaluated 50 to 80 nominees for 2016.
 
The hard work is worth it when placing biographies at the forefront of children's literature alongside well-thumbed novels about boy wizards and teenager-hating dystopias.
 
"The award supports literacy and kids in a really unique way," says Jeffries. "We're honored to do this every two years." 

Cleveland medical entrepreneur climbs to save lives

Sanfilippo syndrome is a genetic disorder that effects young children, resulting in mental disabilities, blindness, nerve damage and seizures. Those afflicted may live into their teens, while others with severe forms of the disease die at an earlier age. There is no specific treatment for Sanfilippo syndrome, but a Cleveland-area startup owner literally climbed a mountain to help find one.
 
Tim Miller, CEO of Abeona Therapeutics,  joined a team of climbers representing the Team Sanfilippo Foundation to scale Mount Rainier in Washington. The 14,411-foot ascension represented the latest in a series of fundraisers designed to fight the deadly disease through research. Thus far, the effort has raised nearly $22,000.
 
Abeona, a company developing gene- and plasma-based therapies for rare genetic disorders, recently entered its first trial on replacing a Sanfilippo sufferer's malfunctioning DNA with a correct copy. The therapy produces an enzyme needed to dispose of sugar molecules that are otherwise stored in cells. This storage causes progressive damage in the patient.  
 
"We're the only ones in the world using this particular approach," says Miller. "Our next step is to enroll more patients."
 
Miller battled freezing temperatures, high altitudes and steep rock faces during the 36-hour climb to Rainier's crest. The early-September jaunt burned 16,000 calories and left him physically and emotionally exhausted. Disappointment Cleaver, a 70- to 80-degree rock incline located at 12,500 feet, was perhaps Miller's most harrowing challenge.
 
"You're scaling 1,000 feet of rock in the middle of the night with a short rope," he says. "You just have to keep moving."
 
Miller and his teammates - among them a father of two boys diagnosed with lethal Sanfilippo syndrome type A  - reached the summit at sunrise, a sight that washed away all previous trials.
 
"There was this great sense of joy when we reached the top," says Miller. "We got to see the entire world unmapped before us."
 
Tackling Mount Rainier was difficult, but nothing compared to what those dealing with Sanfilippo syndrome must endure, adds the medical entrepreneur.
 
"I had to live through mental, physical and emotional hardships (on Mount Rainier)," Miller says. "But parents whose children have (Sanfilippo syndrome) must live with the disease for years. That's courage." 

RNC communications upgrades power up Cleveland permanently

The 2016 Republican National Convention was a massive event for Cleveland from both a national attention and media relations standpoint. RNC excitement also resulted in huge output for mobile device use, a test that provider AT&T met through a series of system upgrades made prior to convention week.
 
Work began in 2015, with AT&T circling Cleveland in 70,000 feet of new fiber cable to strengthen the city's data network. These improvements coincided with 165 cell site upgrades providing faster download and upload speeds.
 
Convention hub Quicken Loans Arena saw installation of an antenna system allowing for better call coverage and capacity along with improved texting and video streaming, a necessity considering the 2.8 terabytes of traffic  - equal to about 8 million selfies - that flowed through The Q over four busy days.
 
Additional antenna nodes were placed between the arena and Progressive Field, as well as outdoors on Public Square and East Fourth Street and inside JACK Cleveland Casino and the Cleveland Convention Center. Hotels including Marriot at Key Center and The Ritz-Carlton underwent their own antenna enhancements. AT&T Ohio president Adam Grzybicki says these installations will permanently boost city-wide broadband activity and download speeds.
 
"Streaming from fans even at a game is exponential," says Grzybicki. "So we needed to do something permanent for the RNC."
 
During the convention, AT&T deployed temporary Cell on Wheels cell tower trucks to upgrade coverage and capacity at key downtown locations. Teams of engineers tracked data usage in real-time, coordinating with the company's New Jersey-based global communications center. Across all major venues supporting the RNC - from The Q to nearby hotels - visitors and delegates gobbled up 9.4 terabytes of data, or 26.8 million selfies.
 
"It was an exhausting undertaking, but also a great challenge," says Grzybicki. "You don't get an experience like this in your home state very often."
 
A major political convention stretches a city's telecommunications capabilities unlike any event, adds the AT&T official. While the Super Bowl is an enormous one-time affair, Cleveland's RNC outstripped the average NFL title game data usage tenfold.
 
The convention may be long over, but Grzybicki says Cleveland will benefit from AT&T's infrastructure build-outs for years to come.
 
"Economically, it's an opportunity for the city to pull people back into the downtown core," he says. "You need a technological core to create an atmosphere where you're attracting and retaining businesses." 

Inca Tea is 'Hot' in Cleveland for second consecutive year

For the second year straight, the people of Cleveland have spoken about their favorite local tea establishment. 
 
Inca Tea, located in Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, was named the area's "Best Tea House" on the 2016 Cleveland Hot List. This marks the second consecutive year owner Ryan Florio's café  has been selected as a favorite spot to savor a cup of tea or coffee.
 
"It means first and foremost that customers really enjoy what we're doing," says Florio, a Parma-based entrepreneur who founded Inca Tea in 2014. "We're always trying to produce something that will impact people positively."
 
The Cleveland Hot List, which features more than 6,400 businesses competing for the region's love, garnered 59,000 overall votes this year. Inca Tea's standing is emblematic of a fast-growing venture carrying what its owner says is a unique product.
 
The startup's all-natural concoctions are made from anti-oxidant and nutrient-rich purple corn, a recipe Florio discovered on a hiking trip in Peru. Florio's teas are GMO-free, with bio-degradable packaging.
 
Inca Tea also has an all-Cleveland inclination that flows well with its all-natural focus, selling products from area companies like Mitchell's Ice CreamChagrin Falls PopcornBreadsmith and Anna in the Raw. Florio, who is looking to open a production facility in Cleveland, says being a city proponent means keeping the nuts and bolts of his business local.
 
"I believe in the town's revitalization, and like the direction it's going in," he says. "I want to grow my business here and provide jobs. It's a changing landscape that I want to be a part of."
 
Inca Tea distributes its products at 500 stores nationwide, while enjoying a 67 percent revenue increase since 2015. Florio is planning a 350-square-foot full-service storefront at Hopkins's Concourse C, which would offer breakfast and lunch items sourced from local restaurants. Additional plans include franchising the café model and distributing his teas in 5,000 groceries.
 
For now, the busy CEO - or should we say TeaEO? - is happy to be recognized as one of Cleveland's top-tier beverage purveyors.
 
"We'll continue to keep a positive vibe in our products and services," says Florio. "People in Cleveland like to see other Clevelanders succeed. That gives us a buzz and the drive to go forward." 

A Global Kitchen opens in the Museum of Natural History

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History (CMNH) may be most popular among families and field-trippers, but foodies take note: You won’t want to miss Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture, a traveling presentation of the American Museum of Natural History, New York, on display in the venerable University Circle institution through January 8, 2017.
 
Dr. Nikki Burt, curator of human health and evolutionary medicine at CMNH promises the exhibit will change the way you relate to food – a tall order, but one visitors will eagerly affirm.
 
Tracing back the history of food to the beginning of civilization, the presentation reveals how human habits and technology have influenced the yield, shape, size, and taste of everything we eat, along with the inevitable “trade offs” that create negative impacts on crops, farm animals and fish.
 
Through interactive displays that follow the roots of cultivation, culture, science and trade, it’s apparent that our everyday culinary choices are more complex and meaningful than mere cravings. Rather, opportunities often afforded by those less fortunate and actions with far-reaching consequences, impact people continents away and for generations to come.
 
As a former expat and lightweight locavore who frequents farmer’s markets, I considered myself fairly worldly and connected to my food sources before embarking on the tour. Nearing the end, while sandwiched between two towering walls - one displaying a collection of the world’s most influential cookbooks and the other festooned with utensils used around the globe - I felt both puny and powerful, humbly educated and hungry to learn even more.
 
The grand finale of the exhibit can be found as you round the final corridor and step inside a life-like gallery of famous people’s food. The simple concept proved fascinating, allowing visitors to imagine bellying up to Michael Phelp’s breakfast table and see how Jane Austen ate on her estate while penning her bestselling books.
 
Although there’s a tiny area for toddlers at the end of the line, older kids and adults will get the most enjoyment from this exhibit, which is best savored as you would a smorgasbord – slowly and with gusto. Be prepared to be grabbed by all of your senses at every turn.
 
Speaking of eating…Our Global Kitchen will undoubtedly kindle cravings and conversation, so come prepared with a plan for your post-museum meal. Zack Bruell’s cafeteria-style eatery Exploration is located onsite but closes before 4 p.m. If that's too early, other opportunities to enjoy international fare at independent restaurants abound. France is as far-flung as EDWINS on Shaker Square, Brazil is as close as Batuqui in Larchmere, and a little taste of Italy is literally around the corner.

Want to extend the day or make a date of it? Download the Cleveland Historical and Circle Walk apps to guide you on an afternoon stroll through University Circle and the Cleveland Cultural Gardens in Rockefeller Park.

No matter how you chose to sup before your visit, Our Global Kitchen may not change the way you twirl your pasta or dress a salad, but you’ll never look at food the same way again.

The voters have spoken: in Duck they trust

In a contentious election cycle, one Northeast Ohio company is doing its best to make the vote just "ducky."
 
Duck Brand, manufacturer of the ubiquitous Duck Tape brand duct tape, spent Republican National Convention week polling voters for a special patriotic print of the versatile adhesive. In mid-August, the Avon company announced the winning design - an image of its sash-wearing mascot Trust E. Duck on the moon.
 
The moonstruck image of the flag-bearing water fowl took over 60 percent of 2,500 total votes, handily beating a stars-and-stripes-themed print. Duck Brand's REAL Vote Campaign also connected participants to a business that has been producing its popular Duck Brand Duct Tape product in the Cleveland area since 1984. Fans of the colorful sticky stuff have used it to make everything from evening gowns to science fiction sculptures.
 
"Our company has really grown up here, so we wanted to support the activity (during the RNC) along with people visiting the city for the first time," says  Melanie Canning, director of marketing for Duck Brand parent company ShurTech Brands.
 
The event initially launched in June during the company's annual Duck Tape Festival in Avon. Over RNC week, employees with iPads took votes at four locations - West 6th Street and St. Clair Avenue, Flats East Bank, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and Crocker Park. Each voting area was decorated with larger-than-life symbols of Americana, including a giant bald eagle and a "Mount Duckmore" sculpture carved with Trust E. Duck's face. Ballots were also cast online.
 
"The displays helped us stand out and capture peoples' attention," Canning says. "Voters got an 'I Voted' sticker and a mini-roll of tape."
 
While Duck Brand offers 250 versions of its product, only two bear the likeness of Trust E.
 
"We noticed over the years how consumers liked to give us feedback on the newest prints, so we came up with a couple of designs we thought were fun and different," says Canning. "What better way to make the selection than to have a real voting campaign?"
 
The winning print will be available online and on-site at various company-sponsored events in 2017. For now, company officials are pleased to have brought their product, along with a few smiles, to the presidential debate.
 
"When things felt like they were getting heated elsewhere, it was nice for people to check out something with a fun spin to it," says Canning. 

Area students connect with seniors via Aeronauts project

The U.S. has 78 million baby boomers either entering or approaching retirement, a trend presenting an enormous challenge for the nation's healthcare system. Area young people are learning about this demographic shift through a program that, if successful, will teach them to develop high-tech tools enabling seniors to age in place.
 
Students from Shaker Heights High School, North Olmsted High School, Cuyahoga Community College and the University of California, Irvine, are part of the Aeronauts 2000 Intergenerational Project, which engages science-based learning to understand the aging process and identify technological solutions that foster independent living.
 
Led by the Center for Intellectual Property, Technology and Telecommunications, Inc. (CIPTT), the program draws a correlation between aging and the physiological effects of outer space travel. Student-led field work resulted in a board game where players young and old acquire the resources needed to survive on Mars through questions on aging and the effects of space exploration.
 
This summer, young contributors also began drafting a multi-purpose vehicle, deep space habitat and diagnostic tools for a video game on long-term spaceflight's relation to the aging process. Student-produced 3D design images will be presented this fall at senior community events as well as a Tri-C conference, notes program director Andrea Johnson.

Johnson, director at CIPTT, says research has made her students sensitive to challenges faced by older generations. As space flight can accelerate health and cognitive issues for astronauts, seniors as they age experience sensory impairment, diminished mental performance and brittle bones. Project participants witnessed these impacts first-hand via bonding exercises with seniors at Eliza Bryant Village, Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) and the Tri-C-sponsored Encore Program.
 
"Many seniors feel invisible, disrespected or like they don't have a role in society," says Johnson. "We asked ourselves how kids would respond to a group they would usually dismiss."
 
Ultimately, the project is preparing "Aernoauts" for technology and healthcare employment, Johnson says. With increased nationwide interest in gerontechnology -  the interdisciplinary academic and professional field combing gerontology and technology - students are ready to create innovations that increase quality of life for an aging demographic. Program members are currently designing a cane with a built-in heart rate monitor, representing only one way tomorrow's technology leaders can improve the lives of older adults today.
 
"Students have creativity that can be harnessed to come up with solutions," says Johnson. "It's a matter of engaging them to get them to focus on an aging population. That kind of innovation is going to position them for future jobs."  

$100,000 up for grabs in MAGNET's online pitch contest

If you're a product-focused startup or small manufacturer, MAGNET (Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network) has launched an online business pitch competition designed to amp up your brainstorm.
 
Called [M]SPIRE, the contest is for any local entrepreneur, maker or tinkerer with a unique product and working business plan. Matthew Fieldman, vice president for external affairs at MAGNET, says entrants can be newbie entrepreneurs or mid-size manufacturers ready to pitch job-generating ideas.
 
Submissions for [M]SPIRE are open and will be accepted through September 30. Participants are asked to fill out an online form asking questions about their target audience and what niche their invention fills.
 
"This is a non-traditional way of doing a pitch competition," says Fieldman. "Usually people pitch in a room and decisions are made on the spot, often based on charisma. Our contest is more democratic and accessible. It's based on merit, not the quality of the presentation."
 
Five to 10 winners will receive a portion of $100,000 in prize money to buoy their ventures. Fieldman expects more than 100 entrants. Among the ideas already submitted are a new process for creating rubber tires and a hair dryer developed specifically for African-American hair.
 
Those not selected get individualized feedback on whether their innovation is viable, based on information from a MAGNET research team.
 
"We'll do a report on every idea that comes in," Fieldman says. "Many of them will be about intellectual property, so entrants are going to know if they have a market for their product. Everyone's going to get what we're calling 'concierge service.'"
 
Beyond providing info, MAGNET will also point contestants to the area's plethora of economic organizations and incubators. For example, the state's Small Business Development network has eight regional centers, a potential business-building resource unknown to some would-be entrepreneurs.
 
"We're going to connect people to an economic development ecosystem that supports small businesses," says Fieldman. "A helping hand can make a tangible difference."
 
Ultimately, the pitch competition is about jobs, adds the MAGNET VP. Fieldman dreams ahead to someone conjuring up the next Cleveland Whiskey, which began as an idea on a scrap of paper and evolved into a thriving enterprise with eight employees.
 
"We know who's in the (economic development) network, and we know their specialties," says Fieldman. "We'll guide entrepreneurs to the right place."  
  

MOOS teens to shake up IngenuityFest

Ten-foot-tall swings, climbing walls and a sculpture bristling with lights. This is not a description for some fantastical playground, but a project a group of Cleveland-area youth are bringing to this year's IngenuityFest.
 
Eleven students from Shaker Heights' Moreland district, all members of the Making Our Own Space (MOOS) placemaking initiative, are currently conceptualizing plans for the popular arts and technology festival, which is now in its 12th year. MOOS co-founder David Jurca expects his young participants' creative skills to successfully transfer from neighborhood public spaces to the festival's larger stage.
 
"The project's driving goal is to build confidence in this generation regarding their ability to transform their environment," says Jurca of an effort led by Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (CUDC). "At Ingenuity, students are going to step up as workshop leaders because they're more knowledgeable about using tools to build and give direction to others."
 
MOOS's workshops create physical and social infrastructure in collaboration with the surrounding community. Parks and vacant spaces in Moreland as well as Britt Oval in Cleveland's Buckeye neighborhood have been host to swings, snow forts, benches, observation towers and other high-visibility projects. Hildana Park in Shaker Heights has a student-built performance stage along with "trash hoops," where garbage cans are fitted with mini-basketball rims in the name of fun litter control.
 
Seventh through 11th graders involved with Ingenuity are designing mobile playscape elements like a light sculpture and a combined giant swing/climbing wall, which will be built at The Dealership business accelerator space, then transported to the event site. The creative method includes brainstorming a concept like swinging, then building out from that idea.
 
"The climbing wall suggestion came from a community member," Jurca says. "We went to the library to get images, and looked at playscape equipment from all over the world."
 
The 2016 IngenuityFest takes place in the former Osborne Industrial Complex, 5401 Hamilton Ave., Sept. 23-25. MOOS's efforts during the weekend will include on-site build opportunities for attendees.
 
"Students are going to take on the role of design leaders," says Jurca. "People coming for the event will be learning from our students."
 
Helping guide the process will be Alex Gilliam, Philadelphia-based founder of Public Workshop, a national program for placemaking projects aimed at youth. Gilliam will be in town the week ahead of Ingenuity to gently push ideas to fruition while identifying group members eager to grab leadership roles.
 
"These are people who want to do more and do better - and want to be connected with others with similar aspirations," says Gilliam.
 
Ingenuity itself can be a beacon for empowerment due to the crowds it attracts, adds the project supporter.
 
"Give a 15-year-old girl a circular saw and the chance to build something wonderful that meets a community need, and do it in a public way," Gilliam poses. "The effect can be dramatic. Young people will realize their self-efficacy in a manner that would typically take years in a school setting."
 
Ingenuity's highly visible backdrop is also valuable for a society that doesn't always recognize the contributions of teenagers and their place in the community at large.
 
"There's an important opening here for Cleveland," says Gilliam. "Having this (initiative) go on outside of a community building aspect is creating more space for this work in schools and other places." 
 
MOOS co-founder Jurca adds that the Ingenuity experience will not only prepare African-American and Latino youth for a range of hands-on design careers, it will also teach them how to define improvements in ongoing projects, where "failure" is deemed a lesson rather than a stopping point.
 
"It's about celebrating success and jumping into things we can do to make a project better," says Jurca. "That kind of confidence can be carried into the classroom." 

The City of Shaker Heights is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.
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