It's Young Professionals Week here in Cleveland, and what better time than to highlight rising stars who are helping to put Cleveland on the map? Introducing FreshWater's first-ever #Fresh10, a group of talented professionals under 34 years old all making their mark on The Land—and beyond.
Marisa Sergi, CEO and Founder of RedHead Brands
When Marisa Sergi was studying winemaking at Cornell University, she decided to take the road less traveled—forgoing common pursuits like vineyard and fermentation research to instead develop her own bottle of wine with an original label and blend. Sergi spent the next two years refining the concept and entering business plan competitions, and RedHead Wine was born.
A third-generation winemaker, Sergi says that the RedHead brand stems from her “’take on the world’ attritude and passion for wine,” and it certainly seems to have resonated—having attracted media attention from Teen Vogue and an ongoing partnership with Walmart.
Looking forward, 24-year-old Sergi plans to expand the company’s reach with more “sweet and spicy” product lines (including chocolate and coffee) by end of 2019, but despite rapid growth, she still has a deep appreciation for where it all began.
“RedHead Wine has deep roots in Northeast Ohio—my grandparents immigrated here from Italy with just a suitcase and a dream for a better life,” she shares. “It’s exciting to be able to continue fueling the opportunities Cleveland has to offer through entrepreneurship.”
Gordon Daily, CEO and Co-Founder of BoxCast
BoxCast founder Gordon Daily is looking to simplify our lives by making live video sharing easy. In 2009, a funeral director asked Daily’s business partners to develop a means for family members to privately watch a funeral service. Enter BoxCast, a turnkey live streaming solution for organizations no matter their size—Daily says they’ve served everyone from Little League to MLB teams, local municipalities to presidential campaigns, and churches of 50 to 50,000 people.
“Since launching the company in 2013, we have never forgotten the importance of making people part of the experiences that matter to them—whether they are loved ones who need to grieve from far away, a parent who wants to see their daughter’s soccer game, a remote employee who wants to see his CEO’s presentation, or a concerned citizen who wants to attend a city council meeting but can’t be there,” says Daily.
This week, BoxCast celebrated the launch of its new BoxCaster Pro encoder with a keynote and live demonstration at its new Ohio City headquarters (but live streamed around the world, naturally). Daily says it’s just the beginning of BoxCast realizing its potential.
“The challenge as an innovator is to translate amazing technology into something so simple that anyone can use,” says Daily. “Given the market potential for what we do, we are excited to see the company grow as we help to bring people together through video."
LaToyia D. Jones, Founder of Alive On Purpose
The path to “happy” may be a winding and rocky one, but LaToyia Jones believe it’s one that all youth can successfully navigate. She knows firsthand—Jones grew up suffering depression and “extreme self-doubt,” struggling with recurring suicidal ideation. “I felt like life had no purpose, and for this reason, I no longer wanted to live,” recalls Jones.
After her second suicide attempt, Jones began to open up and share her story with others—discovering it was all too common. “The more I shared this connection with [young people], the more I began to realize that my unsuccessful attempts at suicide were part of a grand plan,” says Jones.
In 2012, Jones founded Alive on Purpose, a nonprofit aimed at suicide prevention through support, intervention, and self-discovery. The nonprofit serves girls ages 13 through 17, although its signature “Him & Me” father-daughter events welcome girls as young as two. “63 percent of all suicides come from fatherless homes, so it’s imperative to provide a platform that engages fathers as it relates to young ladies’ health and well-being,” says Jones, adding that 1,500 dads and daughters engage with the “Him & Me” programming annually.
Jones was named one of WZAK’s “25 Influential Women of Cleveland” and is proud of the work Alive on Purpose is doing to help youth “reach their happy” through self-realization.
Brandon Gotlieb, Co-Founder and Chief Business Officer of NXTSTOR
Ever paid too much for a storage space? Brandon Gotlieb and the team at NXSTOR have your back. The brainchild of three current Ohio State University juniors (Gotlieb, Mike Gargasz, and Ashwin Rajgopal), NXTSTOR is an online peer-to-peer marketplace where people with extra storage space to offer can connect with people looking to store their belongings.
Though they just launched the Cleveland-based platform in April, NXTSTOR has already been featured in U.S. News and World Report, and Gotlieb says they are currently in a fundraising round for venture capital.
“Getting the product launched was incredible and having the first few customers was one of the greatest feelings,” says Gotlieb. “Hearing older individuals see our vision of connecting communities to accomplish the goal of changing the way storage is handled has been marvelous.”
With a target demographic of urban dwellers, Gotlieb believes Cleveland is the perfect place to get NXTSTOR off the ground. "As more individuals move downtown (targeted at 20,000 by 2020), we hope to be able to find spaces for individuals to store items," says Gotlieb. "We believe many people will be moving from larger suburban houses and will have an overabundance of items that will need to be stored in an inexpensive easy way. As land prices rise [downtown], it makes less sense to build self-storage there; our option will always be flexible, local, and cheaper."
Melinda Mickshaw, Founder of The Relievery
Armed with knowledge and compassion, Melinda Mickshaw helms The Relievery, a holistic company focused on reflexology, acupuncture, and aromatherapy for expectant parents. The Relievery's offerings encompass both education and products (with its most popular product being Body Atlas socks that outline reflexology points on the soles for easy at-home use).
Mickshaw came up with the idea while working toward her Holistic Health Practitioner diploma and vacationing with a pregnant friend. "She had been complaining about some common discomforts women experience through that time; meanwhile, I had just finished reflexology courses," says Mickshaw. "A reflexology session ended up bringing her great relief, and we didn’t know it then, but that session was what put the business in motion."
Much of The Relievery's focus is on providing reflexology education to midwives and doulas, which is a point of pride for Mickshaw. "The fact that we're able to pass on our knowledge to birth professionals is extremely important to me, as I believe practitioners should always be armed with holistic information and the knowledge they need to empower their clients," she shares.
On the product side, most of the Relievery's success has been via sales to birth professionals who include its products in their packages, but Mickshaw is also focused on targeting consumers directly.This October, she plans to attend the ABC Kids Expo in Las Vegas to extend the reach of her products and services.
Nathaniel Eaton, toy inventor and founder of Nate Eaton Enterprises
Failed Kickstarter campaigns don’t always have a happy ending, but Nathaniel Eaton is the gleaming exception. Eaton was a senior studying business management and entrepreneurship at Hiram College when he attempted to crowdfund his idea for a “Water Dodger” toy that introduced a new approach to water fights.
Though the money didn’t materialize, his campaign got noticed by producers at ABC’s “The Toy Box”—a “Shark Tank”-style competition that Eaton ultimately won, earning a $100,000 prize and a deal with Mattel. Renamed the Hydroshield, the toy is carried in stores nationwide and sold on Mattel’s website.
Fueled by that success, 25-year-old Eaton is now writing a book and developing the eponymous Nate Eaton Enterprises, which will encompass a broad spectrum with product creation, marketing services, B2B consulting, and motivational speaking. But it’s all united with a central mission: “I’m here to serve others and be a positive influencer for youth,” says Eaton.
Ray Lui and Mary McCann, Co-Founders of Sprinly
As the co-founders of Sprinly see it, organic, plant-based meals are just one delivery away. The idea for their healthy meal delivery service sparked on a six-month trip to Southeast Asia, where they meditated with monks, camped in the rainforest, and lived in rural China.
Ray Lui and Mary McCann came back to Cleveland "incredibly refreshed," cooking fresh meals every night to keep up the healthy lifestyle they'd cultivated abroad. But when they sought out quick, easy options for healthy eating, they appeared few and far between.
"We kept seeing 'healthy' snacks at grocery stores or 'healthy' options at restaurants when it was obvious that the food wasn’t honestly healthy. And why wasn’t it more convenient?" remembers Lui. "Along with our need to have a positive impact with our careers, this is what inspired Sprinly."
Sprinly launched in 2016, and in the past year, the plant-based meal delivery service has expanded throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. Having made his mark on the Midwest, Lui has his sights set on going national: “It’s definitely awesome to see more and more healthy options in Cleveland and all around the country, but we believe that honestly healthy food should be the norm and not the exception."
Clifford Benjamin Herring, Project Manager and Director of Digital Fabrication and Advanced Imaging at redhouse studio architecture
To Ben Herring, the phrase “If these walls could talk” is more than just a cliché—it’s an important concept. His work at redhouse studio—which has encompassed projects like the Larder Delicatessen, Hulett Hotel, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Library design competition proposal—is driven by his belief that "architecture should speak on behalf of the people."
"Historically, the people and institutions that employed architecture commonly considered architecture to be a means of public communication," explains Herring. "Architecture represented ideas. Barn raisings represented common ground. Library buildings represented the power of ideas and education. Totem Poles represented communal history and civic values. It is a strong professional ambition of mine to augment the capacity of spatial experiences to communicate with the public."
Herring found a like-minded collaborator in redhouse studio founder Chris Maurer, whom he met while serving on a design critique panel for Kent State University in 2016. "We quickly realized we had common interests in empowering under-served people groups through the processes of architecture," recalls Herring. "However, we only later realized that my history in polymer testing and digital fabrication would be such an appropriate parallel to his investment in the future use of bio-polymers for architectural applications."
Herring has been on the redhouse team since 2017, where he handles material detailing, digital fabrication, and advanced imaging such as rendering and data visualization. He also serves on the board for Refresh Collective and as a workshop advisor for MOOS (Make Our Own Spaces).
Emily Bacha, Director of Communications and Marketing for Western Reserve Land Conservancy
When Emily Bacha “boomeranged” back to Cleveland from Virginia (where she’d earned a master’s in urban and environmental planning) in 2012, it was in hopes of finding “the ‘perfect job’ to pursue [her] passion—creating a greener, healthier city.”
Though it took a few years, Bacha realized that goal in 2014 when she took a job as Manager of Special Events and Volunteers at Western Reserve Land Conservancy. She later transitioned to her current role of Director of Communications and Marketing, working to spread the word about WRLC’s impact through newsletters, social media, white papers, annual reports, videos, and other platforms.
“I have the privilege of proudly sharing stories about the Land Conservancy’s successful projects across the region—from working with partners to conserve 600 acres of parkland in Ashtabula County, to working with a first-generation farmer to preserve prime farmland in Huron County, to planting thousands of trees in Cleveland,” says 30-year-old Bacha, who was recently appointed to the board at Cleveland Leadership Center.
Bacha says she approaches her work with an “eye for equity,” fueled by the conviction that "everyone deserves access to nearby nature."
Andrew Konya and Gary Ellis, Co-Founders of Remesh
Andrew Konya and Gary Ellis are proving that AI is not limited to Silicon Valley. Their tech platform, Remesh, is a Cleveland-based company aimed at reinventing how organizations conduct research. Rather than having to choose between qualitative and quantitative data, Remesh offers the "best of both worlds" by utilizing AI machine learning and natural language processing to determine the collective opinion of crowds.
"We’re hopeful that Remesh will enable sustained disruption of the market research industry by offering a more insightful, affordable, and timely alternative to traditional methods," says Ellis.
The first prototype for Remesh was developed in 2014 as part of FlashStarts, after which Remesh was accepted into the 2015 Techstars Barclays accelerator and later named 2016 Ohio Seed Company of the Year and the 2016 Insight Innovation eXchange winner. Currently, the company is part of the Plug and Play Cleveland accelerator, having secured the first investment of the cohort in April.
Remesh serves a large variety of businesses from Fortune 1000 companies to consumer brands. So far, Konya and Ellis say their biggest accomplishments have been signing Barclays as a "lighthouse client" and running conversations around the world in 26 languages. Looking ahead, Ellis believes scaling from three to more than 30 employees while "still maintaining the same high-quality team and culture" will be a challenge, but it's one they're ready to tackle.
Says Ellis, "While many people think great ideas and startups are limited to Silicon Valley, we’re proud to dispel that myth by laying our roots and continuing to support the tech and startup scene here in Cleveland."