Patagonia wants you to stop buying its clothes. That’s the message it conveyed in a New York Times full-page ad in 2011, taking the opportunity to remind consumers of the environmental cost of “everything we make.” It’s not a typical advertisement, but Patagonia is not a typical company.
Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s founder, got his start in business by pursuing what he loved — climbing. Not satisfied with the metal spikes used for climbing, Chouinard began making reusable pitons after teaching himself blacksmithing. It turned into a business: Chouinard Equipment. He continued climbing with his business partners and came back from adventures with ideas on how to improve the company’s product, but they eventually realized the product was the problem. Continually hammering pitons into the walls of Yosemite had disfigured it, so they invented something more sustainable, something better: the aluminum chock. It was a good business move that also happened to be good for the environment.
Chouinard kept climbing. Patagonia, his next venture, started nearly by accident when Chouinard bought a rugby shirt. Overbuilt to withstand the rigors of the game, it made for perfect climbing gear. As with his piton, friends wanted one as well. Clothing became an opportunity to support the “marginally profitable” hardware business, but it also became a platform for a new way to do business.
Philanthropic lab funds individuals directly, empowering them to build a better Cincinnati
People’s Liberty will only last five years. After that, its ambitions — creating a stronger, better Cincinnati — will persist only through the actions of the 105 individuals it funded and mentored. It’s kind of an experiment, which is why the company brands itself as a philanthropic lab.
Supported by the Haile U.S. Bank Foundation, People’s Liberty conducts its experiments at the Globe Building, located in the Cincinnati neighborhood Over-the-Rhine. One of its four programs, Globe Grants, gives three people a year keys to its storefront to create an interactive art installation. Another program, Mad Philanthropists, invites nine people a year to join the team at People’s Liberty to work on projects with an eye toward building out their portfolios. The 16 people awarded Project Grants each year receive $10,000 to implement community development projects. Another program, the Haile Fellowship, is kind of a mini-MacArthur. The fellowship provides $100,000 to two individuals with a big idea that could positively affect the community. Brad Copper is working on tiny homes, which he hopes will address affordable housing in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. MUSICLi, an online library of music from the Greater Cincinnati, wants to help musicians earn more money via music licensing.
This seed-stage accelerator looks beyond product to help startups differentiate themselves
The Brandery, a seed-stage accelerator, is utilizing Cincinnati’s unique resources to help startups turn minimally viable products into sustainable businesses. What resources are those? Marketing and branding agencies have grown alongside Cincinnati-based Fortune 500 Companies like Procter & Gamble, Macy’s, and Kroger. As the barriers to entry for starting companies decrease, The Brandery believes startups focused on their brands can differentiate themselves and increase their probability of success.
The accelerator accepts 10 companies into its four-month program each year. In return for a 6 percent equity stake, startups receive $50,000, access to mentorship, pro-bono work from branding agencies, and a chance to work with companies like Procter and Gamble. Those resources have helped The Brandery become one of the top accelerators in the nation. The Seed Accelerator Rankings Project lists The Brandery at the Gold tier, just under Platinum where you’ll find 500 Startups and Y Combinator.
Active in 143 Countries, It’s Become the Largest Platform for Young People To Create Social Change
DoSomething.org wants to “make the world suck less.” To do so, it’s created a platform to encourage young people between the ages of 13 and 25 to engage in social action. “Young people want to make a change,” says Michaela Bethune, DoSomething’s head of campaigns. “They’re passionate. They’re frustrated.” DoSomething is tapping into that passion by spearheading campaigns that create change in the world. “Teens for Jeans,” a DoSomething project, collected as many jeans as there are homeless youth in the United States — five million pairs over eight years.
That level of impact is due in large part to the organization’s breadth. DoSomething has 5.3 million members spread across every U.S. zip code. It’s a spirited organization. The company puts transparency front and center on its site under its “Sexy Financials” page, which it uses to tell people what they’re “nailing” and what they’ve “F’d up.” Bethune, who we spoke to for our Spotlight, asked us to warn her if she swore too much. It’s endearing, and indicative of the nonprofit’s passion, which it hopes to continue spreading across the globe.
Culture defines a company — but it also limits it. That’s what Pip Jamieson discovered while working for MTV in Australia. “Everyone we hired were just mates and mates and mates,” Jamieson says. Hiring friends of friends was an easy way to find creative talent, but she felt hiring based on employee recommendations created a homogenous culture that lacked a fresh injection of ideas, skills, and talent.
To solve that problem, she founded The Dots, a UK-based online network where creative professionals can showcase their portfolios. Companies can find talent on the platform, and creatives can find job opportunities from companies like MTV, Spotify, and others. The platform is also building a community. Like LinkedIn, you can add people to your network and even recommend them. The site is also a resource, listing co-working spaces, courses, and networking events. “I really believe that creativity is a force for good,” Jamieson says. “Soon machines are going to drive, code, do our laundry … The last things humans are going to be good for is creativity. So, we help harness that community.”
It wasn’t until after they’d built their clean-burning stove that BioLite co-founders Jonathan Cedar and Alexander Drummond realized it was suited for something other than camping. Many people in India, Uganda, Kenya, and Ghana cook over an open flame. That’s toxic and inefficient. “Four million people are dying every year from smoke inside of their home,” says Cedar. “That should go to zero.” Cedar and Drummond built a stove that uses less than half the fuel and produces 90 percent less toxic emissions than a traditional open fire.
To get their stove to burn wood nearly as clean as gas, the flame needed more oxygen. They employed a thermoelectric generator to convert heat from the fire into electricity. That electricity powered a small fan that pulled in the extra oxygen. The fan didn’t require much power, so the team added an outlet for people to tap into the leftover electricity to charge cellphones or power lights. BioLite believes its stoves can help solve energy poverty. To do so at scale, BioLite employs what it calls parallel innovation. Its camping stoves, solar panels, lighting, and other products generate near-term revenue, which the company reinvests into its emerging markets business to ensure that, over time, it can self-sustain.
Altaeros Energies worked on the world’s first airborne wind turbine at Greentown Labs in Somerville, MA, just outside of Boston. Autonomous Marine Systems used the Labs’ shop to work on its sailing drones, fleets of which now collect data on our oceans. Accion Systems set up shop there to ready its smaller, safer, and less expensive ion-based propulsion system for satellites. Between its founding in 2011 and the end of 2015, Greentown Labs has been home to 103 small businesses.
Today, roughly 50 companies pay rent in exchange for access to desks, lab space, equipment, and software. All of those startups are developing hardware-based clean technologies to solve the world’s largest energy and environmental challenges. Greentown Lab provides the resources startups need to help launch their companies quickly — not just tools but also education programs and access to investors.
Austin-based 121Giving uses its ecommerce and crowdfunding platform to help charities get the goods they need to do good. Partnering with brands lets 121Giving sell its inventory of furniture, medical equipment, food, and more to charities at discount. Charities use the platform to crowdfund those purchases. Donors can see what charities spend donations on, and brands can incorporate philanthropy into their supply chains.
Cincinnati-based accelerator First Batch isn’t helping companies develop apps, platforms, or services. It’s focusing exclusively on startups that want to scale the production of physical products. They want to make things. Companies with a prototype can apply to the 20-week program to learn how to navigate the manufacturing, branding, and marketing resources Cincinnati offers. Why Cincinnati? Ohio ranks third in the nation in manufacturing, and the Cincinnati metro area is second in the state.
First Batch is part of Cincinnati Made, a platform for makers to share knowledge and leverage resources to grow Cincinnati-based businesses. Up to eight startups receive a maximum of $10,000 per founder, space in the Losantiville Design Collective, mentorship, and free legal services from University of Cincinnati’s College of Law.
Preterm and underweight babies who survive their first month can still suffer severe long-term health problems — diabetes, heart disease, developmental delay. Keeping them warm can help prevent those problems. Founded in 2008 and based in San Francisco, Embrace Innovations has done just that for more than 200,000 babies across 14 countries with its simple, cost-effective infant warmers. It hopes to help even more babies in the developing world with an assist from its first commercial products.
Jane Chen, Embrace Innovations’ CEO and co-founder, tells NewCo that over the next few years the company wants to help one million babies. It’s created a consumer-facing product — Little Lotus. For every Little Lotus product purchased in the U.S., $25 goes toward the purchase of an Embrace infant warmer for use in the developing world. In the U.S., traditional incubators cost about $20,000; Embrace’s infant warmer costs just one percent of that.