Roughly 20 start-ups hoping to grow their ideas into profitable business ventures are now operating in downtown Hamilton, including a software company started by Ross High School senior Austin Klei, who hopes to grow his business of one to an enterprise with multiple products one day.
He hopes to make a difference in the industries his company’s software products serve, and “to change and innovate and disrupt the normal market.”
These companies are located at The Hamilton Mill, a nonprofit located at 20 High St., which provides mentoring and networking services as well as office space for entrepreneurs from throughout Butler County. Goals are to help tenants commercialize their business ideas so they can one day “graduate,” open their own offices and hire workers. In particular, efforts are to attract new companies in the advanced manufacturing, clean technology and software sectors.
“Our goal is to secure more partnerships and sponsorships going into 2016 as well as making sure our startups have success and are hitting their key milestones,” said Antony Seppi, The Mill’s operations director and a city of Hamilton employee.
Beginning in 2013, The Mill was revamped and leaders re-thought its mission. Since then, about a dozen or so new tenants have been recruited to the Hamilton building, according to Seppi. That includes companies such as kW River Hydroelectric, which is developing water turbine technology for alternative energy; and Perceptive Devices LLC, which is developing computer technology for hands-free gestures.
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Glance Software LLC joined The Mill’s lineup last year, said Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer Austin Klei. The 17-year-old student started the company, which specializes in creative software solutions for various industries.
“Our company, we take a different approach to developing the software. We work directly with the customers,” Klei said. “A lot of our software is web-based… it follows all the new technologies that are coming out today.”
One of Glance Software’s biggest projects is being tested at West Chester Hospital in partnership with UC Health, he said. The program manages patient satisfaction for hospitals by streamlining the rounding process. The software provides analytics for number of patients, complaints, and satisfaction scores, as well as scripts for what nurses should say to patients, for example.
“From a young age I had an interest in (information technology) and computer programming, which led to my title now of software engineer,” he said. “We’re in the process of expanding our company in terms of people and personnel every day.”
Since opening at The Mill in 2014, Perceptive Devices was named one of the winners of the “Technology that Improves Lives” video contest from the Consumer Electronics Association Foundation.
Another one of the incubator’s tenants is planning to open a craft brewery this year. Municipal Brew Works is now making building improvements ahead of the planned opening for a bar and taproom, one of the owners Jim Goodman, previously told Journal-News.
NewKnowledge United joined the Mill last year not just because it gives the business a space for employees to work together, but also because of the networking and opportunities for the businesses to support each other, said Jack Calhoun, president and one of the founders.
Launched in 2014, NewKnowledge designs and develops online training materials and curriculum for corporate and academic clients, Calhoun said. It provides customized education technology materials for customers such as UnitedHealthcare, Discover Financial and more, he said.
“Learning, more or less, whether it’s in a higher education context or a corporate context is really being rethought or reset,” said Calhoun, who was previously laid off from a higher education publishing company before starting his own venture with a business partner. “We felt that transformational moment was an opportunity for us to take advantage of.”
By the end of March, NewKnowledge will have about nine full-time employees, plus contractors, including staff located in Hamilton and those working virtually.
“We’re early on so we’re going to continue basically focusing on those things to expand our client base,” he added. “The other thing we’re starting to explore are solutions or products that we offer that we have pre-built or pre-set.”
Meanwhile, The Mill has raised the first $40,000 for a new innovation fund from Hamilton Community Foundation, Seppi, the operations director, said.
“The purpose of the innovation fund will be to provide financial backing to some of our startups that will qualify,” Seppi said.
At this point, no businesses have received money yet, he said. Hopes are to raise more money first, at least $250,000 or $500,000, he said.
“We’re working with other regional partners to help meet that goal,” he said.
The Mill has also received $50,000 from The Greater Cincinnati Foundation to partner with Butler Technology and Career Development Schools on a program known as “Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship,” he said. Currently the student business program is located in the Ross school district, but plans are to move it to The Mill and attract more students from throughout Butler County to participate, Seppi said.
Activities include a business pitch competition for which students conceive business ideas, plans for commercializing the product or service and marketing strategies.
“We really want to start building out the value of entrepreneurship as a potential career path… and giving them kind of place to pursue that,” he said.
Part of the $50,000 from the Cincinnati foundation will also go help pay for an industrialist-in-residence, an individual or individuals who have expertise in manufacturing technology to advise The Mill’s business clients, Seppi said.
Formerly known as the BizTech Center, a string of changes were made starting in 2013 to refocus and re-energize the incubator including forming a new mission, re-naming the center, installing new performance measures and putting in place new managers to run day-to-day operations.
The center also houses one of two office locations of the Butler County Small Business Development Center, whose counselors advise tenants, local existing business owners and other entrepreneurs in the community on strategic planning, marketing and gaining access to financial capital. Butler County Small Business Development Center also has a location in the Middletown city building.