Research Communications

Six startup companies emerge from Ohio University’s digital media accelerator 

ATHENS, Ohio (Sept. 10, 2013)—Six startup companies founded by students and alumni of Ohio University and West Virginia University emerged from an Ohio University summer entrepreneurship program aimed at keeping business and technology talent in the state of Ohio.

The startups that participated in the Innovation Engine Accelerator's 12-week boot camp plan to launch digital media products such as event planning software, a travel site for people with limited mobility and an educational game platform that teaches users Arabic and other languages.

The companies received $20,000 in funding, extensive business mentoring and participated in the Lean StartUp curriculum offered by Ohio University's Center for Entrepreneurship this summer.

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Lynn Gellermann, executive director of Ohio University's Center for Entrepreneurship and TechGROWTH Ohio, talks to the startup companies at the Innovation Center. (Photo: Corrine Herris/Innovation Center)

Although some regions sponsor stand-alone accelerator programs for entrepreneurs, the Innovation Engine Accelerator is unique because it is sponsored by Ohio University and draws upon its surging innovation and entrepreneurship programs, said Lynn Gellermann, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and TechGROWTH Ohio, a public/private partnership that encourages economic growth in southeastern Ohio through the provision of services and seed capital to technology startups.

"One goal of this program is to develop and retain talent in southeastern Ohio. Another is to further the culture of entrepreneurship that is so vital to commercializing research and finding new solutions for the societal challenges we face today," he said.

The accelerator, which was held at Ohio University's small business incubator, the Innovation Center, recruited 50 business mentors who either worked one-on-one with the startups or provided specialized consulting on the various aspects of launching a new business and bringing an innovative product to market.
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Christian "Rico" Sagardia (standing, left) and Gary Grant (standing, right), discuss the concept of their startup company Razor Dynamics with fellow participants in the Innovation Engine Accelerator. (Photo: Corrine Herris/Innovation Center).

"Ohio University has a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem with extensive private and public partnerships throughout central and southeastern Ohio," said Jennifer Simon, director of the Innovation Center. "We drew from this network to offer the startups professional expertise and coaching from Ohio's top successful entrepreneurs."

At the culmination of the accelerator program in August, the six startup companies gave presentations to regional investors and advisors. Each team of entrepreneurs explained their value proposition, product niche, potential market, benefits of their digital media technology, plans for sales growth and exit strategies.

Without the program, Alex Bill and his partners in the startup company AccessAble would have a lot of great ideas without the resources and know-how to make them happen, he said.

"The accelerator not only opened my eyes to the world of entrepreneurship, but also provided me an understanding of business that will benefit me regardless of my career path," said Bill, a recent Ohio University graduate.
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Members of AccessAble (left to right: Ben Weiner, Frances Weiner, Alex Bill and Ryan Cox) discuss the concept for their startup company, which intends to serve travelers with limited mobility. (Photo: Corrine Herris/Innovation Center)

This is the second year that Ohio University has co-sponsored the Innovation Engine Accelerator. Several of the companies from the 2012 cohort now are marketing products developed during the program, such as software that tracks the success of advertising campaigns and an interactive novel.

The program has helped the university strengthen its culture of innovation and entrepreneurship—both in the region and on campus.

"What makes Ohio University truly unique is the robust infrastructure we have created to support entrepreneurship across the university. The accelerator program in digital media is a key aspect of that infrastructure because it helps the most viable projects matriculate from the idea stage to the commercialization stage," said Scott Titsworth, dean of the Scripps College of Communication.

Program sponsors include TechGROWTH Ohio (administered by Ohio University's Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs), WesBanco, Athenian Venture Partners, CreMedia and IMGUR, as well as Ohio University's Innovation Center, Vice President for Research and Creative Activity, Center for Entrepreneurship (a partnership of the College of Business and the Voinovich School), Scripps College of Communication, Russ College of Engineering and Technology and College of Arts and Sciences.

Profiles of the 2013 companies:

MyCampus has created a mobile app that allows college students to quickly sell and purchase items in a secure and safe environment. Founders Brian Adams and Chelsea Browne developed a product that does not require users to provide personal information such as email addresses or cell phone numbers to exchange goods. There are more than 21 million college students in the United States, and they sell an average of $350 in used items (such as textbooks, tickets and furniture) per year.

Razor Dynamics offers a product that improves mobile phone location services. Current services are not always accurate or intuitive, says founder Christian "Rico" Sagardia, who developed the product with Gary Grant and Isaac Smith. The new product refines that technology using existing sensors in smart phones and provides a 3D graphical interface. The product could be used by fire fighters and first responders, or consumers looking for a better way to find friends and family in crowded or unfamiliar environments.

AccessAble has developed a website to provide travel information and booking services for people with limited mobility. The site provides comprehensive information about the accessibility of restaurants, hotels and other tourism sites. There are more than 56 million people in the United States with limited mobility, according to founders Ben Weiner, Frances Weiner, Alex Bill and Ryan Cox.

Atlas Language Innovations
has created an educational online video game that can teach users Arabic and other in-demand languages. Most foreign language software programs rely on rote memorization and flash card techniques, but Atlas is focused on interactive stories that can teach vocabulary and grammar, according to founders Samuel Bockhoven and Sergio Gonzalez.

Foleeo has developed an online portfolio tool for job seekers in the business, engineering and technical fields. Users can showcase a full portfolio of work experience and samples, and the site contacts them about job openings that are a good fit for their skills. The startup also will pitch the product to recruiters seeking qualified applicants for jobs, according to founders Lillie Ranney and Joe Pollard.

Anyvent is software for inexperienced event planners. Many nonprofit organizations or student associations rely on people with little professional event planning experience to organize major programs. These positions experience high turnover, leaving organizations with little institutional memory from year to year. The software aims to solve both problems by creating a streamlined platform for event planning that can be archived by the organization, according to founders Sam Pattantyus and Daniel Williams.

Contacts: Lynn Gellermann, (740) 597-1722, gellerml@ohio.edu; Jennifer Simon, (740) 593-1803, simonj@ohio.edu; Andrea Gibson, (740) 597-2166, gibsona@ohio.edu.