Ohio University

Bobcat Neighborhood

Bobcats take care. We cheer each other on in times of celebration. We support one another in times of need. And through it all, we demonstrate the Bobcat spirit of service that defines the Ohio University community and that we each bring to our individual communities.

Welcome to your neighborhood – a directory of alumni-owned or operated organizations, as well as businesses and nonprofits within all Ohio University campus communities. We built it to encourage Bobcats to support each another. We thrive when we come together as neighbors, near and far, to help each other – especially in times of hardship.

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The Bobcat Neighborhood was created by the Ohio University Alumni Association in partnership with Ohio University Corporate Engagement and the Center for Campus and Community Engagement. Bobcats take care. We cheer each other on in times of celebration. We support one another in times of need. And through it all, we demonstrate the Bobcat spirit of service that defines the Ohio University community and that we each bring to our individual communities.

Are you an alumnus of Ohio University and own or manage a business that would benefit from exposure on the Bobcat Neighborhood? Or do you work in a non-profit or business that is located within an Ohio University campus community?

Join the Bobcat Neighborhood so the Bobcat family can support you and your business. Thank you for joining our community!

*Disclaimer: Ohio University does not endorse any of the businesses, retailers, or non-profits included in this directory. Ohio University reserves the right to review all entries before publishing. Submitting your business will make this information public and Ohio University does not assume responsibility for how this information can or may be used in the future by outside parties. Ohio University reserves the right to stop this directory at any time, and for any reason.

Please email BobcatNeighborhood@ohio.edu with any questions or concerns.


Highlighted Organizations and People

 

Valerie J. Allen, BBA ’88

Valerie J. Allen

BBA ’88, a graduate of OHIO’s College of Business and owner of Valerie Allen Counseling, LLC

 

Tell us a little bit about your business.

I do relationship counseling with couples, and often their issues are the result of infidelity and a breakdown of trust. I’ve been in business for six and a half years in West Chester, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati.

Have you seen an uptick in people seeking out your services because of coronavirus effects and social distancing measures?

It’s stayed pretty consistent because I have the capacity to still talk to people who want to switch to phone or video sessions. I also have people who are willing to come into the office. I'm just doing that with more sanitizing and social distancing. I have my office set up where I am farther away and not sitting right up close. I don't greet them at the door. I stagger my appointments, so when people come in, they're not waiting in the waiting room.

Social distancing orders have caused a lot of stress with families and with couples. It’s interesting because, at first, it almost seemed like the stress was so big and so new, and they knew that they couldn’t control it, so it made everything else in their lives seem not as important. They kind of banded together against this big pain. They were like, “OK, we can do this.” But as it’s dragged on, people continue to be stuck together and they get irritated with each other and it gets a little more stressful. And I also find that there's some grief that goes along with this. I have people who feel loss for their graduating seniors, and people who feel loss for vacations that they were going on.

What kind of role did Ohio University play in your career as a business owner?

Interestingly, my undergraduate degree from OU is in business marketing, so my degree from Ohio University has helped me become a businessperson more than it’s helped me become a therapist. I went on to get my master's degree at the University of Dayton. A lot of therapists don't have a lot of business acumen; it's a very different thought process. So, I’ve found it to be an advantage to have my business degree from OU to help me in my counseling business. And, on the other side of it, I learned a lot about life and a lot about relationships at OU. My husband is also a Bobcat, and he has his marketing degree from OU as well, so everything I learned, and continue to learn really, through my relationship with my husband becomes very valuable for me to draw on with my work.

Counseling is, in a lot of ways, a right-brained thing. I use a lot of intuition, a lot of interpersonal communication, and a lot of caring and compassion But in marketing there’s more of a focus on left brain activities like knowing how to market yourself with an intent to grow your business and an intention to find customers, which isn't something that counseling people really learn how to do in their studies. The accounting, the finances, the structure of my business, those are the kind of things I learned at OU.

How did you find out about the Bobcat Neighborhood, and what prompted you to join?

I think I saw it on the Facebook group, “You know you went to OU if,” and I thought it was a great opportunity to be recognized as someone who is a business owner and a Bobcat. It’s not only a great way to promote my own business but to kind of let the public know how they can support the alumni network by shopping at stores or enlisting the services of businesses that are alumni owned.

What advice would you offer to fellow Bobcats who are thinking about starting their own business?

I guess the thing that comes up for me is that as you're graduating, you don't need to know exactly what you're going to do. Your life will unfold as mine did. I changed my career direction at age 40. I was in marketing, so I was in the business world, and then I was a stay-at-home mom for a while and then just decided to do something completely different. So, you don't have to know right now. And, if you do want to start your own business, I think you should remember to put yourself out there and take the risk because you won’t see any of the potential rewards if you aren’t able to wrap your head around the fact there will be risks upfront.

Ann Gynn, BSJ ’93

Ann Gynn

BSJ ’93, graduate of OHIO’s Honors Tutorial College and owner of G Force Communication
 

Tell us a little bit about your business.

I started, solely own, and operate G Force Communications. When I need people (expertise), then I work with contractors including some Bobcats. My go-to graphic designer is a graduate from OHIO (Stacy Vickroy, BSJ ’92). I have a communications consulting practice, so I help organizations plan marketing and PR strategies and then I help them implement their strategies. I work in contact marketing (Content Marketing Institute - educational resource) where I’ve been an editorial consultant, but I also work with small and medium businesses who don’t have marketing staff so they outsource. I’m based in Cleveland, specifically Rocky River, where I do special initiatives that involve all parts of the city. For example, in 2014, Cleveland hosted the Gay Games, which is an inclusive event that is held around the world. It started in 1982 and it’s an equal playing field for everyone focused on inclusivity for LGBTQIA+. It was recently held in Cleveland and Akron and I led the marketing on that.

I was hired out of college as a reporter and editor working for Gannett in Indiana. I was hired after interviewing with them on campus. In 2000, I moved back to Cleveland where my family is from and where I wanted to live long term, which put me into a marketing related job. I was bored out of my mind in the 9-5 world, so when I realized I wasn’t a clock watcher, I started looking for outside opportunities. Somebody who knew my skills and boredom level gave me an opportunity for a nine-month contract to handle PR for the world’s longest air flight, which was in Dayton during the 100th anniversary of flight in 2003. I initially thought, it’ll be a good resume builder, but then I decided to go out on my own.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business?

Some clients have put projects on hold; others have shifted what they’re doing. For Content Marketing I’m writing content about COVID-19, so their traffic has increased. Another client has seen business increase and has more traffic to their website, so they started a new marketing campaign. So, it’s been a mix of that.

What role did Ohio University play in your success as a business owner?

Looking back, I think my experience at OHIO was invaluable to what I do today. It started with being a journalism major. Having to take the breadth and diversity of courses like economics or statistics which, at the time, I wasn’t thrilled to take, taught me how to manage the learning process. This was invaluable to me as a reporter when I had to write articles about particle emissions, or today, when I deal with clients from all sorts of industries that aren’t my expertise. To be able to work with them and understand their process and industry trends is the skill. I get topics that I don’t necessary like, that’s mundane, but they were paying me to write about it, so even when I think it’s boring, that’s okay.

It’s that ability to learn and know how to learn, and that’s something people don’t appreciate enough, especially in specialization areas. I had both the pleasure and requirement to have to take a lot of subjects at OHIO, which helped me in my career.

The Post was the second invaluable experience I had. I had the privilege of being the editor-in-chief of The Post, which led me to understand the bigger picture. The editorial independence given to The Post gave me a new responsibility that I didn’t know I could take on. As I look back now, it gave me the courage to take on challenges and deal with people and businesses in my career.

What does it mean to you to be a part of the Bobcat Neighborhood?

It was one of those things that I just noticed recently. I saw the opportunity to sign up, and I thought it was a great idea, and I looked forward to figuring out how to work together with fellow Bobcats. I can be helpful to another business or they can help me. All of my business is based on referral work and people I have connections to, so that’s where the Bobcat connections are powerful ones. I might meet with someone who is a Bobcat, but who I’m not familiar with, and because we both went to OHIO we already have a shared experience to talk about together. Sharing the Athens experience and being on campus at OHIO is really special. The fellow people I’ve met in business can share that opportunity and you’re familiar with each other’s language and knowledge base. You can say “Scripps,” and they immediately know what you mean, which is really fun.

Have you connected with any fellow Bobcats through your business?

I have a Bobcat in half my clients. I work with a lot of Bobcats, including people who graduated from the ’80s to the 2000s, so it’s fun. The graphic designer I work with on a freelance basis was the graphics/design editor for The Post during my junior year. We published the paper every night, so there would be a different graphics editor every night of the week. It turns out Stacy Vickroy was the design editor, so when I was named editor, she and I worked together for two weeks and then she left school for an appendectomy, and we started working together again 10 years later. You never know when you’re going to run into a Bobcat or when they’ll pop back up in your life. She graduated in ’92 and I graduated in ’93, and we started working together in 2004.

What advice would you offer to your fellow Bobcats who may be considering starting a business?

Don’t start a business until you’ve worked for someone else. I did some adjunct teaching at Cleveland State, and I still talk to people now who are like “that’s what I want to do,” who see the glamorous side of self-start-ups, but you have to work in other environments to understand that not everybody sees things the way you do and sometimes you have to work and do things you don’t want to do. It’s helpful to have worked for other people before you start your own business.

The other thing is to have a plan, but don’t perfect your plan. I’m very practical, and I used to think I would need to have a two-income family and find a husband before I went out on my own. I needed a steady income. So, my advice is to have money saved so you have the freedom to go out on your own and not wait for things to be perfect, because things won’t be perfect. Look for opportunities out there and take advantage of them smartly, but plan for it.

Josh Thomas, BSHCS ’97, and Jessica Thomas, BA ’99  

Josh Thomas

BSHCS ’97, a graduate of the Patton College of Education

Jessica Thomas

BA ’99, a graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences, co-owners of Brenen’s Coffee Café

 

Tell us a little bit about your business.

We are a coffee shop and deli. We purchased the business in 2000 from the previous owners. Josh managed the business from 1997-2000 with Jessica coming on board to help manage in 1999.  We currently employ between 26-30 part-time employees. We are located in Athens.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business?  Tell us more about the free meal initiative Brenen’s has sponsored during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Oh, absolutely! We're were down around 80 percent in sales for the months of March and April. The free boxed lunches for those in need was an idea by Brent (BA ’01) and Sara (BSED ’97) Hartman of O'Nail-Hartman Insurance here in Athens. We are customers of his, and he wanted to show us some support by purchasing 30 boxed lunches that we would then give away to the community. It was a win-win. It gave us some much-needed business and gave the community some needed free meals. From there it literally snowballed, and we are still doing them Monday-Saturday and will be through at least June 12 if not longer.

What role did Ohio University play in your success as a business owner?

Obviously, Josh's degree prepared him for his role as manager then owner. While Jessica's degree was in a different field, she, as well as Josh, spent all her years at OU working in dining services. This experience, coupled with being able to get to know the community as a whole, helped prepare her for understanding of what Athens needs and has to offer when running a business here. In our early years, we got to know many people at Ohio University and developed a great town/gown working relationship.  

What does it mean to you to be a part of the Bobcat Neighborhood?

We're newer members of the Bobcat Neighborhood but see it as a great way to once again work with the University to showcase alumni and their businesses. It's especially nice to have this as a resource for any alumni looking to work with other alumni. I can't say that we've had anyone specifically mention using it to find us, but I know we've receive multiple donations for the free lunches from other alumni around the country, and I can't help but think the Bobcat Neighborhood would be a great starting point for anyone looking to support their fellow OU alumni.

Have you connected with any fellow Bobcats through your business?

Yes, weekly it seems like. Especially now. There have been multiple stories, but I can tell you that just recently we had the Marching 110 alumni and current members contact us and donate to the boxed lunch program. During the phone call, they specifically wanted us to know that our business was a place they considered "home" so to speak when they thought about their time in Athens. Knowing that you have a business that means that much to others even after they've been gone for many years is a very special feeling. You feel like you're doing something right. We've had a number of those moments in the last few months and can't really express the gratitude we feel when people tell us things like that.

What advice would you offer to your fellow Bobcats who may be considering starting a business?

Work hard, every day. Too many people look at owning their own business as a fun thing where they are the owner who gets to pop in and pop out and just oversee things. Unless you have the greatest product in the world that people can't live without, it probably won't go that way. The old saying of "You get out what you put in" is so true when it comes to owning your own business. The hard work will almost always pay off, but you have to be patient and be persistent. Your customers may not even realize it at the time, but they will appreciate your effort and will become loyal customers. Just stay focused and work hard, and all the good things you want will come to you in time.

Laura (Brooks) Valls,
 BFA ’12

Laura (Brooks) Valls

BFA ’12, a graduate of the College of Fine Arts and owner of Ellebrux

 

Tell us a little bit about your business.

I am the creator of Cincinnati-based jewelry and fine-art brand Ellebrux. I create colorful hand-painted and laser-cut jewelry, embroidered landscape paintings, and gifts. Ellebrux is a one-woman business, and I sell my work in small shops around the Midwest, in person at indie craft shows, and on my website. I use a vibrant mix of colors and textures to create light-hearted and happy jewelry and art inspired by nostalgia, nature and a love of color. All of my work is designed, laser-cut, and hand-painted in my studio where I also run my online store.

I started my business in 2014 as a way to create a career around my artwork. Being an entrepreneur allows me to make my own hours, be my own boss, and create things I’m passionate about.

In addition to my online shop, I have created album artwork and poster design, worked in partnership with brands like Maker’s Mark for creative experiences, and make custom embroidered paintings. In 2018, Ellebrux was voted into the top three Indie Craft Show Vendors in Cincinnati, and my work has been featured in many local and regional gift guides and publications.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business?

Before COVID-19, I made the majority of my sales at indie craft fairs around the Midwest, which are in-person events where I set up a booth and sell to consumers directly. I participate in these events almost every weekend from May through December, and now those events are cancelled or held online. This has forced me to move my business completely online and has impacted sales and the growth of my business. One of my favorite parts of my business is meeting my customers in person and the exciting hustle-and-bustle of craft show days, so I hope they will be safe to attend soon.

What role did Ohio University play in your success as a business owner?

My experience at Ohio University has influenced my business infinitely. The friendly, open, optimistic vibe of Athens has helped me make connections in my community and enjoy the process of building my business. A couple things specifically come to mind when I think of how Athens has influenced me as a maker.

During the summer of 2012 after graduation, I worked on the mural surrounding the Athens mainstay natural grocer The Farmacy. Spending the summer as a working artist allowed me to see what this lifestyle would be like and gave me to drive to chase it. It confirmed that I want to spend every day making art and that it is worth pushing through the ups and downs in order to focus my energy toward a sustainable career as a maker and painter.

Another part of Athens that has played into the success of my business is the continuous support from my sorority sisters in Alpha Omicron Pi. They have been a great force of positivity for my business and have continued to support my brand by buying my goods, commissioning paintings, and sharing my work even now eight years after graduating.

What does it mean to you to be a part of the Bobcat Neighborhood?

The Bobcat Neighborhood will be a great place to connect with other businesses. I have already discovered artists and small business owners in the directory that I didn’t realize were Bobcats, and so I hope in the future some fellow alumni will discover my business here, too.

Have you connected with any fellow Bobcats through your business?

Two businesses stocking my jewelry and goods right now are fellow Bobcats, Handcrafted Kent and Threefold Gifts. Sometimes at shows I will make small talk with my booth neighbors, and when I discover we are both Bobcats, it always leads to a happy conversation about restaurants we crave and Athens memories. I always feel a sense of camaraderie knowing we spent many years in the same small town and have a shared experience. I know I’m biased, but I think Bobcats make the coolest stuff, so it’s easy to support my fellow Bobcats in the creative field!

What advice would you offer to your fellow Bobcats who may be considering starting a business?

I started my business out of a necessity to have a creative and fulfilling life while being financially secure. So, my advice would be to imagine the life you want to live and figure out how your business can support that. Starting a business, particularly a creative business, means that your work and life will be closely tied together, so you really have to love the work. I love what I do so much that it has been worth the sweat and the stress, and I think that makes all the difference.

 


Additional COVID-19 Resources
 

Ohio University Resources

  • The Ohio University Center for Campus and Community Engagement connects students, faculty, staff, and communities (from local to global) to create and maintain mutually beneficial academic, research, and service partnerships that foster resilient communities and life-long engaged citizens.
  • Voinovich COVID-19 Business Recovery Resource Center: The Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), and TechGROWTH Ohio, all part of Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, are working with small and local, private and non-profit business owners to access resources available from the state and federal government to help keep their businesses afloat during the pandemic.
  • The Ohio University Corporate Partners Website has a vast array of relevant resources. Whether it’s partnering on workforce development needs, research, philanthropy, or helping to grow your business, there is a way to work together. Our goal with this site is to quickly connect your needs with the resources at Ohio University.

Regional Emergency Funds

Many local organizations have created new pools of funding to respond to local need. You can reach out to access funding or donate to support our campus communities by contributing to the following:

State of Ohio Resources

Federal Assistance & Resources