First Batch startup accelerator seeking applicants for second year of design intervention

Program helps inventors turn ideas into products

CINCINNATI - The folks behind First Batch are cooking up a second batch.

The application process will open Feb. 17 for the startup accelerator program that gives entrepreneurs the funding and advice they need to bring their first batch of manufactured products to market. The program launched last year with two companies - Hatchet Guitars and Wool Shop - emerging from a hand-picked pool of ten applicants selected by professors at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design Architecture Art and Planning.

This year, organizers are opening up the process in hopes of drawing up to 1,000 applications. Four companies will be chosen for the four-month program starting June 2.

 

“Our goal really is to make manufacturing sexy again,” said Noel Gauthier, program director of First Batch . “Often times we come across great ideas but people just don’t know where to start when it comes to design and manufacturing. People aren’t aware that the resources they need are right here in our city.”

Gauthier is co-owner of The Launch Werks, an Over-the-Rhine company that builds manufacturing prototypes. He worked with UC Industrial Design Professor Steve Doehler to quietly build the First Batch program last year. The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation funded year one as a pilot project. Other partners include Design Impact, a Cincinnati-based community development nonprofit, and Cincinnati Made, a group of local manufacturers.

The four companies selected for this year’s First Batch program will receive up to $8,000 for expenses incurred in manufacturing the first round of products. Participants will spend the summer developing their ideas and working with mentors at Losantiville, a design collective located in the heart of the Brewery District.

 

Gauthier said Hatchet Guitars is the best example of the First Batch program’s value. Founder Adam Jonovski developed an electric guitar with tuners in the body – not the neck – allowing the instrument to be carried in a backpack.

“His original guitar had almost $1,800 worth of parts and took several days to assemble,” Gauthier said. “But after the (First Batch) process it could be assembled in a matter of hours and had only $280 worth of parts. That was really kind of our best test of the model.”

First Batch could emerge as a force in the local startup community because it plays to one of Cincinnati’s strengths: Innovation in manufacturing, said Dave Knox, a former Procter & Gamble executive who co-founded the Brandery startup accelerator and is chief marketing officer at the digital advertising agency, Rockfish Interactive.

“We’ve done a lot of great things with the Brandery but if you look around at the expertise of this town … we have thousands of people who know package design with Landor and LPK, physical (products) branding with P&G and Kao, the retail element with Kroger and Dunnhumby and Macy’s. So, the sky’s the limit,” Knox said. “We’re one of the top cities in the country for flavoring expertise. Our craft beer industry is starting to show we’re pretty good at that stuff.”

Knox confirmed that the Brandery is talking with First Batch about a partnership that could lead to more interaction between the Brandery’s mentoring network and the design and engineering expertise that First Batch is marshaling. Talks are at an early stage, but Gauthier has high hopes for collaboration, saying it could evolve along the lines of a mentoring relationship that developed between his company and Frameri last year. As WCPO has reported, Frameri was a Brandery startup that refined its manufacturing process with Gauthier’s help last summer. It led to a new design for eyeglass frames and an Indiegogo online fundraising campaign that generated $65,000 in startup funding – double its original goal.

“What would a participant look like that could double dip?” Gauthier said. “If Frameri applied this year, could they not only win a Brandery seat but also win a First Batch seat? That’s something we’re looking at as well, having a tech-based product with very strong branding but also figure out the manufacturing aspect in that same four-month period.”

First Batch organizers will hold an open house on Thursday, Feb. 20 for those interested in learning more about the program. It will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Losantiville Design Collective at 111 W. McMicken Ave. in Over-the-Rhine.

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