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Founder Feature: Launch It: Cincy 2023 Winners



Camryn Ellis - Ryn

Connor Paton - noshable

VaLanDria Smith-Lash - Coarse Culture





 

LAUNCHING PAD

Meet the winners of Main Street Ventures’ 2023 Launch It: Cincy Pitch Competition


The next generation of entrepreneurs is here … And Main Street Ventures invites you to watch as their careers prepare for takeoff.


Exclusive to undergraduate students throughout Greater Cincinnati, Launch It: Cincy is a pitch competition for student founders that sees the top three winners receive a grant courtesy of Main Street Ventures (MSV). In addition to the grant, winners spend their summer living, working in, and exploring the Greater Cincinnati region as part of their prize package, which is valued at more than $28,000.


Most recently, this year’s talented trio of winners – Camryn Ellis, Connor Paton and VaLanDria Smith-Lash – presented their ideas to the community at “Adventure Through Greater Cincinnati.” Taking place at Mad Tree Brewing’s Oakley Barrel Room, the event featured Ellis, Paton and Smith-Lash pitching their business ideas to the community at large. The event also featured a showcase of 30 MSV Activators (entrepreneurs who have already received funding and support from the organization to launch and/or expand their business).


Get to know this year’s Launch It: Cincy winners and keep an eye on their businesses as they learn, grow and join the startup ecosystem.

 

NAME: Camryn Ellis COMPANY: RYN (formerly known as Style, www.therynapp.com)

EDUCATION: University of Cincinnati – Ellis recently graduated with her bachelor of science in international business and entrepreneurship with a minor in Spanish.

THE IDEA (In 100 words or less): RYN is essentially a virtual stylist/Pinterest for your own clothes that helps you create outfits using your own wardrobe as opposed to what you see others wearing online.


Q: What inspired you to form your company?

Ellis: It really developed out of my own personal need. I am open about my struggles with anxiety, especially socially. Coming up with outfits was a big trigger for me and one specific evening, I spent probably an hour conceptualizing an outfit just to go hang out with friends for a simple night.


I felt like every outfit I had put together was inadequate and I had any good outfits to put together despite looking at a full closet of clothes. So I went onto the app store to see if there was one that could just tell me what to wear with my own clothes and I realized there isn't really an app that could do this for me. I didn't want to solve my problem by just wearing the same clothes every day like Steve Jobs because I still want to express myself creatively. Because of all of this, I took it upon myself to start solving the issue of being stressed from getting dressed that over 60% of the US faces.


Q: How did you learn of Main Street Ventures and what was the Launch It: Cincy Competition like for you? Ellis: (Main Street Ventures Director of Engagement) Abby Ober was one of the judges at my first ever pitch competition, which I won. It was at the University of Cincinnati through their Center for Entrepreneurship (through the Carl H. Lindner College of Business). We gave a one-minute pitch and then went through a five minute question-and-answer period. She came up to me afterward and explained what her organization does and about the Launch It: Cincy program, which sounded like the coolest thing I ever heard.


It's fantastic to have the financial means to pursue your dream full time, but Main Street Ventures has also connected us with so many incredible mentors in every facet of business. We’ve been connected to people in PR, accounting, finance, sales, lawyers …


Q: What’s next for you? Ellis: I recently took a job as a venture analyst with a company in Dayton, Ohio, which is also very involved in the entrepreneurial space. They commercialize intellectual properties (IP) and help bring it to market.


One of the big things when I was interviewing was whether they would allow me to continue to work on my own venture because it’s very important to me. With them working in the startup space, luckily, my boss is very supportive of me and has invited me to different angel investor and networking functions.


My job will be to figure out where in the market does a product or service fit, who would need it and the best way to monetize it. That will be great experience and learning marketing fit for myself.


Q: What advice do you have for aspiring young entrepreneurs like yourself?

Ellis: Always ask for advice. I know that seems interesting as a piece of advice, but someone told me ‘If you ask for money, you get advice. If you ask for advice, you get paid twice.’ Being a young founder, you don’t know what you don’t know, so seeking out mentorship helps you to see your blindspots.


With Main Street Ventures, we’re constantly being put in front of different mentors and attending networking events where we can pick their brains.



 

NAME: Connor Paton COMPANY: Noshable (www.shopnoshable.com)

UNIVERSITY: Miami University (Oxford, OH) – Paton earned his Bachelor of Science degree in finance and entrepreneurship this May.

THE IDEA (In 100 words or less): We're an amenity for short term rentals – think Airbnb.


Our service allows the owner of a rental property to provide their guests the ability to pre-order items (to be stocked in the rental ahead of arrival) from some of their favorite stores such as Walmart or Kroger, instead of relying on Uber Eats or other delivery services. If guests get in late and all the grocery stores are closed, they already have groceries waiting for them. Instead of having to hit a crowded grocery store in the morning, they can hit the beach and kick-off their vacation.


Q: What inspired you to form your company?

Paton: I’ve always been interested in travel and real estate. I worked for a previous startup in the real estate space and knew it was a large market. From my own travel experience, I found myself using services like Uber Eats and Instacart. Services like these allowed me to spend time on things I deemed more important.


Q: How did you learn of Main Street Ventures and what was the Launch It: Cincy Competition like for you? Paton: I've known about Main Street Ventures for years, dating back to when I was a freshman and interned at Flywheel Social Enterprise Hub, which is located in Union Hall in Over-the-Rhine. For my senior capstone, I presented a very similar version of my Noshable idea and (Main Street Ventures Director, Funding and Impact) Brianna Dzuricsko was one of the judges. She really liked my idea and encouraged me to apply for Launch it Cincy. I only had 24 hours (before it was due), so I did a lot of work to revamp the financials and applied.


Through Launch It: Cincy, I’ve learned everyone is willing to help. I’m at a unique stage where a lot of people have already been; not knowing what you want to do but having an idea of where you want to go. Being passionate about something you’re creating makes people willing to help you. Main Street Ventures has put me in touch with a mentor at Kroger and I’ve been able to lean on their network and create my own here in Cincinnati.


Q: What’s next for you? Paton: I’m working full time. (Our team) has raised enough money to give us some leeway to build Noshable, so we’re really focused on getting to market and beta testing. We’re currently in discussions with several potential partners as well as tackling legal aspects that apply to protecting your IP.


I’ve been occupying my time working about 60 hours a week most weeks. I'm fortunate that we were able to raise enough capital; allowing me to pursue this venture full time.


Q: What advice do you have for aspiring young entrepreneurs like yourself?

Paton: Capitalize on any opportunity. Everyone's willing to help and there's a good chance you're going to get a response back because they've been in your shoes … Main Street Ventures is a great example, as is any other accelerator or opportunity that comes along. Just say ‘yes’ to those opportunities because you don't know when they'll come back around.




 

NAME: VaLanDria Smith-Lash COMPANY: Coarse Culture (www.thecoarseculture.com)

EDUCATION: Miami University (Oxford, OH) – Smith-Lash earned her bachelor of science degree in speech pathology and audiology with a minor in dance this spring.

THE IDEA (In 100 words or less): Coarse Culture is a self-care brand specializing in plant-based, shea butter products for hair and skin. By using a plant base, Coarse Culture avoids expending fossil fuels and containing synthetic dyes, artificial fragrances, preservatives, pathogens or sulfates that may serve as irritants to those with skin sensitivities.


Q: What inspired you to form your company?

Smith-Lash: When I was 14 my mom was diagnosed with lupus, which left her with irritated skin and some hair loss. That was hard for me, so I started consulting with dermatologists and doing my own research since over-the-counter products just weren’t cutting it.


I made a whipped butter recipe for my mom in the kitchen, applied it head to toe for her every day and we started to see some miraculous results. She started telling friends in her lupus support group about it, and I started making it for others. I realized that I had a greater gift to contribute, so now I’m in the business of helping people on their journey to a happier and healthier well-being.


Q: How did you learn of Main Street Ventures and what was the Launch It: Cincy Competition like for you? Smith-Lash: I heard of Main Street Ventures through Miami University’s RedHawk Accelerator program … I was nervous because this was one my first pitches and could really impact the growth of my business. It turned out to be one of the best times I’ve had (to date) speaking about my business.


The first lesson I learned was to believe in myself and the success will follow. When you (do that), people can see it, feel it and they want to support you. The second lesson I’ve learned is about the entrepreneurship ecosystem. I’ve been in the Oxford/Cincinnati area for four years and had no idea prior to this that the area was so rich with people willing to help. Having a startup is difficult and it’s really nice to have a devoted team like Main Street Ventures willing and ready to help with the growth of your company.


Q: What’s next for you? Smith-Lash: I see myself really buckling down, working full-time and getting into a rhythm to make sure I have enough structure to move forward. I plan to talk to the right people and make the right moves to grow and develop as I’m on an upward trajectory to get my products in to Target, Walmart and Whole Foods – those are my goals.


Q: What advice do you have for aspiring young entrepreneurs like yourself?

Smith-Lash: Go for it. I’ve always been a big advocate of telling others to focus on the next step in front of you, not the entire staircase. Once you believe in your idea, start talking about it.


The people at Main Street Ventures are willing to listen and give feedback. Asking for help as an entrepreneur is always difficult, but sometimes that’s the first step. Somebody knows someone that has either done what you’re trying to do or, at the very least, knows someone else you know that may be able to help. Main Street Ventures provides networking with like-minded individuals that are extremely ambitious who can help, even if it’s just looking over your business plan. I definitely recommend taking advantage of the rich network they have.






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