Q&A with Michael Hurley from Calfee, Halter & Griswold

Calfee, Halter & Griswold (Calfee) is full-service, corporate law firm with three offices in Ohio and one in Washington D.C. with more than 115 years of experience providing legal counsel. The Cincinnati office opened in 2011 and serves both publicly-held clients and private, family-owned businesses, as well as nonprofits and individuals across the region. Calfee is active in the area’s entrepreneurial community and is a sponsor of QCA. Recently, The Halo Effect caught up with Michael Hurley, partner at Calfee with a focus on helping startups access capital through angel and venture-funding.

T.H.E.: What made Calfee want to partner with QCA?

Hurley: QCA is the other side of the coin for what we do at Calfee. They are a great supplement to the legal advice that we provide to entrepreneurs. We work together symbiotically to prepare these people as best we can to have a successful startup experience. While we overlap minimally, QCA provides insight into other areas like accounting, business evaluation modeling, and what’s important to investors on the economic side to show how the capital they provide is being deployed. It is areas like these that are not in my wheelhouse that QCA brings to the table. In addition to that, QCA is a well-regarded brand, very involved in the community, and they do a lot to push not just their own agenda, but the agenda of the larger startup community. With their track record and history of success, it’s our honor that they want us to be part of growing that ecosystem.

T.H.E.: Why is it important for Calfee to be involved in the Cincinnati startup community?

Hurley: We’ve only been in Cincinnati since 2011. Specific to this office, we like to think we have a lot of similarities with some of our entrepreneurial clients. We are a new entrant into the market, delivering disruptive services in certain ways that are beneficial to making sure the legal community is on top of its own game in supporting the business community. Specific to Calfee’s role and how we intertwine with the entrepreneurial community, the people and businesses that comprise the community are what ensures the vitality of the larger business community. Without them, the more mature business community won’t exist for long. They are the necessary pipeline of new market entrants, new ideas, and people that is the lifeblood of the system. We take a long-term approach in many things, especially with our clients. Looking down the road, my biggest point of pride would be to say that I helped someone start a business in 2019, and they are still a Calfee client generating significant revenue, employing hundreds of people in the Cincinnati community and staying involved in doing great things for the region.

T.H.E. Tell us about your Instructional Toolkit

Hurley: The startup toolkit is a labor of love that has been developed by myself and my colleagues during the last several years. At Calfee, we create the structure that helps entrepreneurs institute the processes that help them achieve business objectives. The toolkit covers potential legal structures of entities, funding rounds, equity and debt investments, etc. It fleshes out discussions on a high-level regarding what entrepreneurs need to do to structure their internal and external legal relationships and helps them understand the correct equity/governance documents. There are 10-15 types of relationships that as an entrepreneur you want to make sure you structure correctly from the outset, and the toolkit makes sure they develop all of them the right way.

T.H.E.: Describe your team at Calfee

Hurley: Our Cincinnati office includes attorneys experienced in labor and employment, privacy and data security, intellectual property, corporate and securities transactions and business disputes. This overlays nicely with the immediate needs of startups. In addition to the people on the ground here, we have approximately 160 attorneys firm-wide that provide all other support that we need that may be outside the sweet spot of our Cincinnati staff. We have an overlay of team members that speaks to the needs of entrepreneurs and startups, and we consciously built our team around the concepts and needs of such clients.

T.H.E.: What would you say makes Calfee stand out from other firms?

Hurley: The willingness to take time to invest in our clients. To understand what they are trying to achieve and then working with them, with a long-term approach, to address those needs. Regarding startups, a lot of it is about triage. We are a cost center to them. We impact their runway to get to market and grow. We are very cognizant that every dollar they spend on legal is a dollar they can’t spend on bringing a product or service to market. We’ll take the time to create a solution that works for them rather than throwing form docs at them for a set fee without any kind of personalization because we are not trying to lose money on the front end or for any other reason that you don’t provide the full level of service at the outset. There is one thing I try to do with every client that has an idea for a startup: I tell them to put the legal questions aside, and before we do anything, talk to me as if I were a potential customer or a potential investor. Tell me what you are trying to achieve, how you are satisfying a market need and what you are going to do to develop and deliver on that proposition. Through that mechanism, I can usually tease out a lot of the questions and answers that I need to personalize the initial corporate governance and other documents that they will need.

T.H.E.:  Why do you think Cincinnati is the place to start a business?

Hurley: I wrote my college thesis on the city. I love my hometown. It’s a fascinating story. We grew up as a ramshackle river town and have always historically punched above our weight in terms of the business community. We still have a lot of solid Fortune 500 companies, and we have great ecosystem in general to foster people who want to be successful. An integral part of that is not just legal and business support but having a place to do things when you are not in the office. The types of amenities this city offers for its size are unparalleled. There are a lot of ways that this city can be attractive to someone who wants to start a business. More important, when you are living on a shoestring budget as a startup, the cost of living in Cincinnati is probably a lot more attractive to someone choosing between groceries and paying a vendor than the Bay Area. Accessibility to great legal services, large companies that can provide guidance and support, professionals that have come out of them – it’s a perfect mixture.

T.H.E.: What can the area do to improve and what are we doing right?

Hurley: What I think we can do to improve is getting our message out to potential transplants to come and start their businesses in our city. We are starting to see the genesis of that and starting to see Cincinnati creeping up on lists of places to live and run a business. I think we need to continue to deliver that message outside of our market. Hopefully that will create a groundswell movement where we have people coming in from outside the market, maybe from more mature startup markets, who can then inject all their knowledge and experience from previous lives.

As far as what is unique or beneficial to the city, especially in the last 10 years, is the spread of cultural acceptance around startups. I see and feel more people willing to forego the job with benefits at a large corporation to strike out on their own and make it. I think that is a direct result of the support provided to date. FC Cincinnati didn’t exist a few years ago. A few local business people decided they had this dream, and they wanted to make it work. FC played their first MLS home game recently. They are the perfectly allegory for what I would like to see in the startup community. We need to do everything that we can to get into the major league for supporting our entrepreneurs.

Standard Bariatrics

Standard Bariatrics is a clinical-staged company developing and commercializing innovate medical devices for the surgical treatment of obesity. Its Standard Clamp was cleared by the FDA in August c2017, and today more than 32 hospitals are using the device. Surgeons are praising the clamp for its consistency leading to positive outcomes, as well as the hospital buyers who value the reduction of supply costs of the existing staplers used with clamp.

Recently, the company closed on a Series A round of funding with the help of QCA. Members Tony Shipley, John Habbert and Roy Kulick played critical rolls in the early rounds and leading up to the Series A financing.

“Without the support of Queen City Angels, we would not have achieved the milestones that were required to go out and raise the amount of capital we needed in series A,” said Matt Sokany, CEO of Standard Bariatrics. “In the early stages, Roy was a board advisor, and I was quick to learn his value, not only representing QCA, but also his experience in the life sciences arena.”

As Standard Bariatrics was preparing for a new round of funding, the company wanted to reach out to a wider number of angel investors and groups across the country. QCA’s connection to the national angel groups, particularly in California, Texas and other parts of Ohio. QCA’s reputation and connections allowed Sokany to reach out number of people to get the best indication of interest in the Series A round.

“Tony has a really good handle on the types of angel groups that would be appropriate for our deal,” said Sokany. “A number of people took my call, and I had a number of conversations with investors because of Tony’s and QCA’s influence. Their time and energy focusing on the right investment groups brought about a sizable syndication.

In addition to making connection, Shipley also spent time helping develop the pitch presentation, providing input on how to present Standard Bariatrics opportunity in the best light. In the end, RiverVest Venture Partners, a Midwest VC, provided the term sheet. While there were questions about whether or not an angel group would appropriate for this part of the investment, Shipley was able to articulate how QCA works, and in the end, RiverVest was comfortable with QCA and the other angel investors introduced by QCA to the deal.

“QCA is a very good partner, and we never felt that QCA was only looking out for QCA,” added Sokany. “Even when we only had two board seats to offer for the funding, and QCA was not offered, the group was supportive, and excepted a observer seat graciously. They were always looking out for what fit within our investment strategy and business.”

Today, Standard Bariatrics looks at QCA as a strong partner with members who have vast knowledge in the start-up world that add value to the company’s c-suite. Sokany sees QCA has a great resource to tap into when big decisions are coming and the company needs different inputs to address challenges and opportunities.

Sokany stated, “The most important thing about making the right decision is to have access to the most information I can. QCA adds real value to its portfolio companies, not only supplying capital, but also business experience, and functional and technical skill that we can tap into as often as we need to.”

SoLo Funds Finds Home in Cincinnati

Travis Holoway left his home in New York City to take a chance on himself, building a start-up in a new city amongst strangers. Jump forward a few months, and Holoway is now a fan of the city and the “strangers” who have helped him establish Solo Funds, a mobile lending exchange connecting lenders with borrowers for the purpose of providing more affordable access to loans under $1,000. The mobile-based platform is peer-to-peer lending in its purest form. From a mobile device, anyone can now lend to or borrow from anyone in the country. SoLo Funds’ has eliminated the strain of pay day loans, the need to borrow from friends and family, and the awkward moments and strained relationships that can often arise when money is involved.

SoLo launched its full version on April 2018 and also announced a $1.2 million round of seed funding led by QCA. T.H.E. caught up with Solo CEO Travis Holoway to learn more about his company, his experience building a business in Cincinnati and the support he has received from QCA.

T.H.E.: What has happened since you received your investment from QCA?
Holoway: We conducted a closed beta of our iOS product, which provided us with the ability to gather data and feedback to improve our process and overall user experience. We are now nationwide with our product through the Google Play and Apple App Stores.

T.H.E.: How have you used the QCA investment to move your company forward?
Holoway: Since our investment from QCA, we’ve been able to grow our team. Key hires for design, Quality Assurance, and marketing were made which have expedited our progress immensely.

T.H.E.: Describe your experience working with QCA
Holoway: The experience has been great so far. There is a reason why they are such a respected group. I appreciate the professionalism, honesty, and support that I’ve gotten both directly and indirectly from multiple members of the group. Investing money is one thing that can be recovered. It’s the time invested in me and SoLo that means more because that can never be recouped. With that said, I feel like they truly care about SoLo’s success, and that means the world to me.

T.H.E.: Describe the interaction with your specific angel member, how does he/she continue to support you
Holoway: I feel like I have “cheated the system” because there are multiple members of the organization that have poured their knowledge and experiences into me. Mark Dawes has been a champion for SoLo since we met at the Hillman Accelerator and I’m so thankful for that. I have no doubt that he is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Jack Ridge and I meet regularly, and he never fails to leave a gem with me. It’s easy to get so far ingrained in your company and personal vision that you are blinded by opportunities that are sometimes overtly apparent. Jack’s questions and suggestions have been extremely helpful. I enjoy leaving our meetings thinking in a way that I’ve never thought before as it will help us grow in the long run.

T.H.E: What’s next for SoLo Funds?
Holoway: The goal for SoLo is to unequivocally be the number one resource for loans under $1,000. That’s a lofty goal, but I didn’t give up a stable career and encourage others to leave their jobs just to join me on a path of mediocrity. The idea for SoLo comes from authentic personal experiences. I’m just tired of watching vulnerable people being taken advantage of by predatory lending practices. It’s been such a long journey to launch this product. The satisfaction for me won’t come from press, notoriety, or revenue. It will come from witnessing the impact of providing more affordable financial solutions for the people who need it most.

T.H.E.: What is your perspective of Cincinnati and its startup/entrepreneurial scene?
Holoway: I’m a huge fan of Cincinnati and its startup ecosystem. I decided to move our company here from NYC, so I feel like the unofficial poster child for StartupCincy. There are the obvious advantages like lower burn rates, big-cos that are open to partnering with startups, access to capital, and talent. What I’ve been most impressed with are the intangibles like how supportive strangers have been to me and our team as a whole. The other startup founders in the area are friendly and always willing to help connect the dots for others. Even though we are running separate companies and competing for investment capital from the same groups, there seems to be an element of team and camaraderie that is truly special. It’s just something you don’t find in most cities, definitely not in NYC.

T.H.E.: What would you say to entrepreneurs or startups considering working with QCA?
Holoway: To understand that their diligence process is stringent for a reason. I think the process helps founders look at their business more intimately and objectively, which helps to identify vulnerabilities and potential opportunities. I would also note that this is an organization filled with a lot of experience and knowledge across various sectors/industries. To me, this is one of the most exciting benefits of having QCA in our corner. This level of knowledge and experience is invaluable, but you have to take advantage of it, having access to resources is worthless if you don’t utilize them.

T.H.E.: What are some lessons you have learned during your startup journey that can help others going through or considering a startup?
Holoway: That you have to be fully committed. You can’t be half-in and half-out. I used to pitch investors while still working my previous full-time job, and I couldn’t understand why they would pass on me because I wasn’t full-time. When I look at the progress I made while “moonlighting” versus being full-time I now wholeheartedly understand the perspective of investors. Being full-time on an idea that has an uncertain financial future is such a vulnerable feeling, but that vulnerability lit a fire in me that I didn’t know existed. My thought process switched from “I hope this works” to “This has to work, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make it work.” That’s powerful. I’d also say that asking for help is important. I’ve always been very much the “I can figure it out myself” type, but that doesn’t work in this world. Asking for help doesn’t show weakness, it shows awareness. Nobody achieves success without help along the way.

Queen City Angels Leads New Investment in CRäKN

Company using investment to bring never before seen innovations to the death-care industry

CINCINNATI – June XX, 2018 – Queen City Angels today announced a new investment in CRäKN, a cloud-based software solution that helps funeral directors manage day-to-day operations in order to streamline operations, prevent errors, and save time. This is the second investment in CRäKN for QCA, which provided early-stage funding for the company in June 2017. The new round of funding includes investment from QCA and QCA members, as well as funds from industry professionals and from Canadian investors. More than half the funds were from outside the United States.

CRäKN plans to use the funds to continue rounding out the product, bringing new innovations to the funeral home industry, and for marketing support to help increase awareness for the company’s technology. The company is also hiring developers, customer success personnel and sales professionals. Many of the operational hires will be based in Cincinnati, while the sales team will be located throughout the country.

“Our software makes funeral directors’ lives much easier, so they can focus on families and providing a great experience for them, and less time on other business details,” said Scott Mindrum, president and CEO of CRäKN. “The industry is ripe for innovation, and we are finding customers and prospective customers who have been waiting for technology like ours to help them be more efficient and provide excellent service. Funeral directors are notorious world-class jugglers. CRäKN gives them more arms to manage every aspect of their businesses.”

Mindrum added, “As a member of QCA, I have a unique perspective on the angel group. Terry Wright with QCA has been awesome, jumping in whenever we need help. He has gone above and beyond a typical angel investor, accompanying us to investigate new technology, and helping us figure out pricing and marketing strategies. We appreciate QCA’s commitment to CRäKN and the local entrepreneurial community.”

Prior to CRäKN, most funeral directors managed their interactions with customers with pens and paper forms. Often, doing arrangement forms by hand led to duplicated efforts, as information was entered into various systems. On average, the name of the deceased is written more than 50 times when planning funerals. This increases the opportunity for spelling mistakes, transposition errors and inaccurate filings. CRäKN eliminates these manual processes, and the new innovations will increase efficiencies even further.

“The past year we have seen a lot of innovation coming from CRäKN, and we are excited for the industry’s response as the new technologies are released later this year,” said Wright. “The company has doubled down on mobile capabilities and is doing things that no one in the industry is doing; all of which bodes well for CRäKN’s near and long-term success.”

About Queen City Angels
The Queen City Angels (QCA) is a group of more than 50 experienced accredited investors who provide funding, support and guidance to early-stage growth companies in the Cincinnati area and surrounding region. QCA members, which include former C-level executives and entrepreneurs, draw from their personal operating and management experience to evaluate opportunities and provide on-going mentoring to young businesses with exceptional growth potential. Since 2000, QCA members have directly invested approximately $50 million in nearly 80 portfolio companies. The total capital invested in these companies, including QCA members’ capital, syndication partners’ capital, follow-on venture capital funds and venture debt is in excess of $410 million. CB Insight recently ranked QCA second out of 370 national angel organizations. For additional information, visit www.qca.com.

About CRäKN

QCA Rising with New Ascent Program

Earlier this year, QCA launched the Ascent program with the purpose to add diversity and unique perspectives to QCA with a goal to welcome younger members, more women and people of color. Ascent is an outgrowth of a key strategic imperative for QCA to improve diversity and inclusion. The effort will make QCA a better organization that will ultimately deliver better outcomes, and returns for investors and portfolio companies.

Recently, T.H.E. had the opportunity to interview Ann Mooney, a member of QCA and the person tasked with leading this new initiative. Ann grew up in a small town in rural Ohio, and launched her first entrepreneurial venture at the age of 12 with a lawn care service. She earned her bachelor’s and MBA in finance from Indiana University, and started her career at P&G working in finance, strategy and marketing. After 18 years at P&G, she launched Rising Moon Consulting in 2009, working with Fortune 500 companies and start-ups. She is a mentor at The Brandery and serves as a strategic advisor with a young company that has grown to more than $13 million in revenues in just over three years. Recognizing her passion for start-ups, she wanted to learn more about the funding side, which led her to QCA and the Ascent program.

T.H.E.: What made you want to get involved in QCA and Ascent.

Mooney: Ascent’s lower upfront investment definitely accelerated my timeline in getting involved in angel investing! And I’m thrilled that I made the leap when I did. I’ve learned so much in this last year, and know it’s only the beginning of an exciting many-year journey for me in angel investing.

T.H.E.: Why Cincinnati, and why now? What makes this the right place and time for Ascent?

Mooney: It’s an exciting timing in Cincinnati! The downtown economic development is cultivating a palpable vibrancy and energy in the city. The #StartupCincy ecosystem is bumping! Union Hall, led by Cintrifuse, is a true hub for entrepreneurialism. Incubators and accelerators seem to be almost reproducing (e.g., The Brandery/gener8tor, UpTech, Aviatra, Mortar, Hillman, First Hatch), with an increasing emphasis on diversity and inclusion.

There’s an infusion of energy and youthful talent and exuberance that is elevating the city. At the same time, new venture funds are spawning, and there seems to be the beginnings of an influx of new blood into angel investing. For start-up founders, the cost of living of Cincinnati gives them an advantage over the coasts – with funding raised going further (lower payrolls, lower burn). And, for investors, start-up valuations in the Midwest are more reasonable, allowing for higher possible returns.

T.H.E.: What do you feel are the biggest challenges for getting more women involved in angel investing?

Mooney: I see four definite challenges. First and foremost is awareness. We need to make more women with the financial wherewithal aware of angel investing as an asset class.

Second is education. Women, need to understand the ins and outs of angel investing, and how to get started. It’s worth noting that the education program that Sue and Steve Baggott have put together has been amazing! It’s helping accelerate my learning curve on many important topics related to angel investing – from due diligence to term streets, etc.

Third, women tend to be more risk averse. The lower Ascent investment allows me to learn and experiment with angel investing without an outsized financial commitment.

Finally is respect. This might not seem obvious to some. The current QCA membership is disproportionately male. Many women, like me, who’ve spent a career in male-dominated corporate environments – with perhaps more than a few examples of feeling under-appreciated, slighted, passed over, disrespected, etc – might not want to carry the weight of helping turn the diversity tide in angel investing. I’ll be honest, I had that thought myself. Ultimately though, I decided I want to be an integral part of creating the changing face of angel investing. I relish the challenge. I’m diving into this effort initially via membership on the QCA Diversity & Inclusion Committee. I’ve also started to actively socialize QCA & Ascent among my network, with the hope of attracting more newcomers like me.

T.H.E.: How do you measure the success of the program?

Mooney: We want to look at a broad set of KPIs, include Ascent membership, diversity, educational sessions conduct and participation levels, as well as due diligence team participation, the number and amount of angel investments made, and referrals by Ascent members for additional QCA members.

T.H.E.: Since you started, what have you learned about the people interested in angel investing?

Mooney: Since joining QCA via the new Ascent membership in early 2017, I’ve learned that those interested in angel investing are really awesome people! They are deeply invested in the whole entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem. Out of the gates, I noticed experienced angels were welcoming to newcomers like me! And, not surprisingly, I discovered angels are smart, enterprising people who’ve had very successful careers in their own right. Angels seem to be motivated by a combination of ‘staying in the game,’ helping young founders be successful, earning a return and/ or making a meaningful impact. Though without exception, angels’ unique expertise is hugely valuable in evaluating start-ups seeking investment and advising them once investments are made.

T.H.E.: How do you see Ascent helping people transition to angel investing?

Mooney: The Ascent has a lower investment threshold, and hence removes the upfront ‘big check’ that might be a barrier for some contemplating joining QCA. This is especially true for women and minorities. The program allows Ascent members to gain experience and confidence in angel investing, and to learn from the vast wisdom of the QCA group.

T.H.E.: How do we get more women to get engaged with investing in start-ups?

Mooney: To get more women engaged with investing in start-ups, we need to address the aforementioned challenges barriers to entry: 1) awareness, 2) education, 3) risk and 4) respect. A great example of an event that addressed the first two was the Venturesome Woman event, a by-women, for-women day-long educational workshop last Summer. There were 60+ fabulous women in attendance. The energy was amazing. The curriculum was terrific. The speakers were true subject matter experts. The materials were relevant and helpful. We all left energized and inspired! I’m hoping we can do more of these types of things. Another example that addresses all four challenges mentioned are angel funds like Rising Tide abd Next Wave that are squarely focus on diversity of investors and companies.

T.H.E.: What’s next for Ascent?

Mooney: Ascent is just getting started. As QCA raises its next fund in the next year or so, we want to dramatically grow Ascent membership to perhaps 10% of the total fund. Achieving this would amount to quintupling the number of Ascent members vs. today. This would have a huge immediate impact on the diversity of QCA!

Day For Crypto

Get ready for a first of its kind event in the Cincinnati area

Becon Global (Dublin, Ireland) and Crypto Properties would like to invite you to a unique day of learning. D4C is all you need to get up to speed on one of the most fascinating and transformative revolutions since the Internet—blockchain technology and the rise of digital currency, made popular by, but not limited to, the success of Bitcoin.

This event is focused on teaching people how to invest, buy and sell all varieties of crypto currency as well as dive into how we got here and where we are going. Bitcoin and the other crypto currencies continue to grow, and currently are approaching a total market capitalization of $200 billion. Recently, Bitcoin alone has increased in value more than 700% this year alone. But “currency” is only the tip of the iceberg. This conference will cover so much more.

In addition to addressing topics of interest to crypto investors, we will also discuss the underlying technology of these digital currencies – blockchain, which is poised to disrupt all public and private sectors. Blockchain is changing our digital landscape. It will transform the way in which traditional digital services are delivered globally, across all sectors, industries and services. Blockchain is ushering in a new era of more connected, better integrated and efficient digital services. Blockchain changes the rules.

If you want to know how to get involved – D4C is a great place to start.

Topics covered include:

  • An intro to blockchain and digital currencies: past, present and future

  • Overview of various crypto currencies

  • What are ICOs / TGEs / Token Sales, and how can my business benefit?

  • Setting up an ICO / TGE / Token Sale; Practical lessons learned

  • How U.S.-based investors can participate in ICOs / TGEs and be fully compliant

  • Where is blockchain technology entering mainstream business?


8-8:50 a.m.
Registration and Coffee

8:50-9 a.m.
Opening of the Conference
Adam Koehler, Co-Founder at CPROP (USA) & Michael Hiles, Founder of 10XTS

9-9:30 a.m.
Keynote Presentation: Intro to blockchain and digital currencies: past, present and future
Peter Vessenes
Managing Director at New Alchemy, former Chairman Bitcoin Foundation (USA)

9:30-10:30 a.m.
Getting started with Crypto-Currencies. Buying, Selling, Storing

10:30-11 a.m.
Panel Discussion: An overview of various crypto-currencies
Albert Castellana, Board Member at NEM Foundation (Singapore)
Alexander Perchikov, Product Marketing Director at Bitfury Group (Netherlands)
Matthew Spoke, Board Member at Ethereum Enterprise Alliance (Canada)
Eric Gu, CEO at Metaverse (China)

11 a.m.-12 p.m.
What are ICOs / TGEs / Token Sales and how can my business benefit?
Nick Ayton, Founder at Chainstartr (UK)

12-1 p.m.

1-2:30 p.m.
Setting up an ICO / TGE / Token Sale. Practical lessons learned
Sandy Selman, Co-Founder at CPROP (USA), Moderator
Shawn Owen, CEO at SALT Lending (USA)
Kat Kuzmeskas, Co-Founder and CEO at SimplyVital Health (USA)
Leonid Bondarenko, CTO at Exch.One (Switzerland)
Dan Novaes, Co-Founder and CEO at Current (USA)
Chris Emms, Co-Founder at Itiriv (Gibraltar)

2:30-3 p.m.
How US-based investors can participate in ICOs / TGEs and be fully compliant
J. Gray Sasser
Co-Chair Blockchain and Digital Currency Team, Frost Brown Todd LLC (USA)
Gordon Einstein
CEO at AdaptivSky (USA)

3-4 p.m.
Where is blockchain technology entering mainstream business?
Nils Veenstra, Managing Partner at BECON (Ireland)

4-4:15 p.m.
Closing of Conference
Adam Koehler & Michael Hiles
Co-Founder at CPROP (USA)

4:30-6 p.m.
Network Reception

This conference is perfect for investors, entrepreneurs considering ICO fundraising, and financial, legal and IT professionals as well as those simply curious about bitcoin and other digital assets.

Breakfast and lunch will be provided. A networking reception will follow the event. If you have an interest in crypto currency, don’t miss this event. We hope to see you there.

Buy Tickets

Note: $199 ticket price is good until November 20. After December 4 or at the door, the price is $249.

RISK STATEMENT – The trading of bitcoin and alternative crypto currency has potential rewards and risks. Trading may not be suitable for all people. Anyone wishing to invest should seek his or her own independent financial or professional advice.

Vance Van Drake


Ulmer is one of the Midwest’s leading law firms with attorneys in Ohio’s three major cities, as well as Chicago and Boca Raton, Florida. Ulmer is a long-time supporter of the local entrepreneurial ecosystem with attorneys volunteering time at the University of Cincinnati, Miami University (Ohio), Northern Kentucky University and Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. The firm is active participants in time and sponsorship investments at most early stage activities around Cincinnati, and its attorneys are frequent speakers and panelists at local start-up conferences and events. Recently, The Halo Effect (THE) caught up with Vance VanDrake, an intellectual property, patent and venture attorney in the firm’s Cincinnati office. Vance is also the President of the Greater Cincinnati Venture Association, was appointed by the Mayor of Cincinnati to the Small Business Advisory Committee and was recognized as one of Cincinnati’s “Top 40 under 40” by the Cincinnati Business Courier.

THE: Why is it important for Ulmer to be involved in the start-up community?

VanDrake: Ulmer is supportive of the community at large and we recognize how important entrepreneurship is to this area. The start-up ecosystem has become a more vibrant and intricate part of Cincinnati, especially in the last 5-10 years, and as a tech-focused law firm, it’s important for us to see and experience the next big thing before it becomes the next big thing. Within the Cincinnati office, there are 10-12 attorneys who are actively involved in our tech and early-stage practice. We have broad experience across patent, copyright, trademark and open source, as well as immigration and the role it plays with talent and ownership.

THE: What makes Ulmer stand out from other law firms in the area?

VanDrake: Ulmer, especially here in Cincinnati, is uniquely suited to support the needs of emerging tech business. Three-quarters of our attorneys have tech degrees, with a focus on IP and pharma. I have co-founded three companies myself, so we understand that entrepreneurs and start-ups operate a little differently than a Fortune 500 company. Most importantly, we take time to understand the people behind the business.

When it comes to practicing law among start-ups and entrepreneurs, I liken it to fantasy football. If you play fantasy football to win money, you probably shouldn’t play. Lots of attorneys talk about supporting start-up business, but the financial rewards are definitely different than other areas of law. You play in the start-up space for the community and because you like the people involved. There is a lot of trendiness, but most people don’t realize what it takes to fully commit to the space. 

THE: Describe the relationship between Ulmer and QCA and the value that the firm receives in being a QCA partner

VanDrake: We’ve been a long-time supporter and sponsor of QCA, and recognize the good work that they do in the community to help promising tech companies move to the next level. We have been involved in QCA’s Morning Mentoring program, supported companies that they fund in deals, and most recently, helped with QCA’s trademark and Startup College.

QCA plays an invaluable role in our local ecosystem. There are only a couple of options locally for seed-based funding, so without QCA, we would lose companies and entrepreneurs to the coasts. Having such a large group of local investors helps keep our best companies and people here. There are so many promising business ideas that come out of P&G, and high quality entrepreneurs that are affiliated with other Fortune 500 companies. QCA’s presence and activity gives them incentive to build their ideas and companies in Cincinnati.

THE: Considering IP, what are 1-3 things you have learned, from a legal perspective that can help young companies when it comes protecting their IP?

VanDrake: First, every company has IP of some kind, whether it is patents, trademarks or trade secrets. The higher the business IP IQ, the better off the company will be. Second, IP has a reputation for being really expensive, which doesn’t have to be the case. Companies that pursue IP protection can maximize the value at every step. Finally, fear with software/tech companies that think they don’t have any IP or can’t protect it. This is wrong. There is a misconception that to do anything is really expensive. Lots of companies throw up their hands, and don’t do anything, or don’t educate themselves about the options. That approach ends up hurting the valuation of the company.

THE: What are the more common misconceptions about IP and IP attorneys?

VanDrake: Unfortunately, many of the misconceptions are true. There is a perception that IP attorneys have very low business acumen and are more focused on the nuts and bolts of prosecution; not necessarily driving value for the business as a whole.

Start-ups and their founders should ask IP attorneys, “How often do you work with early stage companies?” “How many other startups have you helped and how much success have you had?” The right IP attorney for Fortune 50 company, with an unlimited budget, might not understand the needs of early stage businesses.

THE: What do you enjoy about working with startups and entrepreneurs?

VanDrake: I like to be around people who are smarter than me. Every day, I get to be involved and play a small role in something that has the potential to benefit the city or change the world. I get to work with brilliant, quirky startup founders, which is not for everyone, but it’s why I love to come to work everyday.

THE: Why is Cincinnati the right place to build a business?

VanDrake: It’s our Midwest mentality. Everyone is about the rising tide. Everyone is wiling to have coffee or a meeting for free. For the most part, people are trying to find a way to give first in most situations, which is an incredible asset for entrepreneurs. We also have a wealth of knowledge from universities and big companies. In most cases, if you ask for help, you will get it. This support system makes the city special and helps the ecosystem in an ongoing way. Those that have struggled here have not been willing to ask.

THE: What can Cincinnati do in the short-term/long-term to improve as a place to do business?

VanDrake: The city and region needs to continue to support the best entrepreneurs, and encourage people to go out and do their own thing. Some of the best that have started companies are those that have worked at P&G, Children’s Hospital and GE. We need more of them to take a chance on themselves and their ideas. They need to know that on boarding into the startup community is not jumping off a cliff for their careers.

THE: As you have seen the startup/entrepreneurial community grow, what stands out to you?

VanDrake: The community has truly mirrored Over-the-Rhine. What was once brave and edgy is now for everyone. We have a community that is a place for everyone to get involved. We have a much more established community, and the past 10 years of growth is unrecognizable.

THE: Are there companies or organizations you look to as an example of doing things the right way?

VanDrake: I admire companies and organizations that are looking to collaborate. We are too small of a city, and our resources too limited to compete amongst ourselves to play politics. The companies and organizations that work to include people, and work with one another, are doing it the right way. Reaching out within our region is our best chance for success.

Each city in our region has a core competency that is a magnet for talent in that space. In P&G, we draw certain kind of talent, which wouldn’t be here if not for them. If we make connections, build startups, and leverage the strengths of other Midwest communities, we will all do better.

Geoffrey Marshall

Geoffrey Marshall has spent the last five years as managing director of G.T. Marshall & Associates, a financial consulting firm he started after more than 30 years at P&G. He is also one of the newest members of the Queen City Angels bringing his experience to help solve business challenges with companies of all sizes for entrepreneurs and start-ups in QCA’s portfolio. During his long career at P&G, Marshall served in operational finance, most recently managing a 400-person global supply chain organization that guided the integration of Wella, Clairol, Gillette and Braun into a single business unit. His accomplishments during his time at P&G show an ability to cut costs, increase cash flow and drive productivity. Since he left P&G in 2012, he has been doing the same thing for small and medium-size companies and non-profits. However, start-ups is what always intrigued him.

“This is an entirely different world than I grew up with at P&G. We’re talking a big company with a lot of resources versus a start-up with minimal resources,” said Marshall. “That said, P&G is big, but throughout the company, you have a lot of little projects. I helped jump-start Reflect.com which was the first e-commerce venture that was started from scratch. I had to set up bank accounts and payroll, and then we moved the organization to San Francisco. I am fascinated by start-ups and how they can succeed.”

His experience with BigCos provides him with valuable insight into the QCA team.

“I know what BigCos and VCs are looking for, so what are the things we can do creatively to help entrepreneurs manage capital, access resources, because that’s the key thing they need, and do it in a way they can use other people’s money,” added Marshall.

Marshall sees his role at QCA as someone who can help the entrepreneurs see the big picture and not run past the stop signs so they can find the big payday.

“Entrepreneurs can be overly optimistic and can run past the stop signs,” said Marshall. “My role is to help them understand what has to be true to get past the stop signs effectively. Here are the things you need on the balance sheet, on the income statement, the history you need to demonstrate and milestones you need to hit to get to that payday.”

Since joining QCA, Marshall has been impressed with the background of its members and the level of experience in the meetings.

“Every time I get a chance to get to know the members, I am fascinated with their backgrounds, and I see an opportunity to learn more and pick their brains so I can better understand what to watch for as I participate in more investments,” stated Marshall. “I want to take their experience and use the things they have done on new projects.”

Marshall is also impressed with the level of engagement in every investment.

He added, “There is such a breadth of knowledge around the table and everyone is engaged financially and through sweat equity and thought equity. There is a lot of mindspace invested in every deal and the level of due diligence is even more than I had expected.”

Marshall also shares his enthusiasm for the entrepreneurial spirit that has enveloped Cincinnati.

“The city and the surrounding communities have made huge progress in the past few years,” said Marshall, who was involved on teams that started YourEncore and Cintrifuse.

“We need a lot more Assurex Health success stories and a lot more wins. Winning begets winning begets more funding begets more winning. We certainly have an advantage in our cost of living and as a family focused community, but how do we make this area an even more attractive place to start and build a business?”

Marshall believes it starts with retaining talent, drawing similarities to the challenges of his hometown of Austin, Texas, in the 1970s.  
“ Austin is now a thriving city, and I would like to see similar things happen here.  The city recognized that it was losing people to Houston to work in oil and started to implement strategies to keep people home.”

In addition to talent, as an African-American business leader, Marshall sees organizations such as Mortar playing an important role in expanding growth and building entrepreneurial successes in Cincinnati.

“The question is how do you change the mindset of an entire community,” said Marshall. “The answer is that everyone needs to be involved in raising the boat as the tides rise. Success at business is not a white or black issue, as the same learning can be applied to everyone.”

Marshall sees QCA has a leader to keep Cincinnati moving forward.

He added, “There is so much experience and talent within QCA that I and others can learn from. Every time I meet someone at QCA, I learn something new. The variety of experience is fascinating in a group like this, and it gets me energized to do more.”

Nathan Heerdt

In December 2016, QCA announced a strategic investment in Healthy Roster, creator of a mobile sports-specific electronic health record. Healthy Roster is giving Sports Medicine departments the ability to easily track and report about injuries. The mobile injury documentation and communication tool gives Sports Medicine departments the ability to easily track and report about injuries while also integrating with electronic health records. Recently, The Halo Effect had the opportunity to sit down with Nathan Heerdt, CEO of Healthy Roster, to get an update about the company.

THE: What’s happened since we announced the investment?

Heerdt: We used QCA and the investment, syndication of REV1, Ohio Tech Angels, Northcoast Angels as a bulk of our round. When we closed the round, we put the investment to use to hire sales development reps that are responsible for the top of the funnel.

THE: Where are you focusing your sales?

Heerdt: We have three main customers. We have health systems, hospitals and hospital chains. We have orthopedic clinics, such as Beacon in Cincinnati, and we also sell directly to high schools. In sports medicine, health systems hire athletic trainers and put them on staff at the high schools, but that is not everywhere. Approximately 60 percent of the country uses that model. Roughly 40 percent of high schools still hire their athletic trainers. Our software is useful in those situations, so we do sell directly to high schools.

THE: Describe your experience with QCA since the investment.

Heerdt: Queen City has been amazing. They provided us with a good amount of our funding, and they also added two board members for us, Ted Capossela and Terry Wright. Both of them have been instrumental in not only providing insight, but also really going out of their way to help us with business development. They have given us multiple leads and warm introductions that are leading to business. Our sales cycle is six to 12 months long, and we are nearing completion of a deal because of QCA’s direct involvement.

THE: How important is Ted and Terry’s involvement beyond the financial perspective?

Heerdt: Both are among the most active investors in helping to set up relationships and introducing us to people. 

THE: How has the relationship with QCA and the two members on your board met or exceeded your expectations?

Heerdt: If you look at Ohio when you are raising funds, and you’re raising amounts like we were, your options are somewhat limited. There are not a lot of VCs investing at this stage. You are depending on local organizations in each of the big cities in Ohio to get behind you. It helps to have a syndicate of those groups behind you. Really important for us, we had success in Columbus with Rev1 and Ohio Tech Angels, to see the support across the state. Once we received the support from QCA, then they took it to the next level of engagement. QCA has been the leader in terms of supporting us beyond the money.

THE: What’s next for Healthy Roster?

Heerdt: We are really focused on building a scalable sales process, so hiring sales development reps, building the top-end of the funnel, providing enough leads for account managers to do demos and close sales. We are putting a lot of our time into that portion of the company, and then really building our customer success. That is really the second part of what we need to do to scale. Once we bring on a hospital or 50 athletic trainers, how do we take the next step to ensure they have a smooth transition into the software when using it on a daily basis, and using it to its fullest potential so that management of hospitals get the full value of the data and reports in the system.

THE: What’s your perspective on Cincinnati and the entrepreneurial, startup scene?

Heerdt: I’ve spent enough time in this city, and it’s robust to say the least. In Cincinnati, you get a strong sense of product and retail-oriented companies because of the strong base of Fortune 500 companies. Each market differs in who their established big companies are and the ecosystems that they build. In Cincinnati, we see a vibrant community. What I really like is they have the same type of viewpoints of how to build companies as we do in Columbus, so I found a lot of the same willingness in the investors here as I did in Columbus.

THE: How important is the collaboration and interaction between the cities and the investment groups?

Heerdt: It’s really important. It trims down the responsibilities of the entrepreneur to pitch and do due diligence multiple times. So when the investment communities agree and work together, it helps on the diligence process. Rev1 was our lead investor and we went through a stringent process with them getting the due diligence together. QCA trusts Rev1 enough to know that they were setting it up the right way, and could just access the documents that I had provided. It’s not like we did not have additional diligence questions or conversations around it, but I wasn’t constantly getting different versions of the same information that was requested because QCA wanted it done its own specific way. And vice versa, when Rev1 invests in a Cincinnati company, they trust QCA to do the diligence process the right way. It helps a lot from the entrepreneur side.

THE: How is the interaction between the angel groups and you? How do all these perspectives help you?

Heerdt: As an entrepreneur, the biggest thing you can do is be as transparent as possible with your investors. It seems like common sense, but it is something you have to work at. You have to set up accessible reports and dashboards, and make sure the data is there, and then encourage people to look at it. We have tried to set up systems and dashboards, where every month you are getting an introduction back into the company. Having people on the board just helps ease the transition even more, getting data into the hands of the investors.

If you make the right information accessible to the investors, it really helps with the trust factor. Both the investment groups, Rev1 and QCA, they show matching support for that. When they feel like they understand what is going on, it is a lot easier for them to engage. The more they are engaged on a monthly basis, the more benefit it is back to the entrepreneur and the company.

THE: What would you say to other entrepreneurs considering funding through QCA?

Heerdt: It’s a highly worthwhile effort. All fundraising takes time and energy and effort. As you go through multiple groups, it gets more and more tiring. But there are two or three big important groups to hit in the state of Ohio, and QCA is one of them.

Pipeline H2O

Pipeline Logo

Introducing Pipeline H2O

The Hamilton Mill, an advanced manufacturing, clean-technology incubator focused on developing high growth potential startup businesses, introduced Pipeline H2O, a water-commercialization program, in September 2016. In January 2017, the program welcomed its first class of startups selected from 66 applications from across 5 continents representing 14 different countries. In April, the program was recognized with an award from the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration (GCC-ASPA). The award for “Program Excellence” recognized Pipeline H2O as a program with exceptional productivity, performance, effectiveness or innovation that provides highly responsive service to customers and demonstrates the organization’s value. In May, Pipeline H2O conducted its first Demo Day for its inaugural class of startups, awarding PowerTech Water and Searen the program’s first two $25,000 investments. We recently had the opportunity to connect with Antony Seppi, Operations Director at The Hamilton Mill, to learn more about the program and the incubator.

THE: Describe Pipeline H2O and the role it plays in Cincinnati’s startup ecosystem.

Seppi: Pipeline H2O is similiar to the “accelerator” (think The Brandery, UpTech, Ocean) concept in that we brought a number of selected startups into our region and introduced them to various organizations and individuals throughout the Greater Cincinnati Region to help accelerate their progress as a startup. We have amassed a tremendous amount of talent from the water-tech and entrepreneurial community to help make this successful both for the region and the participating startups. Our partners include Village Capital, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Cincinnati Water Works, Confluence, the University of Cincinnati’s Water Center, Xavier University’s Center for Innovation, the City of Cincinnati, the City of Hamilton, and Cintrifuse.

A couple of minor differences from your traditional accelerator model are that we did not ask the startups to relocate to the region during the duration of the program. Rather they came to Cincinnati once a month from February through May. Additionally, we are not taking equity in the startups that are participating in the program. Participants in our program are eligible for one of two $25,000 awards that are awarded via a peer selection model — a model unique to our premier partner in this program — Village Capital.

In the end, Greater Cincinnati is a tremendous resource for startups looking to innovate around water. As a matter of fact, the Cincinnati area/region leads the country in water-tech patents per capita. Additionally:

  • Cincinnati is the birthplace of water research in the U.S. beginning in 1913.

  • Cincinnati is home to the U.S. Federal Water Research and Development Laboratory, AWBERC and the National Homeland Security Research Center.

While many regions are faced with increasing water shortages, Southwest Ohio is water-rich.

THE: What types of companies are you looking for to be part of your program?

Seppi: As part of our inaugural Pipeline H2O class, we were looking for water-technology companies that had a physical prototype that could be tested with identified customers. The solutions also had to be solving problems in one or more of following areas: water infrastructure, reuse/recycling, monitoring/metering, data analytics, consumer innovations and wastewater.

THE: How do you measure success with the entrepreneurs you are mentoring?

Seppi: Customer engagement which will lead to happy, paying customers.

THE: Why Cincinnati (Hamilton), and why now? What makes this the right place and time for Pipeline H2O?

Seppi: The Hamilton Mill is an award-winning business incubator that provides support for young companies and entrepreneurs focused on clean energy and advanced manufacturing technologies. This is our area of expertise, and we are able to leverage our City of Hamilton partners to make this successful. The City has been extremely aggressive in introducing renewable energy initiatives to its utility customers – Hamilton has control of all utilities, including water, gas, electric, sewer, fiber – and we are able to leverage this expertise in a “City as a Lab” approach. This means we can get our startups involved with city utilities to test their products or concepts. The City is close to seventy-five to eighty percent renewable energy in terms of its production, with most of this coming from the Meldahl Hydroelectric Facility.

Because of our expertise in this sector, Cintrifuse (StartupCincy), Village Capital and several City of Cincinnati leaders approached us to spearhead this regional effort. They asked us in Spring 2016 to administer the program, and we jumped at the opportunity. Throughout the country and around the world, Village Capital establishes these types of communities revolving around particular sectors such as energy, agriculture, health, education, financial and health.  Village Capital thought the Cincinnati area would be a good fit for energy.

Plus, the City of Hamilton has the world’s best drinking water!

THE: What have been the biggest challenges for you to this point?

Seppi: Staying relevant with all of the other startup noise that is out there. Again, we are not your traditional incubator/accelerator and developing the next generation smartphone application is not our goal. We have carved out a very specific niche that is not meant to compete with other entities that are part of the Cincinnati ecosystem. We are more interested in world-changing technologies that will literally make a difference in how people live their lives and sustain themselves. By the nature of the technologies and the products our startups are building, it will be a little longer time to maturation.

THE: Since you started, what lessons have you learned that have made you a stronger organization?

Seppi: Organizationally, The Hamilton Mill is made stronger by the local, regional and national partnerships we have been able to forge. We could not have done this without the support and insight of our partners.

THE: How do you see Pipeline H2O working with other incubators and organizations such as QCA that are helping small businesses and entrepreneurs?

Seppi: Our collaboration with the other ecosystem partners will ultimately lead to the success of the program. We will lean on them for expertise and mentorship opportunities and use them to fill in needs where we don't necessarily have that area of expertise.

THE: What does Cincinnati and the surrounding region need to do to make small business success a priority?

Seppi: Be honest and upfront with startups that are going through the ecosystem, whether it's Pipeline H2O or some other organization. It does the region and the startup no good if we can't have the honest conversations as to whether a small business is on a trajectory for success or not. Make suggestions for adjusting the product or solutions, team makeup or whether to just cut bait and move on to the next great idea.

We also need to do a better job of marketing the region and communicating that this is a great region for startups. We are getting better at this, but still have a ways to go. Once we get there, more resources will come flowing in.

Finally, make small business development part of the overall economic development conversation and strategy. The days of the large scale wins are very few and far between. There needs to be a healthy mix of the larger scale focus mixed with small business focus. This is what we have done in Hamilton and why we are achieving results.


Pipeline H2O is beginning preparations and recruitment for its second class in the fall of 2017. Visit PipelineH20.org for more details.