If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that when the going gets tough, the tough start their own businesses – and succeed. Meet five Greater Cincinnati entrepreneurs who took a chance on making their dreams a reality.

Jeremy Louden

Managing Partner, nimbleSoft

www.nimblesoft.com

Partner, Valley Wine & Spirits

Jeremy Louden

1. Sum up your business(es) for us. What do you do?

At nimbleSoft, we develop and support custom software and business intelligence solutions. When a customer (we call them partners) has an idea for a system, they contact us and we design, develop, and support the system. Some examples of solutions that we have delivered include a custom CRM system for a local start-up, labor scheduling system for a large retail chain, and a legal document/file management system. Later this year, we will also be rolling out our proprietary code generating software.

Also, Valley Wine & Spirits is a new store that I opened with a couple of friends in Ft. Wright right off of 17 and 275. We specialize in craft beers, quality wines, and high end bourbon.

2. What inspired you to start your business(es)?

I was in consulting for 10 years and basically got to the point where I was confident that I could run my own business as well, if not better, than the companies that I had worked for. A good opportunity presented itself to enable me to start the business and I seized it.

For the liquor store, Valley Wine & Spirits, a good friend of mine had excellent experience in the industry and we found a great location. It was basically a no-brainer. With his industry experience, I am able to use my technical and business experience to make us successful. Being such a customer-facing business is a great change for the large amount of time I spend on the computer at nimbleSoft.

3. What (local) resources did you use when starting your business(es)?

nimbleSoft started in the Northern Kentucky e-zone. We got a nice boost by having quality, affordable office space and technical resources in our first two and a half years. It also enabled us to meet some great people that have been beneficial in providing guidance to us.

Valley Wine & Spirits was started as a result of a loan from Bank of Kentucky. They were one of the few banks that we found that it was easy to work with to get the funding that we needed.

4. What is your advice for others looking to start a business?

If they are in still in the decision stage, weigh the absolute worst outcome that could occur from starting the business. Chances are, the worst outcome is not that bad and you can recover from failures pretty easily. Also, don’t start a company just to “be your own boss.” You will be trading in your one boss for several; including clients, vendors, and employees.

5. What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learned thus far?

I have two “most important lessons.”

First, Be yourself and be amazing. No one ever became amazing by trying to copy someone else.

Secondly, always be listening –  to your clients, employees, audio-books, and family. In just the past few months, I have made more of an effort to truly listen and I have seen enormous benefits.

6. What makes you different and unique from others in your industry?

My clients would respond that we come in and deliver the solution that they need but that they could not envision. Most of our projects start with an idea and few emails. We take these vague ideas and deliver user-friendly systems with ROI for the business. Most of our competitors are too reliant on the customer providing defined requirements and designs to them.

7. How do you give back to the community?

The best thing that a company can do for their community is to provide well-paying, stable jobs for the people that live in that community. In the Cincinnati and Indianapolis areas, we have been able to do that and continue to hire. We have also provided paid internships for the past three years to college juniors. Additionally, we continue to deliver projects at large discounts to non-profits in the area. This allows the solutions that they need to be affordable and deliver ROI that is important to these organizations as they operate on ever tightening budgets. More recently, we have become involved in the Covington Business Council and look forward to the opportunities that the organization is going to provide us to make a bigger difference locally.

8. What’s next on the horizon for your business(es)?

As mentioned earlier, nimbleSoft is very excited to launch its first software product, nimbleDeveloper, in the next six months. nimbleDeveloper has been used internally since the beginning of the our company and has enabled us to consistently deliver project under budget and before deadlines. The product is slated to be featured on kickstarter.com within the 2 months to secure the final bit of funding to deliver the product.

At Valley Wine & Spirits, we are looking at a second location and plan on expanding to 5 locations over the next 5 years.

Jon Amster

Founder, 321-RIDE

www.321ride.com

1. In a few sentences, sum up your business.

321-RIDE is a membership based professional chauffeur service. When you are out and have a few drinks, call 321-RIDE and we immediately dispatch a chauffeur to your location. This Chauffeur then drives you home in your vehicle. Just that simple!

Jon Amster

2. What inspired you to start your business(es)?

After being out with friends one night and having to leave my car over night downtown I realized that there had to be a better way. There needed to be a company to valet your car to your home and 321-RIDE was born.

3. What (local) resources did you use when starting your business(es)?

I had a great counselor named Bob Wiwi from SCORE (Service Core of Retired Executives) who helped me put together a business plan and tweak the business idea until it was ready for launch…and even after that. I also have great friends and family that have supported and worked with me to help make 321-RIDE a success!

4. What is your advice for others looking to start a business?

Do a lot of research on your business market. Double the amount of money you think you need and cut in half the amount of money you think you will earn in your first year in business. Pay more attention to those with questions about your business idea then those who tell you that you are doing a good job.

5. What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learned thus far?

Always remain positive about where your business is going. Your clients will feel that excitement and spread it to future clients.

6. What makes you different and unique from others in your industry?

We drive our clients home in their cars! You no longer have to leave your car overnight and take a cab, no advanced planning is necessary as with a town car, and most importantly there is no longer a need to drive after drinking!

7. How do you give back to the community?

We try and donate 321-RIDE’s services to charities throughout Cincinnati for them to sell or auction to benefit their cause.

8. What’s next on the horizon for your business(es)?

As we continue to grow and increase our client base throughout Greater Cincinnati it is my goal to begin taking 321-RIDE to other cities throughout the region in the next 18 months and ultimately nationwide in the coming years.

Josh Heuser

Founder, Ionic Collective

www.ioniccollective.com

Josh Heuser

1. In a few sentences, sum up your business(es).

Ionic Collective is a Lifestyle and Concept Marketing Agency that brings relevance and brand awareness to an audience that is bombarded with marketing messages. As a focus, Ionic works with consumer and entertainment brands to create viral campaigns that promote new products, events and venue launches. Our expertise is seeking non-traditional ways to break through the clutter and reach our target audience in a meaningful way.

2. What inspired you to start your business(es)?

I’ve always had a passion for creating social experiences. With my background in nightlife and entertainment I saw a unique opportunity to deliver powerful brand messages through social experiences.  I really don’t see anyone in the market that understands this and the ones that think they do, I feel, often miss the mark.

3. What (local) resources did you use when starting your business(es)?

Relationships and friends. I started meeting people everyday and sharing with them my vision for the company. I remember meeting people for a drink or coffee and they probably thought that I just wanted to catch up when actually I was pitching them on this concept. Whether they were a potential client or not they at least left the conversation knowing what I was doing and what I was trying to achieve. You never knew who they were going to be talking to the next day, month, or year.

4. What is your advice for others looking to start a business?

Starting a business is one of the most rewarding experiences I have had to date. If I could offer any advice, it would be three things: travel light, invest in the people around you, and always be conscious of overhead.

It’s really a balancing game, treat everyone fairly, but be selective about the key people you have around. The same principle can be applied to how you handle your business. Being selective and identifying what’s most important definitely cuts out on excess baggage.

Along the same lines as traveling light, for the people you do place trust in, invest in them. Always be willing to connect and mange your relationships, because you never know who can turn out to be your next resource.

5. What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learned thus far?

A key idea that I’ve instilled over at Ionic Collective is that pressure is a privilege. It’s important to be motived by adversity; it shows that you’re doing something right. Pressure is a sign of growth as a business and as an individual. It’s simple – if you’re not being challenged, there’s more work for you to do.

6. What makes you different and unique from others in your industry?

Culture is “everything”. It affects our ideas, our strategies, and the way we run our business.

We have a responsibility to stay connected and integrated in a diverse community. That’s what helps us build our collective and execute ideas in ways that’s relatable. A lot of agencies and companies create ideas that reflect the wants of their clients. That’s great, but what matters most is putting the consumer first.

Ionic Collective was created to provide value for people, consumers, and our clients. What makes us unique is that we can remain true to what has brought us this far. Ionic connects people with brands in a way that doesn’t interrupt or create noise, but rather allows them to find value and fascination in an unforced way.

7. How do you give back to the community?

My interest in the community extends to its stock of historic buildings, I currently joined the board of the Cincinnati Preservation Association. I’ve also contributed to United Way, FreeStore Foodbank, and Impact Autism.

8. What’s next on the horizon for your business(es)?

I’m inspired by innovation and have an undying hunger for growth. There’s no such thing as being constant. Every day is different; you’re either contributing something better than the day before or falling behind. I’m excited about the near future. We’re looking to continue our growth as a business and switch things up. Also, being in the city of Cincinnati I have a responsibility to give back and contribute in the only way I know how. So, look out for some major developments in the works. Cincinnati is a hub for culture and music.

Meredith Raffel

Executive Director, Mason-Deerfield Arts Alliance

www.masonarts.org

1. In a few sentences, sum up your business(es).

The Mason-Deerfield Arts Alliance (MDAA), founded in 2006, is a community-based arts organization dedicated to presenting arts programming to this Warren County region and to giving artists the opportunity to showcase their work.

Meredith Raffel

2. What inspired you to start your business(es)?

I felt that the community needed an organized arts force. As one of the fastest-growing communities in the state of Ohio, the Mason-Deerfield area needed a structured organization to share the arts with the entire community. We rely too heavily on our schools for arts enrichment. I wanted to bring awareness to this area about the arts and help to bridge the Cincinnati arts organizations, like the Cincinnati Art Museum and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, to the Warren County region. I also knew that there were many talented artists in this area who would benefit from programming to showcase their work and help to make Warren County and arts destination.

3. What (local) resources did you use when starting your business(es)?

I thought it was important for our local municipalities to be partners in this effort. A community is not just built on infrastructure, parks, business and utilities. The arts and cultural component of a community is a good investment for a local municipality. In 2006, the City of Mason gave the organization its start-up money of $5,000 and an additional matching fund. I tapped into the resources of the ArtsWave and the Ohio Arts Council for financial support and guidance. In 2010 Deerfield Township propelled the organization by offering us a space at the Snyder House at Cottell Park. The space in Deerfield Township has changed the face and the future of the organization by giving us a place to grow our efforts. When you have that kind of support, you can focus more on the sustainability and the future of the organization’s success. Deerfield Township has shown us generosity above and beyond.

4. What is your advice for others looking to start a business?

In the case of the MDAA, we sell this intangible product – the arts. The arts are a tough sell. The value of the arts directly correlates with the value a person receives from that experience. We’ve had to be creative in our strategies to build our programming and ensure our success. The most successful organizations/businesses should be based around collaborations and partnerships. Always approach a potential partner with a handshake, not a hand-out. There is nothing more rewarding than to sit across the table from a potential partner and build a relationship that is beneficial to both parties. True partnerships are born from the synergy that comes from truly listening to each other and wanting what is best for each other. Our relationship with Deerfield Township is a perfect example of that type of partnership.

5. What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learned thus far?

As the founder of either a for-profit or for a non-profit, there is a certain amount of pressure that goes with that responsibility. There will be tough times. There will be happy times. Always stand by your product and weather the storms. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The most important lesson – always, always give back. A generous spirit gives and gets tenfold in return. Share your knowledge, trust your gut, be open to other ideas and never be afraid to say “no.” Surround yourself with people who are a lot smarter than you. And if you ever meet a guy who says that he became successful all by himself, find another friend.

6. What makes you different and unique from others in your industry?

When I first started the MDAA, I probably called 100 arts leaders, some who ran huge arts organizations and some who ran small groups. What I couldn’t find was one person who had founded the organization that they were working for. I think what makes us unique is that we are truly this grassroots, ground up effort. It’s been an amazing journey to watch an idea grow from that seedling of “what if” to “here it is.” The possibilities are endless.

7. How do you give back to the community?

I’d like to think that we’re in the business of giving back to the community. We offer large scale events for free, including the Mason Arts Festival and the Cincinnati Pops Concerts. We offer summer art camps, a performing arts series, workshops and exhibitions. We don’t do it alone. We shift that giving pendulum back to our business collaborators. By encouraging businesses to invest in our arts programming, they are investing in a more well-rounded community. Our partners are a huge part of our success, not only in their generous dollars, but we build a lot of programming around them.

8. What’s next on the horizon for your business(es)?

In the upcoming months, I would like to build an Executive Advisory Committee. I’m looking to tap into the expertise of successful business leaders who can lend their experience in helping me and the Board of Directors to strategize as to how we can continue to grow and assure the future of the organization.

We will continue to build valuable arts programming. And, we continue to look for creative ways to partner with our downtown Cincinnati arts organizations. The sky is the limit!

Ryan Lehmkuhl

Cincy DJ Entertainment

www.cincydjent.com

1. In a few sentences, sum up your business.

My business is to provide quality and affordable entertainment production services to a diverse clientele.

Ryan Lehmkuhl

2. What inspired you to start your business(es)?

After suffering a debilitating soccer injury that confined me to a wheelchair for three months at the end of my freshman year of high school in 1999, I realized I needed an interest other than sports. With a prior passion for music, I began my production company with $500 saved from mowing neighbors’ lawns. I wasn’t old enough to drive myself or my equipment to my bookings so my parents became my honorary “roadies” and because of their support and interest in me, my business steadily grew.

3. What (local) resources did you use when starting your business(es)?

One of my first DJ gigs was a “Relay for Life” event at Loveland High School where I was emcee and provided music for the 24-hour event.  That led to other avenues of promotion that included junior high and freshman dances, bar mitzvahs, grade school graduations and “Sweet 16” parties where I felt most comfortable among my peers and began to hone my signature style as a DJ. My first resident DJ job was at Club X-treme on Beechmont Avenue when I was sixteen and teen clubs were just hitting the scene.

4. What is your advice for others looking to start a business?

Work like you don’t need the money! Enjoy what you’re doing and be excited about every opportunity that presents itself. Your enthusiasm will become contagious and your dreams will become a reality.

5. What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learned thus far?

Organization is key to running a successful business as well as anticipating customers’ needs before they realize what’s needed.

6. What makes you different and unique from others in your industry?

This industry changes on a regular basis. Without changing with it, I would fall behind and blend in with the countless “cookie cutter” DJ companies that are appearing on the entertainment scene daily. Having 13 years experience in the business, along with my audio-video education, I remain current and on the cutting edge of latest trends. As part of my continuing education, I travel to out-of-state conventions on a regular basis.

7. How do you give back to the community?

I have donated my services to silent auction charities throughout the Greater Cincinnati community.

8. What’s next on the horizon for your business(es)?

As generous as the industry has been to me in recent years, my ongoing business plan includes capturing more bookings through the hiring of additional employees along with the purchase of more equipment and vehicles. Besides my love of music, I have a growing interest in theatrical lighting.