By Sue Walton, Crain's Cleveland
After years of laying the groundwork, a local startup has launched its first products to consumers, hoping buyers will help company officials figure out where its work will best stick.
Akron Ascent Innovations (AAI), which Crain's first profiled two years ago, last month launched sales of its ShearGrip-brand fiber-based, dry-adhesive products online.
The products, which for now include repositionable bulletin boards, sticky-note paper and photo paper, among other things, are born from technology that uses electrospun nanofibers to create a super-strong dry adhesive. The fibers have a small enough diameter to grab surfaces to hold on tight, but can still peel away without damaging surfaces, the company says.
In 2013, the company was spun out of the University of Akron by John Wong, a mechanical engineering professor, and Barry Rosenbaum, senior fellow at the University of Akron Research Foundation. The pair brought in Kevin White, the company's principal scientist and chief operating officer, in 2015.
In its initial years, AAI was limited in its production of the material, given the space at its lab at the Akron Global Business Accelerator (now the Bounce Innovation Hub). But now, AAI is working with another company associated with the university, whom White declined to identify, that has a production facility in Northeast Ohio that's allowing AAI to create large-scale rolls of the material.
"We can make thousands of meters of it now," White said.
While the company is excited to get its adhesive products out to market, officials are more excited to get feedback from customers to help them figure out exactly where the company's market base best lies, whether it be health care, crafters, corporate meeting planners or parents of teenagers who want to plaster pictures all over their bedroom walls.
"We want to put this in as many places as we can. See where it works, see where it delivers value and where it doesn't," White said.
The company will then adjust accordingly, he said.
"The product development and the application development, those things aren't going to end," White said.
Over the past two years, AAI received considerable support from the National Science Foundation with federal funding, he said. The company received a $1.5 million grant through the Small Business Innovation Research program, as well as funding from Ohio's Third Frontier and third-party investors, White said.
The next step is to transition out of investment into revenue, and the start of that is the online product launch.
AAI also brought in several part-time folks as it was building up the development side and product testing.
The company currently has four full-time employees and one part-time worker. Between them, there are three doctorate degrees, one master's degree and one juris doctorate (who later went back get an engineering degree), White said. In other words, a lot of science minds who are learning the other aspects of launching a business.
"It's a new skill set that we're figuring out how everyone fits it," he said.
But at the center has been the University of Akron.
"We've gotten a whole lot done through our connection with the university."
AAI has had several grad students working with it and brought on hired interns from the university. Plus, the company has received help with business and marketing from those in the university with expertise in those areas.
"The whole infrastructure has been really great," White said.
‘Come Say Hi'City backers are using a warm greeting to try to get folks to ignore the cold and construction and head to downtown Akron.
Downtown Akron Partnership (DAP) and Pritt Entertainment, with support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, have teamed up to create a new campaign — "Come Say Hi" — and a video to celebrate downtown's offerings.
While the Polar Vortex has moved out, the construction to Akron's Main Street and other areas isn't going anywhere any time soon. City backers hope to encourage Greater Akronites to step past the orange barrels and visit downtown businesses and attractions.
The video features some of Akron's coolest spots, old and new, and talks about how downtown is the heart of the city that brings residents together.
"Downtown Akron has more than 50 food and drink experiences, most of which are independently owned," DAP president and CEO Suzie Graham said in a release announcing the video. "The neighborhood also features anchor arts, entertainment and cultural institutions like the Akron Civic Theatre and Akron Art Museum, along with smaller gems like The Nightlight, Great Escape Room, Northside Speakeasy, Zeber-Martell Studio, BLU Jazz+ and Jilly's Music Room.
"They make up the character of downtown and are a critical part of the neighborhood fabric. We are aiming to remind people of their relationship with these small businesses, or create new ones, to help ensure that they are still here when the orange barrels are gone."
To further encourage visitors, the city is offering free parking in designated areas: the State Street deck, the Buchtel lot and street parking south of Cedar Street, including a portion of the lot in front of Spaghetti Warehouse.
Plus, those who do head downtown might get an unexpected gift: Organizers will be handing out gloves with "hi" printed on them to random pedestrians.
"Downtown Akron is emerging as a vibrant center for people to live, connect and have fun. It has a lot to offer both residents and visitors. We want to showcase and celebrate it as a welcoming place for all," Kyle Kutuchief, Knight Foundation program director for Akron, said in the release.
Helping outThe J.M. Smucker Co. says it likes to say thank you, so to show its gratitude to those who stepped up during the government shutdown, the Orrville company is donating $200,000 to Feeding America and United Way Worldwide.
Those agencies stepped in to help workers affected by the shutdown, and the groups now see their resources depleted, according to a news release. Smucker's donation will help the organizations with their day-to-day operations while they continue to help affected government workers.
"Saying, 'Thank you for a job well done' is part of our DNA," said Jill Penrose, Smucker senior vice president of human resources and corporate communications, in a release. "We were touched by the support Feeding America, United Way, and several local organizations demonstrated to help those impacted by the government shutdown, and this support for our longtime partners is our way of saying thank you."
The food company is helping, too, by donating its products to local organizations that offered staples to affected workers. Those groups now need their stores replenished to be ready to help in the future, Smucker said.
All aboard the boardThe Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad's (CVSR) board of trustees recently added some new members and elected officers.
The board is the governing body of the nonprofit railroad that runs through the Cuyahoga National Park and offers up popular rides such as Ales on Rails and the Polar Express.
Elected chair was Peter Buerling, director for records and information compliance at FirstEnergy Corp., who's been on the CVSR board since 2006. James Virost, retired chief financial officer of the Robbins Co., is serving as vice chair. John C. Scott, senior vice president and regional executive for the Institutional Real Estate Group of KeyBank National Association, is treasurer, and Matthew Ridings, a partner at Thompson Hine LLP, is secretary. Raymond Labuda, retired vice president of Hankook Tire Co. Ltd., is the past chairman.
Joining the board are Myron Vernis, retired general manager of Glenmoor Country Club, and Samuel Hartwell, a principal of Austin Capital Partners.