Barbara Payne's Capitalist Cleveland Blog

News and Views: Entrepreneurs a-thrive in Northeast Ohio

Friday, December 30, 2005

A bit of good news for the new year

It's always nice to end a year with good news, so here's a tiny tidbit.

Somebody's taking a step away from the relentless progress our society's making towards achieving the position of world leader in identity theft. Medical Mutual, one of the kingpins of insurance in Ohio (they serve only Ohioans), recently sent out a letter to business owners who offer health insurance through their good offices. The "Dear Valued Medical Mutual Group Official" greeting announces that they are actually going to stop forcing you to use their social security numbers as the ID# on your employee's insurance cards.

Yes, they're still going to ask for it and use it to process your company records internally, but at least you can tell your employees they'll have one less piece of paper in their wallets that shamelessly broadcasts their federal ID number for all the world to see--and write down.

It's not much, really. But it's also not nothing. I hope more companies, both in Ohio and in the nation, will follow this lead. Thanks, MM, for tipping your hat in favor of "private" citizens' privacy.

And may the Good Fairy of 2006 reign over all your business and personal dealings this coming year. " )

Monday, December 26, 2005

Change is everywhere. In NEO regional development, a defining moment is at hand

USA Today, the Plain Dealer and half of the rest of the publishing world have written about auto workers retirees having to pay more for their extensive benefits. The New York transit workers are screaming they won't pay more into the pension fund.

And now the city of New York faces another outrageous financial burden. Under new accounting rules, their annual cost of supplying health care to retirees and familiies will quintuple, from around $900,000 to nearly $5 billion--for exactly the same benefits. (Insane? Yes. Read more.) Who's gonna pay?

We in Cleveland/NEO are not the only citizens struggling to face new realities. And while it's natural for us human beings to resist change, to do so in the face of its going on all around you is ludicrous. Things just will never be what they used to be.

Which is why I'm so excited to see that last Friday, the PD carried a report by Mark Rosentraub (of CSU's Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs) on the results from the recent Voices and Choices community forum--and the ideas that have emerged are truly exciting.

Rather than start with thinking about building up from nothing, they're talking about "greasing the skids," so to speak, to make things easier for the big success stories already here. Focusing on the business sectors that have generated the most real jobs in recent years (health care, education, financial services), they decided, gee, we ought to make it easier for workers and prospective customers/patients to get to the places that have the work/the services. (I'm sure you know that University Circle--home to, among others, the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals--is considered an inaccessible no-man's land by half the people in this region).

Following in the visionary footsteps of the RTA people (it took a long time to get the Euclid Corridor project accepted--I didn't quite get it myself until recently), the forum came up with the idea of making access for automobiles to the University Circle giants faster, easier and less intimidating for the faint of heart--a new high-profile road connecting 490/E. 55th and the Circle.

And they talked about using the brilliant minds and designs of this region's top commercial developers to make Cleveland/NEO--like Chicago--a touchstone for inspired architecture and people-friendly environments. Having worked with Bob Stark of Stark Enterprises (developers of Eton Chagrin Blvd. and Crocker Park), I can tell you his is one of the great souls out there passionately committed to Northeast Ohio and actively working to metamorphose this region.

You know, this is a moment in history when Northeast Ohio is poised to become a regional phoenix, rising from the ashes of its own self-pity and self-doubt. Thanks to the unstoppable efforts of those whose power and grace transcend their own little fiefdoms, I feel it coming at last.

When all this is underway, the roads for entrepreneurs of every stripe will grow wider and smoother and will more quickly carry these adventurers to their destination--a profitable, sustainable business.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Clevelanders fill out big blogging domain

Good news. Cleveland entrepreneurs Tony Colan and Ed Harrison just acquired the domain name and have created a new blogging software service called, funny enough, "Blogster". They went live on Thanksgiving and say it's a really user friendly blogging service.

Smart marketers know how valuable a good URL can be in our increasingly web-oriented business world. And in case you were wondering whether those of us who engage in this little "side operation" called blogging are totally nuts, or we're actually onto something, this Cleveland dBusinessNews article says "According to, the most searched-for definition in 2004 was blog."

Need help understanding whether it's right for your company? Reading this might help. If you're a Fortune 500, it gets a little more complicated, but you already know how to do what's necessary because it's really no different from the public relations preparation you're doing for your company anyway.

Good writing + valuable content + common sense precautions = a great way to engage your customers and prospects. Yep. That's blogging.

OH, and P.S. Check this out about a new online "resource for digital life" by Clevelanders Marc Majercak et al.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

'tis the season...for soup

It's early for the event, but just in time for the spirit of the thing. If you've never heard of the wonderful work being done at St. Malachi's Center (it's tucked in a corner over on the near west side), you don't know about one of Cleveland's best kept secrets.

Every year for the past (hmmm, I don't know how long it's been going on), St. Malachi's conducts a fund raiser dinner--consisting of soups and desserts donated by local restaurateurs. It's March 30 this year, but they're looking for people to help right now. If you haven't settled on a charitable cause for this year, why not adopt St. Malachi's? The event is called Soup For The Soul 2006 and will be held at Signature at LaCentre. Here's the call for help:
There are wonderful little jobs for you to accomplish. Will you volunteer on the committee?

A new task force is contacting businesses – asking that they sponsor a specific portion of the Soup evening. Will you help us reach the company you work for? And will you identify other companies who might help the Center?

Will you commit to look around you in the pews – and in your neighborhood – and at work – to recognize that there are people there whom you could influence in a good way? If you said “I support St. Malachi Center. And you could too. Will you (attend, sponsor, donate, whatever)?"

We need to help the Center help families who need help. Will you help? See the folks who are already helping, at the table at Coffee Hours.
P.S. This is Sixth annual SFS. "Coffee Hours" are gatherings at St. Malachi that take place after the 9:30 and 11:00 Masses there on Sundays.
Want to sponsor or help? Call Jackie or Ginny at the Center, 216-771-3036.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Widespread wireless--way to woo the winners

Wireless is the name of the game these days (see earlier post). Now comes local economic development guru Don Iannone pointing out in his ED Futures newsletter that Tempe, Arizona is the first city of reasonable size (160,000 residents) to provide wireless connectivity to all.

He says: "...Tempe officials hope that by making high-speed Internet as accessible as water or electricity across its 40 square miles, it will attract more technology and biotech companies -- and the young, upwardly mobile employees they bring."

Hey, we've got OneCleveland and Case Western Reserve and the Red Room. Whaddya wanna wager we're next!?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Party time @ IPG

Holiday times around town. Independent Practitioners Group having fun and getting to know each other. Dennis Grantham, Susan Schaul, and Yolanda Crisp discussing the ins and outs of PR at the holiday lunch meeting at Mitchell's in Eton Chagrin Boulevard plaza.

Better living through the Internet

A Cleveland company Lafenet has just introduced a hot new utility to do a better job of compressing your files and shooting them through cyberspace. It's called Miliki Shrink and according to the press release, it "significantly reduces the time required to send and receive large images and documents over the Internet and optimizes storage spaces on hard drives, optical discs, flash cards and USB Keydrives. With Shrink, you can further compress your ZIP files. You can also convert a Shrink folder into a ZIP folder."

These are worthy goals indeed, as we begin to live and work increasingly through the Internet. And we can only hope this product has a better shot at success than one introduced a couple of years ago here in Cleveland--also very effective (I had a review copy that worked pretty well), but not marketed well (the company got into financial troubles, too).

But as mobility becomes more the norm--workers moving from office to office, city to city, even country to country--it makes total sense to have better ways to exchange documents. New programs such as BaseCampHQ make it possible to begin to live as if your "desk" is actually on the Internet, where multilple people can view and work on documents (though BaseCamp's file uploading seems a bit glitchy), and where you can access your work from any Internet connection instead of having to lug around computers, disks, or documents.

Good for you, Lafenet. Now, can you please explain why your website requires a password to visit? That's certainly not the smartest marketing move, folks.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Ho, ho, ho! Buy wireless--but beware the Bluetooth blocker

Yes, wireless is becoming ubiquitous. Would you stay in a hotel these days that didn't provide it--free of charge? And now handhelds and other technologies are joining the parade. Imagine--whatever age you are, you were alive at a time when infrared signaling (beaming documents for godssakes) was dramatically new and exciting technology. And now, it's being replaced by wireless--for everything from notebook computers to digital cameras.

Just wanted to give you a heads up on this one: make sure if you decide to buy a wireless printer (yes, you can send photos to print without getting up from your seat in the Christmas-paper-littered living room--and no freakin' cables cluttering up the house), make sure your wireless phone does not limit your Bluetooth connections to headsets only.

Merry Christmas-Happy Hannukah-Joyful Kwanzaa shopping. Whatever your particular pleasure is for this time of year, have at it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

No password needed for the Red Room

Guest on CC's hot radio show a couple of weeks ago was Cathy Panzica--the person who started the Red Room dialogues, which she modeled on an organization she'd seen in England. The point is to bring together private industry and government for the purpose of transforming Northeast Ohio.

Cathy is one of several principals who operate Panzica Investments, a group that's decided to invest aggressively in the local technology community. They're
"putting our money where our mouth is," starting with a technology park located in Mayfield Village, where two companies already reside. But that wasn't enough--they also began the Beta Opportunities Fund to drive tech business and recently, on advice from John Medved, a financier they imported from Israel, have increased the fund to $100 million.

So far they've got money in 8 firms that expect to generate a couple of hundred jobs in the next six months. They're forming cluster spinouts and focusing on equipment know-how--making equipment on the manufacturing floor smart. When equipment can sense vibrations, speeds, heat, etc., companies can avoid shutdowns and save huge amounts of money.

They're looking at companies that will facilitate the coming communications convergence--eliminating voice mail, for example, with "voice packets"--and a software (Gauntlet) that keeps impaired drivers off the road. Cathy's also instrumental in the Red Room Revolution – a plan to bring foreign companies here instead of to Boston, Silicon Valley, and others.

And Cathy's not alone--lots of players in Northeast Ohio are sitting in the Red Room and organizing exciting doings. Hang on, Cleveland, the Revolution is here. Read more here. And listen to the radio broadcast here.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Slinky stuff on your phone?

Yeah, believe it or not, AG Interactive (the web arm of Cleveland's own American Greetings) has worked out a deal so you can download the sounds (and graphics) of Slinky for your cell phone, handheld or desktop computer.

The toy has been around for 60 years, so I guess even youngsters know it. Last year I bought a small metal one and both a large and a small plastic version for my bunny to play with. and she actually does once in a while (she bit clear through one of the 'slinks' of the big plastic one the other day so now she has two, each with half the slinks).

Now, I ask you: What will they think of next? " )

Nail nano rules now

At the recent NanoTech conference here in Cleveland, brilliant nano-nerds from around the world came together to talk about the exciting possibilities for better products. But the undercurrent in each session was: who's minding the safety regulations? The Boeing folks are leaving it up to the suppliers to tell them their products are safe. The suppliers are assuming the scientists know, and the truth is, no one really knows.

But, folks, the risks of unregulated, unstandardized, uncontrolled use of nanomaterials are so grave that no one--not you, not me, not anyone--can afford not to be more than just concerned. Read more here. Then find out who your legislators are (you can use this site) and start writing them emails about this.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Search Guru going great guns

Sometimes an entrepreneur appears seemingly out of nowhere and makes a big mark right away. Such a person is Leslie Carruthers, president of one of Cleveland's busily successful search engine optimization firms, and she graciously took a lot of time to tell us how things are going.

Leslie worked for nearly 5 years with SuccessWorks, where she learned search engine optimization (SEO) from the ground up. When the owner considered accepting an offer from a large publicly traded firm to do SEO training, Leslie decided it was time to start her own group.

It's always a pleasure to see someone give credit to their mentors. Leslie says the people she worked with at SuccessWorks taught her to approach SEO from the business perspective (what’s going to help this client grow their business?), not just for high rankings. "Heather Lloyd-Martin was a pioneer in (SEO) copywriting, and Detlev Johnson is one of the top SEO technologists. I’m fortunate to have had such prominent mentors--and they were also amazing teachers."

When asked why she chose to do business in Cleveland, Leslie demurs. "Why wouldn’t we? It’s a great city. My husband is from Mentor, and my family is in Ohio." She says while they serve businesses across North America, nearly half of their client base is right here in Cleveland.

What's the outlook for SEO? "It’s a great time to be in search," she says. "Companies really get how important the search engines are. The company recently enjoyed training in-house writers at, the gift and hard-to-find tool catalog folks. Most of The Search Guru's business so far has been by referral, but now Leslie says they're looking to be more proactive and approach companies they want to help. "Anyone know anyone at" she says.

Their biggest challenges include balancing resources--a common issue with young, growing companies--and finding experienced SEO practitioners. "We end up taking on strong marketers who write really well, then teach them search."

For the immediate future, the company is focusing on helping large direct marketing catalog firms. But we all know how fast things change in our world today--especially with the Internet and with search engine. We'll talk with Leslie again next year and find out how it's going.

About her Cleveland entrepreneurial adventure, Leslie finds the local community supportive and especially enjoys having idea-bouncing coffee klatches with local entrepreneurs (newbies and veterans). "And I so appreciate resources like Capitalist Cleveland and The Gorilla Group--they're great shots in the arm when I need it and introduce me to who’s who locally."

As an aside, Leslie mentioned she's also involved with a new group called the Red Room Revolution, local players who are out to transform the technology community. We'll have to talk to the Thompson Hine and Panzica folks about that one.

Congratulations, Leslie, on your NEO success! Read more about The Search Guru here.