Blue North’s ‘Summer of Wins’ event celebrates 12 NKY entrepreneurs

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This content is sponsored by Blue North.

If you are a start-up or entrepreneur in Northern Kentucky and you are interested in more training and resources for your business, Blue North can help.

On August 29, at the Summer of Wins event, 12 of the region’s up-and-coming entrepreneurs were featured in front of an audience of over 125 people. The event was hosted by Blue North, Kentucky’s Innovation hub for Northern Kentucky.

Joe Jones with Golden Gelato attended the event where their new gelato cart was featured. “The event was great. It was a festive atmosphere and we were so proud to be featured. I got to try a few new products and network with some great people,” Jones said. “I enjoyed talking to Jennifer Panepinto of Painted Bread Marketing. She is going to help me connect with international businesses in the area to boost our catering outreach.”

Racine Gruberman, Co-founder/Co-CEO of CoolerKeg, said the event gave them opportunities to collaborate with other business owners. “It was wonderful having the opportunity to network with other entrepreneurs as well as showcase our product. It was also fun to do a collaboration with 4 Mile Wine where they served their mead out of one of our Cooler Kegs,” said Gruberman. 

Holly and Ben Studer with 4 Mile Wine Co. said the Summer of Wins gave them a chance to meet other local entrepreneurs and check out their products. “We were able to connect and work with Racine and Anthony of Cooler Keg to serve samples of 4 Mile Mead to all! That thing is rad! Farmer Nate’s hot sauce – he’s a great dude with killer products!” said Ben. “It was so awesome to see and hear how the NKY Entrepreneurship Fund was able to contribute to the success of all these other incredible businesses and to hear it live from the entrepreneurs themselves was priceless. I will continue to encourage all small business owners and or entrepreneurs to look at this incredible opportunity, and to use it to turn your grand vision into reality as it’s done for 4 Mile Wine Co. Thank you Dave and the Blue North team, and all others involved! You all are dream makers!”

If you are a start-up or entrepreneur in the Northern Kentucky area, Blue North can help you with the right training, resources, and networking events (like the Summer of Wins) to reach your goals…and you’ll find yourself in good company. “The energy was fantastic. I got to quickly hear from other entrepreneurs talk about how this funding will help catapult their businesses and it’s truly inspiring to me,” Nathan Nunemaker of Farmer Nate’s Hot Sauce said. “Every recipient that received funding in Q2 and then many more past and more than likely future grant recipient entrepreneurs. I met so many fantastic like-minded people.”

Blue North established the Northern Kentucky Entrepreneurship Fund (NKYEF) with Horizon Community Funds in an effort to support the work of entrepreneurs in Northern Kentucky.

One of the key initiatives of the NKYEF fund is a partnership with Main St Ventures to increase Leap & Launch grants made to entrepreneurs who call Northern Kentucky home. Through funding from Main Street Ventures and matching dollars from The Durr Foundation to the Northern Kentucky Entrepreneur Fund, this Funding Grant will be awarded to startups or small businesses that are located in Northern Kentucky.

“Through the NKYEF, we are able to cover half the cost of Main St Ventures grants made to entrepreneurs in NKY. That in turn allows Main St. Ventures to increase the number of grants made to NKY entrepreneurs,” Dave Knox, Blue North Executive Director, said. “In 2023, this partnership has led to nearly four times the number of grants made by Main St Ventures to NKY entrepreneurs.”

Here is a closer look at some of the entrepreneurs who have received funding through the NKY Entrepreneur Fund.

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Cooler Keg:

Photo provided: Cooler Keg/Blue North

LINK nky: How has the NKY Entrepreneurial Fund helped you achieve your business goals?

Racine Gruber, Co-Founder/Co-CEO: “The NKY Entrepreneurial Fund helped pay for the tooling and molding costs for the Cooler Keg, which is required in order to manufacture all the custom parts of our product. We are currently finalizing the production samples made from the custom molds and will soon be moving into manufacturing our first production run.” 

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LINK nky: What does it mean to you to be honored at the Summer of Wins event on Aug. 29?

Gruber: “It feels very special to be honored at the event as one of the recipients of the NKYEF. Not only have we been supported through the grant funds, but this event also gives us the opportunity to promote our business to the local community and connect with other entrepreneurs in the area. We moved a year ago from Chicago and I don’t think we would have ever had the experience there of being part of an entrepreneurial community like we have here in Northern KY.” 

Photo provided: Cooler Keg/Blue North

LINK nky: What would you say to other entrepreneurs who may be considering applying for funding?


Gruber: “Apply! You have nothing to lose and so much to gain. It may feel daunting to apply for a grant, but you’re not alone. Reach out to others who have received funding to get advice and take advantage of all the other entrepreneurial resources in this area to help prepare you to apply. And if you don’t get it the first time, don’t get discouraged — try again because a no in one round doesn’t mean a no the next time.”

Golden Gelato:

The cart has been completed. Golden Gelato is waiting for it to arrive so they can share it with the community. | Photo provided: Golden Gelato

LINK nky: How has the NKY Entrepreneurial Fund helped you achieve your business goals?

Joe Jones, Founder: “The NKY Entrepreneurial Fund has helped us achieve our goals in many ways. We love our retail shop. Not only are we passionate about our product but we are passionate about the Covington community that supports us. Our goal in applying for the grant was to take that passion on the road and create employment opportunities in the process. Our goal will be attained by sharing our product in an elegant gelato cart that will function to serve our product in the best way possible. 

The cart represents pure gelato tradition with a sleek design and our branding, which, of course, pays homage to the city we love. It represents the finest Italian engineering that will allow us to serve about 550 people even on the hottest of days. We think this combination will generate a steady booking and we have already had so many inquiries. Each event will require two team members to serve. The cart will help us reach our goal of providing community employment immediately with these two part-time positions. With a constant stream of events, we think these positions will become full time.”

LINK nky: What does it mean to you to be honored at the Summer of Wins event on Aug. 29?

Jones: “We are the smallest of businesses that want to grow. Golden Gelato was started by a husband-and-wife duo. We have since hired one employee who has embraced our commitment to quality and community. The three of us now work extremely hard and long hours are the norm. I think being honored by the Summer of Wins makes us all feel like we are supported in our hard work and dedication. 

We are beyond grateful for the financial blessing received from the Northern Kentucky Entrepreneurial Fund. The grant will lead to revenue and employment growth. The unforeseen benefit is the continued support offered by the backing of Main Street Ventures and Blue North. During the application process I did not realize how professionally invested these groups would be in our business. Both MSV and Blue North offer public relations workshops, sessions with attorneys, website help, and a multitude of other business services that we could not otherwise afford. For such a small business it is beyond gratifying to feel the support of these two amazing groups, with the financial support of the NKY Entrepreneurial Fund. The hard work we put into our business is rewarding knowing we have someone in our corner. 

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Jones: “We have already recommended to other businesses that they apply for funding. The first thing I say to them is to stay positive and help them realize that the funding comes with a team of support. In the process, it is nice to take the time to assess your short- and long-term goals. I did not realize the scope of the services offered by MSV and Blue North when I applied for the grant. I like to tell other businesses that there is a sincerely vested interest from both groups in your business. Please keep an open mind and remember there are opportunities to grow in ways you do not expect.” 

4 Mile Wine Co:

Holly and Ben Studer, 4 Mile Wine Co. | Photo provided: 4 Mile Wine Co.

LINK nky: How has the NKY Entrepreneurial Fund helped you achieve your business goals?

Ben Studer, Founder: “Starting 4 Mile Wine Co., a brand new wine company, takes a lot of time, money, and selling, and there are a lot of timely things and hidden costs that stack up quickly. NKY Entrepreneurial Fund launched us 18 months down the road by giving us the funds to complete our initial set of meads (honey wines), grow our capacity and increase efficiencies without having to wait for the profits from the first releases.”

LINK nky: What does it mean to you to be honored at the Summer of Wins event on Aug. 29?

Studer: “The Summer of Wins is the celebration of being awarded this NKY Entrepreneurial Fund; A win in its own, but to us more of a “start your engines”  green light go! type of celebration.”

LINK nky: What would you say to other entrepreneurs who may be considering applying for funding?

Studer: “Don’t be afraid to get moving and put yourself out there. If you have a solid vision, faith, and drive, (and take action) the resources are limitless and will find you.”

The BodyBakery & Co:

LINK nky: How has the NKY Entrepreneurial Fund helped you achieve your business goals?

Rebecca Southern, Founder: We are working to ramp up production efficiency which will allow us to grow exponentially into a new and exciting grocery market. NKYEF has allowed us to do in months what would have taken potentially years to do on our own. We are purchasing some machinery immediately and working on a few other action items that will allow us to produce more and faster. Our growth depended on these things and with their belief in us and help NKYEF has given us the opportunity to dream big.”

LINK nky: What does it mean to you to be honored at the Summer of Wins event on Aug. 29?

Southern: “It’s giving us the opportunity to stop and be proud of what’s gotten us here as well as dream for a bigger future. Being able to slow down and just celebrate allows us to recharge and ramp up for all the good stuff that’s coming up. It’s also just a huge pat on the back from our community and lets us know we are doing the right things with our business.”

LINK nky: What would you say to other entrepreneurs who may be considering applying for funding?

Southern: “Do it! Dream realistically BIG. Just make sure you plan well, think through, and talk through it with your trusted circle. Don’t be afraid to change your mind or your ask depending on the feedback you get.”

Farmer Nate’s Sauce Co.:

LINK nky: How has the NKY Entrepreneurial Fund helped you achieve your business goals?

Nathanael Nunemaker, Founder: “It has allowed us to order double or normal supply from our co-paker which has in turn allowed us to get ahead of our current monthly demand.”

LINK nky: What does it mean to you to be honored at the Summer of Wins event on Aug. 29?

Nunemaker: “ It means so much! I never would have imagined that we would be here just 2.5 years after officially launching. Extremely grateful.”

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LINK nky: What would you say to other entrepreneurs who may be considering applying for funding?

Nunemaker: “Apply. If you don’t receive it the first time you apply, apply the following quarter.  It can help your business significantly. It’s more than just receiving funding. You receive support and resources as well.”

Parts & Labor:

LINK nky: How has the NKY Entrepreneurial Fund helped you achieve your business goals?

Jeffrey Miller, Founder: “It would have been impossible to accomplish the goal we set without the support we received from MSG. The investment required for the type of equipment we need to initiate a mobile event kitchen was financially unthinkable until we received the grant. Jump forward 6 months, and not only are we up and running at Urban Artifact Brewery with the new trailer but have been offered a long-term lease of their on-site kitchen starting this Fall. That’s two, five-year growth goals accomplished in less than 12 months.” 

LINK nky: What does it mean to you to be honored at the Summer of Wins event on Aug. 29?

Miller: “Honestly, I’m just so grateful for the boost MSG has provided my small restaurant operation. I really believe MSG deserves to be honored for what they’ve provided Parts & Labor (and all the other grant winners) and not the other way around.”

LINK nky: What would you say to other entrepreneurs who may be considering applying for funding?

Miller: “Don’t overthink funding opportunities because you don’t need every detail figured out in advance. As small business owners, we talk ourselves out of pursuing funding with the (false) belief that these funds really aren’t available to us or we simply don’t prioritize the time to pursue them.”

Todd:

LINK nky: How has the NKY Entrepreneurial Fund helped you achieve your business goals?

Justin Deja, Owner: “Main St. Ventures and Blue North Grant were very helpful in accelerating our business channel and end-user discovery interviews. Based on the 100+ interviews, we were able to identify our top three business channels and are in the process of rebranding our website and messaging. In addition to the verbal agreement with Paycor, we are working on papering one business channel partner with two additional business channel partners close behind. We have momentum!”

Better Blend

LINK nky: How has the NKY Entrepreneurial Fund helped you achieve your business goals?

Isaac Hamlin, Owner/CEO: “The NKY Entrepreneurial Fund has been instrumental in helping me achieve my business goals. They provided much-needed financial support that allowed me to develop and launch my product, hire additional staff, and invest in marketing efforts. Additionally, they offered valuable mentorship and networking opportunities, connecting me with experienced entrepreneurs who provided guidance and industry insights. Their support has undoubtedly accelerated the growth of my business and brought my vision to fruition.

LINK nky: What does it mean to you to be honored at the Summer of Wins event on Aug. 29?

Hamlin: “Being honored at the Summer of Wins event on Aug. 29 is an incredible privilege and an extremely rewarding experience. It is a culmination of hard work, dedication, and perseverance, and being recognized for my achievements within the entrepreneurial community is truly humbling. This recognition serves as validation that my efforts have made a significant impact and that my business is making a difference in the market. It motivates me to continue pushing myself and striving for even greater success.”

LINK nky: What would you say to other entrepreneurs who may be considering applying for funding?

Hamlin: “To other entrepreneurs considering applying for funding, I would strongly encourage them to take advantage of the opportunity. The NKY Entrepreneurial Fund provides not only financial support but also invaluable resources, mentorship, and connections that can greatly contribute to their business’s success. Pitching your idea and seeking funding can be intimidating, but the potential rewards far outweigh the risks. With the right support, entrepreneurs can accelerate their business growth and overcome obstacles more effectively.”

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