From Procter & Gamble’s Ivory—the soap that floats—to Play-Doh—the child’s clay that started life as wallpaper cleaner—Cincinnati is no stranger to innovation. Innovative products and services have a long history here.

But what does it take to innovate? Answers range from a keen insight into what customers want, to hard work, to a bit of luck, to a combination of all three.

To get a better understanding, Cincy Magazine reached out to six local product and service innovators to find out what they’ve learned from their experience.

Enable Injections
Mike Hooven

As a serial innovator Mike Hooven knows the place you start for isn’t always where you end up.

Over the last 27 years, he’s launched three medical device companies: Enable Medical Corp., Atricure Inc. and now Enable Injections LLC. In each case, he says, “I started all three companies with technologies that didn’t work out.”

But in each case, he says, he went back and looked at the problem anew and found a solution.

Enable Injections grew out of technology developed at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center for painless children’s vaccinations. Hooven, who got involved as a consultant for early investor CincyTech, says, “We learned fascinating stuff about what causes injection pain,” but discovered the original technology for a painless vaccination wasn’t feasible.

So two years ago, Hooven and his design team, including Dave Stefanchik, Matt Huddleston and Renee Palmer, went back to the drawing board to develop a small, wearable device that allows patients to self-inject high-volume drugs at home, an emerging category called biologics. These drugs can’t be absorbed through the digestive tract and have to be injected, but are being developed to treat cancers and a variety of other diseases. Enable’s device, called a bolus injector, is about the half the size of a yo-yo and offers patients a safe, convenient alternative to time-consuming and expensive IV treatments in hospitals and medical offices.

The market for these new, self-administered devices is projected to be more than $8 billion over the next decade, and Hooven says Enable Injections “intends to be the leader in the market.”

Late last year, Franklin-based Enable Injections signed its first long-term development agreement with Swiss drug company CSL Behring. Enable, which plans to move to larger space soon, now employs about 20 and expects to add 30 to 40 new employees annually for the next several years.

“This business is going to be one of the biggest medical device businesses in Ohio,” says Hooven, who sits on Ohio’s Third Frontier advisory board. 

R. Mukund

Managing worker safety issues, training requirements and environmental regulations at large global companies is a complex, challenging task.

As a research scientist in the field and a manager who had to face those challenges, R. Mukund says, “Your job is to keep the company in compliance but few people actually report to you. It’s a situation where you have a lot of responsibility and mandates put on you, but really no control over the people [in the field] who actually achieve these things.”

Working at General Electric Co.’s power systems business, Mukund developed a web-based work-flow system that allowed managers to track myriad compliance issues.

“It was a suite of applications that allowed each operating entity to have a piece of the system that they tracked and was important to them,” he says. The system also provided metrics to allow functional leaders to track performance.

The system was the genesis of Gensuite LLC, a Mason software-as-service company with $14 million in revenues and employing 170 around the world.

The value of Mukund’s system spread within GE’s global operations and it was spun off in 2010 as a freestanding business as GE divested operations, but managers in those units saw the power of the Gensuite system.

Part of Gensuite’s innovation was creating a subscriber community of diverse users. It allows the system to support 80 percent of their needs, while allowing them to innovate the remaining 20 percent. That speed out of the box allows customers to get the system up and running in a matter of weeks rather than months.

Mukund says one of the things he’s learned from developing Gensuite is that to be successful you need a system people can understand and adapt to their needs.

“It’s better not to make it too hard or rigid, because what will people do? They’ll work around it,” he says.

Nick Seitz and Brandon Beard

When Nick Seitz and Brandon Beard launched their environmentally friendly car service with the all-electric Tesla Model S last year, they decided to stay in Cincinnati, not because they thought it would be easy, but because it would be harder.

“We thought it wasn’t an ideal market from an [electric] charging infrastructure standpoint. This is a smaller market for other [car service] companies like Uber and Lyft,” says Seitz. “So it was a good place to challenge our concept.”

The Cincinnati natives have been pleasantly surprised. In the first five months they’ve had about 2,000 unique users for their Drivr Green Personal Transportation Service and they’re looking to expand in several western cities including Denver.

They originally targeted the business market, but say they’ve found a variety of customers.

“We’ve provided transportation for weddings, business Christmas parties, trips to Indianapolis for OSU games, airport pickup and bar nights. We’ve even followed people from bar to bar and waited for them,” Seitz says.

Door-to-door service in the four-passenger Tesla, which averages more than 250 miles on a charge, costs $2.50 a mile, with a minimum of $15. They say that’s comparable with average taxi rates of $2 a mile in Cincinnati with the luxury of traveling in a zero-emission vehicle with a 17-inch navigation screen, free Wi-Fi and a passenger-controlled environment.

“We view ourselves as less a car service and more of a technology company,” Beard says. “Our system is completely web-based. You can book the car, it takes it out of inventory for the time it is going to be used and manages all the scheduling. It sends a reminder to you and the driver 30 minutes in advance of the pickup and handles all the follow up, including the thank you. Everything is automated from the moment you get booked to the moment you exit the car. It makes your commuting life easier.”

They say the technology is an extension of that found in the $100,000 Tesla.

“The engineering was so good, there wasn’t anything remotely close in terms of business use, “ says Seitz, who met Beard when they both worked for the Tesla sales outlet at the Kenwood Town Centre. “We’ve both started companies in the past and it became apparent to us that there were advantages in the vehicle that the industry hadn’t take advantage of yet,” Seitz says.

What they’ve learned, Seitz says, “is that making something a little better isn’t good enough. It’s got to be 10 times better.”

Keith Johnson

Keith Johnson is bringing technology to the multibillion-dollar pet food market.

His three-year-old company, Petbrosia, is marrying the marketing efficiency of e-commerce with scientific algorithms to tailor premium food to enhance the well-being and development of dogs and cats.

The idea for Petbrosia grew out of his 18 years at Procter & Gamble Co., including a couple years at its former Iams pet food business, and his own entrepreneurial instincts. An engineer and marketer by training, Johnson went back to school to earn an MBA on weekends to hone his skills. “I knew if I started a business, I wanted a proper innovation background to make it viable.”

“What I saw at P&G was that the products that stand the test of time are those that are considered premium and have good equity in the hearts and minds of people,” he says.

Another thing he learned is that pets and babies are two things consumers love.

“Pets are something people just love to talk about on social media,” he says. “I knew that was an area that would be socially sticky and helpful from a marketing standpoint.”

He developed a proprietary process to tailor nutrition using all natural ingredients based on an individual pet’s weight, age and activity level. That customization is counter the approach of mass-market manufacturers, he says, who create one-size fit-all products to meet the demands of retailers.

But by marketing directly to consumers via social media, Petbrosia avoids that retail barrier to the market.

“We’re vertically integrated as marketer, retailer and manufacturer and can control the quality because we don’t have a distributor or retailer and provide more food for the price,” he says.

One of the things he’s learned about innovation is that it’s easier in a small organization than a big one.

“In a big company there are so many naysayers. That’s why they have a hard time innovating. It’s much easier to do in a small company.”

SyneRxgy Consulting
Sue Paul

A pharmacist for 24 years, Sue Paul thought there had to be a better way of dealing with the myriad medications seniors and heart patients take daily.

“All these people are getting out of the hospital and they take home a bag of medications, and they have a bag of medications at home already and the drug interactions are sending them back to the hospital because the medications don’t go together, or the patients aren’t clear on how to take them, or they aren’t taking them because they can’t afford them,” she says.

Working as a consultant for nursing homes, at local independent pharmacies, at Mercy Hospital and at a Coumadin clinic for heart patients, Paul saw the problem repeatedly.

In one case, for example, she was able to save a heart patient $612 a year by recommending he take two medications with the same ingredients as one, more expensive, drug his physician had prescribed. “The doctor knew what the gentleman was taking, but he didn’t know how much it cost,” she says.

In another case, she was able to prevent a return hospitalization for a heart patient when she discovered he hadn’t been prescribed a necessary water pill.

Little over a year ago she launched SyneRxgy Consulting, a personal pharmacy service to help patients and their physicians understand the interactions of their medications, find less expensive options and ultimately improve care. She offers her services in various billing packages depending on the needs of clients, including patients, physicians and self-insured companies.

Paul, who completed the intense nine-week Bad Girl Ventures entrepreneurship program last year, spent a lot of time researching different service models and concluded it was more efficient to work with physicians and other care givers than deliver her service in patients’ homes, though she still does both.

She’s currently practicing solo and has about 20 patients. Her website is, but she plans to expand her service with other pharmacists once she secures a HIPPA-compliant website to handle medication lists.

One thing she’s learned about innovating, she says, “It’s a long haul. Manifesting change isn’t an easy task.”

kWRiver Hydroelectric
Fred Williams and Paul Kling

Fred Williams watched water from the Great Miami River flowing over a low-head dam and was inspired.

“The water wasn’t at flood stage, but it was near it,” says Williams, an Air Force veteran. “It was an awesome sight. That’s what motivated me.”

Williams thought all the energy from the water flowing over the low dam was being wasted. He went to work and got patents on a low-profile, self-contained cross-flow turbine that sits below the dam and turns the flowing water into electricity.

“Most people look at a low-head dam and say there’s not enough differential to generate power. The innovative part was not looking at the height [of the dam] but at its length,” says Paul Kling, a retired Duke Energy engineer who teamed up with Williams two years ago through Cintrifuse, the business incubator.

Their company, kWRiver Hydroelectric, which now has an office in the Hamilton Mill incubator, expects to have a prototype of the 30-foot-long turbine operating at a low-head dam on the Great Miami in downtown Hamilton by the middle of next year. Tests using a mock-up at Central State University demonstrated the concept’s efficiency.

There are an estimated 75,000 dams under 15 feet in the United States. Even a small fraction of those, adapted for power generation, could create enough electricity to power thousands of homes.

Others are pursuing low-dam power generation, but Williams and Kling say they don’t have the advantages of their system. Their unit can be set in the river without modifying the dam, it’s protected from river debris, it is safer for boaters and there’s no impact on fish. In fact, they’ve developed a modification to eliminate the algae buildup problem in the pool behind the dam.

Both men say they’ve been impressed with the support their project has received.

“One of the things I’ve learned is the importance of networking and getting in touch with the right people. We’ve been incredibly lucky,” says Kling. 

A Good Idea Needs Right People to Succeed
By Mike Boyer

All innovations aren’t created equal, says entrepreneur Mike Hooven.

“There are all sorts of innovations people can come up with, but if you’re not focused on a high-value market, it won’t have much impact,” says Hooven, president and CEO of Enable Injections LLC, the third medical equipment he’s launched in the last 27 years.

Just as important, he says, is having the right talent to make the idea a success.

“It all starts with people. First you get the right people and then you have to create an environment where they are not afraid to disagree, bring up problems and voice their opinions,” he says.

Without that freedom, he says, “it limits people and their ability to think and innovate.”

Sometimes the best inventors aren’t the best innovators, says Micah Zender, co-founder of Start Something Bold, a Mariemont consulting firm he and Paul Miklautsch launched more than a year ago to help companies grow with new ideas, products and markets.

“We are an innovation consultancy in that we get pigeonholed into that, but we hate the word ‘innovation,’” says Zender. “It’s too often used in the wrong way. People say, ‘This is a really innovative spreadsheet I’ve developed.’ No! It’s efficient; it’s not an innovation. “

The key to a successful innovation, he says, is solving a customer’s problem.

“We’ve both worked in a number of companies, but we recognized there was this underlying pattern. The companies that built their products around their customers were the most successful,” he says.

Zender and Miklautsch envision the various shades of innovation like a wheel where the biggest pieces are reactive innovation and incremental innovation.

A new product or service brought on by a change in regulations or market preferences is a reactive innovation, Zender says. “You hear someone say, ‘I’ve got to get into social media everybody else is doing it.’ That’s a very reactive way of thinking. There are a lot of reactive innovations.”

The auto industry is famous for incremental innovation. “The backup camera on a car was a cool thing. Now it has become almost standard equipment.”

The less common but more difficult kinds of innovations they call transformative and pioneering. Transformative innovation, Zender says, “ is something that forces your competition to react. ”

Pioneering innovation “is giving birth to a whole new industry. It’s not just new, it’s something that’s never been done before,” says Zender.

“Pioneers rarely know how to commercialize and bring ideas to life. They’re skilled at finding an innovative formula but don’t always know how to apply it.”

Thomas Edison was a phenomenal inventor, he says, but it took financier J.P. Morgan to see the full potential of Edison’s electric light.

On the other hand, Steve Jobs’ real innovation was understanding people, says Zender.

“The pioneering moment at Apple was understanding that the computer wasn’t a business tool, it was a tool for people at home. If you look at the iPhone today, it’s just a smaller PC. [Jobs] understood computing isn’t just a hobby or for business. It’s for people and he figured out how to commercialize it.”