Pokemon Go a great chance to explore Cleveland and other cities

By Long Shot contributor Tim Simko

For the past few days, children and adults alike have gone crazy over the long-anticipated release of Pokémon Go.

pokemon go logo

For the first time, The Pokémon Company has provided Android and iOS users the chance to have a classic Pokémon adventure through the use of a free app. While the app has had it’s expected bugs following the release, it has brought a lot of good for Cleveland and other cities nationwide.

The app is simple to use once it is downloaded. After creating an account and customizing a character, the user is immediately taken to a screen showing a map – but the map is much more unique than those in Pokémon Go’s Nintendo console counterparts.

Rather than a pre-made map, this app utilizes the same technology used in Google Maps or the Tom Tom GPS system to recreate the real world and surrounding areas.

pokemon screen shot

Utilizing this technology, the Pokémon Go app has created an adventure that is based in reality.

Lake Erie features a plethora of water Pokémon, walking to local churches and parks can provide a user with supplies and libraries double as gyms where a user can leave a Pokémon and defend it. While providing a unique experience, the Pokémon Company has successfully created a new phenomenon.

Since the app’s launch, many people – myself included – have walked the streets in hopes of capturing their favorite Pokémon. Friendships were formed and people began documenting their experiences through the use of social media.

While some may see it as funny or strange that people of all ages are walking around trying to collect Pokémon with a smartphone, I see it as a new way to promote the city and its businesses.

Businesses and universities that provide Wi-Fi can give Pokémon fans an even more unique experience. When I was in college, I would’ve enjoyed seeing a Vulpix pop up at my table as I sipped on my coffee. It would’ve also been great to search for a Pikachu on the Cleveland State University campus between classes.

While some see this new mobile game as a waste of time or silly, I see it as a way to explore the world. I’ve seen my friends explore places they would never normally go to, I walked to the library just for a chance to catch Pokémon I couldn’t find anywhere else, I’ve even seen people bond on social media in a time where the nation has been divided on social issues.

There will be issues with the app: there are still bugs in the system at times, users have been warned to pay attention to surroundings and not to trespass, and some of the gym locations – such as the White House – are not ideal.

After working out the kinks, this could be a great way to bring togetherness in the community and build friendships and bonds between those who seek the nostalgia of Pokémon and those who are just joining this unique world for the first time.

From four eyes to sore eyes: The story behind my LASIK procedure

By Long Shot contributor Tim Simko

From the age of 5, I always had trouble with my vision. When I had my glasses on, I could see everything clear as day. However, when I took them off it was a different story. I could see shapes and stumble around the house a little, but I couldn’t read much. Seeing objects from a distance was near impossible. I remember when I was 12, I heard about a procedure that could correct my vision. It sounded like something that was too good to be true. I wondered if one day I’d be lucky enough to get this procedure.

Fast forward 11 years later, I’m 23 and still hoping to one day get this procedure. Over the past year, I’ve scheduled multiple consultations and canceled them at the last minute.

“I don’t know if I can ever afford this,” I would tell myself.

There were always so many seeds of doubt. I can’t even get a contact lens in my eyes, I can barely do eyedrops. I’ve never had a lot of money, and the money I do have in my savings I’ve had to work for many years to acquire. Would it be right to throw this all away? Would I be able to justify spending the same amount on this procedure that I could spend on a used car? I had to take time to think about it.

In January, I took the first step in changing my life. I started a weight loss program and slowly started to shed pounds. As the weeks went on, I grew happier with what I saw in the mirror. But there was one thing that still bothered me…my glasses.

My glasses have always hindered my ability to do things. During the winter they would fog up nonstop, when I would wrestle against my brother (something that just about everybody with a brother does) they would fall off of my face and I’d have to frequently pause to throw them aside. It even became a pain to find a decent pair of clip on lenses to fit over my glasses, and even those never fit right.

I was very open with my family over the years about wanting to get this procedure, and being on my own with some money saved and a good credit score I was wondering if it was the right time to pull the trigger on something that could truly change my life. My brother’s best friend’s sister’s boyfriend (I know, that’s a mouthful) had just gotten the surgery and loved it. I had always been wary of LASIK simply because the results are a mixed bag. But at the same time, there always seemed to be a rhyme or a reason to why some LASIK operations were better than others. Some people got the procedure when it was still relatively new, others were almost twice my age, and some didn’t properly follow the aftercare procedures. Seeing someone who was my age and in a situation like mine getting this procedure was the nail in the coffin. I finally made the call and scheduled the consultation.

070501-N-5319A-007 BETHESDA, Md. (May 1, 2007) - Capt. Joseph Pasternak, an ophthalmology surgeon at National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, lines up the laser on Marine Corps Lt. Col. Lawrence RyderÕs eye before beginning LASIK IntraLase surgery. The actual procedure can take only seconds, while most of the patientÕs time is spent preparing for the procedure. The new IntraLase procedure only takes days for service memberÕs to recover, versus months like the old PRK procedure. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brien Aho (RELEASED)

BETHESDA, Md. (May 1, 2007) – Capt. Joseph Pasternak, an ophthalmology surgeon at National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, lines up the laser on Marine Corps Lt. Col. Lawrence Ryder’s eye before beginning LASIK IntraLase surgery. The actual procedure can take only seconds, while most of the patient’s time is spent preparing for the procedure. The new IntraLase procedure only takes days for service member’s to recover, versus months like the old PRK procedure. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brien Aho

I was excited about scheduling the appointment and I promised myself that I wouldn’t cancel this time. I made sure not to tell anyone outside of my immediate family about this procedure. I was scared. If my corneas were not thick enough, I couldn’t get it done. If my vision was too bad, I couldn’t get it done. There were so many unknown variables and I didn’t want to get my own hopes up only to have them crushed.

In April, I finally made it to a LASIK appointment that I scheduled. From the moment I walked into the door, I felt like I was at home. The staff was understanding of my fears, they were considerate, and they treated me like an adult. They told me the realities, and the risks. They told me financially what type of burden I would have and because of my credit score it became something I could afford. All that remained was the tests…

I went into multiple rooms, and went through multiple exams. I took every type of vision test imaginable and all that remained was a scan of my corneas. If they were thick, I’d qualify for the procedure. If they were not thick, my fear would be realized.

I anxiously sat in a chair as both of my eyes were being scanned. It felt like something out of a bad spy movie, as a beam of light circled around my eyeballs. After a few minutes, the staff told me the news that would define my future…

I qualified for the surgery.

Words couldn’t describe how happy I was. Something that held me back for so long would become a thing of the past. Over the next few weeks, I prepared by buying medications, making arrangements to take a short three-day weekend off of work, and staying at my parents house until I was recovered. Each day seemed shorter than the one before as I felt my time coming closer and closer.

Finally the day came, and I was completely nervous. I don’t remember the last time I felt so much anxiety about something. After filling out a mountain of paperwork, I was called back and sat in a small room. They asked me if I wanted a Valium to help me relax and I immediately took the pill. I put a surgery cap over my head and similar material over my shoes. As I waited for the Valium to kick in, the doctor walked in and introduced himself to me.

“You ready Tim,” he asked me.

I slowly nodded my head.

“Let’s do it,” he said as he led me to the surgery room.

I want to preface this part by saying that while I am not going to try to get too disgusting with this post, I will be describing what surgery was like from my end. If this is something that makes you uncomfortable, this may be the time to click off of this post.

I was told to lay on my back and lift my knees up and over what looked like a small pillow.

“Just like pilates class Tim,” the doctor joked with me.

I appreciated the jokes but I was still a bit nervous. The doctor put numbing drops into my eyes and the procedure was ready to start. They asked me to raise my eyebrows and they put what looked like masking tape over them to hold them in place. They proceeded to do the same with my lower eyelid and my eyes were wide open.

“This is really happening,” I thought to myself.

A laser device came over my head and I started to feel scared. They asked me to look up toward a green light. I made sure to stare right at it at all times. That’s when one of the scariest experiences of my life came.

“You’re going to have some blurry vision for a few seconds but it is normal Tim,” the doctor said.

My vision started to blur as he said it and then a few seconds later everything went black…

My eye was wide open, but I couldn’t see a thing. I was momentarily blind. I don’t know if anything ever scared me as much as that. They repeated the same process with my left eye and then gave me a minute to breathe after it was over. Despite the fear, I was amazed at how fast it all happened. I didn’t time it, but if I did I’d bet it was no more than 10 minutes.

“Come with me Tim,” the doctor said.

He took me into an exam room and turned on an exam chart. He asked me to read the chart. In that moment, the blurriness in my eyes went away and I read the entire chart top to bottom. The doctor looked at me and my jaw dropped.

“Oh my God,” I mouthed to him as he smiled. The surgery was a complete success, in less than 10 minutes my entire life had changed.

I went from four eyes to sore eyes. The aftercare has been a bit of a chore but for the enhanced quality of life I’ve experienced since then, it is something I am willing to put up with. A procedure I’ve been so scared of getting has changed so much already. I don’t remember the last time I’ve felt so excited.

As I drive places now, I read things out loud just because I can. I feel like a child that just learned how to read and is showing it off. I don’t squint whatsoever, I can go from watching TV to looking at my phone in a millisecond with no adjustment. I can wear brand new Oakley sunglasses instead of a cheap pair of clip-ons that never fit my glasses. So many little things that the average person takes for granted, I am experiencing for the first time and enjoying every second of it.

There are some set backs. I have to use multiple medicated eye drops for the next month, I have to wear sunglasses outdoors every day for the foreseeable future, I have to wear goofy looking goggles when I go to bed so I don’t rub my eyes in my sleep, and I’ll be paying on this 10 minute surgery for the next two years. But all in all, this was worth every single penny.

In the words of Johnny Nash: “I can see clearly now the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way.”

Enyx Studios reloaded

Hard to believe it’s been almost a year since my path first converged with Enyx Studios, the indie-game development studio helmed by Don Hileman. At that time, our connection was an opportunity for Don to share a developer journal here at The Long Shot, and for me to get more contributor content posted.

Enyx Studios

That interaction evolved into my visit to Enyx’s then-home at eCenter @ LindenPointe, a technology incubator in Hermitage, Pennsylvania. Don and his partner at the time shared their thoughts, ideas and work on Unholy, a horror-themed cross platform video game.

Fast forward a few weeks, and i found myself part of the Enyx team as a creative director, writer and designer – tasks that i felt woefully unskilled at but that i was assured as exemplary, much to my delighted surprise. Due to several other obligations, and an eventual parting of ways between Don and his partner, the project faded into the background.

But that past is prologue to an excited new venture by Enyx Studios.

“A Haunting: Witching Hour” is a brand new title that Don and a new team of designers is hard at work on, building off of what he learned from his experiences with Unholy.

Haunting 1

Promotional image from Enyx Studios’ “A Haunting: Witching Hour” game.

Now based at the Youngstown Business Incubator, a development that came about through Don’s association with Blackstone Launchpad’s Bob Sopko at Case Western Reserve University

The team at Enyx mostly came about through Don’s relationship with YBI. Mitch, who worked with Don on Unholy, remains as the audio engineer for A Haunting. Along with them, Byron works in a mostly research capacity, discovering ways to include real-world elements into the story that add to the immersion and authenticity. Art chores are handled by Steve and Marissa, and as head of the team, Don is involved with everything.

“For the project that we’re taking on, you kinda need a decent size team,” Don explains. “And last week, we got the email that we’ve been waiting for – that golden email from Playstation. We had submitted a concept to them, a full design document and everything, and not only did they approve it, but they want to give us a page on playstation.com that’s all about the game. Once we have a trailer, they want to put it on their YouTube channel as well as on the Playstation Network – which means it will be on 36 million Playstations worldwide.”

Settling on the Playstation platform initially, A Haunting takes advantage of the Playstation VR, Enyx Studios is working with some “really cool equipment” including a full motion-capture system that they’re using to give all the in-game characters a higher level of realism.

Porting the game over to other platforms like Xbox or PC is certainly not out of the question according to Don, but for the relatively small team to produce a multi-platform game right out of the gate is one of the stumbling blocks he experienced with Unholy. Instead, Enyx is focusing on producing the best title they can for a single platform, with an eye on a Q3 2016 release.

The game itself takes revolves around an indie film crew who travels to the fictional town of Shady Hollow to create a documentary about the murder of several coal miners that occurred in 1975. The owner of the mine had always insisted there were supernatural forces involved, claiming an entity known as the Hollow Creek Witch is to blame, but of course no one believed him. As the filmmakers dig deeper into the story, they begin to uncover evidence that the claims of evil occult forces might actually be true.

“We’re pulling a lot of real facts from things like the Salem Witch Trials and how that all occurred,” Don elaborates. “We’re using that as a background for this witch, and we picked up a bunch of books on witches, Wiccans and things like that to learn about that culture and what certain symbols mean, like air, wind and fire, different moons and that sort of thing.

“We’re trying to make it as real as possible,” Don says. “Of course, you have to change it up a little bit. But from day one, the whole goal is to be a creepy, scary game, and when you play it, it just scares the hell out of you.”

Described as a storytelling video game of dark horror and desperate survival, Enyx is taking great strides to create a rich background for all of the characters and places in the game, including Eddie, the protagonist controlled by the player.

Eddie, a mysterious character with a troubled past, possesses the “Gift of Sight” that manifests as psychic powers such as the ability to see things others cannot, psychometry (the ability to read the psychic residue left on objects), clairvoyance and more.

These abilities come with a price, however – every time a player uses Eddie’s Gift of Sight, he becomes weakened

Like Unholy, A Haunting aims to follow an episodic path, with new chapters of the game down the road building on the experience and offering new locations, paths and twists to the tale.

“We want to tell a story and have it build,” Don explains. “Just when you think you kind of have it figured out, oh my gosh – something else happens that makes you go ‘huh.’ One of the things that really inspired us was that thing on Netflix, ‘Making a Murderer.’ The whole time, you’re bouncing back and forth – did he murder them? Did he not? And we’re trying to bring some of that element into the game.”

The gameplay starts with Eddie in questioning, with the player traveling back into the story throughout the experience. Based on the player’s actions such as discovering clues, answering questions and so forth, the story will change depending on these outcomes. In essence, the game is a flashback, and the player controls how the past manifests in the present.

“As you play the game, that’s your story that you’re telling,” Don shares, revealing that there are multiple possible endings. “It’s almost like one of those choose-your-own-adventure books.”

Haunting 2

 

Turkey and technology collide at Great Lakes Science Center’s ‘Turkey Tech’

This story originally appeared in The News-Herald and The Morning Journal

Great Lakes Science Center

The Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland is shown in July 2009. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

When you think about Thanksgiving, science and technology might not be the first things that spring to mind.

Sure, there’s the chemistry of starch behind the family recipe for gravy. And in the last four hundred years since the “First Thanksgiving” in 1621, kitchen gadgetry has come a long way. But, robots, 3-D printing and vacuum chambers aren’t the images that are typically conjured when turkey day draws near.

This year, the Great Lakes Science Center, 601 Erieside Ave. in Cleveland, aims to change those perceptions with Turkey Tech, a holiday-themed event Nov. 27-29 “where turkey and technology collide.” Regular admission to the Science Center gives access to the planned activities and presentations, with additional registration required for a couple of the items due to limitations on space and participation.

With the potential for chilly outside temperatures and the long weekend many look forward to from school or work, Science Center Communications Director Joe Yachanin explained that the event programming sought to give families a fun option for how to spend the holiday time.

There’s a bit of Thanksgiving-themed stuff developed just for the event, plus a holiday theme to several mainstays like the Big Science Show, he said.

“We thought, what better way to celebrate Thanksgiving weekend with the people in your family than coming downtown and visiting the Great Lakes Science Center,” said Yachanin. “We’re always looking for things to do that can engage multiple generations.”

On top of all of that, Yachanin said, the timing worked out for the debut of National Geographic’s “Robots 3-D” film in the OMNIMAX theater on Nov. 27, showcasing the latest successes and failures in robotics research.

“It’s a tour of robotics labs around the world, so that people can see what sorts of advancements are being made in the world of robotics,” Yachanin said.

RoboThespian, a humanoid robot actor designed to interact with humans in a public setting, acts as the film’s narrator. Viewers will be introduced to several high-profile robotics projects like CHIMP, ATLAS, Herb the Butler and more.

For more robotics, VEX Robotics exhibitions are scheduled all day for all three days. Builders will be demonstrating how to design and build robots with the VEX Robotics Design System, a platform geared towards students.

One of the more intriguing Turkey Tech exhibitions, which will run all day throughout the weekend, is the vacuum chamber floor demonstration. Attendees can see what happens when different Thanksgiving side dishes are put into the chamber to have the air sucked out of them completely and then put back in.

“It works really neat with whipped cream on top of pumpkin pie — to see the whipped cream expand and contract right before your eyes,” Yachanin said. “It works really well because there’s a lot of air in the whipped cream. It’s really neat to watch the food literally change size right before your eyes.

“And the education person doing that demonstration can of course explain the science behind how changing the air pressure affects the food.”

Both the Maker Workshop and Family Turkey Launch Tournament are free with regular admission, but require additional registration due to space and material limitations. The Science Center is asking for a donation of canned food for this event as well.

In the Maker Workshop, scheduled for Nov. 27 at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., participants will get an introduction to 3-D printing and make their own cookie cutters.

The turkey launch, scheduled for Nov. 28 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., challenges teams to construct a catapult using a basket of household objects provided. The catapult will then be used to launch plastic turkeys, with the winner being the team able to propel their turkey the closest to landing in a pot, with a bullseye for getting it to land inside.

“The closer you get, the more points it will be worth,” Yachanin said. “It’ll be tournament style, and the top teams will go home with a turkey trophy.”

Visitors who have been to the Science Center before may not recall seeing any bowling lanes on the premises. Nevertheless, Turkey Bowling is scheduled Nov. 27-28 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Nov. 29 1-4 p.m. Set up in open exhibit space, participants will get to make and decorate their own head pins and then hit the boards for a chance to roll their own turkeys, or three strikes in a row — a term that originated when bowling tournaments handed out grocery items (like turkeys), eventually becoming part of the vernacular.

A staple of the Science Center, the Big Science Show will have a few surprises in store for anyone who’s seen it before. Turkey Tech-themed elements were integrated into the show, scheduled to run on Nov. 27 at 2 p.m., Nov. 28 at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. and Nov. 29 at 2:30 p.m.

“One of the new demonstrations is an explanation of why Thanksgiving Day parade balloons are full of helium instead of hydrogen,” Yachanin said. “And another one we’re doing is called the Tesla Turkey. We’re going to be conducting electricity through a turkey on a giant Tesla coil.”

For parents looking to take advantage of Black Friday shopping, the center is also offering a one day camp-like program called “Parent’s Day Out” on Nov. 27 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. By registering in advance, children ages 6-13 can be dropped off at GLSC for a day of supervised scientific fun with hands-on activities, a pizza lunch, an OMNIMAX film, the Big Science Show and more. The cost per child is $30 for nonmembers and $25 for members.

Like the Spooktacular Science Day in October, Turkey Tech continues a programming schedule of holiday-themed events. Coming up, GLSC plans a whole week of wintry/cold themed activities for Winter Week, Dec. 26-Jan. 2.

“Lots of kids are home from school, on winter break,” Yachanin said.

“We’re trying to put in a bit of added incentive with fun, wintry-themed activities. We’ll probably do some fun stuff with liquid nitrogen that week.”

Events like carpet skating will take place, with plans to run a snow machine inside GLSC to complete the wintry atmosphere for visitors.

“We basically just want people to make family memories,” Yachanin said.

“Come down and have a little fun with science. Hopefully we’re going to make it engaging and expose people to some level of creativity that they don’t normally associate with science.”

GIS Day at Lakeland Community College showcases geographic software

This story originally appeared in The News-Herald and The Morning Journal

GIS Day 1

Dakota Benjamin from Cleveland Metroparks shows the E384 unmanned aircraft during a presentation by GIS Manager Stephen V. Mather (left) to guests during GIS Day at Lakeland Community College on Nov. 18. The craft is part of a fleet used by Cleveland Metroparks that includes rotorcraft drones and kites for surveying land and gathering geospatial data.

Since 1999, the third Wednesday of each November has been designated as GIS Day, a grassroots global event developed by Esri — an international supplier of GIS software — that lets users and vendors of the geographic software to showcase their applications to the public.

On Nov. 18, Lakeland Community College hosted a GIS Day event, organized by Lisa Stanich, geospatial technology program assistant, and Mark Guizlo, professor and chair of the department of geography and geospatial technology.

The free and public event took place across two rooms set aside for presentations and demonstations, and a third room for exhibitors.
Lakeland also uses GIS Day to showcase their Geospatial Technology program. Developed in 2011, it is the first program in the state that’s aligned with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Geospatial Technology Competency Model designed to produce a skilled workforce.

“We set ours up based on the needs of the industry,” Guizlo said.

While developing the program, Guizlo attended professional meetings for the industry, noting that there were few academics there at the time. At the meetings, he began building relationships with industry leaders to help shape the program.

“We used the (Labor Department) model to guide what we are doing, and no we have a very professional, skills-based approach.”

GIS program participant Caroline Petersen, who manned the department’s exhibit table, was enthusiastic about her experience.

“It’s an amazing program that’s opened up so many doors for me,” she said.

Fellow student Joe Gragg agreed.

“From what I’ve heard, students coming from Lakeland’s GIS program are a year or two ahead when they go on to four-year programs,” he said.

Starting off the day, GIS instructor Bobby Oliver showed attendees a selection of free and open mobile apps for geospatial data collection. She explained that casual users and consumers can take advantage of app capabilities to gather useful information for things like fitness and health tracking.

One of the apps, Endomondo, can track workouts like running or biking, measuring speed, distance and elevation. Using the data, the app provides feedback on how to meet exercise goals.

“There’s lots of free software out there for your phones,” Oliver said.
Most of these sorts of apps are designed to sync with users’ social media networks, making it easy to share your successes or compare with other enthusiasts.

Sharing large swaths of data across multiple entities is one of the broader uses of GIS data, exemplified by municipal organizations like the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.

Robert Stoerkel and Dennis Quigney, both graduates of Lakeland’s GIS program, presented attendees with a variety of ways NEORSD collects, uses and shares data.

With over 1 million customers in a 355-square-mile service area and over 90 billion gallons of water treated each year, managing geospatial data is vital.

Customized data logged in their Enterprise GIS system is used to aid many other departments, including Homeland Security, in order to coordinate infrastructure projects and ensure safety and stability for both consumers and professionals in the coverage area.

“Everyone in the district is using this app once a day,” Stoerkel said.

Michael Foley, GIS specialist with CT Consultants, a local municipal engineering and planning firm in Mentor, echoed Stoerkel’s sentiments about the importance of geospatial data.

“People don’t care about maps, they care about apps,” he said.
Situated in the exhibit hall, Foley explained the work that went into developing and managing a comprehensive database and map for the city of Euclid’s sewer system using aerial photos and other techniques. The resulting web application allows the city to access and input data as needed.

Aerial photography was also the focus of Cleveland Metroparks presentation, where GIS Manager Stephen V. Mather showed what his department’s fleet of unmanned craft can provide.

Using OpenDroneMap, an open source toolkit, in conjunction with both fixed wing and rotorcraft drones as well as kites, they’re able to reconstruct the world using series of overlapping photos from repeated drone flights.

The highly-detailed maps created allow for precise attention to problems like erosion, stemming invasive species like phragmites and promoting healthy vegetation growth.

GIS Day 2

A selection of quilts on display at GIS Day at Lakeland Community College on Nov. 18 created by Debbie Berkebile, owner of Mountain Trail Quilt Treasures. Berkbile uses GIS data to create artistic representations of geographic locations, including (from left) the Painted Desert, Eye of Sahara and Sustina Glacier.

Exhibitor Debbie Berkebile, owner of Mountain Trail Quilt Treasures, puts her GIS training to use for an artistic pursuit.

Using image data from various locations around the globe, she creates quilts and uses topographical information to hand-paint landscape features on them.

“Each one has characteristics of what the colors really mean,” she said.

“I’ve been quilting for over 15 years, but this I just started after graduation. I like mapping.”

Tech growth on the rise in Northeast Ohio

A shorter version of this article originally appeared in The News-Herald and The Morning Journal

Special thanks to the managing editor for feedback and suggestions for tightening it up. At the end of the day, i actually like that version more – it’s more concise with a better ending.

This version contains more detailed information and sources that made the article too long for print, as well as some stuff that was redundant in light of previous newspaper coverage.

technology growth 1

State of the art

A recent Forbes article posits Cleveland as the Midwest’s answer to Silicon Valley.

A growing hub for entrepreneurs in the technology industry, the city and surrounding area of Northeast Ohio continues a trend of upward movement. The latest quarterly report, released in August from Team NEO, a regional collaboration of business leadership partnered with the nonprofit economic development corporation JobsOhio, indicates positive trends.

Business growth

By the numbers

Among those trends are an 18 percent employment growth and gross regional product growth of 40 percent in the headquarters and professional services sector between 2000 and 2015. That is creating almost 21,000 jobs and more than $19 billion in Northeast Ohio economy.

The low cost of doing business, combined with a healthy workforce, the region’s educational opportunities and overall quality of life and cost of living have attracted not only established Fortune 1000 companies to build their presence here, but fostered the growth of entrepreneurs.

More specifically, Team NEO’s data shows 34.9 percent growth between 2000 and 2014 in information technology, including professional services, shows growth. That is about 5 percent above the national average.

And wiith 20 percent since 2007 coming out of a national recession, this makes it one of the few sectors in the state that has exceeded pre-recession levels.

These two industries are grouped together for a couple of reasons, according to Jacob Duritsky, vice president of strategy and research at Team NEO. The direct technology sector, represented by the IT component, includes software publishing and what people tend to think of as “Silicon Valley activity.”

Northeast Ohio is unique, though, because of how embedded IT is in the region’s strong concentration in manufacturing and professional services like corporate headquarters, accounting and similar firms.

Looking at the data this way gives a broader picture of both the direct and indirect impact of technology in the area.

“Thinking about it geographically, it makes sense to look at the data from the metropolitan level, to think about it from the Cleveland (metropolitan statistical area) perspective, which includes Lake and Lorain county, and also picks up Cuyahoga and Geauga, and Medina,” Duritsky said,

“The trend is encouraging,” he said. “It’s certainly impacting the entire metro level through community patterns, through workforce, through job opportunities.”

The Forbes piece is focused primarily on Cleveland-based nonprofit Jumpstart’s CEO, Ray Leach, whose goals are to foster entrepreneurship in the region. He(HE OR FORBES?) projects an additional 10,000 new jobs over the next 10 years and billions in investment dollars.

Northeast Ohio’s rich history of manufacturing and making things is having an impact on this transition as well, with computer product manufacturing projected to be one of the highest growth sectors in the coming decade, according to Team NEO data.

“Think sophisticated, integrated chips that work through aerospace products and automotive products – some pretty high value-add computer components that we’re starting to make here through Eaton, Parker Hannifin and others,” said Duritsky.

Support from business community

In Lake County, growing the technology industry is something area business leaders take seriously, with organizations like the Mentor Area Chamber of Commerce taking action towards fostering that growth.

“The concept of incubators and growth accelerators are starting to really pick up the pace in Lake County,” said Al DiFranco, Mentor Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. “There are a couple of groups that are investigating whether or not that makes sense, and we’re definitely doing that in Mentor.”

Along with City Manager Ken Filipiak, DiFranco recently traveled to the Akron Global Business Accelerator, a facility that the city provides to help young companies and entrepreneurs get going.

“We went down there with the understanding that this is something we’d like to think about doing in Lake County, and Mentor wants to take the lead on it,” DiFranco said. “It’s catching it on the startup of the startup, if you will, of the idea – but it’s been there, and it’s just growing that we’re trying to find a way to be able to partner with and help these startups.”

More and more people want to take their ideas and start a business, but might not have the time or resources to take that risk, according to DiFranco. Although still in the early stages, he said, the city and chamber are thinking of ways they can help those with an idea plant that seed by replicating best practices in Cleveland and Akron to promote Lake County entrepreneurs.

“The tech industry of course is going to be at the head of that,” DiFranco said.

Another example of Mentor’s commitment to the technology industry is the Aerospace Updates & Opportunities symposium on Oct. 1, part of a series hosted by the City of Mentor International Trade Initiative. Presentations from NASA, Boeing and other industry giants are aimed at educating local businesses and building networks.

Whether homegrown entrepreneurs are staying in Northeast Ohio, companies are relocating here or native Clevelanders who moved away are coming back, which DiFranco refers to as a “boomerang effect,” he pointed out that people recognize the region as a great place to raise a family with reasonable cost of living.

DiFranco said that at an Aug. 25 Lake County Chamber of Commerce luncheon to discuss the Republican National Convention, Destination Cleveland CEO David Gilbert remarked that the delegation was hearing more and more good things about Cleveland and the city’s continued growth.

“One of the things the Chamber does very well is we try to represent small businesses in a way they can’t themselves,” DiFranco said, noting networking as one of the things the Chamber can assist with. “That’s why the Chamber is definitely going to be involved in these conversations.”

In Lake County, larger, established companies like Steris and Avery Dennison know where entrepreneurs are coming from, DiFranco said, and they’re looking for people to partner with. Through the Chamber, mutually beneficial relationships can emerge, he said.

financial symbols coming from hand

Finding the funds

One of the biggest challenges for startups and entrepreneurs is the practical matter of securing funding, as noted in the Forbes article, and Jumpstart is just one of many resources in the region that exist to help those with an idea turn it into a marketable business.

The Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise, on the Lorain County Community College campus, is another of those resources. In addition to providing support services, GLIDE offers the Innovation Fund, a pre-seed funding program that gives early stage monies to startup technology companies, according to Dennis Cocco, co-director of GLIDE.

“We deal with companies in the very early state,” Cocco said. “They generally have an idea, they have technology that they either have a patent for or in the process of patenting. They may need to build a prototype. They may need to validate a technology’s market presence. And we help them at that early stage.

“We’re the first money other than friends and families that those companies receive,” he said.

The GLIDE fund, which covers the 21 counties in Northeast Ohio economic development region, has encouraged partners to help source the fund. Youngstown State University, NEOMED, Stark State University, University of Akron and Cleveland State University are all partners along with LCCC who support GLIDE with both funds and services.

Since starting in 2007, GLIDE has given out over $10 million, to about 170 companies, according to Cocco. Those companies have gone on to raise over $200 million through what is called “follow-on funding.”

The State of Ohio looks at three factors as far as what GLIDE is creating: how many dollars of follow-on funding do award recipients generate, how much revenue they’ve given and how many jobs they’ve created – over 500 new jobs so far.

“One of the things we require of every recipient is to help give back to other young entrepreneurs, either through lectures, coursework or internships,” Cocco said. “That way, students at the universities in Northeast Ohio can work next to the entrepreneur and learn what it’s really like to start a business.”

But it’s not just money that GLIDE offers, according to Cocco. Though funding is certainly an important element for entrepreneurs, they need lots of other things as well, and resources like GLIDE exist to offer those things.

For first-timers new to running a business, tasks like hiring employees, securing insurance and a host of other matters can be overwhelming. GLIDE and similar organizations exist to help them understand what the owner of a technology business needs to be successful.

“Every one of them has to raise millions of dollars at some point in time,” Cocco said. “It’s our job to show them how to prepare for that. Besides giving the money it’s coaching, counseling and mentoring – those are just as important.”

After the region experienced huge growth in the manufacturing industry in the mid-20th century, Cocco described a sort of complacency in the1960s and ’70s that led to stagnation.

“One of the things we were not doing well is our job growth was not going well and we weren’t creating new enterprises at the rate that other regions were, particularly the east coast and the west coast,” Cocco said. “We stopped being creative, we stopped being innovative, we stopped creating new enterprises.”

But in the last decade or so, there has been a concerted effort by many in the state to change the course and create pathways for people to start new business – and there are people in the region like GLIDE who want to help them do that successfully.

“We have great support from Columbus and the State of Ohio, and Ohio Third Frontier, probably better than almost any other state in the Union,” Cocco said. Ohio Third Frontier is an initiative to expand research and technology economic development in the state. He also cited the region’s university base as a major component of what makes Northeast Ohio attractive to entrepreneurs.

“I also think, quite frankly, that it’s Northeast Ohio itself and the people here,” Cocco said. “We want to make this a good place to be, and when you come here, people are amazed at how willing people are to help.”

Nuts and bolts

Armed with knowledge and funding, entrepreneurs with technology startups often face challenges when it comes to production as well. Firms like JPG Advisors, based in Painesville, specialize in technical and operational solutions to help overcome those challenges.

“I formed (JPG Advisors) to work with businesses in transition,” said Jim Gray, owner. “Originally it was with troubled businesses, but now a lot of it is businesses that are going to the next level.”

Gray, an industrial engineer who also holds an MBA from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University,

“I’m an operations guy,” Gray said. “You’ve got the technology – now how are you going to make it? You have a widget, I can help you develop a plan to make the widget.”

Considerations of what equipment is called for, production costs and facility needs are just a few of the things Gray helps clients with as a process specialist. His strength lies in taking a prototype model that an entrepreneur developed and translating to a practical production method by refining and improving the process.

“Lake County has almost the full spectrum of manufacturing processes,” Gray said. “There’s a lot of small manufacturing businesses around here – it’s one of the strengths of Lake County. If you know the players, you can find a source to help you build a product.

“We’ve got a lot of capabilities here – how can we leverage that up? Even if you don’t have the product, you might have the processes. Somebody might develop the product elsewhere, and they can come to the Lake County area and say ‘why don’t you make this for us?’

“Even though I know the other ends of the business, I like to put the focus on how to get something built. Not everybody thinks that way. They think about the product, they think about the finances. There’s a lot of those resources available. So I look at ‘how do you make it?’ ”

Steps to success

Getting to the production stage is one thing. Between having an idea and putting a product onto the market, a whole lot of education takes place – whether at a formal institution or not.

Education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – collectively called STEM, or STEAM, made popular by a growing awareness of the contribute of art to advancing the other disciplines – has been a topic of focus for several years.

Here in Northeast Ohio, there is a strong commitment to exposing and encouraging youth to STEM education during early years at school.

In Lake County, the recently opened School of Innovation in the Willoughby-Eastlake school district opened its doors to grades three through five on Sept. 15. Inside the new school, students experience a new approach to learning, incorporating a quarterly capstone project and partnerships with active area businesses to serve as not only resources and mentors, but as an audience for student exhibitions as well, explained Gina Kevern, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for Willoughby-Eastlake City Schools.

“For this first quarter, the entire school is working on the same capstone, with each grade addressing specific essential questions,” Kevern said. “All of the students are investigating the outdoor space to learn about the property and determine which areas might be the best spots for different learning opportunities.”

By mapping the property, identifying ecosystems and topographical features, studying the plants and animals and learning about soil and erosion, students are developing features like a garden and walking path, and how those projects could impact the environment.

“The concept behind project-based learning units is helping students understand how to solve problems through the research and design process,” Kevern said.

As regards to business partners, school Principal Brian Patrick is arranging weekly “Career Moments” meetings for students to hear presentations from people in different fields to get exposure to their options during their K-12 education.

“As the school grows each year, eventually becoming a grade 3-12 building, our business partners will be crucial as students participate in shadowing and internship experiences,” Kevern said.

To help students expand on the practical learning opportunities, the school has a fabrication lab outfitted with laser cutters, 3-D printers, a milling machine and more. Patrick McKinney, director of technology at Willoughby-Eastlake Schools, explained the importance of the school’s approach to education.

“We live in an obviously tech-driven world,” McKinney said. “We’re really excited to put a fab lab in the school, so we’re exposing our kids to that technology early. These digital-native kids will be building on the programs so they’ll be ready to go.”

On a larger scale, facilities like the brand-new think[box] on the Case Western Reserve University campus welcomes anyone to visit and tinker or invent creatively.

The newly-renovated space that opened Oct. 1 is a seven-story, 50,000-square-foot facility. Touted by CWRU as one of the world’s largest university-based innovation centers, the $35 million facility offers the public not only space and technology, but guidance from industry experts to transform ideas into viable products and businesses.

At the end of the day, to answer the Forbes article’s question, there are no shortage of examples in education, funding and guidance at each step of taking an idea from pitch to production in Northeast Ohio.

Boasting what many consider to be the region’s low cost of living, combined with solid manufacturing base and strong infrastructure – plus a powerful commitment from state government to supporting technology industry growth – the Cleveland area could certainly be considered a contender for the title “Silicon Valley of the Midwest.”

However, what is more important is that Northeast Ohio has evolved and emerged with its own unique identity as an attractive place for technology to thrive.

Aerospace and aviation symposium in Mentor draws leaders from around the world – and off it completely

This story originally appeared in The News-Herald

Submitted Dr. Janet Kavandi, deputy director of NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, spoke on Oct. 1 at the Aerospace Industry Updates & Opportunities symposium hosted by the City of Mentor and the Ohio Aerospace Institute. Kavandi, a patent scientist-turned astronaut, has logged more than 33 hours in space and traveled over 13.1 million miles in 535 Earth orbits. The event was held at Noah's Event Center, 8200 Norton Pkwy., Mentor.

Submitted
Dr. Janet Kavandi, deputy director of NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, spoke on Oct. 1 at the Aerospace Industry Updates & Opportunities symposium hosted by the City of Mentor and the Ohio Aerospace Institute. Kavandi, a patent scientist-turned astronaut, has logged more than 33 hours in space and traveled over 13.1 million miles in 535 Earth orbits. The event was held at Noah’s Event Center, 8200 Norton Pkwy., Mentor.

Ohio’s Aerospace Industry was the topic of a recent event in Mentor that was geared toward fostering growth both locally and across the state.

As part of the City of Mentor International Trade Initiative’s quarterly symposium series, about 75 people gathered Oct. 1 at Noah’s Event Center for Aerospace Industry Opportunities & Updates.

Hosted by a partnership between the city and the Ohio Aerospace Institute, a nonprofit advocate of aerospace research and technology development, leaders in the industry both local and global gave presentations designed to build networks, create connections and advance the state of the industry in Northeast Ohio.

“Aerospace is such a growing sector in the national economy, and internationally,” said Ronald M. Traub, director of economic and community development for Mentor. “It’s great to have experts of this caliber to speak to Mentor area businesses, and it’s value-added for our local business to take advantage of their expertise.”

One of the experts on hand, state Representative Rick Perales, R-Beavercreek, was enthusiastic in his commitment to advancing aerospace in Ohio.

“My strength, my forte, my sweet spot has been aerospace,” Perales said of his background, having served in the U.S. Air Force and as commander of the 788th Civil Engineer Squadron at Wright Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton. “I’m here for a specific reason: getting the state more involved (in aerospace).”

As a junior representative in 2012, Perales saw a need to bring together the state’s industries, universities and government to help advance aerospace, and formed the Ohio Aerospace and Aviation Committee. Comprised of three Democrats, three Republicans and 15 civilians from military, industry and academia, the committee works to identify problems and solve them.

One of those problems, Perales noted, was branding — Ohio didn’t have a strong identity for its aerospace industry, something the committee worked to correct.

“This is the Midwest, we don’t beat our chests about it, we just go out and do it,” Perales said of the region’s persona.

The symposium’s keynote speaker was Dr. Janet Kavandi, deputy director of the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

It’s a position she’s held since February. Before taking on the role, Kavandi was a patent chemist-turned-astronaut, a veteran of three space flights as a mission specialist who’s logged over 33 days in space with 535 Earth orbits.

Prior to her presentation, Kavandi spoke to The News-Herald about the Glenn Research Center’s commitment to supporting aerospace and aviation industries. At that particular research center, one of 10 NASA facilities around the country, the focus is on aircraft engines, space power and communications primarily. Work on sensor equipment there, for example, played a part in the recent announcement of NASA’s discovery of water on Mars — something “not incredibly surprising” to scientists like Kavandi, but still “really exciting.”

She also touched on her time in space, and the change in perspective that astronauts often experience.

“I appreciate a lot of the impact of humanity on the earth,” Kavandi said, “because you can see it. Things like pollution and deforestation.”

During her presentation, she also noted the incredible views from space, like looking down on Africa and seeing a lightning storm travel hundreds of miles across the relatively dark continent. She was also able to confidently answer a question about the validity of building permanent settlements on places like the moon, or Mars.

“Technically, we can do it right now,” she said. “We could have done it 20 or 30 years ago. We have the technology, it just depends how many politicians get behind it.”

Earlier presentations from industry leaders like Boeing, Parker Hannifin, McDonald Hopkins and several people from the OAI covered a broad range of topics for small businesses in the aerospace industry, from securing funding, to forming strong partnerships with larger establishment firms and potential legal hurdles and challenges businesses might face.

“There is no industry in the world in which there is more of a leader than aerospace that the U.S.,” said Michael Heil, president and CEO of OAI. “It all started right here in the state of Ohio with two brothers — Wilbur and Orville Wright. Ohio is not just No. 1 in aerospace, we’re No. 1 by a long way.”