The Closing Bell: Local startups rack up millions in funding; a mix of good and bad ad agency news; organic grocery opening soon; and more

Welcome to The Closing Bell. This is your last stop for biz scoops and big news before the weekend — a roundup of stories that can’t wait till Monday.

Who’s been funded? — March Edition


It was a good month for local startups on the funding front, with two deals exceeding well over a million bucks each, plus an exit for a company that will remain in town.

Lisa Bajorinas, the new executive director of EnterpriseCorp — Greater Louisville Inc.’s entrepreneurial arm — gave a rundown of who picked up investments around town during this week’s Venture Connectors Luncheon.

Let’s start small and work our way up to the big money:

In February, Gill Holland’s Portland Investment Initiative (Pii) was a big winner investment-wise. March was no different, as the initiative gained another $40,000 through local investors. Pii is a project devoted to the Portland neighborhood through real estate investment and enhancement.

Earlier this week, we told you about Inscope Medical Solutions’ acceptance to Cedars-Sinai + Techstars’ Healthcare Accelerator, which earned them a $120,000 investment. They also picked up another $50,000 from a National Science Foundation grant. Inscope has developed an all-in-one laryngoscope that provides a clear view of every airway. As a local startup veteran pointed out, it’s too bad Inscope, which is a U of L MBA company, had to go to California to get funding from a hospital when University Hospital (and all the other hospitals in this city) didn’t step up for this startup that simply dominated business competitions in 2015.

Then there’s Adaptive Technologies, which nabbed $500,000 through Queen City Angels to fund MobileFit, a product that helps fitness centers retain members.

And now moving into seven-figure investments: MobileMedTek got $1.25 million through SIDIS Corp. and local investors. The company creates a device that improves efficiency in testing for seizures, epilepsy and other neurological disorders through streamlined EEG (brain wave) testing.

Finally, as we told you a few weeks agoEdj Analytics closed a Series A funding round for $2.4 million thanks to Chrysalis Ventures, including local investors, and the Enterprise Angels Community Fund. Edj creates predictive modeling techniques to inform better decision-making in financial markets, health care and education. Congrats again, CEO Sean O’Leary.

Also, good news for Traffic Builders, a print and digital marketing platform for the auto industry: The company was acquired by GS Marketing from Houston, Texas, for an undisclosed amount, but the jobs will stay here in Louisville. —Melissa Chipman

Low gas prices, better economy boost Ford sales to best in a decade

Ford unveiled the 2017 Escape this week at the LA Auto Show.

The 2017 Ford Escape. | Courtesy of Ford Motor Co.

An improving economy and low gas prices are fueling the strongest demand for Ford Motor Co. trucks and SUVs in a decade.

The Detroit automaker, which employs more than 12,000 at two Louisville area plants, said it sold nearly 255,000 vehicles in March, up 8 percent from March 2015. It was the company’s best March sales data since 2006.

Ford car sales were up just 1 percent in March, but truck sales rose 11.4 percent. Ford said it sold nearly 74,000 F-Series trucks in March, up 9.1 percent from a year earlier. F-Series sales were up 5 percent for the first quarter.

“Trucks are benefiting from continued improvement in construction and growth in business activity,” said Erich Merkle, the company’s U.S. sales analyst.

SUV sales saw even stronger gains, rising 13 percent in March to nearly 73,000 — the best sales numbers in 15 years.

The Escape remains the company’s best-selling SUV, with 28,521 rolling off lots in March, up 8.4 percent, while sales of the Explorer, at 21,605, rose 4 percent. Demand for the Edge jumped nearly 50 percent, to 14,005, but interest in the Expedition fell 0.8 percent.

“SUVs are hot,” Merkle said. “Baby boomers continue to buy them, particularly as ingress and egress become more important, and now their kids – millennials – are finding a need for them as they form families of their own.”

Gas prices are helping, too, and the U.S. government predicts prices will remain below $2.50 per gallon through the end of next year.

The strong truck and SUV sales are good news for Ford’s Louisville workforce. The Kentucky Truck Plant makes the F-Series Super Duty, Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator. The Louisville Assembly Plant makes the Ford Escape. Ford is investing $1.3 billion into the KTP as it adds workers and prepares for the launch of the all-new Super Duty.

Ford also said it had the best sales month for vans in 38 years. Sales of the Transit model were up 53 percent. Merkle said the vehicle provides great fuel economy, which is important for businesses, and comes in more than 60 configurations, giving buyers the chance to buy exactly what they need. —Boris Ladwig

Power celebrates 40 years

power_logo_stackNo foolin’ — ad agency Power celebrated 40 years in business on April 1. The late Mike Power opened the door of Power Graphics on April Fool’s Day, 1976, with a $10,000 bank loan and $2,000 from his father-in-law. Now Power has 130 employees in a 80,000-square-foot campus.

When Power started, it filled a gap in services operating in Louisville.

“The closest house for good typesetting was in Cincinnati, and you had to get in line behind other design firms and ad agencies for a studio-quality photograph,” stated David Power, CEO of Power, in a news release. “These services took time, and clients were used to paying a good price. My father knew if those services were in-house, he could control both quality and deadlines and get paid well for the work, if in fact the work was top-of-the-line and a fair price.”

In 1998, Power Graphics officially became a “Full-Service Advertising Agency” and changed its name to Power Creative. Mike Power handed the reigns over to his son, David, in 2009; Mike died in 2015 at age 71 after a long illness. The firm changed its name to Power earlier this year.

Notable local Power clients include University of Louisville, Churchill Downs, Speed Art Museum, Olmsted Parks Conservancy and Trinity High School. —Melissa Chipman

St. Louis liquor company Luxco to build bourbon distillery in Bardstown

On the heels of Insider’s peek into the new Jeptha Creed Distillery in Shelbyville comes news of another distillery joining the ranks. Luxco Inc. — the St. Louis-headquartered company behind Juarez Tequila, Pearl Vodka, Everclear, and Ezra Brooks and Rebel Yell bourbons — announced this week it has secured a 70-acre site in Bardstown and Nelson County to build a bourbon distillery. The 18,000-square-foot facility will have a visitors’ center, tasting room, event space and six rick houses, and hopes to become an official stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Architect renderings by Louisville's Joseph & Joseph Architects | Courtesy of Luxco Inc.

Architect renderings by Louisville’s Joseph & Joseph Architects | Courtesy of Luxco Inc.

Bardstown company Buzick Construction, which specializes in building distilleries, has been tapped for the job, and construction is set to begin this summer. It is expected to be fully operational by late 2017.

“We are looking forward to building the distillery on this scenic property and in such a central location in Bardstown,” said David Bratcher, president and COO of Luxco, in a press release. “We intend the distillery to be a welcoming stop for those visiting the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and we are excited to bring our bourbon experience and brands to Nelson County.”

The site is off state highway KY-245 in Nelson County. The distillery will be built alongside an existing house, which is registered as a National Historic Place and will remain. Luxco also owns 50 percent interest in Limestone Branch Distillery in Lebanon, Ky., which produces the high quality Yellowstone Kentucky Straight Bourbon.

Bratcher said the new Kentucky distillery will allow the company to be more innovative.

“Building this distillery will allow us to control our own production as well as offer us the ability to experiment with new and innovative mash bills, barrel types and aging techniques,” he said.

From what we can tell, the Bardstown community welcomes the distillery with open arms.

The Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority (KEDFA) preliminarily approved the company for $1.3 million in tax incentives for the project, and the Joint City-County Planning Commission also approved rezoning of the land.

“We are excited to have Luxco become a part of our community,” said Dean Watts, Nelson County Judge Executive. “Their history and success in the liquor industry will greatly enhance our county.” —Sara Havens

Louisville Awards in the Arts names winners; April 30 reception at Churchill Downs

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 9.50.56 AMWhen the Fund for the Arts kicked off its campaign season in February, they announced plans to partner with Churchill Downs and the Jennifer Lawrence Foundation to throw a red-carpet, Derby week event that would honor the local arts scene. They asked for submissions in various categories, and just this week, the winners were chosen.

“Awards in the Arts celebrates Louisville artists of all kinds, and their talent and passion to create, produce and present transformative and inspiring works of art for the community,” said Christen Boone, president and CEO of Fund for the Arts, in a press release. “When you look at the group of winners for our inaugural awards program, it’s exciting to see the diversity in talent and artistic impact they have collectively made in Louisville.”

Let’s take a look at the winners. The Kentucky Center for the Arts won the Republic Bank Foundation Arts Impact Award. The Louisville Orchestra’s Teddy Abrams won the Bittners Arts Innovation Award. The venerable folks at StageOne Family Theatre won the Yum! Brands Foundation Arts Education Award. Sculptor Ed Hamilton was honored with the Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award. And musician Jecorey “1200” Arthur won the U of L Emerging Leader in the Arts Award.

One award — the National Award in the Arts — will be announced the night of the event, on Saturday, April 30. As you can see, the awards recognize artists from a variety of creative disciplines. For more on the Awards in the Arts, click here. —Sara Havens

Beloved Southern Indiana candy store turns 125

Schimpff's Confectionary has made its own candy for 125 years. | Courtesy of Schimpff's Confectionary

Schimpff’s Confectionary has made its own candy for 125 years. | Courtesy of Schimpff’s Confectionary

If you haven’t heard of Schimpff’s Confectionery, you’re missing out.

The family-owned company makes and sells its own candy, a tradition that started 125 years ago. Schimpff’s confections are quality, local candies including a wide variety of hard candies, Modjeskas and chocolates that make delicious stocking and Easter basket stuffers and daily treats.

The company is celebrating its 125th birthday at 11 a.m. Monday with a ceremonial unveiling of a 1950s Coca Cola sign similar to one that hung outside Schimpff’s through the 1970s. Fourth generation owners Warren Schimpff and Jill Schimpff found the sign at an antique show and had the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati restore it and add “Schimpff’s Candies” to match the original.

All day Monday, customers can buy a quarter pound of Schimpff’s Red Hots for only 2 cents, the original 1891 price. However, you must spent $2.50 first — not a hard task.

Schimpff’s still operates out of a storefront at 347 Spring St. in Jeffersonville, where it opened more than a century ago.

However, it has undergone some changes. In addition to being a candy store, Schimpff’s has ice cream and a deli counter. The company is in the process of expanding into 345 Spring St. to offer more seating, retail space and expanded candy-making operations. —Caitlin Bowling

Louisville Independent Business Alliance launches new campaign

A advertisement from the new campaign | Courtesy of LIBA

A advertisement from the new campaign | Courtesy of LIBA

With taglines such as “What Spends Here, Stays Here” and “Keep Louisville In The Money,” the Louisville Independent Business Alliance has doubled down on its messages to buy local.

The more than 800-member organization hired Louisville-based advertising firm Bandy Carroll Hellige to create a new logo and branding for its first new marketing campaign in more than decade. The campaign will include print, billboard, radio, cinema and television advertisements.

“The new ads give voice to our message about why buying local is important,” LIBA board vice president Summer Auerbach said in a news release. “The board and members of LIBA hope the public enjoys the message as much as we do and heeds the call to keep their money close to home.”

For every $100 spent at a local business, $55 is reinvested back into the community or local business, according to LIBA. —Caitlin Bowling

PriceWeber lays off a few high-tech employees, but hiring continues in other departments

priceweberChanges to their account with RJ Reynolds caused PriceWeber to lay off “a few specialized employees,” according to the full-service creative agency’s CMO Mike Nickerson. “We completed work on a large coding project from 2015 and had no similar work to replace it. Reynolds remains one of our largest accounts,” he told Insider.

A source told IL that PriceWeber lost the contract and Nickerson did not dispute that.

He said most have found other employment in Louisville, but “most are working outside of the advertising business, since none of the other major Louisville agencies hire the advanced digital developers which our work often demands.”

Nickerson said PriceWeber will be announcing some major projects within the month and that the agency is still hiring in other departments and is on a trajectory to make 2016 a year of continued growth.

PriceWeber’s client list includes the Girl Scouts, Korbel champagne, Hersheys and Old Forester. —Melissa Chipman

New organic grocery moving into Louisville later this month

The grocery store is coming to Louisville. | Courtesy of Fresh Thyme

There’s a new organic grocery on the block.

Called Fresh Thyme, the small-time grocery stores has 35 locations throughout the Midwest. The store, located at 4301 Shelbyville Road, will be its first in Louisville and is set to open at 7 a.m. on April 27.

To celebrate, the company will give a reusable grocery bag to the first 250 customers, sample more than three dozen products, and pass out muffins and coffee from 5 to 7 a.m. to customers waiting outside on opening day. Fresh Thyme also will offer special deals during grand opening week.

Fresh Thyme touts itself as a company that offers consumers healthy foods at reasonable prices. Among its goods, Fresh Thyme sells hormone-free meat, organic bulk foods, locally roasted organic coffee beans, seafood flown in daily, earth-friendly cleaning supplies and local artisan baked goods. —Caitlin Bowling

Leadership Louisville 2017 applications are now open

Louisville-LeadershipEstablished and emerging leaders in the community are invited to apply to be part of the Leadership Louisville Class of 2017. Immerse yourself in the Louisville community, learn how to be a better leader and build a powerful network during the course of the program. It’s one of several leadership programs offered by the Leadership Louisville Center.

Applications are open now and will close May 20.

According to the news release: “For ten months, the diverse cohort of professional peers gain a true understanding of the people and issues shaping our community’s future — and more importantly, how they can impact those issues. The biggest dividend comes in the form of social capital as they network with people in diverse circles, increasing their capacity to influence change and innovate the way we do business. ”

Leadership Louisville consists of a two-day opening retreat and then one day each of the 10 months. The program starts this August. For more information, to apply, or to recommend a friend, visit the website. —Melissa Chipman

Custom Wig Company to start renting wigs

Heather Fleming in wig as Delores Umbridge

Heather Fleming in wig as Dolores Umbridge

Do you desperately want to cosplay at FandomFest as Hermione Granger but your hair is stick-straight and blondish? (Just kidding, cosplay is not in my nerd wheelhouse.) A really solid wig will run you upwards of a couple hundred dollars. That’s pretty steep for a hobby; after all, it would be lame if you kept showing up at cosplaying events as the same character, over and over.

Heather Fleming’s Custom Wig Company is now taking orders for rental wigs. The current rental fee is $50 plus an $18 cleaning fee. So for $68, you can be Hermione for a day or a weekend, you can play Santa for your company’s holiday party, or you can show up at the costume ball with Elvira’s iconic beehive-ish ‘do. You can hang on to your rental for up to eight days.

Right now, Fleming is fielding rental requests as Custom Wig Company is building its rental inventory. More information here.

Fleming left a job working as the Wig Master/Designer at Actors Theater in 2012 to focus full time on her wig company. –Melissa Chipman