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.

Vogt Awards applications open to startups

Vogt Awards

Applications for the Vogt Awards are now open and innovative, early-stage tech-based companies are invited to apply. The program provides up to six startups with $25,000 in non-dilutive funding and 12 weeks of robust mentorship. The companies will be selected in August for a fall 2017 program and a November demo day where they will present their companies to an audience of investors.

The Vogt Invention and Innovation Fund, founded by Henry Vogt Heuser, supports entrepreneurial efforts of engineers and innovators to fund the product development and commercialization of their ideas. Heuser died in 1999 after a long career as an inventor and entrepreneur. Since the Vogt awards were founded, they have provided around $3 million to more than 60 companies in the region.

“The Vogt Awards is Greater Louisville’s only accelerator that offers funding and support without taking a significant stake in the companies involved,” Ellie Puckett, the new commercialization director for GLI’s EnterpriseCorp, said in a news release. “We want to cast a wide net to help all those innovators in our region get their startups to the next level.”

Applications are being accepted from April 5 to May 31, 2017, and are open to entrepreneurs based in Louisville, surrounding Kentucky counties and Southern Indiana. —Melissa Chipman

Who’s been funded in March?

Lisa Bajorinas of EnterpriseCorp made her monthly announcement of who’s been funded in Louisville. In March, only one company reported receiving funding. But that’s one company better than February.

Advanced Energy Materials, a company that originated at UofL, received $1.55 million from local angels and Commonwealth Seed Capital. This would be Louisville’s third “million dollar baby” this year. “Million dollar babies” are companies that raise $1 million or more or have reached $1 million in revenue.

AEM was started in 2010 and creates nanowire-based technologies and has developed a way to mass-produce these technologies by converting metal oxide powders into nanowires. These can be used in lithium batteries and in a variety of different catalysts.

If you’re keeping track, March 2016, was a killer month for Louisville startups with five startups getting funding to the total tune of $4.310 million and one being acquired for an undisclosed sum.

IL reached out to Bajorinas for her take on the slow past two months for funding. If we hear back, we’ll let you know what she says in Monday’s business briefing. —Melissa Chipman

Gifthorse consolidating to one location

This post was updated.

Lifestyle boutique Gifthorse is going from two location to one starting after the Kentucky Derby, the business announced on Facebook.

“For anyone that may be unaware — Gifthorse has 2 locations,” post starts. It goes on to say that the downtown Louisville has experienced some growing pains, including the bridge project and convention center  that are impacting its business.

Owner Shawn Beirne and Butch Sager have decided to keep the downtown store, located at 554 S. Fourth St., open.

“We have deliberated and considered every factor and option in making this decision — and are comfortable with our choice,” the post states.

That may have something to do with the fact that a large luxury apartment complex is being built across the street and the Omni Hotel Louisville will open in 2018 several blocks away.

The consolidation will start in May, the Facebook post states, and Beirne and Sager plan to evaluate its products to see what they will offer at the new store. The post welcomed customer feedback on what products people would like to see remain on the shelves.

“We promise we will always be worth the trip downtown,” the post states. “We have appreciated all of your business over the year(s) and look forward to our future together, as well.” —Caitlin Bowling

A previous version of this brief incorrectly quoted Gifthorse’s Facebook post. The post states that downtown Louisville is experiencing growing pains.

Tennessee-based furniture company seems to have closed its stores

American Hotel Liquidator, a Nashville-based company that sold gently used hotel furniture, seems to have suddenly shut down operations.

The Facebook pages for American Hotel Liquidators no longer exist, and the company hasn’t tweeted since Jan. 3, when it noted that the store was closed while the company worked on moving its Nashville location.

The company’s Louisville store, at 961 S. Third St., has some furniture and decor remaining, but a sign on the window says “Cash Only,” and there are no visible signs that the store is operating. The store just opened about four months ago.

Insider Louisville reached out to owner Audrey Korshoff but did not hear back. —Caitlin Bowling

Papa John’s testing organic toppings in Lexington

The pizza chain is testing organic ingredients. | Courtesy of Papa John’s

Louisville-based Papa John’s International is dipping its toes into the organic food market.

The company has partnered with Green BEAN Delivery, an organic food delivery business that operates in Kentucky, Indiana and a few other states, to offer customers the option of topping their pizza with organic produce.

Papa John’s is testing the program in Lexington and currently offers four organic toppings: Roma tomatoes, green peppers, yellow onions and mushrooms.

“Our customers want to know where their food comes from and how it is produced,” Sean Muldoon, chief ingredient officer Papa John’s, said in a news release. “At Papa John’s, we are constantly looking at ways to meet the needs of our customers whether it’s through our clean label initiative or testing organic produce.”

The sale of organic fruits and vegetables reached $14.4 billion in 2015, according to the Organic Trade Association, and sales continue to grow each year.

There was no mention of whether Papa John’s would raise its prices should the organic topping initiative go nationwide. (When the IL office got online to order a carry-out pizza with three of the four organic ingredients from a Papa John’s in Lexington, the order was 50 cents cheaper than the same order in Louisville.)

Previously, Papa John’s has looked to clean up its pizza and attract customers by eliminating MSG, the preservatives BHA and BHT, artificial flavors, synthetic colors and high-fructose corn syrup, among other unhealthy ingredients. —Caitlin Bowling

UK tops UofL (at least in one way)

No, not in basketball, but in the value of the institutions’ degrees.

According to the personal finance company SmartAsset, the University of Kentucky provides the most valuable college degrees in Kentucky, followed by the University of Louisville and Northern Kentucky University.

“Earning a college degree can increase your skill set, job prospects and net worth,” the company said. “But with rising college costs, where you choose to get that degree from can make a big difference.”

SmartAsset analyzed tuition, student living costs, scholarship and grant offerings, retention rate and graduates’ starting salary to determine which university degrees provided the best value for students.

Source: SmartAsset.com

UK ranked 251st nationally, while UofL ranked 348th out of more than 800 institutions nationwide.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, Mass., ranked first in the nation, followed by Harvey Mudd College, in Claremont, Calif., and Stanford, in Stanford, Calif. Students at MIT pulled an average starting salary of $78,300, compared to $46,100 at UK and $44,100 at UofL, which were near the nationwide average. —Boris Ladwig

Louisville ranked one of the best cities for first-time homebuyers — but there’s one snag

Photo of a home in Crescent Hill, Louisville KY | Credit Tre Pryor
Medium-priced homes in Louisville are in extremely high demand. | File Photo

The city of Louisville is a great place for first-time homebuyers to find a house that is affordable and get a mortgage to help pay for it, according to the aforementioned SmartAsset.

But here’s the rub — this spring will be one of the hardest in years for people to buy a home, The Wall Street Journal reported. Mortgage rates are going up, and housing inventory is low, causing the price of homes to rise.

According to SmartAsset, three-fourths of conventional mortgage loan applicants in Jefferson County had their applications approved. Louisville is known for being affordable — it ranked ninth-highest in SmartAssets’ study.

The snippet about Louisville encourages potential first-time homebuyers to get out there and take the leap to homeownership.

However, depending on their income and savings, first-time homebuyers may have trouble finding the right home at the right price this spring and summer — the traditionally popular seasons for people to buy. Insider Louisville has reported multiple times on the fact that housing inventory remains tight.

“So far this year, homes are selling an average of eight days faster than last year,” The Wall Street Journal wrote. “It isn’t just hot spots like Seattle and Denver that are seeing scarce supplies of homes for sale but also sleepier locals like Minneapolis, Cleveland, Nashville, Tenn., Tampa, Fla., and Louisville, Ky.”

While economist predicted that the inventory crunch would ease this year as more builders return to the housing market, that has not happened, and the number of available homes for sale has stayed low compared to prior years. —Caitlin Bowling

National mortgage company opens office in Louisville

Draper & Kramer Mortgage Corp., a mortgage lender based out of Chicago, recently opened an office in Louisville’s East End. It is the company’s first Louisville location.

The office is at 9935 Forest Green Blvd. and is headed by area manager Quin Bernhardt, a 21-year mortgage industry veteran, according to a news release about the opening. It has seven employees but will employ 14 when fully staffed.

“It’s great to be in Louisville,” Paul Lueken, CEO of Draper & Kramer Mortgage Corp., said in the release. “We’ve wanted a brick-and-mortar presence here to serve this market for some time, and today we have it.”

Draper & Kramer Mortgage Corp. is a subsidiary of full-service real estate firm Draper & Kramer Inc. —Caitlin Bowling

Alley Cat Advocates receive $58,900 from ASPCA

Josephine, author’s cat on adoption day

Alley Cat Advocates has received a grant of $58,900 from The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to expand outreach to provide spay/neuter surgeries, vaccinations, and veterinary care to more community cats this year.

ACA practices Trap-Neuter-Return as its volunteers trap stray cats, neuter or spay them, mark their ear so the cats can be identified as already neutered and then release the cats where they were found. The group will spay/neuter over 5,000 community cats this year and has altered over 35,000 stray cats since 1999.

“This grant is the fifth year of 5 years of grant support,” Executive Director Karen Little told IL in an email. “Support was expected to decline over the course of the 5 years, giving us a bump at the start and weaning us off grant funding through the course of the 5 years. Support started at over $137,000 in year one and declined to the $58,900 this year.”

According to the news release, Louisville Metro Animal Services’ live release rate for cats reached 86.4 percent in 2016 compared with 53.2 percent in 2012. ACA also helped change the Animal Ordinance for Jefferson County in such a way that Trap-Neuter-Return is required of the municipal shelter. This means far fewer euthanizations of healthy cats. —Melissa Chipman

New electric charging station at The Irish Rover

The new electric vehicle charging station at The Irish Rover. | Courtesy of Evolve KY

Drivers of electric vehicles can now charge their vehicles at The Irish Rover, on Frankfort Avenue.

Evolve KY, a Louisville-based electric vehicle group, recently installed the station as part of its Adopt a Charger program, through which the group identifies potential charging sites, determines cost and then finds funding from businesses, nonprofits and individuals. The group also has placed chargers in NuLu, Portland and Bardstown Road.

Evolve KY said the charger at the Irish pub is the first in the Clifton neighborhood.

Stuart Ungar, the group’s president, said that people in the neighborhood had shown an interest in EVs.

“Folks would come up to me and ask me about my all-electric Nissan Leaf or drive by me on the road giving me a thumbs up,” Ungar said in a press release. “It’s a really progressive and enthusiastic community.”

Pub owners Michael and Siobhan Reidy co-sponsored the charger with Bob Hook Chevrolet. The station can charge two vehicles at a time.

Evolve KY targets primarily locations such as shopping areas and parks, where drivers can charge their vehicles while engaging in activities that last 45 minutes or more.
Those interested in sponsoring a station can contact Evolve KY at 502-644-1719 or email and get more information on the group’s Facebook page. —Boris Ladwig