James J. Hill Center Statement Regarding Current Closure

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Author Archive

Angel Investing 101

For startups, financing can be challenging, and often the biggest barrier. Each month we’re focusing on a different financing option in Minnesota for startups and featuring experts in the field. 

An angel network is a group of investors who make individual investment decisions. In the case of Gopher Angels, our accredited investors collaborate on any deals of interest. There is a disciplined approach to this process and we have an administrative director who manages the due diligence.

An angel fund requires a minimum investment by angels of X dollars to go into a pool or fund to be managed by an individual or by a committee who deploys the dollars.

Seeking and using angel dollars should come after funding by friends, family, and self financing.

Angels generally invest in seed sage or early stage companies. By our definition seed stage is conceptual with a business plan supported by research to validate the business model.

Early stage is further along. It has a minimum viable product/prototype, a patent or being tested in the market with potential customers. The business can be pre-revenue but with some proof of concept. Better yet, there will be some level of revenue with paying customers.

While each fund/network/individual have their own criteria, here are some highlights:

  1. An exit such as an acquisition or an IPO where there is a return on investment within 5 to 7 years.
  2. Angels look for companies that can scale with a significant market potential.
  3. A team with relevant experience. This can be management but also can include a strong board of advisors.

So when angel investors pass on what could be a very successful business it is because there may not be an exit in sight, the company is not tapping into a large market potential or concern that the team does not have the skills to execute.


Further reading:

  • Rob Wiltbank, “Investment Practices and Outcomes of Informal Venture Investors”
  • Guy Kawasaki, The Art of the Start
  • Brad Feld, Venture Deals


David Russick is an established entrepreneur and angel investor. Russick is co-founder, Managing Director, and Board Member of Gopher Angels.  Russick was also founder and CEO of TUBS, Inc., a family owned waste and recycling business operating in the Twin Cities, Denver and Cleveland.   In addition, Russick serves on the Board of Advisors for the Dakota Venture Group.  Russick has been featured in the “Star Tribune,” “Twin Cities Business,” and the “Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal.” “Twin Cities Business” named him a “2014 People to Know – Finance.”  

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Hill’s Library for the “Original Thinker”

Check back each month for the Original Thinker Series as we explore local innovation in entrepreneurship, the arts, and our community one pioneering mind at a time.

It was rumored that Mr. James J. Hill had plans for a new project. For nearly two decades the St. Paul Library Association had been working on a new location for the city’s flagship library. On March 5, 1912 Hill came forward with an offer to fund a “reference library”—one that would be independent of the public system but complement its resources and share the same location between Rice Park and the Mississippi River.

Hill’s announcement sparked an outpouring of public support that ultimately brought both libraries into the light. Interestingly enough, the article in the St. Paul Dispatch from that day includes a note that Hill specifically declined an interview.

What then was Mr. Hill’s intention behind such a project? Why a reference library? Why St. Paul? Thankfully, though he would not comment publicly about it, Hill confided in his friend and biographer (and first Head Librarian) Joseph Gilpin Pyle.

In his authorized biography of the magnate, Pyle writes this about Hill’s motives: “He felt that in the average public library the average reader is well taken care of. The advanced student, the original thinker, the man engaged in investigation and research, the serious author were relatively unprovided with proper tools.”

Hill greatly admired libraries like J.P. Morgan’s in New York and believed it was time for the earnest minds of the North to have one of equal caliber, a place that would “distinguish St. Paul as a centre of learning and art.”

Hill’s vision was so clear that, even after his death in 1916, the first Board of Trustees wrote in the Articles of Incorporation that the purpose of the organization “shall be to maintain, free of charge, for the use of students, scholars and all members of the public engaged in the work of original investigation a research library.”

When Hill describes his ideal patron as an “original thinker” we can only imagine he means someone with a mind like his. Hill was well read in almost all areas of human thought. He saw opportunities where others saw roadblocks. He was not afraid to invest his whole being into his work and, perhaps most significantly, he kept his eyes fixed on the landscape of human progress.

“Mr. Hill always thought in terms of the future,” Pyle writes in an address to the American Library Association, “always visualized it, always worked in harmony with what the prophetic eye revealed to him.”  Almost a century since the library opened its doors in 1921 the James J. Hill Center is still serving the original thinkers in our community. In honor of Mr. Hill’s vision, tune in each month for a new series probing the pioneering minds of the North.

Written by Christopher Christenson, Marketing & Events Coordinator, at the James J. Hill Center. Have an idea of a person or organization to feature in this series? Send your recommendations to
[email protected].

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Forget Balance! 3 Ways Leaders Can Navigate Imbalanced Lives

“Work-life balance” is a running theme in this hectic world, but also an elusive goal. The phrase is plastered everywhere as people aspire to achieve ideal harmony between family life and professional career.

The demands of both, however, make it difficult to pull off, especially for anyone in a leadership position – and maybe there’s a good reason for that.

Balance is bull—-. A perfect work-life balance is not possible for those in leadership positions. It’s more useful to strive for work-life integration, where you not only bring your work home, but also bring your home to work.

In debunking the balance theme, here are three tips for leaders to help them accept and maximize an imbalanced schedule:

1. Stop and breathe.

Balance is an illusion in our external lives, but it can be created internally as a mechanism that gives busy people the ability to cope better with challenges. This emotional equilibrium is a measured thought choice that gives us more control of our responses to situations.

When I catch myself reacting, I stop and ask, ‘What am I telling myself? Is it true or head trash?’ This helps me unravel what’s factual from a kneejerk emotional response based in fear. I stop and breathe until I find my internal balance again.

2. Learn to say no.

Many people have difficulty saying no, and many who do say no are consumed by guilt. Saying yes before fully analyzing the commitment can lead to being over-committed and overwhelmed, so it’s a matter of prioritizing what you say yes and no to.

Every time you say yes to something, you’re also saying yes to much more. Tell them you’ll consider, but first sit down with a pad and pencil and list all those additional things you’re taking on by saying yes. Finding balance is a matter of saying yes and no to what fulfills you and your life without overcommitting.

3. Don’t be afraid to follow.

When we’re over-committed and feeling imbalanced, we have to take a hard look at what’s ahead and stop doing things that aren’t working. A leader empowers others by giving them space to lead or take a larger role, thus lightening the leader’s load.

You can’t always make things happen, and you can’t do it all. At times you have to let go and let others take the lead.

There will never be a 50-50 balance. but you are still able to fit in all of the things that are important to you by slowing down, choosing what to say yes and no to and accepting help.

Written by Sue Hawkes, bestselling author, award-winning leader,  Certified EOS Implementer, Certified Business Coach, WPO Chapter Chair, and globally recognized  award-winning seminar leader.  She is CEO of YESS! and has designed and delivered dynamic, transformational programs   for thousands of people.


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‘Philanthropreneur’ Develops a New Platform for Giving

Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews 1 Million Cup presenters for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press.  Recently we connected with presenters Billy Weisman. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase on February 10, 2017.

In 2016, $390 billion was given to charitable causes. With the growing amount of options to give, convenient and efficient tools are needed to help individuals and organizations manage their dollars. According to Winspire, 62 percent of all donors worldwide prefer to give online. Those numbers were proven in 2017 with online giving growing 11.4 percent higher than was predicted.

Billy Weisman the creator of DoTopia believes ease that giving can change the world and has not only created a digital giving platform but an entire new kind of currency.



Name: Billy Weisman
City you live in: Split time between Minneapolis, Aspen and Miami
City of birth: Minneapolis
High school attended: St. Louis Park
College attended: University of Minnesota


Name of company: DoTopia
Website: www.dotopia.com
Business Start Date: 2013
Number of Employees: 8



Q. What led to this point?
A. I am a serial entrepreneur and now a philanthropreneur. As a third-generation entrepreneur, I created and operated 10 successful businesses from the ground-up. My largest endeavor, Weisman Enterprises, grew to $500 million in managed revenues by generating value for the likes of Target, Home Depot and Coca-Cola by connecting the boardroom to the street. I have always been passionate about making the world a better place through philanthropic ventures and involvement on various boards. Believing in the power that each individual can change the world, my latest venture empowers people to make giving part of their lifestyle and expand the opportunities for individuals and businesses to support nonprofits.

Q. What is your business?
A. DoTopia is a digital giving platform that connects to over 1.6 million nonprofits. DoTopia seeks to make giving more efficient for individuals and businesses by creating a common currency for common good called DoDollars. We work with HR, corporate social responsibility and marketing teams to create giving solutions and campaigns that inspire employees, foster customer loyalty and advance workplace values. Additionally, any individual is able to set up their own Personal Giving Account. Each user creates an account to manage their giving in one place. Individuals can create giving goals, print off tax receipts, gift DoDollars, and add more funds with just a couple clicks of the mouse. Our goal is to keep your giving process as easy as possible. We believe in more givers, giving more and that every gift matters.

Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?
A. It truly depends on the kind of help I am seeking. For business inspiration, nature or wilderness is where I find my peace and inventiveness.

Q. What is the origin of the business?
A. After raising my family, growing and selling five startups, as a hobby, I personally challenged myself to create a better giving model. DoTopia is a social venture that amalgamates my passions for business and philanthropy.

Q. What problems does your business solve?

A. DoTopia provides a new and unique way to include your employees and customers in your company’s philanthropy initiatives. Corporations give away billions of dollars a year and most often a few employees have a say in where the money is going. With DoTopia, brands get more out of their philanthropic investments by driving loyalty and affinity using philanthropy as an engagement tool essentially saying: “we care about the causes that matter to YOU.”

We also make corporate giving easier for brands by managing all of the charity disbursement, payroll deductions, volunteer tracking, and tax receipts in one platform. We have found many businesses are still doing this manually and it is very taxing on the individual or team who is required to manage the program….READ FULL ARTICLE


You can hear from startups like this one each Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 8AM – 4PM, Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.jjhill.org.

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What’s Cooking? Food and Beverage Industry Research at the Hill

With the Big Game less than three days away, sporty folks are finalizing their beer and grocery lists for all their party treats, and what a Minnesota selection they have. It’s never been a better time to discover Minnesota-made food and drinks, and for those entrepreneurs interested in riding the “Shop Local” wave, your research journey starts here at the Hill.

For the amateur beer-brewery looking to go pro, IBISworld’s report on Craft Beer Production in the US (OD4302) for annualized growth forecasts over the next five years. If you can guess the estimated industry revenue by the end of 2022, and just a hint- it’s absolutely higher than you could imagine, the first round is on us! IBISworld’s industry-specific predictions allow entrepreneurs to plan for growth, be it slow or meteoric, giving your brewery’s business plan an edge in a crowded market.

Prefer your bread in a non-drinkable form? Check out IBISworld’s report on bakeries! Bakery Cafes in the US (OD4319) not only predicts industry growth, but also includes a discussion of key success factors and a breakdown on the major players in the industry. With this report, a budding baker can size up the competition as well as be sure to hit the highlights for a successful business within the industry. Curious about market size? Pop in to the Hill to use SimplyAnalytics to identify consumer behavior trends and spending habits at the national, state, and local level. Before you set your heart on a restaurant that only serves broccoli, check out how much consumers in Minnesota spend on food in restaurants. That way, you don’t over-stock when the hottest new trend turns out to be cabbage.

Confused about where to start? Considering starting your own Minnesota sports franchise after the playoffs? Make an appointment with a business librarian at the James J. Hill Center and let us connect you to the business information you need.


Written by Jessica Huffman, Business Outreach Librarian, at the James J. Hill Center. If you have more questions about the reference library at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or [email protected].

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His Tap Runneth Over — to Your Doorstep

Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews 1 Million Cup presenters for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press.  Recently we connected with presenters Isaac Tut. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase on January 27, 2017.

What if a good beer could arrive at your door like a pizza? According to the Brewers Association, the craft brewing industry contributed $67.8 billion to the U.S. economy in 2016. That is a lot of beer. Minnesota alone has about 110 craft breweries and they appear to be growing at a steady rate.

This increase in beer selection is changing the consumer palate, however the ability to access those craft beers is not always the most convenient. Isaac Tut and his college roommate thought this presented an opportunity. What if instead of running to the taproom they ran for you? Thus was born “Running Tap” — the first craft beer delivery service providing a selection of beer straight from the barrel to your living room.


Name: Isaac Tut
Age: 28
City you live in: Minneapolis
City of birth: Akobo, South Sudan
High school attended: Northfield High School
College attended: St. Olaf College and University of Minnesota


Name of company: Running Tap
Website: www.running-tap.com
Business Start Date: June 2017
Number of Employees: 10
Number of Customers: 500-600


Q. What led to this point?

A. I was born in South Sudan, a region that had been engulfed in war for about 60 years. I lived in a refugee camp in Ethiopia until I was 11 years old. In 1999, my family and I got accepted by the UNHCR, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, and gave us leave and status to enter the U.S. We were really lucky because only 1 percent of families in refugee camps ever get relocated. After being relocated to Austin, Texas, close family friends from Minnesota drove all the way down to pick us up and bring us to Minnesota to live.

After years of assimilating into the American culture, I learned English and excelled in school, landing me the opportunity to play soccer and run track at St. Olaf College, while doing my studies. Once done with my undergraduate degree in physics and mathematics, I continued my education at the University of Minnesota and later graduated in Aerospace Engineering.

I worked at Seagate Technology as an application and design engineer for about two years and decided to quit in 2016 in pursuit of a startup company with an old college buddy. After six long months of legal research, market development, and working with (state alcohol authorities) on the business plan and getting approval, Running Tap officially began to operate and deliver craft beer to customers roughly seven months ago. We are super excited with the results we have seen so far, and the customers are more than delighted to hear that they can order craft beer at the convenience of their home or office. The service can be thought of as a consolidation of the brewery experience into one delivery at the customer’s discretion.

Q. What is your business?
A. Running Tap is Minnesota’s first taproom delivery startup that aims to be more than an online liquor store, they aim to be the place for those looking to get good beer and get it at the leisure of their comfort place. Place your order online and our delivery team will pick it up fresh from the taproom and bring it to your door.

Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?
A. We are a small team of five people, plus the driving team. We talk amongst ourselves for solutions, and sometimes look to friends and family for help.

Q. What is the origin of the business?
A. It all started with my college buddies working late and trying to get beer delivered. Assuming it wouldn’t be much different than ordering anything else online, we were surprised at the hoops we had to jump through, and frustrated that none of our favorite local brews were available….READ FULL ARTICLE

You can hear from startups like this one each Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 8AM – 4PM, Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.jjhill.org.


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West Meets East Africa in Frozen Food Venture

Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews 1 Million Cup presenters for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press.  Recently we connected with presenters Matt Glover and Mariam Mohamed. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase on January 13, 2017.

According to IBIS, world frozen food production is a $35 billion dollar industry with $1.7 billion in profit. Burt Flickinger, managing director of New York-based Strategic Resource Group says “Frozen foods are going through a new renaissance this decade … we’re seeing a move away from traditional frozen entrees to popular ethic food.”

Hoyo, a local Somali food company, is certainly jumping on that bandwagon and is quickly discovering its audience. With a passionate mission to create needed jobs in their community and grow a greater appreciation and access to authentic Somali cuisine, the partnership of Matt Glover and Mariam Mohamed has flourished. They are not only filling the gap but our appetite, with delicious ethnic cuisine.


Name: Matt Glover, Mariam Mohamed
Age: Matt, 35; Mariam, 59
City you live in: Matt, Minneapolis; Mariam, Shoreview
City of birth: Matt, St. Paul; Mariam, Mogadishu
High school attended: Matt, White Bear Lake High School; Mariam, Banadir High School
College attended: Matt, Ohio State University; Mariam: Fresno State, State University of New York, Syracuse


Name of company: Hoyo
Website: www.hoyosambusa.com
Business Start Date: July 15, 2015
Number of Employees: 8
Number of Customers: Currently selling in 16 Stores


Q. What led to this point?
A. Matt: I received a philosophy degree from Ohio State University and a Masters in Global and Cultural studies from Bethel University. I have always loved travelling and interacting with people from other cultures. I lived for a year in Rome and spent time in east and Southeast Asia. Since moving into the Phillips neighborhood my wife and I along with our three young children have had the opportunity to engage more deeply with members from the Somali community. It has been an honor to hear their stories and to learn about the wonderful things their community has to offer. In particular we have enjoyed their food and we began exploring ways to make it more prominent in the U.S.

Mariam: I received a master’s degree in plant science, Fresno State, California; Master’s degree in Statistics from Syracuse, New York.

Q. What is your business?
A. We are a Somali food company. We hire Somali mothers to make food they have been making their whole lives. We then package and distribute those products to grocery stores and delis throughout the Twin Cities. Our primary product is Sambusa, a triangular pastry filled with spiced beef or Lentils.

Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?
A. We have an advisory board of seasoned business veterans that are committed to our success. Partners in Food Solutions, a nonprofit affiliated with General Mills that mobilizes professional expertise to help food startups in emerging markets, has been a tremendous help for us.

Q. What is the origin of the business?
A.  I, Matt, started a consulting company that consulted ethnic restaurants on western service standards. I was introduced to Mariam and her husband Ali for advice on working with Somali restaurants. My wife and I also had a desire to help create a more equitable job market for Somali mothers. When Mariam heard about our consulting business and our desire to empower Somali woman, she immediately identified a frozen Sambusa company as the perfect opportunity. I agreed that this sounded like a great idea and asked if she would consider co-founding it with us. She agreed and we enlisted her sister who is known as one of the best Somali cooks around. We have since used her recipes and techniques as our products.

Q. What problems does your business solve?
A. First, Hoyo solves the problem of lack of access to authentic Somali cuisine. Our vision is to make Somali Sambusa as common as tacos in western cuisine. In order to do so we will make Sambusa available everywhere. This is also giving Somali woman a tangible way to share a piece of their rich culture.

Second, we are providing a vehicle for employment for women who have not yet worked in the United States. By developing a product our employees have been making their whole life, we are a launching point into the greater workforce by providing skill training and career history….READ FULL ARTICLE


You can hear from startups like this one each Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 8AM – 4PM, Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.jjhill.org.

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It All Adds Up: All Systems Go

Junita Flowers is a writer, speaker, entrepreneur, mom and the owner of Favorable Treats. With more than 20 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations, she spent her career advocating for families and leading social change initiatives. Junita shares her experiences with us each month with her blog series “It All Adds Up.”

The start of a new year is much like the early days on my journey of entrepreneurship: the dream is big, the possibilities are endless, quitting is a foreign concept and the path to success is clearly defined on an 8.5 x 11 color-coded graph.  Nothing says limitless opportunities like a new beginning. Conversely, nothing can wipe away the promise of possibility or take away the grasp of success like dreaming a big dream but never taking the time to create a plan of action to accomplish the dream.

As an entrepreneur, I’m often moving at 100 mph, so it is important I document vital details in an action plan to ensure appropriate tasks are accomplished. From creating a personal vision board to hosting an all-staff planning retreat, there are many ways to put those dreams on paper and begin crushing goals. Here is my personal 3-step planning process to ensure all systems go for the coming year.

  1. Choose a theme — For me, choosing a theme is slightly different than setting a new year’s resolution. A resolution often focuses on singular behavior modifications and a theme focuses on measuring behaviors. I use the following guidelines when choosing a theme for the year:
    • ideally 3-5 words
    • it is memorable
    • it is measurable against daily tasks and projects
    • it creates or inspires action
  1. Create a vision board — My vision board has been an important tool for creating intentional growth. Whether framed and fancy or simple cut and paste, I typically create a vision board every 2-3 years. To ensure my life is enriched by the things important to me, I include the following six categories in my vision board creation process:
  • Business/Career
  • Family/Key relationships
  • Financial (budgeting, saving, wealth creation, giving)
  • Faith
  • Personal Development
  • Hobby/Fun/Leisure
  1. Review the E-factors — As a social entrepreneur, mission and impact are my heartbeat…they come naturally to me. I created the E-factors as a code of conduct of how I will show up in the world, both personally and professionally. While the four categories remain the same, the area of focus in each of the categories can change based on desired outcomes for the year. The E-factors are:
    • Excellence — we are the best (cookie company)
    • Efficiency — we maximize time and production, we increase revenue
    • Effort — we give it all we’ve got, then ask for help
    • Effective — we do what matters, we make a positive impact

For me, the planning process is vitally important. Taking the time to create a plan and structure for my year allows me to dream about the possibilities while strategizing my approach and desired outcomes. Planning out your year does not guarantee a year of wins and successes, rather it creates a detailed map guiding you from where you are right now to your intended destination.

In 2018, my theme is #ThisHasMeaning, specifically around actions that lead to targeted growth and meaningful relationships. What is your yearly planning process? I would love to hear from you. You can contact me by clicking here. If you’ve found my process helpful, please leave a comment and share this blog post with others. Here’s to a year of intentional growth and immeasurable joy!


You can read more about Junita Flowers on her website at favorabletreats.com. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram

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5 Smart Research Tips 

Do you have the next great business idea? Is your small business ready to move into the mainstream? If so, you probably know that business intelligence is key to making an informed decision about the next stage of your career. That means you’ll need to navigate the exciting world of business reference sources! 

Getting started with your research can feel overwhelming. With so many websites, topics, and techniques to choose from, it can seem like doing research is more trouble than it’s worth. With a little guidance, however, you too can find the key facts to jump-start your business.  

Here are 5 smart research tips from the James J. Hill Center: 

1) Start with Broad Topics 

It’s very tempting to search for the exact fact you want, but looking up “2010 household spending trends” might be counterproductive. By searching so specifically, you might miss a great article on that topic that doesn’t have your key words included. Instead, start with wide-ranging topics like “household income” and “domestic spending trends” to maximize your research results.  

2) Limit your Date Range 

When searching online or in the databases at the James J. Hill Center, pay attention to the date range on your results. You don’t want to build a pitch deck around an article on real estate trends only to find out it’s from 2002. Give yourself a range of two to five previous years to find the most recent information. 

3) Use Synonyms 

Is your search for “trade shows” coming up short? Remember, there’s many different ways to describe what you’re looking for, so brainstorm some alternate search terms. You may hit the jackpot when searching for “convention expositions” instead.  

4) Combine Resource Types 

Plenty of people are satisfied with a couple online searches, but true entrepreneurs go beyond Google. While some helpful information, such as the Economic Census or labor statistics, are freely available online, subscription databases can elevate your research process. The James J. Hill Center subscribes to a series of databases, such as IBISworld and Business Source Premier, that contain valuable information not available anywhere else. Stop in to use our resources on-site!  

5) Ask for Assistance  

Remember, research is a long, slow process, but it’s not something you need to handle alone. Make an appointment with a business librarian at the James J. Hill Center and let us connect you to the business information you need.  


Written by Jessica Huffman, Business Outreach Librarian, at the James J. Hill Center. To meet with Jessica about your research needs, make a free appointment hereIf you have more questions about the reference library at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or [email protected].

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Her Chocolates Combine Honey, Artistry and Inspiration

Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews 1 Million Cup presenters for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press.  Recently we connected with presenters Susan Brown. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase on December 30, 2017.

According to an article in the July 2017 edition of INC., researchers in Rome and L’Aquila, Italy, say they’ve demonstrated a clear link between the consumption of chocolate and strong brain function.

Entrepreneur and artist Susan Brown has believed this all along and by combining both her passion and smarts has created a whole new level of chocolate. By fusing the benefits of cacao with the medicinal and ancient healing power of honey she has created an exceptional culinary experience that combines health, beauty and love all in one small bon-bon.


Name: Susan Brown
Age: 58
City you live in: St. Paul
City of birth: Buffalo, NY
High school attended: Wheat Ridge, Colo.
College attended: University of Colorado, Boulder


Name of company: Mademoiselle Miel
Website: www.mademoisellemiel.com
Twitter: @MadameMiel
Business Start Date: April 9, 2011
Number of Employees: 8 part time
Number of Customers: We sell in multiple store locations in both Minnesota and California and have a honey kitchen and showroom in St. Paul.  Each location has a steady flow of customers.


Q. What led to this point?

A. I founded Mademoiselle Miel in St. Paul in 2011, bringing together my passion for innovative art and minimalist design with my love for the natural world, the culture of cuisine, and the rich historic flavor of local surroundings.

I was working as an artist by the time I was in high school and have spent my life developing that talent, originally nurtured by my mother. I’ve worked in many mediums but chocolate has been an extraordinary outlet for me. It has brought together many of the things that are important to me and has also allowed me to create an experience for others.

There’s so many interesting things about chocolate, honey and bees. I was inspired to start keeping bees by my father-in-law who was a farmer in River Falls, Wis., after a visit to France (where I focused on all things bees and honey). I discovered that the Paris Opera House had been keeping bees on their roof for quite some time. I thought if they can do it in Paris, we can do it in St. Paul. I was the first rooftop beekeeper in the cities for some time. Now it is more widely accepted and supported by the public. I knew the flavor of the urban honey would make an exceptional filling for my bon-bons.

Now, 11 years later, we take care of over 33 hives, housed on the rooftops of several businesses throughout St. Paul and Minneapolis. My classic bonbons are filled with the honey and decorated with my signature artist’s touch: 24-karat gold leaf. I continue to find inspiration in multiple sources and support many cultural movements — from ecological awareness, to social justice, to Slow Food — but the bees’ work is where Mademoiselle Miel chocolate begins, artistic expression and artisanal method is where it becomes complete.

Q. What is your business?

A. We make house-made chocolate using fair trade, single origin cacao and local maple sugar; honey bonbons featuring St. Paul rooftop honey and assorted confections and creations.

Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?


A. I ask other chocolate makers, chocolatiers and artists when I get stuck. Legacy chocolates, Kul, St. Croix Chocolates and Chocolat Celeste are some of the local chocolate people who have been really helpful.

Q. What is the origin of the business?

A. Honey became the sweetener of choice because of its beneficial properties and ease of digestion. I realized its potential has not been tapped as a sweetener and began a lifelong quest to develop recipes and a lifestyle using good, clean food. My goal was to keep the food elevated so that I matched the quality of the ingredients with flavor and presentation….READ FULL ARTICLE


You can hear from startups like this one each Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 8AM – 4PM, Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.jjhill.org.

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Patrons with accessibility needs please access our ground floor elevator entrance via Kellogg Ave at the back of the building. Please ring the doorbell on the right hand side of door and a Hill staff member will assist you. If you have questions or concerns please call 651.265.5500. We look forward to having you visit.