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Author Archive

Startup Showcase: Harnessing blockchain’s power to change health care

Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews entrepreneurs for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press.  See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on December 29, 2018.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Healy
Website: Healy.io
Twitter: @healyio
Business Start Date: May 2017
Number of Employees: 2|
Number of Customers: 4,000 in 2018

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

 Name: Lynn Smith
Age: 43
City of Birth: Billerica, Mass.
City you live in: Minneapolis
High school attended: Boston High School
College attended: Ithaca College

Q&A
Q. What led to this point?

A. I’m an accomplished software entrepreneur focused on emerging technologies. I’ve been building tech, fixing problems and working down in the trenches on software projects for over 20 years. My background is both on the technical side as a programmer, analyst, and executive technical leadership; and, on the UX side (user experience) — from work leading the design of sites for companies like Target, 3M and the Mayo Clinic. In 2016, I built a very successful app for migraine sufferers. And, now I’m pivoting to a second app that’s a lifelong, consolidated health record where people own their own data. That’s my new company, Healy.

Q. What is your business?

A. Healy is a suite of applications to help patients better manage and understand their health. Our first product, Migraine Insight, has a 5-star rating in the app stores and has been used by over 4,000 users. This app is a migraine manager and analysis tool that helps people track and find pain triggers. Healy’s suite of apps, in development, will include tailored experiences for several conditions including Chronic Pain Insight, Fibro Insight, Asthma Insight and a gastro condition tracker.

The communities that emerge on these apps will become the user base for the Healy Health Manager, a lifelong patient health care management app with a universal health record. The Healy Health Manager will use a blockchain to build wealth for patient communities. See the executive summary on healy.io for the larger vision of where the company is heading.

Q. What is the origin of the business?

A. I’ve been developing emerging technologies for 20 years. With decentralization and blockchain, I’ve never seen a bigger excitement level with the tech geeks. All sorts of emerging technologies get hyped. But, watching decentralization begin to emerge, I knew I had check it out. When I did, and realized the potential, I knew I had to pivot into it. With decentralization, I saw an opportunity both to empower people to better manage their health and to shift the economic power of patient communities at the same time.

Q. What problems does your business solve?

A. We can finally break patients, doctors, and researchers out of the constraints set up by the current monopolistic, broken health care systems. It’s now possible to have people truly own their own data and shift that economic power to patient communities. That radically shifts the game in how software and systems are created for the health care experience. We can now give patient communities and patients themselves a voice they haven’t had before in their health care journey.

Q. What big obstacle or hurdle did you have to overcome?

A. The biggest hurdle? Overcoming the blockchain hype. There is a lot of misinformation. But, as a base technology, it does have a lot of power to change the economics of the world around us. Just as the internet gave us instant access to information and removed the need to go places to accomplish many things, blockchain is going to re-create how we exchange value with one another. And, that’s big … really, really, big.

Q. What personal strengths or skill sets do you bring to the business?

A. I’ve spent half my career coding, leading coding teams, or heading up technical architecture. The other part of my career has been steeped in UX leadership, either helping executive teams develop user experience departments or developing user-focused methodologies within corporations.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. Migraine Insight is an amazing trigger finder. I applied for a patent on the ranked correlation engine that sorts through and finds a single individual’s health triggers. And, the code was interesting to write. I’m proud of that code.

Q. What obstacles must you overcome to be wildly successful?

A. Unfortunately, the blockchain space got “hot” and attracted a lot of scammers and people who want to do good but don’t know what they are doing. A ton of good is going to emerge with public decentralization and blockchain efforts. But, for us to be successful, it’s important to be weary of being dragged down when the bubble bursts on the scammer blockchains. It’s like the tech crash in the early ‘00s. Same phenomenon. It’s important to realize that as all the hype and shenanigans are dying off — that’s a good thing for the core technologies that are getting it right.

Q. How are you funding your business?

A. Self-funded. And, now, revenue. VC is a very hard path for a solo female founder. I’ve been told by every experienced woman I know in tech that the only way I’ll get funding is to hire a male CEO. I’m not willing to do that. So, rather than likely waste time, effort and money going after funding, I’ve just been evangelizing to strategic people I want to hire and offering equity. And, building the tech myself.

Q. What would be success for your business in the next 2-3 years?

A. Having over a million users total on the apps. And having that user base drive the expansion of the Healy app into public good. Have the Healy blockchain become the foundational public blockchain for health care. A success will be when the blockchain has enough use and data collected that patient communities can monetize their data in pools (anonymously) on the open data market.

Q. In your opinion, what does it take to be a great entrepreneur?

A. A combination of experience and persistence. Willingness to listen, learn and re-navigate your plans. The ability to politely ignore people when they tell you that you can’t do what you’re about to do, or that you can’t do something you’ve clearly already done. Also, knowing when to heed true caution when it should be applied.

Q. Why do you do what you do?

A. Helping patients and their communities gain health and economic power drives me. I come from a health care family. I want to see people and communities thrive. Right now, our health care system is incredibly broken. Shifting the underlying economics as well as giving patients and their communities better software to manage their own interactions with the health system — that’s going to change our world.

Q. How did the James J. Hill Center help you with your business?

A. 1 Million Cups St. Paul helped me practice and refine my pitch. To me, Healy’s path is very clear. But, it is complex. And hard to talk about. So, this was very helpful to me. I got great feedback.

You can hear from startups like this every other Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. Visit jjhill.org/calendar for scheduled dates.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  8 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.JJHill.org/1-million-cups

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Ping Pong and the Present

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.

You leave the hallway and enter a well-lit room. Big windows stretch across two of the walls facing you. To your left is an open kitchenette with a long, clean, island countertop. Soft music plays in the background—quiet but contemplative. The room is minimally decorated with no clutter and virtually no furniture. In the center of the room beyond the countertop is a sturdy, balanced, dark blue ping pong table.

“I play ping pong with people to learn more about myself as well as [to understand] the human experience,” says Ajay Bika.

Ajay, an engineer by training, has had a long-term fascination with the game of table tennis. A couple years ago, he turned a studio apartment in Minnetonka into a space where people can retreat from the media-obsessed world around them through medi-playtion.

“When you’re playing you’re more true to who you are,” says Ajay. “The game [of ping pong] teaches you to be here.”

Ajay has found that the rhythm, repetition, and heightened sense of awareness that come through playing table tennis has a centering quality.

“Everything becomes meditation after a while,” says Ajay. “You then take your time with things—you’re more contemplative.”

Others have begun to notice the health benefits of ping pong too. The game engages both fine and gross motor muscle movement and develops hand-eye coordination. Because the game stimulates multiple areas of the brain simultaneously, it has even been used as therapy for dementia and early stage Alzheimer’s.

Ajay remembers playing table tennis with his father, also an engineer, who had Parkinson’s disease. “He was transported to a different world when we were playing—he would completely forget about it.”

Ultimately, what makes Ajay’s practice of medi-playtion through ping pong unique is that it is non-competitive. This changes the dynamic of the game for people. The experience becomes a conversation rather than a competition.

“You’re not here to prove anything,” says Ajay. “You’re here to be you.”

Coming from a technical background, Ajay has spent the majority of his career balancing equations. He describes his training as learning how to understand the “equal” sign.

Ajay’s work is still about balancing equations. Although now, rather than fixing things, he wants to offer people an alternate perspective. Seen from above, he points out, a ping pong table becomes an “=” sign.

To learn more or schedule a time to play ping pong with Ajay visit: onceupongatime.com.


Written by Christopher Christenson, Program & Event Coordinator, at the James J. Hill Center.  Have an idea of a person or organization to feature in this series? Send your recommendations to 
christopher@jjhill.org.

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Startup showcase: Creating a revolutionary luxury shave experience for women

Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews entrepreneurs for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press.  See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on December 19, 2018.

For 100-plus years, technology for female shaving hasn’t changed. The typical pink handles and aloe strips are unfortunately included in a list of minimal options for women, and they don’t solve much.

According to a 2018 Euromonitor report on beauty and personal care in the U.S., women spend over one billion dollars on razors per year. Euromonitor goes on to say, “A female-oriented online shave club … could seriously shake up the industry.”

Introducing Tracy David from Little Acorn Shave, who is answering that call. She has not only started an online shave club but created a revolutionary luxury shave experience that is set to inspire confidence inside and out. With her tenacity and experience she will shake acorns out of every tree around.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Little Acorn Shave
Website: littleacornshave.co
Twitter: @littleacornshav
Business Start Date: Jan 2017
Number of Employees: 2 co-founders 6 advisors
Number of Customers: We are pre-revenue with 65 Annual memberships pre-sold at this point with no marketing done

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Tracy David
City you live in: Blaine
High School: Anoka High School
College: Ramsey College Associates degree in communications/Brown for broadcasting degree

Q. What led you to this point?

A. I have had an extensive experience as an entrepreneur starting four other businesses plus consulting and speaking. I have owned and created profitable businesses in retail beauty, finance and direct sales which has made me ideally suited to lead and grow the Little Acorn team.

Q. What is your business?

A. Little Acorn Shave Co. is an online shave subscription with the convenient delivery of innovative shaving supplies to provide a complete luxury shave experience inspiring confidence inside and out. Having consulted thousands of high achieving women, I experienced firsthand how critical or negative self-talk prevents women from living to their full potential. By meeting women in one of our most vulnerable places, the shower, we’re able to inspire women to nurture themselves with positive affirmations from their waterproof decals as well as a luxury shaving experience.

Even the smallest of acorns, when nurtured has the potential to become a Mighty Oak Tree. We are on a mission to inspire women to accept we are enough and own our true beauty

Q. What problem does your business solve?

A. Women view shaving as a chore because of the skin irritation and time it takes. We’re introducing a premium shave club for women with the all new ‘Amora’ Light Touch Razor technology for women, creating a luxury shave experience. This dramatically better shave experience comes from a handle that’s 45 percent longer and a flexible neck to intuitively glide over curves for sexy smooth skin in half the time with no nicks, cuts or skin irritation. Women can now get a luxury shave experience that inspires confidence inside and out while saving time and money.

Q. Did you pivot or run into any challenges along the way?

A. We started out thinking we’d just create an online shave club for women and then quickly realized the shaving supplies for women did create a positive user experience, so we set out to solve the problem of shaving feeling like a chore to women and invented razor technology that provides a luxury shave in less time with no nicks cuts or irritation. Our biggest challenge so far has been perfecting the prototypes and design engineering as well as raising the resources to produce this innovation.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. I am proud of our incredible team, because no matter what adversity, disappointment or rejection comes our way we always stay focused on serving our members with excellence and creating a quality experience with our brand. It’s been extremely challenging to build for two years and have such limited resources and yet our team continues to make things happen.

Q. What obstacles must you overcome to be wildly successful?

A. Fund raising is our main obstacle right now, and we have many women waiting with excitement for us to begin production and sales.

For us to be WILDLY successful its vital that I continue the journey of owning my worth, leading by example by choosing to see the beauty and potential inside of me through daily challenges and seeing our setbacks as ‘set-ups’ for the next great thing to happen.

Q. How are you funding your business?

A. We’ve raised $235,000 with friends and family so far and are looking for our next equity partner as we raise $600,000.

Q. What would be success for your business in the next two to three years?

A. Our goal is to inspire one million women to see the true beauty they carry inside of them, so getting our membership to 400,000 in next three years will have us right on track, while changing the beauty industry with an elevated shaving experience for women after 100 years.

Q. Where do you go when you need help?

A. My board of advisers or my business coach is my go to for guidance, clarity and wisdom and then of course our legal professionals as well.

Q. What personal strengths or skill sets do you bring to the business?

A. I have overcome incredible adversity. After a crash put me in a wheelchair for a year, and even after multiple surgeries and doctors saying I wouldn’t walk without a cane, I did, I have since run marathons. I don’t quit.

Q. In your opinion, what does it take to be a great entrepreneur?

A. Courage to take a risk, learn new things and not have all the answer. Tenacity and grit to be able to press through hard times, rejection, insecurity and the unknown. Commitment to stay the course, never quit and give it your best every day and get up and do it again the next day. Belief in yourself, team and idea. Resilience to get knocked down and get back up with more excitement than before, hundreds of times over. Don’t ask for it to be easy, just ask for it to be WORTH IT.

Q. What is something we haven’t asked you that we should understand about your business?

A. We give back 5 percent of our profits to support survivors of sex trafficking because every woman deserves to be seen and valued.

Q. Why do you do what you do?

A. Acorns have the DNA of the MIGHTY OAK embedded into their make-up just as women have immeasurable potential built into their DNA. When women have more confidence, we become more effective and productive daughters, sisters, mothers, wives, workers and friends allowing us to have a much greater impact on the earth. It’s time we start loving ourselves and the brands we buy from can help us do that. That’s why I do this.

Q. How did 1 Million Cups Saint Paul at the James J. Hill Center help you with your business?

A. My experience at 1M Cups St. Paul was incredible. I made some valuable connections for potential investors, marketing support and fulfillment options as well as additional opportunities to share our story to more people. It also helped build my confidence in how we share our story and making it clear and compelling. The questions were relevant and thought provoking allowing me to articulate better in our marketing materials. Since presenting we’ve sold our first 65 annual memberships generating nearly $10,000 in sales, so thank you 1M Cups for all your support, we are grateful.

You can hear from startups like this every other Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. Visit jjhill.org/calendar for scheduled dates.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  8 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.JJHill.org/1-million-cups

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It All Adds Up: Celebrating the Journey

It. All. Adds. Up…every lesson learned, every celebrated win, every tear-soaked disappointment, and every engaging conversation, they all add up to create my crazy, scary, exciting, risky and beautifully unique journey of entrepreneurship.

Seven years ago, when I literally wanted to quit, I wanted to throw in the towel and fade into the background only to bask in the emptiness of never dreaming again, I decided to ask for help. I asked for help, but only this time it wasn’t the help of a business guru, a career coach or a financial planner. I asked for help from a therapist and began my journey of strengthening my mental health.

Can we stop for a moment and dismantle the stigma around mental health? As entrepreneurs, we typically lead by example. We forge ahead into unknown territory. We innovate in ways that scare us to our core while simultaneously creating excitement and motivation to the world around us. We do hard things…and it is perfectly okay to ask for help.

My decision to ask for help from a therapist was a game-changing move in my personal and business journey. It was a decision that removed some of the self-inflicted pressures I had neatly packaged, strapped to my back and carried around like weighted bags of sand. It was life giving and continues to be a recurring appointment on my calendar. Investing in the strength of my mental health gave me the opportunity to embrace everything about my business journey and to realize that every single step along the way is absolutely required. Every single step along the way needed to happen and together they add up to create my beautifully unique journey of overcoming and winning and I get to share it others.

As we prepare to wrap up another year, this is typically a time when many entrepreneurs will revisit their vision boards, celebrate the accomplishments from the current year and study the game plan for the upcoming year. The meeting and event dates slowly begin to fill our calendars as we make growth promises that will produce positive results. We dream about eliminating some of the bad habits while welcoming the excitement of new routines and practices. We promise to be kinder to ourselves and make room for the things that really matter. We build our team of leaders and supporters and together we dream bigger dreams. Throughout all of the planning and preparation, remember that it is perfectly okay to ask for help.

In the spirit of celebration as we embrace the world of possibilities wrapped up in a new year, thank you for traveling this journey of story sharing with me in 2018. Your commitment to read the blog, share a comment and like a post were all an important addition to this process. Your contribution combined with my contribution, together add up in creating a fulfilling journey.


Junita L. Flowers,
 Founder/Owner
Baking hope in every cookie. #HopeMunchesOn
Follow her on Facebook. Like her on Instagram. Order your cookies now.
You can also read more about Junita Flowers on her website junitasjar.com.

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Shop Local with the Empire Builder   

When they come to the Hill, most people go into and are swept away by—rightly so—the grand Reading Room. But immediately beyond the lobby is a smaller, but still significant room. Bearing James J. Hill’s nickname, the Empire Builder Room was designed to be Hill’s office. We presume Hill had a direct hand in its design; featuring quarter-sewn oak walls and intricate wood carving, it mirrors elements of his historic Summit Avenue mansion. Hill also wanted to make sure his office was well accommodated: there’s a small restroom (no longer in use), and a shallow coat closet (very much still in use).  

Unfortunately, Hill passed away before the reference library was open to the public. The office was used by staff for much of our history, and today houses the Hill Center gift store. At the Hill Store, you can dive deep into Hill’s history and legacy with one of the books we have for sale, such as James J. Hill: Empire Builder of the Northwest by Michael P. Malone, St. Paul’s Historic Summit Avenue by Ernest R. Sandeen, and The Dutiful Son: Louis W. Hill by local historians Biloine W. Young and Eileen R. McCormack.

The Hill Store is also your one-stop-shop to share your love of entrepreneurs. Support our Idea Academy youth programming with one of our “Ideate & Discover & Build & Launch” tees, or take the Hill home with you with one of our mugs, tumblers, or ornaments by St. Paul-based Deneen Pottery.  

When you shop local, you support your community’s entrepreneurs and put more money directly into the local economy. According to Twin Cities MetroIBA, “research shows that, on average, every dollar spent at a local, independent business generates at least three times more direct economic benefit than a dollar spent at absentee-owned formula businesses.” By doing some of your holiday shopping at the Hill this year—for a loved one, colleague, or yourself!—you are not just aiding Twin Cities businesses and residents, but also directly supporting our mission of connecting business, entrepreneurs, and community.


Written by Ann Mayhew, Reference & Support Specialist, at the James J. Hill Center. If you have more questions about the reference library our our historic collection at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or hillreferencelibrary@jjhill.org.

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Mobilizing Hidden Wealth to Reconstruct the Sharing Economy

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.

Thanks to the pioneers of the sharing economy, we have begun to recognize the value of things like the unused seats in our cars and the empty rooms in our apartments. Today, with the help of platforms such as Uber and Airbnb, we can harness the power of these assets to generate income.

But this revolution has come at a price. On one hand, traditional merchants such as taxi drivers and hotels have suffered from lost business. On the other, the owners of these new platforms have profited greatly without needing to provide employee benefits to their drivers and hosts. In both cases these are win-lose scenarios.

What if the sharing economy could be a win-win scenario for everyone?

Enter the economic evolutionaries behind Scryp, a platform for mobilizing untapped value—for good.

“The issue with the initial sharing economy,” says Scryp Co-Director, Susan Belchamber, “is that the economic pie has not necessarily gotten bigger.”

Transactions are still win-lose and the wins are confined to a small group of the powerful.

“Imagine if Uber was a co-op where for every ride there was more value in the system,” says Adam Lupu, CEO at Scryp, “so every rider and driver was benefiting.”

It all begins with a simple premise: there is more to wealth than money. Susan, Adam, and their co-founders at Scryp are challenging us to notice the hidden wealth all around us.

Think about an empty seat in a classroom, surplus produce, or an old cell phone. These things might be left unused by their owners for any number of reasons but in the right hands their value could be resurrected. Or a volunteer hour, for example, might be given freely but has real, quantifiable value for the recipient organization.

Scryp plays matchmaker, in Adam’s words, “finding hidden wealth, matching it to unmet need in communities and then distributing that power to those people in those communities.”

The idea is that by adding and confirming their “gives” and “gets” on the blockchain-powered network users earn Scryp tokens. These tokens operate as a dual currency allowing merchants to accept Scryp alongside dollars. Users benefit from the extra purchasing power and merchants can centralize loyalty programs while rewarding socially beneficial “giving” activities. It is a win-win.

“We can’t have social justice without economic justice,” says Susan. “Essentially we are also pushing forward a new vantage point […] a new paradigm thought process about what is valuable.”

If your mind is exploding with questions about how a transaction would work or how value is verified you are not alone. The Scryp team is still developing the system and some of these elements have to remain TBD in order to allow for a fluid and collective decision-making process before the official app is launched.

“We’re not like the Federal Reserve making decisions about values,” says Susan, “it is really the community.”

This is your invitation to be a part of the sharing economy 2.0. “This is a build-together process,” says Adam. “Who wants to build together with us?”

To learn more or to help with pilot testing visit scryp.io.


Written by Christopher Christenson, Program & Event Coordinator, at the James J. Hill Center.  Have an idea of a person or organization to feature in this series? Send your recommendations to 
christopher@jjhill.org.

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Startup Showcase: Send best wishes while doing the dishes

Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews entrepreneurs for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press.  See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on December 1, 2018. 

Approximately 6.5 billion greeting cards and 13 billion rolls of paper towels are sold and used every year. The unfortunate end game for both these products is the trash. That is a lot of waste. However, what if you had the opportunity to reduce that waste, while still enjoying the tradition of a novelty card and soaking up a mess … all at once? Entrepreneur Carla Scholz is making that idea possible with her businesses Soak it Up and Clards. She has created eco-friendly products that not only appeal to the heart but the mind, and by doing so is impacting the future of our environment.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of companies: Soak it Up; Clards

Websites: Clards.com & Soakitupcloths.com

Twitter: @soakitupcloths

Business Start Date: October 2017

Number of Employees: 1

Number of Customers: For Soak it Up we are working with wholesale 120+ gift shops including local locations in St. Paul: Bibelot & Corazon. Also, a few hundred e-commerce through soakitupcloths.com and Etsy.  Clards is just getting up and running.

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Carla Scholz

Age: 50ish

City you live in: St. Paul

High school attended: Sevastopol

College attended: University of Wisconsin – Stout

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?

A. I am a mom, an art director, and an award-winning goat milker. I grew up in Door County Wisconsin. As a kid, I fell in love with goats because my parents created and ran a “Living Museum of Rural America” called The Farm. I designed my first t-shirt when I was 12 that read “I’m a Kid from The Farm.” I’ve been designing stuff ever since. Art directing thousands of retail catalogs exposed me to loads of products and provided an opportunity to come up with original ideas for products like shirts, mugs, snow globes, and greeting cards. All things that nobody really needs. My latest business allows me to create products that are environmentally friendly and useful.

Q. What is your business?

A. Soak it Up sells clever, compostable European sponge cloths. 1 cloth = 1,500 paper towels. By choosing to print on bright colored cloths with a single color, our process uses minimal production materials making them more eco-friendly than similar cloths. Fun regional designs like “Minnesota land of 10,000 lakes and a whole lotta flakes,” “Great Lakes Always have been,” and “Wisconsin proud world capital of bratwurst, toilet paper and more” make sales at (mostly Midwest) gift shops steady and growing. Most are available online too, but you must visit Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock Lighthouse, or Minnesota State Parks for custom cloths.

My latest new big idea with Soak it up cloths is Clards: greetings that clean up — literally.

Clards eliminate the waste and give an alternative to paper towels. Multi-function Clards are more than a greeting card, they are a useful, eco-friendly gift that become a daily reminder of the event/emotion given for. Clards appear to be like any high end greeting card but the difference is once wet they transform into soft, durable, long lasting cloths. Monitor the growth of this product at Clards.com.

Q. What is the origin of the business?

A. I met with a friend from Valley Art Group — a wholesale rep group that specializes in local artists — to pick his brain and learn more about what was trending. He brought a sample sponge cloth and one of my first thoughts was, what else can this be used for? What about a greeting card? After months of research we agreed that if I designed and produced some regional, funny cloths Valley Art Group could sell them. At the same time a retail client of mine agreed to several custom designs. The first Soak it Up Cloths order was placed in September 2017. To date over 10,000 cloths have been sold.

Designing and producing Soak it Up Cloths established manufacturing, sales, materials and time to file a patent for my big idea. I was very fortunate to be chosen by an outstanding attorney through Legal Corps. (recommended at a JJHill Center program called Meet the Expert).

Q. What problems does your business solve?

A. Soak it Up cloths and Clards are a healthy and earth-conscious solution to everyday items.

Q. Where do you go when you need help?

A. I ask anyone that will listen for suggestions, meet with people, call old friends, go to networking events and make cold calls.

Q. What big obstacle or hurdle did you have to overcome?

A. Designing a greeting card with unusual material sizes and processes with large minimum quantities has been challenging. Finding a digital printer that was willing and able to try to print on the unique material was key. I recently found a willing participant and samples have turned out well. This will allow for small print runs and customization.

Q. What personal strengths or skill sets do you bring to the business?

A. I enjoy idea generation and problem solving. I have worked with many startups and have learned by others success’ and failures.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. The potential of this idea to make a difference.

Q. What obstacles must you overcome to be wildly successful?

A. Manufacturing details including product importing and assembly.

Q. How are you funding your business?

A. To date it both Soak it Up has been funded by sales. A crowdfunding campaign is in the works for Clards for early 2019.

Q. What would be success for your business in the next 2-3 years?

A. Success would be American Greetings (Papyrus) embracing my Clards concept.

Q. In your opinion, what does it take to be a great entrepreneur?

A. A great entrepreneur needs to trust instincts, ride the highs to survive the lows, and believe it can be.

Q. Why do you do what you do?

A. My parents instilled in me the importance of nature and our environment. Anyone living on this planet has an obligation to future generations to be aware of their impact. I want to make eco-friendly products an easy choice even for extreme or careless consumers.

Q. How did the James J. Hill Center help you with your business?

A. I just finished the James J. Hill Centers first Co.Starters program which helped me fill in the blanks, understand important details, and left me energized and feeling confident. I have made many helpful connections through various events at the Hill including people from Score, Legal Corp, and WIN.

You can hear from startups like this every other Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. Visit jjhill.org/calendar for scheduled dates.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
8 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.JJHill.org/1-million-cups

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Startup Showcase: A police body cam app, of sorts, for citizens

Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews 1 Million Cup presenters for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press.  See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on November 19, 2018. 

According to Governing the States and Localities, between 2013-2015, 20 of the 25 largest U.S. cities paid out a combined annual average of $1.2 billion in judgments and settlements of lawsuits stemming from real or alleged police misconduct.

Mondo Davison, the developer of new app called SafeSpace, built in partnership with Software for Good, believes he can help reduce those city costs by giving community members a tool to engage and share feedback about the police interactions they witness. With immediate access and later evaluations of these interactions, SafeSpace is hoping to curate enough data to predict negative and positive outcomes based on behavior trends. This  information can then be provided to police departments in real-time to help create preventative and productive strategies to truly create a safer community for all.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: SafeSpace (built in partnership with Software for Good)
Website: https://safespaceapp.com
Business Start Date: January 2018|
Number of Employees: 1|
Number of Customers: 14 and growing

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Mondo ‘The Black Tech Guy’ Davison
Age: 33
City of Birth: St. Paul
City you live in: St. Paul
High school attended: Central High School
College attended: University of Tennessee and Florida A&M

Q. What led to this point?

A. My mission has been to inspire a generation of black males to pursue a career in technology. I have branded myself as “The Black Tech Guy,” to be a trailblazing figure in the tech space and lead to show a more compelling “Plan A” than rapper, trapper, or athlete. During the past eight years I have worked to birth minority-led tech startups with TEAM Studios. In partnership with Dario Otero of Youth Lens 360 and Mary Rick, TEAM Studios brings together tech, entrepreneurship, art, and media to impact the world specifically through the brilliance of youth aged 18-24.  SafeSpace is one of the businesses young cohorts within TEAM Studios has been challenged to scale as an impactful solution to the fear, distrust, and insecurities between police and communities of color.

Q. What is your business?

A. SafeSpaces overall goal is to separate good cops from bad cops as well as ones unfit to serve on the force. Our solution is a two-step approach.

1) Immediate interaction — when being pulled over, a single tap of the SafeSpace automatically alerts emergency contacts and people nearby to witness and record the interaction to increase immediate accountability and transparency.

2) Post interaction — SafeSpace asks specific questions to involved community members about the interaction. Our intent is to curate quantitative and qualitative data in real-time to better understand how the community believes they are being served and how to make these interactions safer.

Q. What is the origin of the business?

A. I can point to multiple police interaction stories (personal or otherwise) that may have served as the origin for SafeSpace. Unfortunately, the common denominator is black men feel their life is potentially in jeopardy when engaging with law enforcement. Creating a technology tool to decrease the fear and anxiety in that moment makes perfect sense.

Q. What problems does your business solve?

A. When people have a conversation about police, it’s likely someone will say, “but not all cops are bad.” This statement is 100 percent accurate. When the follow up question is, “but who is bad?” Nobody seems to have the answer. SafeSpace can solve that problem over time through accurate and real feedback.

Q. Where do you go when you need help?

A. I tend to seek help from people whom I am confident will challenge me. If I’m seeking help, it’s likely because I am facing a tough decision and I consult with people that don’t allow me to take the easy way out.

Q. What big obstacle or hurdle did you have to overcome?

A. Our biggest obstacle to date has been owning the narrative. Internally we perceive ourselves as an independent company trying to make our communities safer. But over the past year our story has been hijacked as the “black people app AGAINST police.”

The past year we’ve had independent conversations with police chiefs, mayors, and community leaders to come together in a joint effort to combat this dynamic problem. But I’ve concluded the topic is too polarizing for all stakeholders to freely opt into a unifying strategy.

Q. What personal strengths or skill sets do you bring to the business?

A. I believe my greatest strength is empathy. I love listening to perspectives that don’t match my own because I genuinely want to understand how people presented with the same information can conclude opposite opinions. With that, I believe I can help craft solutions that meet the needs of people with whom I may not agree.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. I’ve never wavered in my journey to change the world. I believe so strongly I am on the right path that it’s not “if,” it’s “when.”

Q. What obstacles must you overcome to be wildly successful?

A. WE vs. Me is the key to success. The more I’m able to surround myself with amazing, dynamic, passionate people, the more successful WE will become.

Q. How are you funding your business?

A. To-date everything has been self-funded or in collaboration.

Q. What would be success for your business in the next 2-3 years?

A. If SafeSpace is operating on all cylinders in the top 25 populated cities, decreasing police brutality, and increasing confidence in local law enforcement, I’d feel a level of success.

Q. In your opinion, what does it take to be a great entrepreneur?

A. (Product + Marketing + Sales) is the recipe for business. But the two parentheses on each end hold it all together. Those parentheses represent TEAM & CULTURE. If a business has all the assets of this equation, success is inevitable.

Q. What haven’t we asked you that we should understand about your business?

A. We currently have a technical barrier. We are only built for iOS (iPhone) to date and seeking financial resources or development talent to build out an Android version. Any support from the community would be helpful.

Q. How did 1 Million Cups St. Paul help you?

A. Post 1MC pitch I had a great conversation with a seasoned PR expert to talk through our story and how to control the narrative. If it weren’t for 1MC I likely would have never met this person.

You can hear from startups like this every other Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul.  Please check the calendar at jjhill.org/calendar for up to date information. 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: Gratitude is Good

Way back in January 2018, I wrote my first blog post of the year, All Systems Go, where I shared my work and life theme for 2018. This Has Meaning has been my theme for this year, specifically around making meaningful decisions and choosing actions that lead to targeted growth and building key relationships. Fast forward to November, which is typically a month dedicated to gratitude and reflection. I’d like to share a few points of my personal reflection from my journey through this year.

  1. The Power of Intention – For the last five years, I have purposefully selected an annual theme designed to create focus on how I spend my time, how I set and measure  goals and how I celebrate growth. This simple practice of focus and intention has been life changing. I am a dreamer, a visionary and I thrive at mapping out the big picture. I struggle and often carry feelings of failure when it comes to following through on the simple details required to execute. For years, my weaknesses resulting from inattention to simple details showed up like a humongous STOP sign which stagnated growth and incubated shame. Choosing to be intentional in my planning process has dramatically changed my quality of life and quiets the negative self-talk that once played loudly inside my brain. Being intentional has created space for being grateful…and gratitude is good.
  2. The Power of Community – However you show up in the world; (i.e.: an entrepreneur, a corporate employee, a full time parent, etc) you are guaranteed that there are millions of people who are traveling a path that resembles your path. In spite of that fact, most of us struggle to find a community of like-minded individuals, so we navigate life in isolation. When I finally made connections and became a part of a community of social entrepreneurs, my personal and professional growth trajectory changed. I felt a sense of belonging. I gained instant access to information and inspiration that resonated with me. I felt stronger and supported as a member of the collective. Being connected within community creates space for being grateful…and gratitude is good.
  3. The Power of Vulnerability – I recently completed a comprehensive personality and leadership assessment profile. It was quite intense and very accurate. As I read the narrative which explicitly described my personality, my strengths and how I show up in the world, I felt a sense of pride and satisfaction. This assessment also clearly pointed out my blind spots, my weaknesses and my areas of selfishness. As I read through those pages of details, I felt uncomfortable and exposed. I wanted to rush through those details because I didn’t need reminders of the areas in which I struggle. However, in my quest for choosing behaviors that have meaning, I slowed down and digested the information. Everything that was identified, were things I was aware of, but I wasn’t being intentional in planning growth. It was time to be okay with that information. Accept that information and take action to be better. I chose to be vulnerable and I asked for help as an initial step. Vulnerability opens your heart to acceptance. Acceptance creates space for being grateful…and gratitude is good.

This year has been an amazing year. I have stuck with my decision of intentionally choosing actions that aligned with #ThisHasMeaning. As we coast through the final months of the year, we are presented with a perfect opportunity to slow down and reflect upon our journey through 2018. Reflection creates space for being grateful…and gratitude is good.


Junita L. Flowers,
Founder/Owner
Baking hope in every cookie. #HopeMunchesOn
Follow her on Facebook. Like her on Instagram. Order your cookies now.
You can also read more about Junita Flowers on her website junitasjar.com.

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Twin Cities Startups and Small Businesses Can Get Free Professional Research Help

We are thrilled to have the James J. Hill Center featured on TECHGEN’s blog Tech Tips for the Twin Cities. Enjoy some great tips by Reid Johnston in his post originally posted on November 5, 2018.

Twin Cities Startups and Small Businesses Can Get Free Professional Research Help

For an entrepreneur, a breakthrough product or service idea is the seed. Research makes it grow. Here’s how Twin Cities startups and small businesses can get professional help researching key business areas, plus some IT areas you’re probably wasting time trying to learn yourself.

Startups and small businesses need information on key areas such as:

  • Your industry
  • Your competition
  • The marketplace
  • Possible funding sources
  • Infrastructure (especially your IT systems)

Google is an awesome research tool for entrepreneurs, but the quality and sources of information are hit-or-miss. Mostly miss. Are you going to entrust the future of your startup or small business to seat-of-the-pants research?

In St. Paul, there is an invaluable alternative: the James J. Hill Center. Let’s take a look at how they can help you find the information you need to succeed…READ FULL BLOG HERE.

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IMPORTANT NOTICE:

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.

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