Author Archive

Mobilizing for Action with Jamie Millard

In celebration of Women’s History Month and the dynamic female leaders we have here in Minnesota we have been sharing insights and stories from some of Minnesota’s most influential and game-changing women.  Please enjoy our visit with Jamie Millard as she share’s her perspective, experience and profound beliefs regarding mobilizing a community. 

Jamie Millard is executive director of Pollen, a digital platform that breaks down the barriers of narrative, networking, and opportunity to build better-connected communities.  Jamie has been identified as a “2015 40 Under 40” by the Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal, as a “100 People to Know in 2015” by the Twin Cities Business Magazine. Nationally, Jamie was recognized in the Huffington Post as one of four millennial leaders, “doing important work to move us toward a more just and equitable society.”

How do you mobilize for action?
Over the past five years, I  have poured my soul and energy into the Minneapolis / St. Paul region by working closely to criss-cross networks. With connection comes relation and empathy. And as communities begin to cross-pollinate, we connect across our differences, and we begin to unlock the potential of universal possibility. There is no better world  than one where we each focus more on supporting those around us than ourselves. A world where we each work to be in greater relation to one another. Where we live to relate the unrelated.

What is your strength as a Leader?
Ever since I was little, I have always found myself as someone who speaks when there is a void or a lack of direction. I’m good at rallying the troops and I enjoy mobilizing for action. I see leadership as knowing how to be in tune with the moods and energy of those around you—adjusting everyone to be in tune together.

What have been some challenges and opportunities being a women in a leadership role?
Work culture was designed by the white, male breadwinner. It’s not designed to value empathy—and especially not vulnerability. When leadership doesn’t reward traits that are often stronger and more centered in women, then we have to hide those parts of ourselves. Or worse, if we can’t hide those traits, then we can experience serious consequences professionally.

This is also where I see great opportunity. In dismantling the traditional internalized work culture, we can make room to build a new culture. A culture that is less capitalistic and more human-centered.

What inspires you?
My Work Wife, Meghan Murphy. We co-founded Paper Darts together and we run Pollen Midwest together. She’s my go-to work partner on any and all projects. She’s also my best friend and honorary aunt to my daughter. When women can fully support and love other women in their projects and dreams, that gives me so much life, hope and inspiration. Work Wives are the future.

What Insights & advice do you have for other women?
Ask for help and fiercely support other women. And remember, everyone cries in the car (link: http://minnesotabusiness.com/everyone-cries-car).

For more information about Jamie Millard’s visionary work visit Pollen  and sign up for their monthly newsletter or attend an upcoming event.  In addition to her work at Pollen, Jamie serves on a Greater MSP task force to address the retention and attraction of emerging talent in our region. She is also a current member, and former board chair, of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network — Twin Cities. In 2009, Jamie co-founded the literary arts magazine Paper Darts, which is now a premier Twin Cities literary institution and has published more than 700 writers and artists. 

For more inspiring conversations about ground breaking professionals in our industry review some of our previous stories at jjhill.org/blog


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Fizzy Energy: A Passion with a Prize

Sarah Nichols is the Founder and CEO of RSVTea,  She is a powerful, poised and passionate Minnesota entrepreneur on a mission to revive the power of celebration where everyone is invited. She took an idea with fizzy energy to a full fledged business.  In celebration of Women’s History Month we had the opportunity to ask Sarah about her success so far.   

What is your Business and how did your entrepreneurial journey begin?

My business is RSVTea, a startup beverage company that makes fizzy energy teas! I started brewing the company concept when I was a Junior at Macalester College and studying abroad in Vienna, planning for a career in international relations. I was prepping for the LSATs and tired of drinking too much coffee. I needed a pick-me-up, but I wanted something healthier than energy drinks and more exciting than flat iced tea. So I decided to make caffeinated tea bubbly and better for me with natural sugar substitutes. I prototyped recipes and had so much fun sharing them with my friends, that tea became my focus, and by the end of my study abroad program, I had a recipe, the start of a business plan, and a very dusty LSAT prep book. I left that book in Vienna and returned the U.S. excited to brew and bring a new kind of tea to town.

What do you want people to know about you and your business and what sets it apart?
I am a young founder. Although I just turned 23, my age combined with my entrepreneurial spirit gives me a dynamic energy that propelled the launch RSVTea. I graduated in May 2016 and began incubating the company in the Mac Startups summer program, and now have a strong board of directors, a strong brand, a product ready for distribution, and swelling momentum. We’re on a mission to revive the power of celebration, and we’re ready to bring a new type of tea party to the Twin Cities.

What or who has made the biggest impact on your entrepreneurial career so far?
My big brother, Taylor. He was born with severe disabilities and has been nonverbal his whole life. Although he can’t speak, Taylor has taught me more about this world than anyone else. More importantly, he showed me how I want to make a lasting, positive impact on this planet. The motto for RSVTea, “everyone’s invited” stems from my childhood with Taylor. I grew up seeing him intentionally and unintentionally excluded- but excluded nonetheless, and I wanted to change that with an inclusivity initiative. I wanted to bring people together to celebrate ourselves for what we are and not what we aren’t. So, this is a toast to Taylor for being my inspiration to change the world, the best hugger when I’m scared I may fail, and my biggest reminder that I am a powerful, poised, and positive force in this world.

How does your entrepreneurial spirit contribute to the Twin Cities Business Ecosystem and Community?
I contribute to the Twin Cities Business Ecosystem by being a young woman professional who is engaged with her community and building a resilient, local brand. I am an example that regardless of generation, the Twin Cities are a fertile place to start a successful company. I want to make opportunities like mine more accessible and dynamic for new and emerging entrepreneurs. I am especially focused for new graduates or current college students. I am still very involved with entrepreneurship at Macalester, and I am a firm believer that linking the Twin Cities institutions of academia with entrepreneurship initiatives is a paramount addition to the Business Ecosystem.

What has been the largest hurdle and / or success you have experienced as an entrepreneur?
My biggest hurdle and success as of now was starting RSVTea. The odds were certainly stacked against me. I was young, a solo founder, a first-time CEO, inexperienced in the beverage industry, staring down the barrel of student debt, little accumulated wealth, and a woman. I faced the odds, took a bet on myself, and dove all in. There was no time for me to fear failure. Fear is crippling, but failure is something one can get up from. I certainly stumbled and fell over the past 10 months, but I persevered because I was not afraid to take the bet on myself, even with all odds considered.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs just getting out of gate?
Start something for the sake of passion and not the sake of prize. Stories of Silicon Valley and Shark Tank deals give a luster and allure to entrepreneurship. But, there are times when it is not so glamorous or thrilling. There are times when things are rough, unstable, and in severe need of capital. But, if you really care about the problem you are solving, that flicker of passion will keep you navigating the dark and depressing scenarios all startups inevitably face.

What is it about Minnesota and how has it managed to keep you here?
I grew up on a farm in southern Missouri and came to Minnesota for college. Missouri is very similar to parts of rural Minnesota, but I fell in love with the Twin Cities. They are alive with countless new experiences, a swelling economy, and a cool patchwork of Midwesterners, East/West-coasters and newcomers. I consider Minnesota my home now, and I’m proud to be a T.C. Entrepreneur!

Sarah presented RSVTea at 1 Million Cups in 2016.  For more information on 1 Million Cups or to present your start up at the James J. Hill Center please visit jjhill.org or apply now

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Steps Towards Confidence and Empowerment

Jenny Evans is the Founder and CEO of Powerhouse Performance.  She is a speaker, award-winning author and on-air expert on resiliency, stress, confidence and human performance.  She is obsessed with human performance and has created a career and life designed around maximizing her own potential, and helping others do the same.

My computer made the familiar ding of a new email. I clicked on the message and found a request to do a speaking engagement on women’s confidence. I speak on resiliency, and this was not the first time someone had asked me to talk about confidence and empowerment. I realized it was finally time I started listening to the Universe…and the marketplace.

After chatting with the client and getting excited about their needs, I said “Absolutely! It’s something I feel strongly about and I’d love to do it!” Then in an ironic twist, as I reflected on why others perceive me to be self-assured, I began losing confidence on what made me the expert. Confidence is incredibly personal, malleable and individualized.

For me, knowledge leads to a sense of confidence. So I created a hypothesis, jumped into research mode and conducted interviews. According to one of the most comprehensive business case studies ever conducted, companies that perform best financially have the greatest numbers of women in leadership roles. Unfortunately, only 1 in 5 senior executives is a woman. I could fill pages with statistics and explanations on the gap between women and men in business, education, politics, pay, health and finally confidence, but instead I’d like to share four important things I learned during my research.

#1: Confidence is influenced by how well we know our values and purpose.
When we lack clarity, we typically lack confidence as well. It is difficult to feel confident in our abilities when we are uncertain about why and how we make decisions. Every woman I interviewed had a strong sense of purpose and internal knowing that what they do is not only meaningful, but also an extension of their values system, who they are and what they believe. Once we truly understand ourselves, our decisions can align with our ideals. We grow in confidence as we learn to trust our internal locus rather than be swayed by external forces. We are fueled to step into uncomfortable situations, take risk and overcome fear.

#2: Confidence is shaped by what we consume.
Who we surround ourselves with and what we watch, listen to and read can make us feel either positive and empowered or inadequate and insecure. Unfortunately, much of the input we “eat” is junk, filling us with empty “calories” and making us weak. The confident women I interviewed have networks of “up-lifters”, mentors and friends that are essential forms of professional and personal support. They have a growth mindset and love to learn and try new things. In order to build confidence, we must provide our minds with nourishing input.

#3: Confidence is affected by recovery.
Our days are filled with incessant obligations and habitual time wasters. How can we feel confident when it seems we are not doing enough or not doing it well enough? Each woman talked about losing confidence when they’re feeling overwhelmed and the importance of doing things that made them feel grounded. Recovery means granting ourselves permission to refuel and recharge. Only then will there be time and space for confidence to grow.

#4: Confidence is linked to our physical being.
In particular, we can use movement in strategic ways to connect and change. Our movement needs vary from day to day and person to person, but every woman I interviewed mentioned some form of regular physical practice being essential to their state of mind. Gentle forms of movement help us center and connect to the inner power within ourselves. More challenging types of movement allow us to build grit and tenacity—if it doesn’t challenge us, it doesn’t change us.

In the end confidence does not mean you are bullet proof or infallible. It’s stronger in some aspects of our lives and weaker in others. When you build it in one area of your life, it transfers to ALL of them. It is a complex trait, shaped by both our personalities and circumstances. While I can’t completely change everything about society’s framework around women, I can help women thrive where they are until things change systemically.

To view more information on the confidence gap and jenny’s video research please visit her website or follow her on twitter @PowerhousePC #theconfidencegap.   To keep up on to date on the latest James J. Hill Center blog please follow us on Social Media.  We can be found Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn

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Live. Give. Save. with a Purpose

Susan Langer is an observer, planner, connector,  life-long learner and a  lover of people.  She is also the CEO and Founder of Live.Give.Save, the only mobile solution that uses your everyday spending to help you give to causes you care about and save for your future.  Susan is another perfect example of Minnesota women entrepreneurs that are blazing trails for the future.  We are pleased  to share her journey as the James J. Hill Center continue to celebrate Women’s History Month with amazing Minnesota women. 

What is your Business and how did your entrepreneurial journey begin?
Live.Give.Save. (LGS) is the first all-in-one mobile platform to empower and reward consumers to spend wisely, boost retirement savings and increase giving with one-touch simplicity.  Our vision is to create a fiscally fit society by using the inertia of consumer spending habits to inspire good – for self and others – today and tomorrow. We like to say we’re the FitBit® of personal finance.

The concept was born out of my travels to Africa in 1995 and discovering the ground-breaking concept of micro-credit, making access to finance approachable, inclusive and empowering to micro-entrepreneurs in the developing world.  The concept of making micro-payments to achieve goals struck me as a way to offer US consumers a new way forward for saving for retirement and giving to the causes they care about … without changing their lifestyle.  I was marketing co-branded credit cards for First Bank (now US Bank) enticing cardholders to increase usage through points and frequent flyer miles.  Why not entice and reward folks to save for a secure future and help others in need? Micro-savings + Micro-giving = Macro-Impact.

What do you want people to know about you and your business and what sets it apart?

We believe that every person has a purpose, and that purpose drives our relationships, choices and behaviors. How we choose to manage our money reflects our priorities. Our priorities and actions today will determine the overall health and well-being of our future. When we have ready-access to relevant, actionable knowledge, we will make wiser, more satisfying financial decisions. And, we believe we will measurably transform our financial future – and that of others – when we live, give and save with purpose.

Apps like Acorns, Digit, Mint and others have made good attempts to help consumers better save and manage their personal finances through spending, yet, each have missed the mark in some way and often by simply incorporating traditional methods within new technology. Digit is the exception. What makes us different is that no one is including “giving” within their offering.  We are. Our model is designed around the philosophy of decision, action and impact. Our users will be part of a community where they will experience the impact of their decisions and actions on society. Finally, our patent-pending technology and socially-driven mobile platform builds toward a powerful branded data asset that will offer highly predictable data, providing more relevant, timely and valuable knowledge to the marketplace.

What or who has made the biggest impact on your entrepreneurial career so far?
Is it nature or nurture that makes one an entrepreneur? Probably a little of both in my case. My late grandfather, Svend Sorensen, would be described today as a serial entrepreneur. I tagged along with him everywhere. My father and uncle took over one of his businesses and my brother another. I was raised on taking risks. My corporate experience taught me the fundamentals of planning, management and the significance of measuring impact … always.  One of the most influential leadership books I read was Execution, The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan and the importance of distributing equal power among people, strategy and operations.

How does your entrepreneurial spirit contribute to the Twin Cities Business Ecosystem and Community?
I commute to the Twin Cities weekly for meetings with advisers, investors and prospective strategic partners. The technology scene is strong and thriving.  There are endless opportunities to attend or participate in events the help shape, inspire and challenge thinking. I love it.  James J. Hill has played a pivotal role in introducing me to the start-up culture. From presenting at 1 Million Cups and attending its many thought-leader panels, I have richly benefited from the proactive resources and seemingly infinite networking opportunities.

What has been the largest hurdle and / or success you have experienced as an entrepreneur?

I am a people person. I love meeting, listening to and learning from people. It has been a tremendous gift to meet all the amazing knowledgeable, highly-caffeinated, young entrepreneurs and sage mentors within the start-up community.  It truly is a culture unto itself.  Never dull.  That said, while I’ve had good success raising funds in my previous careers – for-profit and non-profit – this has been my greatest challenge, mystery and opportunity. So, I keep my ears perked and my eyes wide open to make sure I keep learning, growing and improving.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs just getting out of gate?
You will be challenged, stretched, encouraged and discouraged at every level – and oftentimes within the same day. When you think you can’t take one more “No”, there it is.  AHHHH! Yet, all it takes is one “Yes”, or an itty-bitty win, and you’re back in the game shaking those pom-pom’s.

So, keep the faith, remain focused and be intentional in surrounding yourself with individuals who inspire and feed your mind, body and soul … because you will need to maintain mental, physical and spiritual strength to get through the doubters, the nay-sayers, the silence, the what-the-heck-am-I-going-to-do-NOW moments. I often recite my favorite bible verse to keep me sane:  “Be joyful always, pray continually and be thankful in all circumstances …” It always helps calm my sagging spirit and put things into a new perspective.

What is it about Minnesota and how has it managed to keep you here?
Live.Give.Save. was founded out of the Red Wing Ignite accelerator. We have been hugely blessed by the support we’ve received. We are launching our beta in the coming weeks and have literally had the community wrap its arms around us and say, “How can we help?”  Red Wing Shoe, the Red Wing Credit Union and the Red Wing YMCA all raised their hand in support to help us prove our concept.  When I asked the three beta partners what success looked like for them, their collective response was how they wanted to be part of bringing something good for society out of Red Wing and helping make it big. Together, we will inspire a new generation to live, give and save with purpose.  I’m not going anywhere.

Visit the James J. Hill Center every Wednesday from 9AM to 10AM for 1 Million Cups and hear from some of Minnesota’s most interesting up and coming entrepreneurs.  2 pitches  – 1 hour – free coffee – great networking.  We hope to see you soon at jjhill.org

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Five Pillars to Hit Your Goals

Whether you are an established business owner, a serial entrepreneur or fresh on the scene, your to-do list is likely a mile long.  Goal setting is a vital key to any success because it tracks progress, ensures the tactics are working and keeps the business on track.

It is important to set measurable, achievable and practical goals. When the goals are realistic, it’s easier to put forth enough effort needed to create a successful venture. Thinking through the future of the business and what goals to set forces you set expectations and reevaluate old processes for productivity and outcome. Setting goals will help your staff prepare for potential problems, which helps employees feel fulfilled and capable to handle the situation.

Your personal and professional goals will sometimes overlap and affect the other, so when setting goals and milestones for the business, be sure to think through how they could affect your personal life.  When goals are not met in one aspect of your life, it can negatively affect the other.

One of the most effective goal setting techniques is the SMART method:

Specific: well-defined and clear

Measurable: can track how the goal is achieved and when

Attainable: reasonably achievable

Realistic: ensure the goal won’t create a stressful situation because it isn’t within an achievable realm

Timed: there is a due date & end

These are the five pillars of hitting real goals. Using this technique is an easy way to eliminate lofty ideas and improve ideas that do not push enough.

Starting and running a business is a big enough challenge. Prepare for the unexpected and set yourself up for success with a well thought plan and set those realistic goals!

Join us at the James J. Hill Center for programs and resources to reach some of your goals. 

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A Spark of Genius: A Conversation with James Jones

James Jones Jr. is the co-founder and CEO of Spark DJ, Inc.  He is a lover of music, engineering and experiences.   A continued example of the talent here in Minnesota.  We got the chance to have a brief conversation to ask him a few short questions about his journey as an entrepreneur.  We look forward to watching his continued success.

What is your Business and how did your entrepreneurial journey begin?
Spark DJ is a music platform that uses artificial intelligence to DJ your parties. My entrepreneurial journey began in college when I began DJing to pay for school. I got really into it because I loved using music to create these awesome experiences. At some point, I ended up having more offers for gigs than I could do. Instead of bringing on another DJ to cover the gigs I could not do, I came up with the odd idea of trying to create a software-based algorithmic clone (I was an engineering major).

What do you want people to know about your business and what sets it apart?
What makes Spark DJ unique is that we focus on a party experience rather than just “listening to music”. Party goers can send song requests to the host app from their phones and have their favorite tunes brought into the mix. Music goes from one to the next seamlessly, matching tempo and key and blending songs to create one seamless mix. And our software application reads your crowd to make sure that the music being played is always fun and relevant.

What or who has made the biggest impact on your entrepreneurial career so far?
John Boss, my co-founder, has made the biggest impact on my entrepreneurial career. He’s not only my business partner but one of my closest friends. He had a similar experience DJing through college to pay for school. Although we have heated debates about who was the better DJ, he has had a tremendous impact in making this idea a reality.

How does your entrepreneurial spirit contribute to the Twin Cities Business Ecosystem and Community?
John and I both take time to engage and support other entrepreneurs. We’re always up to grab a coffee or beer. We have been a part of programs and groups such as Graveti, COCO, Minnesota Cup, entrepreneurial and tech meetups, TechDotMN, etc. We also volunteer our time to provide business help to other startups and charities.

What has been the largest  success you have experienced as an entrepreneur?
One of our successes has been becoming semi-finalist in the Minnesota Cup. It was a great program that enabled us to meet many entrepreneurs and investors.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs just getting out of gate?
I’m not sure if we’re best position to provide too much advice as we’re still learning a lot everyday. But one of the things we’ve realized is how important relationships are. Many opportunities have come from building great relationship with others in the community.

What is it about Minnesota and how has it managed to keep you here?
Not only is Minnesota a great place because of the people and the support and excitement we’ve seen throughout the state, but also being in Minnesota has provided us cost-effective access to enterprise resources.

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One Story at a Time: A Conversation with Uzoma Obasi

Uzoma Obasi
is an entrepreneur, photographer, film maker, storyteller and creator. He is the Executive Producer of Creative Mind Studios and the founder of Midwest Creative Connection.  Another great example of the talent and skill that is housed in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.  We got the chance to have a brief conversation to ask him a few short questions about his company, advice for other entrepreneurs, why Minnesota and more.

Describe your business. What do you want people to know about your company and what makes it different?
Creative Mind Studios is a photo and video studio that focuses on business needs. We pride ourselves in our ability to help our clients tell their stories through still and motion pictures.

How does your company contribute to the Twin Cities business ecosystem and community?
We contribute by making high quality business photography and videography accessible to businesses of all sizes and budgets. Helping entrepreneurs and small business owners compete with the largest of companies.

What has been the largest hurdle and / or success you have experienced as an entrepreneur and business owners?
The largest success we have had is being hired by the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee to provide our photo and video services.

My biggest hurdle was finding the right studio space. I needed a space that fit my small budget but had the square footage I needed.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Make sure that whatever you’re doing is a passion. Being an entrepreneur and running a business is hard work. Harder than showing up for a 9-5. If you are just in it for the money, you’ll burn out quickly.

How has the James J. Hill Center played a role in your entrepreneurial experience?
The James J. Hill Center has played an important role in helping network, learn and grow. I believe that the events and resources the Hill provides has been key to my businesses growth.

What is it about Minnesota and how has it managed to keep you here?
Minnesota is home. Even with the snow, ice and wind chill Minnesota has a way of feeling comfortable. I can’t imagine another place to raise a family and run a business. The people are genuine, and the culture is very diverse, which makes it a great climate to conduct business in.

Check out more on Uzoma Obasi and his projects.

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January Reference Round-Up

Lists, Leads and Trends…

  • Most of our researchers this month came from Minnesota, but we also received a visitor from Wisconsin, one from North Dakota, and one from Indiana.
  • Our librarians gave a presentation at the end of January on how to use library resources to learn how to research industry trends, how to expand a business into new markets, and how to research an industry. The presentation was designed with established business owners in mind.
  • Two researchers stayed after the presentation to do research, using the databases they had learned about in the presentations. Both of these researchers created marketing lead lists for their businesses, and one performed market research as well.
  • Several researchers this month were writing business plans. Some were writing them as part of a Women Venture class, and others were writing them on their own.
  • Many researchers came to the library to build lists of businesses, either as sales lead lists or to gather information on competitors or as part of a job search.

The James J. Hill Center’s reference library is a world-class research facility with an unparalleled collection of print materials and online databases dedicated to business and leadership.  Take research to a new level with free access to powerful business databases and resources. Entrepreneurs can generate lists of companies matching user-defined criteria and find thousands of full-text articles from business magazines, industry specific financial metrics, lists of grant-making foundations, consumer psychographics, and geographically-specific market data. If you are unable to find what you are looking for, call or email our Reference Specialist to schedule an appointment 651-265-5500.

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Improvising Life: A Conversation with Shanan Custer

Shanan Custer is  a writer, actor, teaching artist, director as well as an improviser in the Twin Cities. Her original works includes: 2 Sugars, Room for Cream, (with Carolyn Pool) which won an Ivey Award for Best Ensemble in 2013;  Mick Sterling Presents: At Christmas  (with Jim Robinson); and From Here to Maternity (with Joshua Scrimshaw). Shanan has performed, directed and improvised all over the Twin Cities and can currently be seen performing in The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society presented by the James J. Hill Center.

How did you begin your entrepreneurial artistic career?
Shortly after I went to graduate school and started working at the Brave New Workshop as an actor/writer I began to create my own work. It felt right–more right than anything I had ever done before.

What has been the largest hurdle and / or success you have experienced as an artist and entrepreneur?
My largest success would be that I am still creating and producing after all of the highs and lows. The largest hurdle would be anything that distracts me from writing, which includes but is not limited to Netflix, books and wine!

How do you manage being a creative entrepreneur and what advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
One word: resilience. Nothing will ever be perfect, every project will require you to bend and flex and and there will always be people who want to change what you do–for good or worse, but it’s still a challenge. I’ve been told that my shows “don’t fit in a tidy box” and once had a producer tell me that “two women” onstage wasn’t going to sell tickets. I believed otherwise, so I knocked on the next door and the next. If you can keep moving forward in the midst of these kinds of challenges, then you are in the right place!

You do a ton of improvisation –  how did this come to be and how has it shaped your career?Improvisation changed my life. I was more classically trained as an actor and so I never experienced the form until I started working in theater professionally, but once I did it changed how I performed and wrote as well as how I approached my personal life. The first time I improvised was in an audition for the Brave New Workshop and the rest as they say is history. I love the form and the improv community in the Twin Cities is so vibrant and is growing so fast–it’s really exciting!

What is it about Minnesota and how has it managed to keep you here?
The Twin Cities has proven time and again to be a wonderfully supportive community for so many artists. I can have a life here outside of my work and still feel free to take risks artistically. The landscape of the cities changes enough to keep me invested and I feel like I am challenged to keep up. I also really, really love snow! Please don’t hold it against me.

Shanan Custer and a stellar Twin Cities cast will be performing in The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society at the James J. Hill Center on Sunday, January 29 at 3:30 pm.  REGISTER NOW!

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St. Paul’s Got Talent: A Conversation with Eric Webster

Eric Webster has been performing on stage, camera and radio for over 25 years. As recipient of the 2010 “Best Actor in a Musical″ from Lavender Magazine he has graced such stages as the Guthrie Theater, Mixed Blood, Park Square, The Playwrights’ Center, Hennepin Stages and many more. His on camera success has ranged from his Emmy Nominated show “The Big Bad Movie” to the nationally broadcast DirectTV program “Big Events”. Eric can currently be seen performing in The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society presented by the James J. Hill Center as well as in his original radio show Shades Brigade.

How did you begin your entrepreneurial career in the arts begin?
I started my career in sports broadcasting as a play-by-play, sports talk show host.  After spending 10 years in the field of sports radio – I walked away from it, realizing that I liked playing sports, but talking about them all day was not doing it for me.  I knew I liked the entertainment and creative aspect, so I tried my hand at all sorts of things like stand-up comedy and non-sports talk radio.  I eventually landed a gig as the Stadium Announcer for the St. Paul Saints Baseball Team.  There I was allowed to create anything I could imagine.  After 6 years at the Saints with free reign and  a “Go ahead and see if it works” environment I realized that I loved that creative freedom.  My first foray into theater was the long running “Tony and Tina’s Wedding,”  that allowed me to both act and create something new every night.

What has been the largest hurdle and success you have experienced as an artist and entrepreneur?
Largest hurdle?  Selling Tickets to shows you write and produce.
Biggest success? Being a self-employed full time actor for over 20 years.

Do you think being a creative entrepreneur is different from other entrepreneurial careers?
Trying to sell something to somebody is pretty much what everybody does at their job.  I’m selling the idea of “come see what I wrote and what I find interesting.” That’s a tricky sell.  It’s hard to guarantee anybody that they need what you’re selling.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
My advice is to anybody, in any field, is become good at a lot of things.  The more you can do the more options you have to create an opportunity.

You have an obsession with old time radio shows – how did this come to be?
When I was young my parents wouldn’t allow me to stay up to watch Johnny Carson.  So they bought me one of those radios that also get TV stations, so I could listen to Carson’s monologue and the comedians he had on while I was in bed.  It also had a tape deck so I could record all the monologues.  I had all these tapes of comedians from the Carson show.  Then I started listening to North Stars Hockey on the radio and the play-by-play man Al Shaver.  It was so amazing to me that he could paint that picture in my head.  I could see the players and all of the action just because of his words.  I was then introduced to some old-time radio shows on cassette that you could buy — the “Lone Ranger” and the “Shadow” and classics like that.  I loved how I was able to participate in the final piece.  It was up to me to decide how the room looked or a person looked or what they were wearing.  It was like a I was part of the creative process.  I was hooked forever on theater of the mind.  Years later, because of the internet, I didn’t have to scour and search for old-time radio shows – they were all there online.  Thousands and thousands of episodes. I love the internet.

What is it about Minnesota and how has it managed to keep you here?
I have lived all over from Boston to Los Angeles.  I came back here and I’m never leaving.  This is the best place on earth.  You have four seasons, two major cities, you can be in the middle of the woods in about an hour drive north, the quality of living is tops in almost every category, and there aren’t a lot of things that can kill you.  We have nothing really poisonous sneaking around in the grass waiting to bite you, no hurricanes or earthquakes.  Yes, tornadoes, but if you compare it to say, Florida, well there are so many things that can kill you in Florida.  Plus, again thanks to the internet, we no longer have to be in L.A. or New York to succeed as an actor.  You can audition here for national work and you can produce that work locally.  I can make a good living in my own backyard now.  And it’s not just for acting, almost every field is now able to function in any market.  YEAH INTERNET!!!

Eric Webster and a stellar Twin Cities cast will be performing in The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society at the James J. Hill Center on Sunday, January 29 at 3:30 pm.  REGISTER NOW!

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We are in the process of renovating the James J. Hill Center to make the space more accessible to individuals with wheelchairs or limited mobility. This construction includes major renovation of our interior elevator. Due to this renovation, elevator access to the building and second floor for persons with accessibility constraints will be limited. A manual mobility Liftkar operated by a trained JJ Hill staff person will be available so that individuals in wheelchairs have access to our space. To schedule assistance before your visit, or if you have questions, please contact 651.265.5500. Unfortunately we are unable to transport electric scooters. Elevator construction will begin October 31, 2016 until completion in April, 2017. We apologize for any inconvenience during this construction. Thank you for your understanding.

This project has been financed in part with funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society and the F. R. Bigelow Foundation.