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Author Archive

A Conversation with Scott Schwefel

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Scott Schwefel brings over 25 years of entrepreneurial experience. Starting in 1990 by founding Benchmark Computer Learning, which grew to Minnesota’s largest technology training company.   Scott was named to Minnesota’s 40 under 40 of successful top executives in the year 2001. He also founded Insights Twin Cities, delivering the Insights Discovery System to businesses all over the world.

How did your career as an entrepreneurial begin?

Like many baby boomer entrepreneurs, with a paper route at age 12.  Then a lawn mowing business, then after college I bought into a month old food company called Tinos, which we sold to Schwanns in 1991, then started Benchmark Computer Learning, which we sold in 2003, and then started Insights Twin Cities, which we sold in 2014.  It all started with the mindset I was taught at age 12, that is I could make choices everyday about the work I did, and to whom I would trade my skills for compensation.

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

Y2K was the hardest.  As a tech business, our revenues dropped over 40% in 2000, and we had several layoffs, but ultimately survived by buying our largest competitor Mindsharp in 2002. I learned that everything works out in the end, and if it isn’t working out, then it’s not over yet.

What is the best nugget of advice you can give fellow entrepreneurs? 

Program your mind everyday for success and resilience.  Read books, watch videos, draft and post your goals. Surround yourself with people who support your goals and dreams, and never, ever, ever give up. It is the only way you can do the work when it is the hardest, by being clear on why you are doing it in the first place.

What is it about Minnesota and how has it managed to keep you here?

I moved to Minnesota in 1982 from rural Wisconsin, and fell in love with the Twin Cities.  Just big enough, and the nicest people in the world.  Now, after 35 years here, I can’t imagine ever living anywhere else.

What do you think is the best way to empower Minnesota’s entrepreneurs? 

First, to acknowledge everyone is an entrepreneur, that truly everyone is self-employed.  It’s a mindset, not something designated on your tax form.  Everyone who works, who agrees each day to trade their skills to someone else for compensation, is self-employed.  Everyone is the CEO of themselves, and each day CHOOSES to trade their skills for compensation to an employer, to customers, to clients, etc.  Once a person accepts this reality, then they realize they are in charge of what they choose to do, and also that they can make better choices, to better their circumstances, and increase their income.  It is this mindset that enables entrepreneurs to keep driving in the face of adversity, knowing that they are making the choice to be an entrepreneur, and that success is ultimately within their ability to CHOOSE. My advice for entrepreneurs, “There is always a better way, keep looking for it, and never, ever, ever give up”

Join the James J. Hill Center on Monday, December 6th at 9AM as they host Scott Schwefel and his presentation Communicate in Full ColorREGISTER NOW.

 

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Before Planting and Harvesting…

 

Farmers Need to Glean Data.able-logo

Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews Entrepreneur and
1 Million Cup presenter, Chris Lukenbill from Bright Agrotech  with product ABLE As seen in the Pioneer Press, Startup Showcase on November 19, 2016


In order to thrive, business owners need access to information. They need to have an understanding of their industry including its trends, new developments, growth patterns, and regulations. Farmers, of course, need all this information too, as well as reliable technical information.

It was this need for information that gave Chris Lukenbill the idea for Able, a software that helps farmers strategically plan their crops, understand the market, and manage their finances. Able, a product of Bright Agrotech, is designed to give farmers the most up-to-date knowledge available without wasting valuable time digging for information. With data aggregated from farmers across the world and connections to local farming organizations, Able provides farmers with the tools they need to grow their farm business.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Bright Agrotech (product is called Able)

Website: https://BrightAgrotech.com; https://able.ag

Business Start Date: 2010 for Bright Agrotech; 2015 for Able

Number of Employees: 30+ for Bright Agrotech and five for Able specifically

Number of Customers: Approximately 6,000 for Bright Agrotech and 1,300 for  Able specifically

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Chris Lukenbill

Age: 33

City of birth: Bemidji, Minn.City you live in: Rochester, Minn.

High school attended: Warroad High School, Warroad, Minn.

College attended: South Dakota State University, Brookings, S.D.

Q&A

Q. What led you to this point?

A. I am a software developer by trade who has a large interest in the environmental impact of agriculture.

Three years ago I started a greenhouse operation in Rochester, Minnesota. My goal was to help my community to understand the challenges of local food production and to improve its effectiveness, especially in challenging climates like Minnesota’s.

Through starting a farm, I came to understand that the challenge wasn’t in growing food but in 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 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit jjhill.org/1-million cups

 

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Get Connected for Success

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Networking. We often hear how dreaded it can be for professionals. People feel awkward, uncomfortable and fake, but we know it’s important – some might say vital – in today’s workforce. Networking has the potential to lead to job opportunities, partnerships and increased knowledge about the community and business network around you.

We’ve seen the most beneficial relationships here at the Hill come out of our networking opportunities.  According to an article from Hubspot, 95% of professionals surveyed say face-to-face meetings are essential for long-term business relationships.  So how do you make these connections? Here are three simple ways we feel are a great starting point.

First, find a networking group that appeals to you. Business networking is hosted here at the Hill the last Wednesday of every month for an hour before 1 Million Cups –  both great networking opportunities but there are many around the twin cities and with a little research on your industry or interest you will be surprised at the variety.

Second, when it comes to networking, practice makes perfect. It is a skill anyone can learn. It is easy to find helpful articles with tips and tricks to make networking less painful like “7 Tips for Networking” and “Learn to Love Networking”.  Advice varies from focusing on topics you’re interested in, to asking open ended questions to keep the conversation flowing, to knowing what you want to get out of the interaction. But what this all comes down to is effective communication with your peers and colleagues.

Third, communicating clearly and effectively in a professional setting is crucial to successful relationships and partnerships. So what makes a good communicator? How do you understand your own communication style? The Hill is hosting two sessions of “Communicate in Color” to help answer these questions. Learning how you as a leader communicate, and how others communicate with you, can lead to a positive and rewarding environment for you, your peers and colleagues. Presenter Scott Schwefel is a communication expert and serial entrepreneur who has spoken to over 1,000 companies on how they can leverage new communication strategies to increase sales, profits and productivity. We’re excited to have him share his resources and knowledge with our entrepreneur community.

By incorporating these three important tips you can feel more confident in your networking skills. And by joining us here at the Hill at any of our upcoming events you can practice! You never know what will come of a short conversation.

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Giving when you buy, to yourself and to others

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Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews Entrepreneur and
1 Million Cup presenter, Susan Langer from Live.Give.Save. Inc.  As seen in the Pioneer Press, Startup Showcase on November 5, 2016

According to a recent poll conducted by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 48 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 30 have no retirement savings.

Susan Langer of Live.Give.Save. wants to try to fix that problem, while at the same time providing a way for Americans to more easily donate to charities. Live.Give.Save. allows users to add a small amount of money to each purchase they make using their smartphones, allowing them to painlessly build retirement accounts and contribute to worthy causes.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Live.Give.Save. Inc.
Website: www.livegivesave.com
Business Start Date: Feb. 1, 2016
Number of Employees: 2
Number of Customers: 0

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Susan Langer|
Age: 55
City you live in: Red Wing
City of birth: Red Wing
High school attended: Ellsworth High School, Ellsworth, Wis.
College attended: University of Minnesota

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?

A. I am a wife, stepmother and entrepreneur. My professional background spans banking, marketing and philanthropy. At U.S. Bank (then First Bank), I installed and managed their first customer-relationship management system. I later helped build and launch First Bank’s first website, as well as market their credit card portfolio. From there I launched my own marketing firm, Mosaic Marketing, where I blended branding with direct marketing before it was in vogue to help small- and medium-sized companies move to the next level. My international and philanthropic work — traveling to over 30 countries — is what drives my passion for creating a virtuous ecosystem that encourages, empowers and equips all to be better.

Q. What is your business?

A. Live.Give.Save. is an all-in-one mobile platform that empowers and rewards consumers to effortlessly boost retirement savings and increase charitable giving. We do this by leveraging existing behaviors in spending with one-touch simplicity. Our proprietary three-way payment process allows consumers to add a self-defined amount of money to each purchase they make using their smartphone. These micro amounts are automatically applied to their retirement savings and charity (or cause) of choice. One act = three gifts: Spend on self today, save for tomorrow and help someone in need.  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 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit jjhill.org/1-million cups

 

 

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Start Up Showcase

An app that could become the life of the party!

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Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews Entrepreneur and 1 Million Cup presenter, James Jones with Spark.dj.
As seen in the Pioneer Press, October 22, 2016

 

Many people are unable to hire DJs for house parties because of the expense, instead making do with preset playlists and streaming services. But they know there are a lot of advantages to using a DJ — because unlike playlists and streaming services, DJs can take requests, play songs at a preferred tempo, and tailor song choices based on the various events and stages of the party.

James Jones believes he has found a happy medium between a live DJ and a streaming service. Spark DJ is an inexpensive alternative to DJs using smart software to create the perfect musical atmosphere for any party, providing the experience of a live DJ at a fraction of the cost.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Spark DJ, Inc.
Website: http://spark.dj
Business Start Date: Feb. 15, 2016
Number of Employees: 5
Number of Customers: 0 (pre-revenue). Signup being taken for the beta trial.

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: James Jones
Age: 27
City where you live: Minneapolis
City of birth: New Orleans
High school attended: Brother Martin High School, New Orleans
College attended: University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind.

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?

A. I’m a self-taught software developer and professional DJ. I’m originally from New Orleans. I went to the University of Notre Dame to attain a dual degree in mechanical engineering and economics.

I worked for Target as a stats analyst for three years. As much as I enjoyed working there, the Spark DJ venture was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, so I left. We entered the Minnesota Cup 2016 and placed as a semifinalist in the High Tech Division.  READ MORE…

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 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.JJHill.org/go/1MCSPL.

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Hill Spotlight: Snobcorn

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A Hill Spotlight conversation with local entrepreneur Patty McDonald.

Describe your business. What do you want people to know about your company?

Snobcorn is a gourmet popcorn business with one goal: to transform the Great American Snack into something truly special. Snobcorn is for popcorn lovers who are adventurous, passionate, and craving something new. It’s time to go beyond cheese corn, caramel corn, and kettle corn. Let’s give Mocha, Gingerbread, or Caprese a try. How about Bourbon Brown Butter, Margarita, or Tex-Mex popcorn? Yum! Snobcorn uses only non-GMO popcorn, avocado oil, and all natural ingredients.

How can your product contribute to the Twin Cities business ecosystem and community?

Just like craft beer, coffee, and chocolate, popcorn is ready to be elevated for a superior taste experience. Popcorn is a healthy snack, a blank canvas, and it’s ready for a makeover. Most people say they enjoy popcorn, but many people are not satisfied eating unhealthy or tasteless varieties found at movie theaters, popped in their microwaves, or at the mall. Snobcorn will provide a healthy, delicious, and unique popcorn snacking experience for popcorn lovers everywhere.

What is your dream for your future and/or the future of your business?

My dream for Snobcorn is that people will enjoy the Great American Snack at the highest level possible. I want to raise the bar for popcorn. It can (and should) be extremely delicious, use the best ingredients, and be as healthy as possible. (And it should never, ever, taste like styrofoam.) My dream is that the word Snobcorn will define gourmet popcorn in the truest sense of the word. And that Snobcorn will be enjoyed by popcorn connoisseurs, foodies, and proud popcorn snobs everywhere.

What opportunities have you engaged with at the James J. Hill Center?

I have used the James J. Hill Center for my research on the popcorn industry. The very helpful and knowledgeable staff has pointed me in the right direction as I figure out where Snobcorn fits within the marketplace. The James J. Hill Center has been an invaluable resource for me in getting Snobcorn off the ground.

How has your involvement with the James J. Hill Center helped further your entrepreneurial and business goals?

From preliminary research, to crafting a business plan, to finding answers to my questions, the James J. Hill Center has been a fantastic place to begin my journey of starting my own small business.

Join us every Wednesday from 9AM to 10AM for 1 Million Cups and get an inside peek on two local entrepreneurs as they present their startups to a diverse audience of peers, mentors, and entrepreneurs. 

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The Hill Reference Roundup

From Georgia to NOVA…

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October at the Hill was buzzing with visitors from as far as Georgia to our own Nova Classical Academy.  They stopped in to build lists, research start ups or just catch a glimpse of history. Another prefect example of the vast array of people our Reference Specialists visit with day to day.

Here are some of the examples of who, what and why people stopped in…  

  • Our reference library staff assisted over 130 researchers in October.
  • Most researchers were from Minnesota, though one researcher this month was visiting all the way from Savannah, Georgia.
  • Several researchers this month came to use our resources to build a list of businesses.
  • It was a great month to build a list of businesses, as we began a subscription to A to Z Databases this month. Come check out this new resource, with the most up-to-date data and a user-friendly interface.
  • The majority of our visitors in October are in the start-up or growth stage of their businesses.
  • One researcher investigated digital strategy and digital disruption using our journal subscriptions to titles like Harvard Business Review, McKinnsey Quarterly and Sloan Management Review.
  • Another researcher explored demographic data related to recreation trends to help develop a marketing plan.
  • A group of about 30 students from Nova Classical Academy stopped in to view our space. As one girl gazed at the second level of the building in awe, she asked our librarians, “What do the people in those offices do?!”

 We look forward to seeing you at the Hill.  Contact a Reference Specialist today!

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Hill Spotlight: Mine the Bird

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A Hill Spotlight conversation with local entrepreneur Mark Daigle.

Describe your business. What do you want people to know about your company?

Our company, Mine The Bird, aspires to become an accelerator for Minnesota businesses. Over the past eight years, we have developed an international portfolio of granted and pending patent applications relating to beacon technology. (Beacons are an important hardware component in the Internet of Things.) We would like to serve startups and Fortune 500 companies in Minnesota by providing them with valuable intellectual property and by helping to coordinate a beacon platform centered here in Minnesota.  Our next step is to find a corporate sponsor who believes in our vision for Minnesota and values the patents in our portfolio.


How can your product contribute to the Twin Cities business ecosystem and community?

Minnesota is home to a diverse cross-section of civic-minded corporations. Mine The Bird aspires to serve our corporate sponsors by providing them with exclusive beacon-related intellectual property for their industry. If we succeed, our corporate sponsors will be able to exert greater control over their industries as they test new business models centered on the Internet of Things. We also aspire to provide Minnesotan startups with intellectual property, seed capital, access to our corporate sponsor executives, and guidance from our leadership team that has over two decades of Silicon Valley experience.

What is your dream for your future and/or the future of your business?

We hope that our contributions will encourage collaboration among local business and community leaders. My dream is to see Minnesota become the global capitol of beacon technology. As I work on accomplishing this dream, I aspire to be a good person, husband, and dad.  I’d like to someday be in a position to pay livable wages to qualified employees from under served communities.  For this and other reasons, we plan to incorporate Mine The Bird (www.minethebird.com) as a Minnesota General Benefit Corporation in the near future.

What opportunities have you engaged with at the James J. Hill Center?

I was thrilled to discover the James J. Hill Center this summer after my friend, Julie Haddad, read about Hill Capital. In the past few months I have attended panel discussions at the Hill, participated in networking events, and enjoyed watching startup pitches during weekly One Million Cups events. I have also spent time researching the beacon market using a database available at the Library. On November 30th I am scheduled to present Mine The Bird at the weekly One Million Cups event. I hope some people who read this article will come out on November 30th to learn more and support our efforts.

How has your involvement with the James J. Hill Center helped further your entrepreneurial and business goals?

The informal networking that takes place at the James J. Hill Center has been extremely valuable for our accelerator. In just a few short months I have met several key people that I would now describe as friends. Our next step is to find a leading corporate sponsor who believes in our vision for Minnesota and values the patents in our portfolio. We believe we are closer to that point now because of the James J. Hill Center.

Join us every Wednesday from 9AM to 10AM for 1 Million Cups and get an inside peek on two local entrepreneurs as they present their startups to a diverse audience of peers, mentors, and entrepreneurs. 

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A Conversation with Mick Sterling

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Mick Sterling a Minnesota legend, talented artist and amazing philanthropist gave us a brief inside peek at his life as a creative entrepreneur.

How did your career in the arts begin?

I began singing when I was a small child.   It is something I always wanted to do.  My first professional job was in 1981 in a part time band.  From there, I have performed 35 years professionally as a singer-songwriter, band leader, philanthropist, event planner, film producer, columnist and author.

What has been the largest hurdle and or success you have experienced?

The largest hurdle is probably being considered as valid as an artist from out of town when you have such a presence in your home town.

How to you manage being an artist and a creative entrepreneur? 

I enjoy doing many things at once. It motivates me. I like to work with great people and I like to create events that bring people together through music and charity.   It motivates me to do both things.

You started the 30 Day Foundation –a very inspiring and amazing nonprofit – how did that evolve and how does that feed your artistic side?

The 30-Days Foundation evolved from friends and family members facing financial issues that were not in their control.   These issues were enough to seriously hamper their lives.  The situations happened within a two week period.  It gave me the inspiration to create The 30-Days Foundation for anybody in real-life financial crisis with one-time financial grant that is made payable ONLY to the service provider.  Since 2011, we have helped over 33,000 individuals and families in the state of Minnesota and hundreds more each week.    Anything creative, whether it’s planning or music is artistic for me. It drives me.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to do both.

What is Minnesota to you and how has it managed to keep you here?

It’s my home.  It is who I am and always will be.   I have been to other places in my life, but they hold no serious attention span in my head.   This is a lovely place to live. I have no plans to leave.  It is a fantastic music town and I have been blessed that people want to see me still sing after all of these years.

Join us for IT’S A WONDERFUL NIGHT with Super Bowl Champion and U of M Alum Ben Utecht and Mick Sterling, a joint event with the James J. Hill Center and The 30-Days Foundation.  Joined by a nineteen piece orchestra and guest vocalists  Cate Fierro, Mary Jane Alm, Aimee Lee, Shalo Lee and Lisi Wright as they perform a memorable night celebrating the classic Andy Williams and Bing Crosby Christmas Albums.

 REGISTER NOW

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The Creative Entrepreneur

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It has been said by some that artists are not business people.  That the very nature of being a trained artist assumes you are only fit for a specific artistic identity and do not someone how fit into the world of finance and capitalism or have a “real job”.  However, according to the Kaufman Foundation about 34% of US artists were self-employed in 2015 and as Forbes states “a burgeoning category of creative entrepreneurs are building wealth, creating jobs and becoming a major force in national and global economies.”

The Death of the Artist – and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur from The Atlantic states that artists are now being trained with the understanding they have to make AND sell a more versatile portfolio.  This is a complete rebirth of understanding for many artists and centers of training.

The evolution of entrepreneurialism has offered a path for these creative entities. It has opened the door to alternate routes to run a business.  As Artscape Launchpad states “Businesses –just like works of art –first start as in idea.” Artists are then often able to break the formality of business and strip down the barriers of conformity to find new and innovative ways to engage their audience and ultimately sell their products.

Minneapolis artist, Dessa Darling, is known for her indie hip hop music and is a perfect example of this burgeoning creative entrepreneur.  She is also the CEO of Minneapolis-based Doomtree Collective that is an LLC supporting 7 local artists from poets, to singers, to musicians.  A vast portfolio that delvers to its fan base.

In an interview with Minnesota Business she talks about her creative structure and that there is not a clear or distinct line between her work, purpose or social connections because they all three overlap.  She states that she can retain talent because business is second. “ Art is the objective, and we need the business to make and share the art.”

Mick Sterling, a Minneapolis icon known for his enormous talent and heart, is another great example of the variety of entrepreneurial dreams that artists can create. Not only is he a successful musician creating live events and recording, but his non-profit The 30-Day Foundation has assisted over 30,000 families with one-time financial grants.

Not all entrepreneurial endeavors need to make us millionaires. Some might actually make us better people.  Mick is a perfect example.  Giving back can often help you build.

We at the Hill believe in the spirit and transformation art can bring to a community.  We understand the value of creativity in our economy and support with free resources and research the tools artists need to ignite their dreams into action.

Join us at the Hill for Culture in the Columns as we celebrate the genius of the creative entrepreneur and build on history.

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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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