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Author Archive

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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Taking on Childhood Diabetes

St. Thomas Freshman takes it on!

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Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews Entrepreneur and 1 Million Cup presenter, Meghan Sharkus with ExpressionMed.  As seen in the Pioneer Press, October 8, 2016

EXPRESSIONMED

  • Website: www.expression-med.com
  • Business Start Date: June 26, 2016
  • Number of Employees: 1
  • Number of Customers: We are in the beta testing stage, on the verge of a 90-day trial

MEGHAN SHARKUS

  • Age: 18
  • City you live in: St. Paul
  • City of birth: Fort Atkinson, Wis.
  • High school attended: Oregon High School, Oregon, Wis.
  • College attended: University of St. Thomas

Having a chronic illness like diabetes is frightening and overwhelming for children, and wearing an insulin pump can make them feel self-conscious. In response to this, Meghan Sharkus created ExpressionMed, a company whose adhesive product makes insulin pumps easier to use and comes in fun patterns and designs, so kids will feel more confident wearing them.

Q. What led to this point?

I am a creative, driven college freshman looking to make a difference. When I was younger, I went to Camp Invention, and it made me realize how much I enjoyed making things. Throughout high school, I explored my creativity through art and choreography, and eventually business. I served for one year as Wisconsin DECA  previously known as Delta Epsilon Chi and Distributive Education Clubs of America) vice president of community service and placed nationally for both my business plan and my advocacy campaign for the epileptic cause. Towards the end of high school, I really found out what I wanted to do 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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The Power of Diversity in Economy

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In 2012 Bruce P. Corrie, PhD and Samuel Myers, J. PhD worked together to survey various organizations across our state to uncover preliminary data and analysis on Minority owned businesses in Minnesota.

The data had very positive discoveries for many of the surveyed minority organization, showing significant growth and economic stability from 2007 to 2012. You would think that these discoveries would have been used as positive reinforcement for the continued growth and empowerment of minorities and their contributions to our communities in Minnesota.  However, over the past four years the challenges have continued to be an uphill battle and the positive growth has barely escalated.

In a recent article in MINNPOST it stated that the number of minority entrepreneurs in Minnesota are significantly below average. Minorities currently represent 22% of the metro population and look to increase another 20% by 2020, but currently only represent 7% of all employer firms. This is significantly lower than other cities with similar populations.  What is standing in our way and why are we unable to leverage the amazing diverse talents that surround us?

“We are our own greatest agents of change. We must remove barriers and create visibility and continuously shine a spotlight on the economic value, job creation, and importance of minority owned business in Minnesota,” said Pamela Standing, Executive Director, Minnesota Indian Business Alliance.

Diversification, inclusion and the breaking down of preexisting barriers are the pillars of a thriving and empowered economy that we need to support our communities of color in Minnesota. This transparency of thought and openness will make our community grow, prosper and become a powerful arena of economic empowerment.  We can no longer stand behind or fear what we do not know.  Building together and supporting one another is the only way for prosperity and growth.

With organizations like MEDA, Kaufman Foundation, SCORE, Pollen and other initiatives led by individuals and our local Government like DEED and CERT we hope that more significant changes of support and reinforcement can happen. It takes one relationship at a time to build a business – it takes a community to build an inclusive and prosperous economy.  We need to start now to make ours stronger.

Join us at the James J. Hill Center on October 27th at 8AM as we continue the conversation on Minority Business Enterprise Inclusion: Empowering Minnesota’s Economy. Guest panelists will include Dr. Bruce Corrie, Gary Cunningham and Karen Francois.

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The Hill Reference Round-Up

Blue Prints to Business Plans…
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September at the Hill was buzzing with visitors from students to entrepreneurs researching blue prints to business plans.  It is a prefect example of the vast amount of resources our Reference Specialists have at their fingertips.

Here are some examples of who, what and why people visited us! 

  • Over 110 researchers welcomed in September.
  • Most researchers were from Minnesota, and a few traveled from Wisconsin.
  • Several researchers this month came to use our resources to help them develop their business plans.
  • The majority of our visitors in September self-identify as entrepreneurs.
  • A student from the U of M studying architecture viewed historic building blueprints for a course project.
  • One researcher explored sales data and patent information related to exercise equipment.
  • We often welcome job seekers, but had one unique researcher this month, who works to support individuals with severe mental illness and conducted job searches on behalf of those individuals to locate potential workplaces near their homes to accommodate transportation limitations.

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

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The Hill Entrepreneurial Profile

Blaine business matches college students’ skills, business’ project needs

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Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews Entrepreneur and 1 Million Cup presenter, Amanda Carlson on her Company Rookiework.

As seen in the Pioneer Press, September 25, 2016
Small businesses by definition have very few employees, sometimes not enough to perform all the tasks that need performing. These businesses also can lack the funds to hire consultants to perform these tasks.
College students, on the other hand, have valuable skills but not enough experience on their résumés to be hired for jobs that use those skills. Amanda Carlson and Thomas Storfjord created Rookiework to solve both problems, connecting the talented (and inexpensive) students seeking experience with the small businesses in need of help.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Rookiework
Location: Blaine
Website: www.rookiework.com
Business Start Date: February 2016
Number of Employees: Two partners, Amanda Carlson and Thomas Storfjord
Number of Customers: Approximately 75

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Amanda Carlson
Age: 27
City you live in: Blaine
City of birth: Rochester
High school attended: Eveleth-Gilbert High School in Eveleth, Minn.
College attended: Hibbing Community College in Hibbing, Minn.

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?

A. I am originally a small town girl from the Iron Range in northern Minnesota. I have always enjoyed helping others and that passion flourished within the business world. I learned that I could help others while working at our two family businesses up north. After several career changes and moving to the Twin Cities with my husband, I became the business developer for Rookiework. READ MORE

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The Great Northern

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Last Friday we wrapped up Twin Cities Start Up Week in Minnesota.  It was truly inspirational to see all the interest and support for the empowerment of our economic ecosystem.  We decided it was important to give a nod to our entrepreneurial legacy, James J. Hill.

Entrepreneurs have been around since the start of time.  Think about it, at some point someone got sick of eating raw meat and thought, “I wonder what would happen if I rubbed two sticks together,” and poof – there was fire.  It probably wasn’t as simple as that but it is important to realize that these visionaries change our culture and economy.  People who have a dream, a passion and the motivation to stick it out can change history.  That is exactly what Mr. Hill did in the 19th century with his realization of the Great Northern Railway.

This railway was the only privately funded and successfully constructed transcontinental railroad in the history of the United States. Running from Saint Paul, Minnesota to Seattle, Washington it was the dream and passion of James J. Hill that made it happen.  His savvy business sense, smart partnerships, and innovative ways of engaging the public gave him the title of Empire Builder.  He used one of the first public relation campaigns to create interest and support in the railroad. Using contests to incentives he engaged the public on how the future of the railroad would not only shape their economic prosperity but changed the method of how people traveled. His vision put St. Paul, Minnesota on the map.

The Great Northern Railway is only one of the many amazing contributions that Mr. Hill gave to his community and our country. The James J. Hill Center is another perfect example of his forward thinking ability. His idea to build a location that was a meeting place of resource and learning is still celebrated today.

On November 11, 2016 we will once again be tipping our hats and toasting our legacy at our annual Great Northern Evening.  Join us to celebrate the legacy of Mr. James J. Hill and to support the economic empowerment of our local entrepreneurs.  Be a part of the Legacy and JOIN US on November 11th from 7pm to 10pm!

A Great Northern Evening – Tickets on Sale Now

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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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