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Author Archive

Take Your Interview Prep to the Next Level

It’s finally happened! You’ve landed the big interview for your dream position. You’ve got the passion and drive to succeed once you’re hired, but how do you stand out from the crowd of other applicants? Supplement that charming smile with some hot facts to impress your interviewer by visiting the James J. Hill Center.

Start by checking out an industry profile using IBISworld. IBISworld reports include sections on supply chain, competitive landscape, and a five year forecast for revenue, growth, and trends at the national level. Link your position within the company to one or all of these topics and explain how you’re ready to be a solution to a company’s present and future challenges.

Once you’ve perfected the macro-level view, head to A-to-Z Databases to get a sense of the company’s competition. You can pull a list of companies within a specific industry at the state, metro, or even zip code level. This helps you generate questions for the company, namely how are they different from the rest of the field? A-to-Z Databases partners with Indeed.com so you can also scope out other job postings, just in case.

Finally, check through Business Source Premier from EBSCO for recent news stories on your company. Nothing says “I did my homework” than casually referencing an upcoming merger or saying congratulations for a recent award.

Keen to find out how these resources can take your interview to the next level? Visit jjhill.org to see our collection of databases and research guides to get started.

 


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

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America’s Seed Fund

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

From innovation, entrepreneurship and commercialization, America’s Seed Fund has helped startups and small businesses transform their ideas into marketable products and services. America’s Seed Fund focuses on high-risk, high-impact technologies — those that show promise but whose success hasn’t yet been validated — and each year, nearly $2.5 billion in non-dilutive funding are available from the congressionally mandated programs – Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR).  These programs support commercialization of technically risky ideas with research interests and budgets varying among the 11 federal participating agencies.

MN-SBIR, a program of the Minnesota High Tech Association, is the State’s focal point to assist seed, early stage, emerging and existing firms (1-500 employees) to successfully access funding through the SBIR/STTR programs. MN-SBIR’s goals are to foster innovation and help create businesses and jobs in Minnesota.  MN-SBIR assists companies with proprietary technology, which refers to technical innovations that are unique and legally owned or licensed by a business, including innovations that are patented, patent pending, a subject of trade secrets, or copyrighted across the spectrum of science, technology and engineering, and multiple industrial sectors.

MN-SBIR provides outreach, education and coaching to companies to research, develop and commercialize world class technologies for social and economic benefit.  MN-SBIR is funded in part through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, University of Minnesota, Office for Technology Commercialization and the Minnesota High Tech Association. To learn more click here: Minnesota High Tech Association.

Ms. Pat Dillon is the director of MN-SBIR. She is responsible for the strategic direction and leadership and its services to seed, startup and small businesses in Minnesota. Dillon has consulted with hundreds of businesses to support technology innovation and commercialization in science and technology sectors important to state and national economies.

For more information about MN-SBIR please visit the website or follow them on twitter @MHTA.

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It All Adds Up: Top Three Traits of a Coachable Mentee

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

As a social entrepreneur, I’ve reached a point on my business journey, where in addition to being profitable, my benchmarks for measuring meaningful success are based on leading with integrity, being kind and choosing to serve the community in which I live and work.

While there are countless workshops, seminars, training and networking opportunities designed to create a road map to reach and measure those benchmarks, one of the best resources for supporting my growth was seeking out and building a relationship with a business mentor.

Initially, when I began the process of seeking out a mentor, my concept of this unique relationship was based on childhood experiences. A mentor/mentee relationship was designed to celebrate, encourage and gently guide the mentee. After some initial research and several conversations, I discovered that most professional mentor/mentee relationships are less about offering support and encouragement and everything about honesty and tough love.

I’ve learned a lot and grown a lot from having a mentor and I would highly recommend it as a must-have relationship for every entrepreneur. As I think back to the early days of my relationship with my mentor, I’m sharing the top three traits that made me a coachable mentee.

1. Personal desire to learn and grow — Since I was a young girl, I’ve always been identified as or put into the role of a leader. While there were times when I felt the pressure to lead, I was also driven to continuously seek out opportunities for growth. Having a growth mindset and a willingness to learn communicated to my mentor that I valued their commitment to my professional development and allowed me the opportunity to maximize their time investment.

2. Willingness to receive feedback AND take action — While a mentor ultimately wants to see you succeed, a mentor’s primary role is not to be a cheerleader and supporter. The most valuable pieces of advice I received from my mentor were often the toughest lessons to hear. My mentor challenged me to do things differently and to be open to change. I consistently welcomed and accepted the advice and committed to take the appropriate action to achieve better results.

3. The ability to embrace failure as valuable learning opportunities — As I’ve mentioned before, failure is a part of the growth and success process. It comes with the territory. If I’m not failing at least occasionally, then I’m not growing and I’m not challenging myself. My mentor served as a resource as I learned to accept failure as much as I accepted the wins. Having a safe space to work through failure, ultimately led me to accept my failures as a prerequisite for strength building.

I would love to hear from you. Have you developed a successful mentor/mentee relationship? If so, which traits have made your relationship a success?


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

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Ballet + Boxing: How to Create (a) Movement

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

“I think it was really curiosity that brought us together,” says Zoé Emilie Henrot, the Artistic Director at St. Paul Ballet. The “us” she refers to is a partnership between her dance company and their next door neighbors: Element boxing gym. “We decided not to be cold neighbors, we decided to be in each other’s lives and that is what started it.”

In 2014, St. Paul Ballet needed room to grow and began leasing studio space from Element Boxing & Fitness. Since then the two organizations have been making waves through a dynamic collaboration which has included interdisciplinary training, co-performances, and a Knight Foundation award. “As we continue to progress, we want to become a symbol for unity,” says Dalton Outlaw, CEO and Founder of Element. “If we are all neighbors, if we all exist together, why can’t we work together?”

Both boxing and ballet enjoy rich traditions within the history of human movement. There have been other examples of cross-training between ballet dancers and boxers but the bond that St. Paul Ballet and Element share is something rare and wonderful. “If you are open to giving and receiving a lot can happen,” says Zoé. “In moving together, in figuring out how to be on stage, how to make it work, spending time together and getting to know each other – that’s created this whole community.”

The James J. Hill Center recently hosted a public screening of The Art of Boxing, the Sport of Ballet – a live experience co-directed by Zoé and Dalton. The performance allows audiences to contemplate both boxer-as-artist and dancer-as-athlete in a celebration of movement that is almost sacred in tone. “It’s not about being judged. It’s not about looking a certain way. In those moments when we are performing together it is about feeling,” says Dalton.

Next on the horizon for these two organizations is a ‘movement space’ for the people of Saint Paul. Zoé and Dalton share a vision for a place where anyone can come to experience not only the freedom to move but the freedom that comes from movement. This facility would house their studio and gym and be available for the community to gather. “We’ve talked a lot about windows, I think a lot of stereotypes come from not seeing other people or watching them move in space,” says Zoé.

What is it that has allowed such a unique partnership to develop here? What makes Zoé and Dalton ‘original thinkers’ is something very fundamental: human curiosity. Proximity only leads to partnership when we allow ourselves to be open to the other and to find value in what they bring to the table (or, in this case, the studio/gym). “It’s not just about sport or art,” says Dalton. “It’s about people.”

Catch another performance of The Art of Boxing – The Sport of Ballet at the Ordway on Sunday, April 15th. Tickets and more information available here


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

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An Online Plan to Modernize Age-Old Shipping Industry

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

According to the Inland Waterways section of the 2017 American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report, the waterway system supported “more than half a million jobs and delivers more than 600 million tons of cargo each year, about 14% of all domestic freight” and “between 2000 and 2014, the average delay per lockage nearly doubled from 64 minutes to 121 minutes.”

While delays are inevitable, freight shippers and receivers do have an opportunity to maximize their margins by making sure they limit (or eliminate) miles when a cargo container is empty. Enter Basin Commerce, offering technology to a business that currently relies heavily on low-tech solutions, to save time, money and headaches.

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

CEO/co-founder: Tom Venable
Age: 56
City you live in: Excelsior
City of birth: Peoria, Ill.
High school attended: Edina High School
College attended: University of Minnesota

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Basin Commerce
Website: www.basincommerce.com
Twitter: @basincommerce
Business start date: October 2016
Number of employees: 9
Number of customers: 15

Q&A

Q. What led you to this point?
A. I have over three decades of experience starting and managing software companies all over the country. Most notably in the Twin Cities, I was SVP of sales for Digital River for most of the ’00’s.

In 2016, I met one of my business partners who was a lifelong commodities trader. Scott Stefan explained to me the inefficiencies of the bulk freight market and I explained to him the efficiencies of ecommerce techniques. So we teamed up to create the first and only on-line marketplace for bulk freight transportation services.

It is the story of a commodity guy meets an ecommerce guy in a bar one night, and thus Basin Commerce was born.

Q. What is your business?
A. Based on the shores of Lake Minnetonka, Basin Commerce aims to increase the utilization of the U.S. Waterway System for the transport of bulk materials and other heavy loads that are typically moved via rail and trucks. We do this through an online service similar to Uber or Expedia. At ibookfreight.com a “shipper” can request pricing for moving large quantities of bulk commodities from a myriad of suppliers across the country using the Inland Waterways System.

Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?
A. My three co-founders and a network of trusted advisers I have built up over 30 years.

Q. What problems does your business solve?
A. The manual, cumbersome process of finding, buying and managing bulk freight services via barges and trucks.

Q. What big obstacle or hurdle did you have to overcome?
A. We have to overcome the hurdle of changing human behavior in an industry that has been around for over 100 years.

Q. What personal strengths or skill sets do you bring to the business?
A. Sales, leadership and the understanding of how to build a software company.

Q. What are you most proud of?
A. Besides my 33 year marriage and three adult children it would be the speed by which we were able to launch Basin Commerce and start generating revenue quickly….READ FULL ARTICLE

 

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

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Medical & Life Science Industry Research at the Hill

If you’re thinking of getting into the fast-growing industries of medicine or life science, trying to get verified information can be a real challenge. HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, protects your health information from being distributed, but can make getting demographic profiles for your business almost impossible. Thankfully, the James J Hill Center has specialized resources to aid your search!

Researching a particular medical procedure? Use the American Hospital Directory. Available here on-site at the Hill, this high-powered directory will not only let you pull up a list of hospitals and clinics by geography, specialty, and procedures provided, but will also let you investigate the finances of each organization listed. You can learn whether or not your future clinic can corner the market in your state on the latest, cutting edge medical offerings.

Keen to start a non-profit that supports biological conservation? Maybe you dream of leading a crew of volunteers to the next big ecological discovery. Use the Hill’s subscription to the Foundation Directory to find grants to fund your expedition. You can search both public and private grantmakers by topic. Did you know that there’s almost $11 billion dollars in grants available to support wildlife biodiversity work? Come in and check out with grant is right to fund your life’s work in the life sciences.

Interested in learning more about the resources at the Hill? Thrilled by the prospect of in-depth data analysis? Schedule a 20 minute appointment with our staff to learn about our database classes, memberships, and research support services.

 


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

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Delivery Services Could Pivot on His Invention

Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews 1 Million Cup presenters for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press.  Recently we connected with presenter Michael Lopez. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase on February 24, 2017.

According to Statista, as of 2015 there were 15,771 independent inventors — just in Minnesota. This community is comprised of industry pioneers and innovators conceiving everything from inventions and products, to new ways of impacting our ecosystem. No matter the stage these inventors and entrepreneurs are at, they all started with an idea.

As famous scientist Albert Einstein said, “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” Michael Lopez has taken his invention, Halo Ramp, through many iterations and has found success through hard work, creativity and a passion for re-imagining an industry.

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Michael Lopez
Age: 33
City you live in: North Minneapolis
City of birth: Chicago
High school attended: Osseo
College attended: Vincennes University, Indiana, and University of Hawaii

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Halo Ramp Co.
Website: haloramp.com / @haloramp
Business Start Date: June, 2015
Number of Employees: 4
Number of Customers: 8

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?
A. My path began by following my sincerest passion, entrepreneurialism. As far back as I can remember I have been surrounded and influenced by immigrant entrepreneurs. My mother’s first marriage was to a Zambian man who was very entrepreneurial. From him I learned to develop a relentless drive, how to focus and structure business.

I was very insightful and independent as a youth. After graduating from high school I started a security and marketing company. I would contract out for private events locally and nationally, I would also provide marketing for local charter high schools helping increase their attendance and decrease attrition. I took all of those experiences and successes and formed my own transportation company providing a niche service. Along the way I became an inventor, an author and a mentor. My business Halo Ramp benefits not only the company’s bottom line but the backs of those who put in the labor.

Q. What is your business?

A. Halo Ramp is the world’s most innovative transportation delivery ramp. It redefines delivery transportation and will forever change delivery logistical planning and coordination. It is a patented safety platform using universal technology that gives portable delivery ramps the ability to pivot left or right with a total range of 120 degrees accommodating an easier and more efficient, safe delivery.

The Halo Ramp allows a user to bypass curbs and stairs that are slippery, wet, frozen, or loose and unpaved surfaces or walkways. It increases product delivery volume, customer satisfaction, delivery times and decreases the amount of stress on the user’s body, enhancing overall employee safety.

Q. What is the origin of the business?

A. The idea for Halo Ramp was first thought of after working a job as a delivery person and slipping on the curb during a snow filled evening. Then a coworker slipped and fell, only he fell from a higher distance and hurt himself much worse than me. I thought it would be a positive challenge to take on the opportunity to help others get home safe from work with a lower risk to injury and incident. I was motivated by the impact it could make on good, working people.

Q. What problems does your business solve?

A. Halo Ramp solves a transportation company’s greatest strategy question, how do we become more efficient and how do we save money to make money? Halo Ramp takes away the time and risk associated with making a delivery and puts all of that back into the company’s pocket, while building employee morale and safety…READ FULL ARTICLE

 

 

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

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Angel Investing 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Further reading:

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

 

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

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Hill’s Library for the “Original Thinker”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Forget Balance! 3 Ways Leaders Can Navigate Imbalanced Lives

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

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

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

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

1. Stop and breathe.

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

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

2. Learn to say no.

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

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

3. Don’t be afraid to follow.

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

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

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

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

 

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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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