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Startup Showcase: Send best wishes while doing the dishes

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

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


Name of companies: Soak it Up; Clards

Websites: Clards.com & Soakitupcloths.com

Twitter: @soakitupcloths

Business Start Date: October 2017

Number of Employees: 1

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


Name: Carla Scholz

Age: 50ish

City you live in: St. Paul

High school attended: Sevastopol

College attended: University of Wisconsin – Stout


Q. What led to this point?

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

Q. What is your business?

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

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

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

Q. What is the origin of the business?

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

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

Q. What problems does your business solve?

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

Q. Where do you go when you need help?

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

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

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

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

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

Q. What are you most proud of?

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

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

A. Manufacturing details including product importing and assembly.

Q. How are you funding your business?

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Why do you do what you do?

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

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

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

You can hear from startups like this every other Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. Visit jjhill.org/calendar for scheduled dates.The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public
8 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.JJHill.org/1-million-cups

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

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

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

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


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


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

Q. What led to this point?

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

Q. What is your business?

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

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

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

Q. What is the origin of the business?

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

Q. What problems does your business solve?

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

Q. Where do you go when you need help?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. What are you most proud of?

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

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

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

Q. How are you funding your business?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It All Adds Up: Gratitude is Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Giving Back & Giving Thanks

November is a month of giving back and giving thanks. Here at the James J. Hill Center, we are thankful for our research services volunteers and interns who are invaluable to our mission of connecting entrepreneurs, business and community. Read on to learn more about our volunteer Sharon Lunak and intern Nick Riordan. 

Tell us a bit about yourself. 

Sharon: I was raised on a farm in Wisconsin and moved to St. Paul during high school. I worked for Remington Rand Univac and got married at twenty-one. My husband was a pastor in Wisconsin, and eventually we spent seventeen years in Japan as missionaries with our two children, coming back to the U.S. in 1987. My husband taught college students and I went to work at Jostens for the next twenty-five years.
Nick: I am a graduate student in Saint Catherine University’s Masters in Library and Information Science program. Prior to that, I studied Linguistics and Religious Studies at Macalester College.   

What do you do at the Hill Center? 

Sharon: I work as a volunteer receptionist two days a week or as needed during special occasions.
Nick: My work at James J. Hill Center varies by the day. Sometimes I work at the front desk greeting users and assisting them in operating our business resources, other times I am in the stacks reshelving or rearranging the books, and other times I am working down in the archives.   

What inspired you to volunteer/intern at the Hill? 

Sharon: I retired in 2016 and decided I couldn’t sit at home every day. Because my husband gave tours at the Hill House for eight years, it was a good transition for me to volunteer at the Hill Center. 

Nick: I began interning at the Hill in May 2017 to gain experience and exposure to working in a library and archival setting.  Although I was in the process of completing my first year as a library science student, I hadn’t ever worked in a library before. I wanted to see which elements of the profession I liked and which ones I didn’t so I could apply that to my career going forward, and this internship has helped greatly in that regard.   

What is your favorite part of being a Hill volunteer/intern? 

Sharon: It’s great working with the Hill Center staff, who are completely dedicated to making the Hill Center the best it can be. I also love the historical setting and enjoy meeting all the different people coming in to do research or visiting the almost-one-hundred-year-old building.
Nick: Being around all the old books and the overall stateliness of the library. Sometimes when you’re in the reading room, it’s tempting just to stop, look up, and be in awe! 

What is your favorite period in history? 

Sharon: I love learning about my great-grandparents coming to the U.S. from Europe (mid-1800s) and my grandparents learning to live in the U.S. (late 1800s), and, of course, making current family history with our five grandchildren. 

Who is your favorite “Original Thinker”? 

Nick: John Muir. In a time when nearly everyone in power was looking for ways to exploit America’s natural resources for profit, Muir focused on fighting to preserve them and was the impetus for the current system of state and national parks enjoyed by millions each year.   

What is your favorite James J. Hill fact? 

Nick: Hill would travel routes on horseback and determine whether they were suitable for his railroads.  It’s crazy to think how hands-on he was in all his business ventures.  
Sharon: Despite losing sight in one eye when he was young, James J. Hill became an entrepreneur, which led to him becoming a very successful businessman—and leaving the Hill Center as his legacy for all entrepreneurs.

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

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Non-Profit and Grant Research 

Finding funding for a for-profit business is difficult enough, but how do you go about researching funding for a non-profit? You’ll still have the same operating costs, personnel expenditures, and one-off expenses, but many traditional financing options aren’t good fits for your financial needs. If you’re stuck on how to get the funding you need to get your non-profit off the ground, the James J. Hill Center has two specialized resources that can help.  

The Hill’s GuideStar subscriptions let users research other non-profit and not-for-profit entities across the country. You can search by geography, size, and most importantly by cause type. This can be valuable if you’re trying to see how other non-profits organize themselves financially. GuideStar collects selected non-profits 990 tax forms, in which the organizations provide required financial breakdowns of their operating models. This can provide insight on how to financially set up your own non-profit.  

Beyond GuideStar, the Hill subscribes to Foundation Directory Online, a tool that indexes both 990 forms of non-profits, but also organizations that give grants, organizations that have received those grants, and short descriptions of the grants themselves. Naturally there aren’t filled-out grants to examine, as that is private information, but this tool allows those interested in exploring grants to make initial connections. Users can search for grants and grantmakers by topic, giving cause, grant type, and location of grantmakers and grant-recipients. This lets users explore the funding available to non-profits and additional contact information to explore the application process.  

Confused about where to start? Sign up for an introductory appointment at jjhill.org.

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 hillreferencelibrary@jjhill.org.

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A New Livestock for a New Minnesota

There is no handbook for cricket farming, Eric Palen will tell you. If you want to raise urban chickens there is a way to do that. If you want to start a cattle ranch there are others who have gone before. But when you have founded Minnesota’s first edible insect farm you have to do things the old fashioned way—you have to figure it out yourself.

“[North Star Crickets is] continuing in Minnesota’s agricultural tradition but looking to the future at how food production needs to change to accommodate a growing population, food security, [and] climate change,” says Eric.

The idea for North Star Crickets began percolating in Eric’s mind sometime after 2013 when the United Nations released a report advocating for edible insects as a key component in the future of sustainable food production. As countries become more affluent their demand for protein grows. At the same time, a growing global population means less land to utilize for food production.

We know first hand in a place like Minnesota that raising a protein source like beef cattle requires a lot of land space, feed, and water. What if there was a way to produce protein more efficiently with less space and fewer resources?

Enter the cricket.

Eric has done his research and has a plethora of reasons to support the viability and benefit of farming crickets as a new protein-rich livestock. Not only are crickets superior to cattle in resource usage, they also produce far fewer greenhouse gasses and they are more simple to process—100% of a cricket is edible food as compared to 40% of a cow.

In addition to being a protein source, crickets are also very nutrient dense boasting an impressive combination of iron, calcium, and vitamin B12 among other health benefits.

What do they taste like?

“That is like asking what do vegetables taste like,” says Eric. “There is a whole range of tastes and flavors and applications.”

After harvesting his crickets (which can be done year-round by the way), Eric either roasts a batch in the oven and flavors them for snacking or grinds them into a powder that can be added to or substituted for flour in baked goods.

Since its launch in the past year, North Star Crickets has formed some unique local business partnerships. Eric has teamed up with T-Rex Cookie on a limited run of chocolate “chirp” cookies and Lake Monster Brewing to upcycle their spent brewing grain as cricket feed.

North Star Crickets is the first business of its kind in Minnesota and one of only a handful of other edible insect companies in the nation. That said, Eric’s primary contribution to the edible insect market—his “original thinker” edge—is still emerging. The demand is greater than what he is able to supply. Right now he is looking for an investor and business partner to expand his operation.

In the meantime, Eric is perfecting his process and writing the proverbial handbook for cricket farmers to come.

To learn more about North Star Crickets follow them on social @northstarcrickets.

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

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Startup Showcase: A hip alternative to avoid backpacking back pain

Two of the most common activities that cause back muscle strains and sprains are summer fitness and long trips. According to an Outdoor Industry Association report almost half of the U.S. population participated in an outdoor activity at least once in 2017. That is a lot of potential sore backs.

HipStar is out to change that with a new, “hip” invention that allows people to travel hands-free over any type of terrain with little effort, literally doing the heavy lifting for you — back pain free.


Name of company: HipStar LLC
Website: www.hipstar.net
Business Start Date: 2014
Number of Employees: 3
Number of Customers: 1500 potential customers, as we are at pre-sale phase


Name: Igor Koshutin
City you live in: Rochester
Country of Birth: Russia
Colleges Attended: Undergraduate work in Electrical Engineering, Moscow Engineering Physics Institute; Russian State Professional Pedagogical University; Russian Foreign Trade Academy


Q. What led to this point?

A.  I am the founder of HipStar and have been on the cutting edge of smart solutions for over two decades. My motto has always been to find easy solutions to difficult problems. I spend time carefully studying the market to find opportunities and then work to develop something that will create wide appeal.

Q. What is your business?

A. I developed HipStar, a new type of travel gear: a collapsible hands-free cart for all terrains. It also can be used as a backpack or bike trailer. HipStar will redefine the way people carry on the go. It will change the way hikers, campers, backpackers and other travelers move by literally taking the weight off their shoulders. It is designed to handle tough terrain and reduce carrying weight by over 90 percent.

Designed with an active lifestyle in mind, the HipStar allows users to travel for longer periods of time without having to sacrifice any important gear. It will help people achieve full mobility with only the power of two legs and accomplish physical feats they never thought possible, no matter if they’re young or old.

Q. What is the origin of the business?

A. The idea for HipStar came in 2014 as I was traveling across Europe on business and later with my family. Between the three of us, we had one backpack to carry everything. There was so much to see, but after half a day’s worth of walking around, all I could think about was how the straps of my heavy bag were digging into my shoulders. No matter where and how you travel, even a light backpack begins to weigh as much as a few bricks. You get tired. You get impatient. That’s when the idea for the HipStar was born.

Q. What problems does your business solve?

A. The struggle between packing all the essentials while minimizing total weight has always been a challenge; a challenge that has too often meant having to sacrifice important gear to cut down on weight. Even the best prepared travelers discover that a few hours of carrying a light pack begins to sap their strength, often forcing them to cut excursions and sightseeing trips short.

Heavy backpacks create a forward trunk lean (rounding of upper back), which causes a forward head posture with extended neck, creating a neck and shoulder pain and make it difficult for muscles and ligaments to hold the body up. After a long day on the trail, even 11 pounds will feel heavy no matter what you are carrying it in.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. Our potential customers are excited about our product. Our passionate supporter, John Pernu from Australia, wrote: “The most versatile and effective hiking trailer! Everything seems to have been included in the design — multiple adjustments, shock absorbing, running, walking or resting flexibility — really impressive!”

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

A. To date we spent near $100,000 and we are currently finalizing the product development stage to take the product design even further and seeking for seed capital. Although, we are seeking $1.5 million for the whole project, our immediate needs are to cover and start a product development stage of the HipStar heavy-duty version that would be around $100,000.

Q. How are you funding your business — organically, angel or VC investments?

A. Family and pre-orders.

Q. What is your business model?

A. Collecting sales revenue directly from customers and distributors in exchange for the product. Both Direct and Indirect Sales (tier-1, tier-2) depending on the region/market.

The units will be manufactured after the final CAD Build design is completed. Once the manufacturer has been identified, the company will focus on the fulfillment end of the operation. The intent is to secure a firm that can handle both individual unit sales as well as larger orders for major clients. The users will also be able to order directly from the site and have the unit shipped globally. Outside sales will be handled by commissioned sales personnel who will sell to both individual and regional retail operations.  All national sales will be handled by one of the management team members. We also have been contacted by potential distributors from France, Germany, Australia, U.S., U.K., etc.

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

A. The potential users of HipStar find the HipStar’s unique design a convenient addition to their activities and the market for HipStar units is diverse, including outdoor recreation equipment, in-town use and specialty equipment.

Q. How did 1 Million Cups St. Paul help you? Did you get valuable feedback? Did you get connected to resources? Did you pivot because of the experience?

A. We needed help finding financing, marketing and introductions to angel investors, so it was a great opportunity to have exposure to those possible audience members.

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

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It All Adds Up: Entrepreneurship 101: You’re Always Learning

October is a month of reflection and new beginnings. It’s a month that is nestled between the leisurely days of summer and the busyness of the winter holiday season. Filled with the beautiful backdrop of nature on full colorful display, October presents a natural opportunity to simply pause.

As I pause and reflect upon what has been a successful year both personally and professionally, there are a few key lessons I’ve learned along the way.

  1. Celebrate the wins – Over the years, I’ve spent more time minimizing rather than celebrating any measure of success that I had accomplished. I viewed success as a measuring stick for what’s next rather than an assessment of progress made. That mindset was the perfect breeding ground for burnout and self sabotage. I’ve since learned that celebrating the wins is just as important as setting business targets and goals. Celebrating the wins opens the door for innovation and growth.
  2. Embrace change – Growth is great, but change has the power to maximize results. Growth has been both exciting and scary. Growth carries excitement because it is a direct reflection of a return on my investment of hard work and sacrifice. Growth can also seem scary because it naturally introduces the need for change. I’ve learned the importance of tapping into training, mentorship and other development resources to facilitate the change process. Asking for help or guidance reduces the uncertainty of change and makes the growth/change cycle manageable.
  3. Have fun – In all of the hustle and hype of entrepreneurship, somewhere along the way I forgot how to have fun. I blurred the lines of when work time ended and family time began. Because I loved entrepreneurship, I carried the work into my down time as if it were also a creative outlet or hobby. Work infiltrated every area of my life. While we know in theory that this practice is a recipe for disaster, this was still hard for me to change. This year I gave myself permission to just have fun. I created time just for play and laughter. Making time just to have fun took away some of the pressure and the stress to produce. Making time simply to have fun reminded me of why I began this journey.
  4. Rest is required – While taking time to rest may seem obvious, it is often overlooked because it is the easiest activity to push aside. Taking the time to rest can seem unproductive or insignificant, but it is quite the opposite. Resting and recharging is just as important as planning and execution. I’m learning to be intentional by scheduling time just for rest. Rest is a key ingredient which positively impacts my energy level and effectiveness as an entrepreneur and a leader.

Entrepreneurship is a journey filled with many lessons and life applications. Here’s to a journey of celebration, change, a little bit of fun and plenty of rest.

I’d love to hear from you.  Send your comments to me by clicking here.

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


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A Haunted Hill?

St. Paul is known for its historic buildings, such as the James J. Hill Center. From the houses on Summit Avenue to the Landmark Center, there’s a lot of history here. With such abundant history, comes stories… specifically, ghost stories.  

One of the best-known St. Paul hauntings is at the historic Forepaugh’s restaurant. Originally built in the 1870s as a house for Joseph Forepaugh, this fine dining establishment is supposedly home to a ghost named Molly, a maid who hanged herself after an affair she was having with Mr. Forepaugh was discovered. 

Our employees who grew up in the neighborhood recall hearing stories about the Chauncey Griggs Mansion on Summit Avenue. Built for Chauncey Griggs in the 1880s, the mansion has been both a private residence—at one point owned by Carl Weschcke, who was a publisher of paranormal books and apparently had an interest in the occult—and an art school. One of historic house’s ghost stories is of a maid who hanged herself in an upstairs art studio. (Wait a second, there seems to be a trend here…) 

In 1985, our downtown neighbor, the Fitzgerald Theater, was doing renovations and discovered a balcony no one had previously known was there—and with it, a note written to a stagehand named Ben. Shortly after, tools began moving around on their own, staff began encountering mysterious cold spots, and some could even swear they saw a shadowy figure walking the aisles. 

Of course, you can’t talk about haunted St. Paul without mentioning the Wabasha Street Caves, just across the river from the Hill. These caves were a Prohibition-era speakeasy and hangout for 1920s gangsters, and supposedly, some of these mobsters still hang out in the caves today. 

The Hill Center has had a few eerie occurrences of its own. One staff person swears they’ve seen the chandelier in the Reading Room—the big one by the front windows—swinging on its own at the end of the night. Considering its weight, a chandelier like that is too heavy to sway in a breeze—if there even was a breeze, which is itself unlikely. Another previous employee would always get vertigo in the exact same spot on a catwalk, but never anywhere else. 

More disturbing, a current employee swears they once saw a ghostly apparition! One day after we were closed, our staffperson was standing on the first floor when movement on the second floor caught her eye. It was a woman in a long, black dress. As the employee turned to watch—immediately thinking, “Oh no, a visitor is still in the building!”—the mysterious person disappeared behind a column, never to reappear. While we’re not sure who such a woman would be, you can bet we’re all a little extra leery when it comes time for lights out. 

Are these stories true or just fictions inspired by historic and atmospheric spaces?


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

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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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