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In The Spirit of Women’s History Month

Since 1987, March has been designated as Women’s History Month, a time to recognize and celebrate the contributions of women throughout the United States.

Earlier this month and on the eve of International Women’s Day, I attended WomenVenture’s emPOWER Social Hour. WomenVenture, a Minnesota-based nonprofit organization, dedicated to helping women achieve economic success through entrepreneurship, hosted the emPOWER Social Hour as a networking and story-sharing event. This event highlighted local women entrepreneurs and the greater financial impact on families and communities when women thrive and are supported as entrepreneurs.

I’ve found so much value, support and friendship by connecting with organizations and networking groups specifically dedicated to elevating and strengthening the platform for women to excel personally and financially. In spite of the thriving community of support, entrepreneurship can be a lonely and isolating experience, often resulting in many women abandoning their dreams of business ownership. I want to change that.

In the spirit of Women’s History Month, here is my open letter of encouragement to the woman who is afraid to follow her dream of entrepreneurship:

Dear sister,

I see you. Yes, I am writing directly to you. I honor you and I want to encourage you to believe that now is the time for you to soar. You have dreams that you are afraid to embrace, so they exist only as wishes. You have aspirations to achieve something greater, but you have stopped short of your goal and embraced real fears. Your gut, that internal GPS, is nudging you to take a chance and share the greatness that lives inside of you, only to be blocked by the brain chatter of playing safe and staying within your comfort zone. Let me reassure you that the deferred dreams, fears and brain chatter are normal stumbling blocks on the journey and when you take action, those things will strengthen your resolve. Go ahead and take one step. Don’t remain stuck. Those mistakes you’ve made…don’t discard them. Those wins you’ve experienced…don’t minimize them. Those doubt you’ve had…don’t deny them. All of it is required. All of it is important. Today is the perfect day and right now is your moment to simply trust the process, believe in the possibilities and take a chance on your dreams. You have an army of supporters standing by and cheering you on!

 Junita Flowers

I’d love to hear from you. What action can you take today to get one step closer to launching your dream of entrepreneurship?  You can share the details with me by clicking here.  If you’d like to keep in touch and follow along on my journey of entrepreneurship, please like or follow Junita’s Jar on Facebook and Instagram or subscribe to e-news and updates on junitasjar.com.

Happy Women’s History Month!



Junita L. Flowers,
 Founder/Owner
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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Startup Showcase: Offering support for couples facing infertility

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 March 10, 2019.

According to the CDC about 10 percent of women (6.1 million) in the United States have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant. An article last year in Fast Company reports that the emotional ordeal of infertility takes a toll on life, work and family.

Entrepreneur Elyse Ash understands all too well the isolation and frustration of infertility. That is the very reason she and her husband started Fruitful, a mentoring and matchmaking platform for those experiencing infertility, connecting them with others who understand, and creating fruitful relationships that will last a lifetime.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of Company: Fruitful Fertility
Website: www.fruitfulfertility.org
Twitter: @FruitfulFert
Business Start Date: Began working on it in the fall of 2016 but launched the website in April 2017
Number of Employees: 2
Number of Customers: More than 3,000

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Elyse Ash
City of Birth: Minneapolis (moved away to Virginia when young, but returned as an adult)
Age: 35
City you live in: Minneapolis
High school attended: South Lakes High School, Reston, Va.
College attended: University of Miami, Coral Gables, Fla.

Q&A

Q. What is your history:

A. I began my career over 10 years ago making creative advertising campaigns for some of the country’s biggest brands. I’m currently the founder and CEO of Fruitful Fertility, an organization that makes infertility suck less. I also currently work part-time as a creative lead and senior copywriter at GoKart Labs where I help enterprise companies and startups grow and transform their companies.

Today, I spend most of my time growing Fruitful, which has seen incredible traction since its launch in 2017. Fruitful was recently accepted into the second cohort of the accelerator Lunar Startups, named a 2018 semifinalist for the Minnesota Cup and has been receiving great press from The Star Tribune, MPR, WCCO, Inc. and Business Insider.

I’m also a founding board member of MPR’s project Generation Listen, a Moth storytelling award winner, a 2019 “40 Under 40” honoree by the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal and a mom.

Q. What is your business?

A. Fruitful is a mentorship matching service for the 1 in 8 couples who experience infertility. Fruitful connects those feeling isolated at the beginning of their fertility journey with individuals who have been through it firsthand and are now “on the other side.” Like an online dating services, mentors and mentees are matched based on shared diagnoses, histories, interests and values.

Our matching algorithm suggests the best possible mentor/mentee relationships based on geography, diagnosis, age, religion etc. We then finalize each match by hand, which while time-consuming, allows us to create meaningful relationships between mentors and mentees. Once matched, the mentor and mentee connect in their own time, and in their own way.

We also offer our members additional free resources including a private forum, a blog and a monthly newsletter called The Fruit Basket.

Q. What is the origin of the business?

A. My husband and I battled infertility for three years and they were the toughest years of our lives. We were not emotionally prepared for the anger, grief, anxiety, heartbreak and financial stress it would put us under. Yet despite all the bills and injections and medical tests, the toughest thing was feeling isolated from our friends who didn’t understand what we were going through and would make unhelpful comments like “Just relax!” Or “Want kids? You can have mine!” I quickly realized that the only people who could truly support us were those who had been through infertility themselves. That was when I had the idea for Fruitful.

Q. What problems does your business solve?

A. Despite the prevalence of infertility, it’s still a lonely, traumatic experience. Part of what makes infertility the fourth most traumatic life event a woman can experience is that it affects nearly every aspect of her life: her body, finances, friendships, relationship and mental health. The stress and isolation are compounded since 61 percent of women struggling with infertility don’t tell their friends or family what they’re going through.

Q. What big hurdle did you have to overcome?

A. While we haven’t “pivoted,” we have been working to implement a revenue strategy now that we’ve really proven the need for the product. At first, we didn’t worry about revenue; just building something that solved the problem and that our users would LOVE. With 3,000+ members we now feel confident that this model is valuable. The struggle is finding a revenue strategy that will work while still maintaining the integrity of platform and working to truly help our mentees going through infertility first.

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

A. As a professional copywriter and digital strategist, I have over 10 years of creative advertising and marketing experience and have created everything from huge multi-channel ad campaigns to social media content. I’ve also helped create and brand many startups while working at GoKart Labs, whom I still do some work for. My husband Brad Ash is my co-founder and serves as CTO. He’s a software developer with a background in design and digital marketing. Over the last 18 years he’s worked in financial and small-business newsletter publishing, building editorial content management, order processing, reporting and fulfillment systems.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. Simply launching Fruitful. When I had the idea, I was very convinced it would work but wasn’t sure if I wanted to be the one to do it. I was nervous about being open about our story (especially since IVF hadn’t worked for us yet and we still didn’t know if we’d ever become parents). Vulnerability is hard. It’s hard enough to launch a new company but doubly hard when it’s also something very personal to you.

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

A. Internally, the self-doubt, impostor syndrome, and fear of failure. Logistically things got a little tougher when I gave birth to our baby, Abigail, in March 2018 — she was the product of our second round of IVF. But now that she’s almost a year old (and I’m weaning her off breastfeeding) life feels a lot more balanced and manageable.

Q. How are you funding your business?

A. Fruitful is currently 100 percent bootstrapped by myself and my husband, Brad. With very minimal financial expenses needed to run the company, we haven’t needed external funding or investment dollars yet.

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

A. Really penetrating the infertility marketplace. We want to be a household name, especially for people who have gone through infertility.

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

A. I think it’s a combination of optimism, humility, focus, curiosity and grit all coupled with a great idea and the support from other people.

Q.  Why do you do what you do?

A. This sounds corny but it’s all about helping other people when they are at their lowest.

Q. How did 1 Million Cups Saint Paul help you with your business?

A. I loved getting the opportunity to present Fruitful at One Million Cups St. Paul at the James J. Hill Center. It was a great opportunity to share and practice telling the story while fielding questions from some of the city’s smartest, savviest business-minded folks.

Interview by Lily Shaw, Director of External Relations at the James J. Hill Center.  Have an idea of a startup organization to feature in this series? Send your recommendations to lsbaw@jjhill.org.

 The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit business center 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. You can hear from startups like the ones featured in Startup Showcase every other Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. 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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A “Twiggy Fresh” Smile

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’ve always wanted to do something that gives people a bright smile and at the same time helps the environment,” says Umar Ahmed, CEO and Co-Founder of Twiggy Fresh.

For Umar, a business analyst and social entrepreneur, the natural product poised at the intersection of “smile” and “environment” is a toothbrush.

In the United States alone, we throw away an estimated 800 million to 1 billion toothbrushes each year. Plastic toothbrushes are part of a much larger problem as they often cannot be recycled and do not decompose. They live on long after us in landfills and oceans.

Enter Twiggy Fresh, a Minnesota-based company dedicated to reducing our plastic footprint through natural oral care alternatives that are good for the consumer and for the environment.

“I had in my mind this product that I’ve been using every single day and I wanted to share it with the world,” says Umar. “I believe we have a responsibility to keep our planet clean for the next generation.”

As a kid in Somalia, Umar grew up using a miswak. A miswak is a fibrous chewing stick—a twig from the Salvadora persica tree—commonly used around the world for dental care. It is natural, does not require toothpaste, and comes from a long tradition as one of the earliest recorded forms of oral hygiene care.

Even after moving to the U.S. and using other kinds of toothbrushes, Umar still uses a miswak daily and introduces it as an eco-friendly option to friends and colleagues.

After considering the idea for many years, Umar and his wife decided to make Twiggy Fresh a reality and launched this past year with two products. Alongside the miswak, Twiggy Fresh offers a premium bamboo toothbrush that is BPA free and completely biodegradable (even the packaging).

“We are unique in that way because you don’t find similar companies who have two different kinds of oral care products,” says Umar.

There are other companies selling biodegradable and recycled toothbrushes and still others bringing the miswak to market. However, Twiggy Fresh is one of the first companies—if not the only one—to offer both a modern bamboo brush and a traditional chewing stick side-by-side.

Umar believes that our plastic-dependant habits can be broken and new ones formed if eco-friendly products like his become convenient for consumers. That is why he hopes that not only Twiggy Fresh but also their competition in the eco-toothbrush space do well in the coming years.

For Umar, it comes down to this: “How can we change our mindset in terms of small items that we use every single day.” At the end of the day, a toothbrush alone can’t solve our plastic crisis but small choices along the way can help us shift our perspective.

“Here in Minnesota, we take pride in our lakes and the natural beauty of our state,” says Umar. “We are proud to say that since last year we [have] sold hundreds of eco-friendly toothbrushes that didn’t pollute our lakes.”

To learn more about Twiggy Fresh or shop their eco-friendly products visit twiggyfresh.com.


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: Mindfulness as the fourth dimension of fitness

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 February 10, 2019.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: 4D Fit
Website: www.4dfit.net
Twitter: @4D_Fit
Business Start Date: Sept. 26, 2018
Number of Employees: 1
Number of Customers: 4

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Scott Mikesh
Age: 43
City of Birth: Fargo, ND
City you live in: St. Paul, MN
High school attended: Fargo South High School
College attended: University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

 

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?

A. I was born and raised in Fargo and moved to the Twin Cities in 1997 to attend the University of Minnesota. I studied mass media, design, and social psychology, that not only inspired my career path, but also helped me accept myself as a gay man.

Coming out made me aware of the power of perception. I later realized that much of my anxiety and fear stemmed from my own self-perception, the perception of others, and from what I had been taught and told.

Today, my focus on mental fitness has helped me manage my anxiety. Like any other fitness goal, creating a new habit, pattern, or routine takes time, commitment, and social support.

Q. What is your business?

A. 4D Fit is mental fitness. The concept of fitness is often limited to physical — the things we can see, touch, and measure — focusing on three common dimensions: biometrics, movement, and nutrition.

4D Fit focuses on the fundamental fourth dimension of fitness — mental fitness — and the interconnectedness of mind and body. As anyone with a physical impairment will tell you, thriving in life is not about physical ability; it’s about believing in yourself, focusing on what you can do, and making the most of the life you have.

4D Fit provides group workshops, talks, and training sessions for small to medium-size businesses and community groups. The sessions are based on the 4D Fit Mental Fitness Model that provides a framework focused on progressive levels of fitness, including balance and flexibility, rest and recovery, and strength and endurance. Sessions are conducted in-person to provide social connection and emotional support, that are an important part of mental fitness.

Q. What is the origin of the business?

A. Since college, I’ve developed communications and brand strategies for several health and education organizations, led employee wellness and inclusion initiatives, and led an incredible youth art mentor program called Art Buddies.

It was my cumulative experience and passion for empowering people to thrive and realize their full potential that inspired the creation of 4D Fit and the 4D denoting mental fitness.

Q. What problems does your business solve?

A. As a society, we are struggling to thrive. It’s not that we don’t know what we should do to live healthier lives. We have more information at our fingertips than ever before, and we are spending more each year on fitness programs than college tuition, yet we are still struggling to make healthy choices.

To truly thrive, and combat the stigma of mental health, we must broaden our definition and approach to fitness beyond the body, to include the mind.

Whether your goals are to improve physical health, improve relationships, promote equity, foster inclusion, manage conflict, or optimize performance, it all starts in the mind, that can be supported by focusing on mental fitness. Which exactly what 4D Fit focuses on.

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

A. My primary goal has been to provide on-site services for business clients, to reach people where they’re at — at their workplace. Though I’ve received a tremendous amount of interest from the business community, a large hurdle that has delayed execution has been the bureaucracy and approval(s) required by the right decision-makers to bring a program like 4D Fit into large businesses.

Therefore, I switched gears this year to offer community-based workshops at local establishments — including coffee shops, art spaces, and fitness centers — where individuals can enroll themselves to focus on mental fitness in a group setting. From there, attendees may recommend 4D Fit for their workplace, where mindset and emotional processing play such a vital role.

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

A. I believe my personal strengths are the values of honesty, integrity, and compassion that I strive to practice every day. I consider myself a well-rounded person, with experience in many areas that influence our community and culture, including the arts, education, media, mentoring, fitness, finance, business, policy, and community service.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. I am proudest of the leaps of faith I have taken to face my fears, challenge my perceptions, believe in myself, embrace others, and develop a healthier mindset to achieve my goals.

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

A. My biggest goal for 2019 is to establish a stable revenue stream that can sustain the continued growth and development of 4D Fit, to achieve its full potential.

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

A. I hope in the next 2 to 3 years 4D Fit will be providing workshops and talks in the Twin Cities and beyond by developing a team of licensed instructors who can coordinate and facilitate 4D Fit workshops regionally and nationally.

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

A. To be a little cheeky with a phrase stolen from RuPaul’s Drag Race, being an entrepreneur really takes charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent. Entrepreneurs must be able to engage people, and have something unique to share, with enough nerve to put it out there, and enough talent to make it happen.

Q. How did the James J. Hill Center and 1 Million Cups Saint Paul help you with your business?

A. Not only did the 1 Million Cups St. Paul opportunity at the James J. Hill Center provide this unique media opportunity, but really helped me focus and refine my business pitch, to articulate my mission and services, and reach a broader audience. The community of people involved have provided valuable feedback, resources and support for me as an entrepreneur, and for the success of 4D Fit.

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: Feeding social connections through sharing meals

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 January 27, 2019.

Young entrepreneur Hojung Kim wants to create something that has a positive impact on people’s lives. He has been travelling around the country pitching his idea to various audiences, landing recently in St. Paul.

He proposes that when people dine together it not only creates meaningful connections, but it can shift perspective, open awareness, reduce inequality and break down barriers. With his new Airbnb-like platform he and his team are building on the new trend of social dining with a home-cooked hook.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Homecooked: Social Dining
Websites: www.homecooked.io
Twitter: @homecookedInc
Business Start Date: Jan. 2, 2018
Number of Employees: 3
Number of Customers: 212

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Hojung Kim
Age: 22
City of Birth: New Haven, Conn.
City you live in: Madison, Wis.
High school attended: Phillips Exeter Academy
College attended: University of Chicago (currently taking time off for his startup)

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?

A. I’m the only son of South Korean immigrants and was born in Madison, Wis. My parents put an enormous amount of emphasis on education. In hindsight, there doesn’t seem to be many common threads in how I grew up to do what I’m doing now, but I was always fiercely independent, passionate about what I did, and cared about solving hard problems.

Q. What is your business?

A.  Homecooked is a social dining app that organizes small communal meals at the tables of home cooks, restaurateurs, and local farmers. It’s an opportunity for hosts to generate income by doing what they love — sharing food. And an opportunity for guests to connect in a unique way around food, an increasingly rare occurrence in our digitally isolated world. But really, it goes deeper than food. We use machine-learning to organize meals with incredible conversation. We do this by organizing people with shared interests, compatible personalities or areas of common ground.  We’re hoping to break barriers through food.

Q. What is the origin of the business?

A. I am alarmed at the degree of social isolation in our new digitized world. And I knew from both personal experience (from study abroad trips to France and India, as well as my frequent trips back to Korea to visit family) and research that food was an extremely powerful way to connect people.

Q. What problems does your business solve?

A. We’re tackling digitization’s negative social effects on isolation and loneliness and building community to alter the polarization and lack of understanding between people.

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

A. We’re in the process of trying to overcome the retention problem. Originally, we thought of Homecooked as an “Airbnb for food” but it’s much more communal. As a result, we had designed our entire (user interface and experience) and app structure around one-time meals, when instead we’re trying to get closer to a social network, where people can return to the table over and over and build a larger community through these tables. I believe that this might be the next evolution in marketplaces. (For more on the evolution of marketplace eras, check out Andreesen-Horowitz on YouTube).

Recently, we’ve thought of Homecooked Circles to not only pivot our revenue model to a B2B team-building subscription sell, but also to acquire customers at an accelerated rate.

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

A. I’m more of a generalist, with no depth in any single area. The team calls me the Utility Player — I’ll do whatever needs to be done to move things forward. My strength is in building on my teammates’ skills by building organizational framework and a positive creative environment. I love to talk to customers and ideate and iterate on products. I love to think long-term strategy.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. I’m proud of maintaining incredible working and personal relationships with my team (to overcome) crazy amounts of stress and turmoil. I think this solid team foundation is the most important thing for long-term success.

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

A. So many. Let me tell you all the reasons we might fail: (1) People might just not care enough about eating together; (2) The food industry has extremely tough margins. Our revenue model will have to undergo an extreme pivot; (3) Execution — we might be too young and inexperienced to successfully achieve velocity.

Q. How are you funding your business?

A. Entirely through grants from incubators and pitch competitions.

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

A. We’re still working on Homecooked. Because that would mean: (1) We successfully graduated; (2) We were able to overcome personal financial situations to sustain our business; (3) We had enough market traction to convince us to keep going; (4) And we still believe in our mission — to bring people together. And that’s something worth fighting for.

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

A. It takes flexibility, quick learning, and an open mind. Absorbing and listening to not only others, but signs of the future.

Q. Why do you do what you do?

A. I want to build something that matters. I want to create something that has a positive impact on peoples’ lives.

Q. How did the James J. Hill Center and 1 Million Cups Saint Paul help you with your business?

A. The team at the Hill were incredible with organizing 1 Million Cups St. Paul. They were patient and kind as I figured out my ridiculous schedule last-minute to be in the Twin Cities. The Hill also offers powerful resources for entrepreneurs. I was able to access a world-class grant database and create a powerful resource list.

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: Headstrong entrepreneur tackles football safety

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 January 12, 2019.

According to the Washington Post, more than 1 million high school students participated in football in 2017 but that was a 20,000 decrease from the year before. The ongoing concerns of head injury due to impact continue to plague the sport.

However, research shows that there are more forces working inside the skull after impact than just the initial force caused at the site of impact. It is known that whiplash concussions occur in football. Hits in which the helmet has no contact with an opponent or the ground. These forces cannot be addressed by the helmet as it moves the head after impact. This can only be addressed outside the helmet by slowing it down.

Entrepreneur Jeff Chambers has dedicated his life to sports and is working to change the way we look at safety in football. With his invention of the Kato Collar he is looking to change the mentality that concussions are something you treat after you get them.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Guardian Athletics, LLC
Website: www.guardianathletics.com
Twitter: @katocollar
Business Start Date: 2008; began working on production of Kato Collar in September 2016
Number of Employees:  3
Number of Customers: 300+

Name: Jeff Chambers
Age: 59
City of Birth: Marysville, Kan.
City you live in: North Mankato
High school attended: Aurora High School, Aurora, Neb.
College attended: Undergrad: University of Nebraska Lincoln 1983; Masters; University of Northern Colorado 1985

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?

A. I have been a certified athletic trainer for over 35 years providing health care for student athletes, the majority of those years as the head athletic trainer and all but 4 years at the College/University level.  I was the head athletic trainer at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh from 1990-99. I was at the director of athletic health care at Minnesota State University from 1999-2015 and associate director of athletic health care from 2015-17. Since October 2017, I have been the CEO of Guardian Athletics.

Q. What is your business?

A. Guardian Athletics is an innovative-driven sports company dedicated to player safety, introducing and patenting its flagship product Kato Collar in April 2018, designed to prevent concussions and the brachial plexus injury (burner/stinger).

Q. What problems does your business solve?

A. Kato Collar is the first and only safety device outside of a helmet to reduce forces causing concussion as well as preventing the burner/stinger neck injury. Kato Collar focuses on the deceleration of the brain after the initial impact of a hit. By focusing on this, Kato Collar’s design performs three things: 1) Slows down the helmeted head reducing the forces to the brain inside the skull after impact where concussion also occurs;  2) Prevents the head and neck from moving forcefully past the end PROM where contrecoup concussion and BPIs occur; and 3) Allows full AROM (active range of motion) for optimal performance so players will wear it.

Q. What is the origin of the business?

A. In 1998 I had an athlete who got a burner/stinger neck injury. I began tinkering with existing products, trying out new ideas, and started down the path that has led to where I am now.

In 2007, an entrepreneurship class at Minnesota State University worked with me; we entered a contest through Greater Mankato Growth and won a $5,000 award and that is how Kato Collar got started. I have been working on it ever since.

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

A. After receiving the Brian Fazio Business Creation Project Award, I used that money to get the initial CADs (computer-aided design) done and to seek out advice on prototyping and manufacturing. All the advice I received said to seek out a license and manufacturing agreement with a company that already created protective gear for athletes. I did this for the first three years and two companies were very interested, but eventually backed away from my product in late 2011. It was at this point that the money I had, along with the grant, was not near enough to move forward.  I had to decide whether to continue. It appeared the only way this would happen was to manufacture and take it to market myself. I went out and raised $30,000 and was able to complete the patent and continue building Kato Collar.

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

A. My faith and my passion. Without these two things I would not have had the courage to move forward to bring Kato Collar to fruition. My concentration is on thought leadership for the company and any way I can help in capital raising.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. My perseverance, strength, and courage to step away from a profession I had been practicing for 35 years. I was comfortable to do something uncomfortable and move forward with Kato Collar when most people told me it was impossible and that I couldn’t do it. In fact, many people did not believe in the emerging science behind brain injuries and willingly shared that lack of knowledge. We have done something that current equipment does not, and cannot do — slow the head down after impact.

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

A. We must shift the paradigm of thought about how to prevent concussions. It is really very simple, but throughout history the helmet has been the only protective device designed to protect the head. It is ingrained into our society. We must change the following two myths: 1) Collars only deal with neck injuries and 2) Helmets prevent all concussions.

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

A. I measure success one brain at a time. There are monetary milestones, investment goals, sales numbers, and all those measurables, but, those come as a byproduct of doing the right thing. We will change the way safety is looked on in football, that is our success. When we do that, everyone makes money and all those traditional benchmarks are easily eclipsed.

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

A. Faith and passion are what I believe to be the key qualities to becoming a successful entrepreneur. I have heard some say until you have failed one time you are not a true entrepreneur. I totally disagree!  I asked myself what would I do if I was not afraid? I did not know how and when, but I knew it was going to happen. You must be humble and willing to learn from other’s experiences and learn from your own mistakes. At times it can be overwhelming! You trust and believe, move forward, and make sacrifices.

Q. How did the James J. Hill Center and 1 Million Cups Saint Paul help you with your business?

A. We are still early in our relationship, they have helped us gain exposure and recognition.

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: Harnessing blockchain’s power to change health care

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 29, 2018.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Healy
Website: Healy.io
Twitter: @healyio
Business Start Date: May 2017
Number of Employees: 2|
Number of Customers: 4,000 in 2018

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

 Name: Lynn Smith
Age: 43
City of Birth: Billerica, Mass.
City you live in: Minneapolis
High school attended: Boston High School
College attended: Ithaca College

Q&A
Q. What led to this point?

A. I’m an accomplished software entrepreneur focused on emerging technologies. I’ve been building tech, fixing problems and working down in the trenches on software projects for over 20 years. My background is both on the technical side as a programmer, analyst, and executive technical leadership; and, on the UX side (user experience) — from work leading the design of sites for companies like Target, 3M and the Mayo Clinic. In 2016, I built a very successful app for migraine sufferers. And, now I’m pivoting to a second app that’s a lifelong, consolidated health record where people own their own data. That’s my new company, Healy.

Q. What is your business?

A. Healy is a suite of applications to help patients better manage and understand their health. Our first product, Migraine Insight, has a 5-star rating in the app stores and has been used by over 4,000 users. This app is a migraine manager and analysis tool that helps people track and find pain triggers. Healy’s suite of apps, in development, will include tailored experiences for several conditions including Chronic Pain Insight, Fibro Insight, Asthma Insight and a gastro condition tracker.

The communities that emerge on these apps will become the user base for the Healy Health Manager, a lifelong patient health care management app with a universal health record. The Healy Health Manager will use a blockchain to build wealth for patient communities. See the executive summary on healy.io for the larger vision of where the company is heading.

Q. What is the origin of the business?

A. I’ve been developing emerging technologies for 20 years. With decentralization and blockchain, I’ve never seen a bigger excitement level with the tech geeks. All sorts of emerging technologies get hyped. But, watching decentralization begin to emerge, I knew I had check it out. When I did, and realized the potential, I knew I had to pivot into it. With decentralization, I saw an opportunity both to empower people to better manage their health and to shift the economic power of patient communities at the same time.

Q. What problems does your business solve?

A. We can finally break patients, doctors, and researchers out of the constraints set up by the current monopolistic, broken health care systems. It’s now possible to have people truly own their own data and shift that economic power to patient communities. That radically shifts the game in how software and systems are created for the health care experience. We can now give patient communities and patients themselves a voice they haven’t had before in their health care journey.

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

A. The biggest hurdle? Overcoming the blockchain hype. There is a lot of misinformation. But, as a base technology, it does have a lot of power to change the economics of the world around us. Just as the internet gave us instant access to information and removed the need to go places to accomplish many things, blockchain is going to re-create how we exchange value with one another. And, that’s big … really, really, big.

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

A. I’ve spent half my career coding, leading coding teams, or heading up technical architecture. The other part of my career has been steeped in UX leadership, either helping executive teams develop user experience departments or developing user-focused methodologies within corporations.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. Migraine Insight is an amazing trigger finder. I applied for a patent on the ranked correlation engine that sorts through and finds a single individual’s health triggers. And, the code was interesting to write. I’m proud of that code.

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

A. Unfortunately, the blockchain space got “hot” and attracted a lot of scammers and people who want to do good but don’t know what they are doing. A ton of good is going to emerge with public decentralization and blockchain efforts. But, for us to be successful, it’s important to be weary of being dragged down when the bubble bursts on the scammer blockchains. It’s like the tech crash in the early ‘00s. Same phenomenon. It’s important to realize that as all the hype and shenanigans are dying off — that’s a good thing for the core technologies that are getting it right.

Q. How are you funding your business?

A. Self-funded. And, now, revenue. VC is a very hard path for a solo female founder. I’ve been told by every experienced woman I know in tech that the only way I’ll get funding is to hire a male CEO. I’m not willing to do that. So, rather than likely waste time, effort and money going after funding, I’ve just been evangelizing to strategic people I want to hire and offering equity. And, building the tech myself.

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

A. Having over a million users total on the apps. And having that user base drive the expansion of the Healy app into public good. Have the Healy blockchain become the foundational public blockchain for health care. A success will be when the blockchain has enough use and data collected that patient communities can monetize their data in pools (anonymously) on the open data market.

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

A. A combination of experience and persistence. Willingness to listen, learn and re-navigate your plans. The ability to politely ignore people when they tell you that you can’t do what you’re about to do, or that you can’t do something you’ve clearly already done. Also, knowing when to heed true caution when it should be applied.

Q. Why do you do what you do?

A. Helping patients and their communities gain health and economic power drives me. I come from a health care family. I want to see people and communities thrive. Right now, our health care system is incredibly broken. Shifting the underlying economics as well as giving patients and their communities better software to manage their own interactions with the health system — that’s going to change our world.

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

A. 1 Million Cups St. Paul helped me practice and refine my pitch. To me, Healy’s path is very clear. But, it is complex. And hard to talk about. So, this was very helpful to me. I got great feedback.

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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Ping Pong and the Present

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.

You leave the hallway and enter a well-lit room. Big windows stretch across two of the walls facing you. To your left is an open kitchenette with a long, clean, island countertop. Soft music plays in the background—quiet but contemplative. The room is minimally decorated with no clutter and virtually no furniture. In the center of the room beyond the countertop is a sturdy, balanced, dark blue ping pong table.

“I play ping pong with people to learn more about myself as well as [to understand] the human experience,” says Ajay Bika.

Ajay, an engineer by training, has had a long-term fascination with the game of table tennis. A couple years ago, he turned a studio apartment in Minnetonka into a space where people can retreat from the media-obsessed world around them through medi-playtion.

“When you’re playing you’re more true to who you are,” says Ajay. “The game [of ping pong] teaches you to be here.”

Ajay has found that the rhythm, repetition, and heightened sense of awareness that come through playing table tennis has a centering quality.

“Everything becomes meditation after a while,” says Ajay. “You then take your time with things—you’re more contemplative.”

Others have begun to notice the health benefits of ping pong too. The game engages both fine and gross motor muscle movement and develops hand-eye coordination. Because the game stimulates multiple areas of the brain simultaneously, it has even been used as therapy for dementia and early stage Alzheimer’s.

Ajay remembers playing table tennis with his father, also an engineer, who had Parkinson’s disease. “He was transported to a different world when we were playing—he would completely forget about it.”

Ultimately, what makes Ajay’s practice of medi-playtion through ping pong unique is that it is non-competitive. This changes the dynamic of the game for people. The experience becomes a conversation rather than a competition.

“You’re not here to prove anything,” says Ajay. “You’re here to be you.”

Coming from a technical background, Ajay has spent the majority of his career balancing equations. He describes his training as learning how to understand the “equal” sign.

Ajay’s work is still about balancing equations. Although now, rather than fixing things, he wants to offer people an alternate perspective. Seen from above, he points out, a ping pong table becomes an “=” sign.

To learn more or schedule a time to play ping pong with Ajay visit: onceupongatime.com.


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: Creating a revolutionary luxury shave experience for women

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 19, 2018.

For 100-plus years, technology for female shaving hasn’t changed. The typical pink handles and aloe strips are unfortunately included in a list of minimal options for women, and they don’t solve much.

According to a 2018 Euromonitor report on beauty and personal care in the U.S., women spend over one billion dollars on razors per year. Euromonitor goes on to say, “A female-oriented online shave club … could seriously shake up the industry.”

Introducing Tracy David from Little Acorn Shave, who is answering that call. She has not only started an online shave club but created a revolutionary luxury shave experience that is set to inspire confidence inside and out. With her tenacity and experience she will shake acorns out of every tree around.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Little Acorn Shave
Website: littleacornshave.co
Twitter: @littleacornshav
Business Start Date: Jan 2017
Number of Employees: 2 co-founders 6 advisors
Number of Customers: We are pre-revenue with 65 Annual memberships pre-sold at this point with no marketing done

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Tracy David
City you live in: Blaine
High School: Anoka High School
College: Ramsey College Associates degree in communications/Brown for broadcasting degree

Q. What led you to this point?

A. I have had an extensive experience as an entrepreneur starting four other businesses plus consulting and speaking. I have owned and created profitable businesses in retail beauty, finance and direct sales which has made me ideally suited to lead and grow the Little Acorn team.

Q. What is your business?

A. Little Acorn Shave Co. is an online shave subscription with the convenient delivery of innovative shaving supplies to provide a complete luxury shave experience inspiring confidence inside and out. Having consulted thousands of high achieving women, I experienced firsthand how critical or negative self-talk prevents women from living to their full potential. By meeting women in one of our most vulnerable places, the shower, we’re able to inspire women to nurture themselves with positive affirmations from their waterproof decals as well as a luxury shaving experience.

Even the smallest of acorns, when nurtured has the potential to become a Mighty Oak Tree. We are on a mission to inspire women to accept we are enough and own our true beauty

Q. What problem does your business solve?

A. Women view shaving as a chore because of the skin irritation and time it takes. We’re introducing a premium shave club for women with the all new ‘Amora’ Light Touch Razor technology for women, creating a luxury shave experience. This dramatically better shave experience comes from a handle that’s 45 percent longer and a flexible neck to intuitively glide over curves for sexy smooth skin in half the time with no nicks, cuts or skin irritation. Women can now get a luxury shave experience that inspires confidence inside and out while saving time and money.

Q. Did you pivot or run into any challenges along the way?

A. We started out thinking we’d just create an online shave club for women and then quickly realized the shaving supplies for women did create a positive user experience, so we set out to solve the problem of shaving feeling like a chore to women and invented razor technology that provides a luxury shave in less time with no nicks cuts or irritation. Our biggest challenge so far has been perfecting the prototypes and design engineering as well as raising the resources to produce this innovation.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. I am proud of our incredible team, because no matter what adversity, disappointment or rejection comes our way we always stay focused on serving our members with excellence and creating a quality experience with our brand. It’s been extremely challenging to build for two years and have such limited resources and yet our team continues to make things happen.

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

A. Fund raising is our main obstacle right now, and we have many women waiting with excitement for us to begin production and sales.

For us to be WILDLY successful its vital that I continue the journey of owning my worth, leading by example by choosing to see the beauty and potential inside of me through daily challenges and seeing our setbacks as ‘set-ups’ for the next great thing to happen.

Q. How are you funding your business?

A. We’ve raised $235,000 with friends and family so far and are looking for our next equity partner as we raise $600,000.

Q. What would be success for your business in the next two to three years?

A. Our goal is to inspire one million women to see the true beauty they carry inside of them, so getting our membership to 400,000 in next three years will have us right on track, while changing the beauty industry with an elevated shaving experience for women after 100 years.

Q. Where do you go when you need help?

A. My board of advisers or my business coach is my go to for guidance, clarity and wisdom and then of course our legal professionals as well.

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

A. I have overcome incredible adversity. After a crash put me in a wheelchair for a year, and even after multiple surgeries and doctors saying I wouldn’t walk without a cane, I did, I have since run marathons. I don’t quit.

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

A. Courage to take a risk, learn new things and not have all the answer. Tenacity and grit to be able to press through hard times, rejection, insecurity and the unknown. Commitment to stay the course, never quit and give it your best every day and get up and do it again the next day. Belief in yourself, team and idea. Resilience to get knocked down and get back up with more excitement than before, hundreds of times over. Don’t ask for it to be easy, just ask for it to be WORTH IT.

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

A. We give back 5 percent of our profits to support survivors of sex trafficking because every woman deserves to be seen and valued.

Q. Why do you do what you do?

A. Acorns have the DNA of the MIGHTY OAK embedded into their make-up just as women have immeasurable potential built into their DNA. When women have more confidence, we become more effective and productive daughters, sisters, mothers, wives, workers and friends allowing us to have a much greater impact on the earth. It’s time we start loving ourselves and the brands we buy from can help us do that. That’s why I do this.

Q. How did 1 Million Cups Saint Paul at the James J. Hill Center help you with your business?

A. My experience at 1M Cups St. Paul was incredible. I made some valuable connections for potential investors, marketing support and fulfillment options as well as additional opportunities to share our story to more people. It also helped build my confidence in how we share our story and making it clear and compelling. The questions were relevant and thought provoking allowing me to articulate better in our marketing materials. Since presenting we’ve sold our first 65 annual memberships generating nearly $10,000 in sales, so thank you 1M Cups for all your support, we are grateful.

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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It All Adds Up: Celebrating the Journey

It. All. Adds. Up…every lesson learned, every celebrated win, every tear-soaked disappointment, and every engaging conversation, they all add up to create my crazy, scary, exciting, risky and beautifully unique journey of entrepreneurship.

Seven years ago, when I literally wanted to quit, I wanted to throw in the towel and fade into the background only to bask in the emptiness of never dreaming again, I decided to ask for help. I asked for help, but only this time it wasn’t the help of a business guru, a career coach or a financial planner. I asked for help from a therapist and began my journey of strengthening my mental health.

Can we stop for a moment and dismantle the stigma around mental health? As entrepreneurs, we typically lead by example. We forge ahead into unknown territory. We innovate in ways that scare us to our core while simultaneously creating excitement and motivation to the world around us. We do hard things…and it is perfectly okay to ask for help.

My decision to ask for help from a therapist was a game-changing move in my personal and business journey. It was a decision that removed some of the self-inflicted pressures I had neatly packaged, strapped to my back and carried around like weighted bags of sand. It was life giving and continues to be a recurring appointment on my calendar. Investing in the strength of my mental health gave me the opportunity to embrace everything about my business journey and to realize that every single step along the way is absolutely required. Every single step along the way needed to happen and together they add up to create my beautifully unique journey of overcoming and winning and I get to share it others.

As we prepare to wrap up another year, this is typically a time when many entrepreneurs will revisit their vision boards, celebrate the accomplishments from the current year and study the game plan for the upcoming year. The meeting and event dates slowly begin to fill our calendars as we make growth promises that will produce positive results. We dream about eliminating some of the bad habits while welcoming the excitement of new routines and practices. We promise to be kinder to ourselves and make room for the things that really matter. We build our team of leaders and supporters and together we dream bigger dreams. Throughout all of the planning and preparation, remember that it is perfectly okay to ask for help.

In the spirit of celebration as we embrace the world of possibilities wrapped up in a new year, thank you for traveling this journey of story sharing with me in 2018. Your commitment to read the blog, share a comment and like a post were all an important addition to this process. Your contribution combined with my contribution, together add up in creating a fulfilling journey.


Junita L. Flowers,
 Founder/Owner
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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