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St. Paul’s Got Talent: A Conversation with Eric Webster

Eric Webster has been performing on stage, camera and radio for over 25 years. As recipient of the 2010 “Best Actor in a Musical″ from Lavender Magazine he has graced such stages as the Guthrie Theater, Mixed Blood, Park Square, The Playwrights’ Center, Hennepin Stages and many more. His on camera success has ranged from his Emmy Nominated show “The Big Bad Movie” to the nationally broadcast DirectTV program “Big Events”. Eric can currently be seen performing in The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society presented by the James J. Hill Center as well as in his original radio show Shades Brigade.

How did you begin your entrepreneurial career in the arts begin?
I started my career in sports broadcasting as a play-by-play, sports talk show host.  After spending 10 years in the field of sports radio – I walked away from it, realizing that I liked playing sports, but talking about them all day was not doing it for me.  I knew I liked the entertainment and creative aspect, so I tried my hand at all sorts of things like stand-up comedy and non-sports talk radio.  I eventually landed a gig as the Stadium Announcer for the St. Paul Saints Baseball Team.  There I was allowed to create anything I could imagine.  After 6 years at the Saints with free reign and  a “Go ahead and see if it works” environment I realized that I loved that creative freedom.  My first foray into theater was the long running “Tony and Tina’s Wedding,”  that allowed me to both act and create something new every night.

What has been the largest hurdle and success you have experienced as an artist and entrepreneur?
Largest hurdle?  Selling Tickets to shows you write and produce.
Biggest success? Being a self-employed full time actor for over 20 years.

Do you think being a creative entrepreneur is different from other entrepreneurial careers?
Trying to sell something to somebody is pretty much what everybody does at their job.  I’m selling the idea of “come see what I wrote and what I find interesting.” That’s a tricky sell.  It’s hard to guarantee anybody that they need what you’re selling.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
My advice is to anybody, in any field, is become good at a lot of things.  The more you can do the more options you have to create an opportunity.

You have an obsession with old time radio shows – how did this come to be?
When I was young my parents wouldn’t allow me to stay up to watch Johnny Carson.  So they bought me one of those radios that also get TV stations, so I could listen to Carson’s monologue and the comedians he had on while I was in bed.  It also had a tape deck so I could record all the monologues.  I had all these tapes of comedians from the Carson show.  Then I started listening to North Stars Hockey on the radio and the play-by-play man Al Shaver.  It was so amazing to me that he could paint that picture in my head.  I could see the players and all of the action just because of his words.  I was then introduced to some old-time radio shows on cassette that you could buy — the “Lone Ranger” and the “Shadow” and classics like that.  I loved how I was able to participate in the final piece.  It was up to me to decide how the room looked or a person looked or what they were wearing.  It was like a I was part of the creative process.  I was hooked forever on theater of the mind.  Years later, because of the internet, I didn’t have to scour and search for old-time radio shows – they were all there online.  Thousands and thousands of episodes. I love the internet.

What is it about Minnesota and how has it managed to keep you here?
I have lived all over from Boston to Los Angeles.  I came back here and I’m never leaving.  This is the best place on earth.  You have four seasons, two major cities, you can be in the middle of the woods in about an hour drive north, the quality of living is tops in almost every category, and there aren’t a lot of things that can kill you.  We have nothing really poisonous sneaking around in the grass waiting to bite you, no hurricanes or earthquakes.  Yes, tornadoes, but if you compare it to say, Florida, well there are so many things that can kill you in Florida.  Plus, again thanks to the internet, we no longer have to be in L.A. or New York to succeed as an actor.  You can audition here for national work and you can produce that work locally.  I can make a good living in my own backyard now.  And it’s not just for acting, almost every field is now able to function in any market.  YEAH INTERNET!!!

Eric Webster and a stellar Twin Cities cast will be performing in The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society at the James J. Hill Center on Sunday, January 29 at 3:30 pm.  REGISTER NOW!

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Two Friends Create Buzz Around Cold-Brew Coffee

Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews entrepreneurs and 1 Million Cup presenters, Alex French and Andrew Healey of Get Bizzy. As seen in the Pioneer Press, Startup Showcase on December 31, 2016

For a variety of reasons, ranging from a lack of sleep to being overscheduled and overworked, Americans are increasingly tired. A recent poll by YouGov shows that only 1 in 7 Americans report feeling well-rested every day. For the rest of us, there’s caffeine.

Whether from coffee, tea, energy drinks or pop, caffeine can provide us with the much-needed jolt of energy we need to get through the day. At the same time, many of the pre-packaged beverages on the market include added ingredients like sugar that add unnecessary calories to the jolt.

Due to hectic schedules and a need for increased energy, Alex French and Andrew Healey turned to cold-brew coffee. Cold brew coffee is increasingly trendy, but it’s time-consuming to make at home. They started Get Bizzy in response to this demand. Unlike many other pre-packaged beverages, Bizzy Coffee is sugar- and calorie-free, and because it’s pre-packaged, it doesn’t take hours for consumers to prepare.


  • Name of company: Get Bizzy, Inc.
  • Website: www.bizzycoffee.com
  • Business Start Date: May 2015
  • Number of Employees: 4 full-time
  • Number of Customers: Thousands


  • Name: Alex French
  • Age: 27
  • City you live in: New Brighton
  • Country of birth: St. Paul
  • High School attended: Irondale High School
  • College attended: University of St. Thomas
  • Name: Andrew Healey
  • Age: 28
  • City you live in: New Brighton
  • Country of birth: St. Paul
  • High School attended: Irondale High School
  • College attended: University of Minnesota


Q. What led to this point?
A. We are childhood friends who met while going to middle school in New Brighton. We stayed friends throughout high school and college. Alex went to the University of St. Thomas and Andrew went to the University of Minnesota. Alex majored in business and Andrew in mechanical engineering. After graduating, we were both hired at large corporations and felt unfulfilled with our jobs. Bizzy Coffee was founded while we were working our corporate jobs, training for World’s Toughest Mudder — a 24-hour obstacle race, and running a group fitness company that we had started several years previously. Juggling those three things was a challenge, and we needed a way to get more energy and stamina without resorting to unhealthy energy drinks. We discovered cold brew coffee at this time, and started working on a way to make it more convenient. In 2015, Bizzy Coffee was born.

Q. What is your business?
A. Bizzy Coffee is the No. 1-selling cold brew coffee on the internet. We manufacture a Certified Organic cold brew coffee concentrate that is sold in all 50 states and Canada…READ FULL ARTICLE

You can hear from startups like this one each Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit jjhill.org/1-million cups

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A New Years Resolution Everyone Should Consider

With a New Year on the horizon comes new resolutions and work life balance is often one that appears on many entrepreneurs lists but is often ignored or lost in the hustle and bustle to get things done. We understand starting, and even running, a business takes dedication, passion and time. No one becomes an entrepreneur for the convenient hours. So how do you maintain a work-life balance while running your own business? And is it even possible?

Here are 4 suggestions we believe help balance work and life, while still putting 110% into your career.

Set Priorities
The first step in creating the most efficient and lasting work-life balance is knowing your priorities. And utilize this in both personal and professional life. Only you can decide what works best for you and what comes first – and it’s ok to have work come first one day, and personal life the next!

Setting priorities at work will keep you and your staff efficient and productive. Time is crucial, especially in the early stages, and should not be wasted.

When starting a new business it can be hard to not be in everything. Many entrepreneurs start out solo and try to get all the work done on their own. Fight the urge and delegate! Build a team you trust and spread out the work. The transition might not be easy, but it’s important. Let go of the fear that your business will fail if you are not working all the time, and on every piece of the business.

Find tools to simplify & save time
In today’s professional world, technology can be the best assistant. Use tools like phone & online calendars to sync everyone’s schedules – personally and professionally. It keeps everyone aware of time and priorities, and helps you track your time. Set up email reminders and use note apps to save time.  If you are a small team, or a team of one, social media tools like Hootsuite save hours of time. Use technology to your advantage to save you time & effort.

Schedule professional and personal life
Use calendars mentioned above to schedule both professional and personal life. It may seem strict & less personal to schedule out your life after work, but it helps support time management and priorities. Treat your dinners with friends or significant others as meetings – you can’t push them or skip them when work gets busy.

Balance looks different for everyone. And it can change over time. The balance you strike at the beginning will look different than the balance found once your business has been established. But it’s important to evaluate your time and where it’s being spent no matter what stage you and your business are at.  So take the time you need and put it on your to do list for 2017.

Happy New Year from the Hill! We look forward to seeing you in 2017.


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The Hill December Reference Round-Up

 Library World, Past and Future

  • Our reference library staff assisted over 125 researchers in December.
  • While most researchers were from Minnesota, this month we also received visitors from Wisconsin and California.
  • The library changed its catalog to Library World this month. Library World is a state-of-the-art, cloud-based system and is very user-friendly.
  • Most of our researchers in December were returning users to the library.
  • One patron who visited to look into starting her own business was inspired by the business plan research help she received from library staff.
  • A retired patron came to the library to explore ways he might prepare a presentation for schools to inspire a younger generation of entrepreneurs. Another patron visiting that day happened to be a part of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, and the two struck up a conversation and made a meaningful connection.
  • A man who had worked as a librarian in the Reference Department of the library for from 1966 to 2008 stopped by with his wife to re-visit the space. Current staff expressed thanks to him for his more than 40 years of service to the organization.
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Company Takes Data Security to the Next Level

Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews Entrepreneur and 1 Million Cup presenter, Daren Klum with company Secured2 Corporation. As seen in the Pioneer Press, Startup Showcase on December 17, 2016

Data security is a growing issue in our society. Some of the organizations hacked in the past 5 years include the IRS, LinkedIn, Yahoo! and Target. These breaches cost companies millions of dollars to rectify and can be very harmful to consumers if their personal information ends up in the wrong hands.

Even though hackers seem to be able to breach a variety of encryption methods, encryption remains one of the most popular methods of data security. According to the 2016 Cost of Data Breach Study by the Ponemon Institute and IBM Security, there are two main data security methods applied by organizations in the United States: 52 percent of corporations use training and awareness programs to educate employees about data security, and 49 percent have expanded their use of encryption software.

Clearly, encryption alone is not enough, and yet most corporations don’t seem to be aware of other options. Daren Klum has extensive experience in information technology and software development, and he has seen evidence of the failures of encryption over the years. He started Secured2 Corp. as a better way to safely store and transmit data, by “shredding” the data so it is impossible for hackers to read.


  • Name of company: Secured2 Corp.
  • Website: www.secured2.com
  • Business Start Date: June 18, 2013
  • Number of Employees: 6
  • Number of Customers: Unlisted (note: as a security company, they want to keep that information private)


  • Name: Daren Klum
  • Age: 47
  • City you live in: Shoreview
  • Country of birth: Englewood, CA
  • College attended: Mankato State University and the University of Minnesota


Q. What led to this point?
A. I’m a technology executive, inventor and futurist who thrives on solving global challenges, developing exciting new technology and bringing the total solution to market. With a growing list of patents and patents-pending, I continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible with technology. My background includes information technology, hardware development, software development, technical marketing and corporate finance. I had the good fortune to work with Gartner, Digital River in the early days, Sprint, TW Telecom, and I founded venture-backed LiquidCool Solutions. Currently, I’m the CEO of Secured2, a data security company in Minneapolis.My abilities include idea creation, patent development, software development (coding), technology integration, technology sales and marketing, technology funding and technology investing.

Q. What is your business?
A. We are a data security software company. Through our proprietary process, we are able to shrink, shred, secure and restore data. This process makes your data unhackable…READ FULL ARTICLE

You can hear from startups like this one each Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit jjhill.org/1-million cups

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Every Cent Counts

It’s that time of year again. The holidays are approaching, the weather is turning colder and end-of-year giving messages are out. That final reminder to donate to your charity (or charities) of choice and make the tax-deductible gift shows up in your inbox.  And it works! 30% of all donations in the United States happen in December (MobileCause). But why does it work? What is it about the end of the year that pushes people to donate?

Plenty of research has been done to show people give because it makes them happier, makes them feel like they have contributed and made a difference in their community, and the tax deduction is a major incentive to give large sums. But, again, why do these matter?  The Guardian asked this same question, and came up with three slightly different – but similar – concepts, two of which I’d like to expand on.

First, the idea that charitable giving is ruled by empathy and compassion, instead of logic and reason. People donate to causes they care about because they are affected through personal experience and/or a compelling campaign. The decision to donate is pushed by these feelings.  The last months of the calendar year are focused on holidays and family, both of which drive the message of love and comfort, and in turn encourage community members donate to help those who cannot enjoy this season be it because of an illness, lack of resources or larger personal issues dictating their time. The act of giving born out of compassion and empathy in this busy and cold time at the end of the year is a very positive action for our community.

Second, the article states “charitable giving is contagious – seeing others give makes an individual more likely to give.” Donating to charity and a cause you care about sets an example for those around you, and gently encourages them to do the same. The hope in setting the example is others – coworkers, children, friends – will be inspired to give to a cause they are affected by or care about. It is the ‘pay-it-forward’ concept. It’s easy to share on your giving on social media and hope others follow suit.

Giving works and every cent counts. Giving and helping others makes us happier, gives us purpose and is tax-deductible! Donate to a cause you care about and make your money count. This season, consider donating to the James J. Hill Center and help honor the legacy of our founder by continuing to support entrepreneurial spirit in the 21st Century.

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The Key Relationship Entrepreneurs Often Overlook


Whether you are a brand new business owner, a seasoned entrepreneur or still deciding if your idea is worth pursuing, you’ll need advice. But who to go to? The internet will have some answers. You can stop by government agencies and nonprofits – like the James J. Hill Center – to help you get started and navigate. But one of the most important relationships an entrepreneur can have is a mentor. The startup experience is full of challenges and can be unknown territory, and having a relationship with a mentor is vital to navigating the terrain.

There is no right or wrong way to have a relationship with a mentor. It can be someone you meet with on a weekly basis and closely monitor progress and planning with, or a contact you reach out to sporadically when a problem arises that you are unsure how to fix. But there are certain qualities and key characteristics a mentor should possess.

It may seem obvious, but a mentor should have experience and proven success in their own professional career. With experience comes perspective and foresight, both of which are invaluable for an entrepreneur. It is difficult – maybe impossible – to avoid making mistakes, but if you can learn lessons from a mentor’s mistakes, it’s easier to avoid mistakes or at least be prepared to handle them as they arise. A mentor with experience will also feel confident giving advice, and you can feel confident receiving it. Trust is key, and it is much easier to trust a mentor with experience and a proven track record of success or growth.

Integrity and sincerity also play a huge role in a successful mentor/mentee relationship. A good mentor will be encouraging and smart. A GREAT mentor will be honest and insightful. While compliments and soft encouragement are nice, they are not productive, nor do they set anyone up to accomplish their goals. The “tendency towards candor is so important because as an entrepreneur you have limited time to get your company off the ground and reach profitability and long-term growth” (Rob Ebrahimi, Forbes contributor). As a mentor, it is important to ask the tough questions and bring perspective on the market and the idea. Time is valuable and the conversations should be frank to ensure you and your venture are on task and on track.

Mentoring is an important relationship for both parties. The mentee receives invaluable advice and guidance and is able to expand their network and knowledge to create a company or idea to better the community. The mentor has the chance to share their experiences to better the future of a new professional and their field of expertise.  As entrepreneurs, the right mentorship relationship can set you on a positive path for success. Consider finding a mentor or becoming one to enhance your business experience.

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The Hill November Reference Round-Up

From coffee to ships…


  • Our reference library staff assisted over 130 researchers in November.
  • While most researchers were from Minnesota, this month we had visitors from Wisconsin, North Dakota, Michigan, Ohio, and even Arizona.
  • The library added SimmonsLOCAL to our SimplyMap subscription this month. Come check out this new database resource, which features unique demographic data that can be valuable for market research.
  • The majority of our first-time researchers in November were referred to our library by a colleague.
  • One patron conducted demographic research related to coffee shops in the Duluth area to identify potential new markets.
  • Another researcher came in for our Meet the Expert program.  She stayed to research potential funding sources for community programming focused on women.
  • Two older gentlemen stopped in to view our space. One of the men had worked for, a Minnesota-based company that invented BINAC, the first general-purpose computer.  The men were surprised to learn that James J. Hill had owned ships in addition to the railway and were interested to know whether our shelves held any resources related to UNIVAC.


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A Conversation with Scott Schwefel


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

How did your career as an entrepreneurial begin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Before Planting and Harvesting…


Farmers Need to Glean Data.able-logo

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Name: Chris Lukenbill

Age: 33

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

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

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


Q. What led you to this point?

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

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

Through starting a farm, I came to understand that the challenge wasn’t in growing food but in READ FULL ARTICLE

You can hear from startups like this one each Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit jjhill.org/1-million cups


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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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