Silicon Valley is not the birthplace — or destination — of every new tech startup. Vugo is one of many Minnesota startups committed to stay in the state. Commitment like this will assist in continuing to develop our local entrepreneurial culture and inspire others to start their own venture.
Vugo is bridging the gap between digital and real-world advertisement. Their strategy to provide value to businesses and customers through targeted advertising has piqued the interest of some West Coast investors.
Founder: Robert Flessner
City you live in: Minneapolis
City of birth: Minneapolis
High school attended: Orono High School
College attended: University of Rochester (BA), University of St. Thomas (MBA)
Robert is the CEO and co-founder of Vugo and takes lead on product management and operations of the business. Vugo was a MN Cup Semi-Finalist in the High Tech Division and participated in Beta.MN 2.5. Robert was listed as one of the featured Minnesota Business Magazine’s Young Entrepreneurs in 2015 for his role at Vugo.
Prior to co-founding Vugo, Robert was a product manager at Surescripts, where he brought new health care software products to market. Robert has always had a strong entrepreneurial side, with a strong desire to bring impactful products to market.
Vugo is rideshare advertising, and has even been called “Google Adwords on Wheels.” Vugo partners with rideshare drivers to place advertisements on headrest-mounted tablet devices inside rideshare vehicles. Advertisements are displayed based on the known intent of a particular trip. Environmental signals are collected to determine the intent of the trip, and Vugo is able to accurately determine which advertisements should be displayed. Passengers are able to interact with the advertisements by clicking on the screen and interacting with the corresponding landing page.
Business Start Date: February 2015
Number of Employees: 4
The Origin: Co-founder James Bellefeuille moved to Chicago from Minneapolis for a digital marketing job. He was new to the city and decided to drive for Uber as a way to meet people, learn more about the city, and get oriented with his surroundings. One of his early friends happened to be a restaurant owner. The owner of the restaurant asked him to put menus in his car when he was driving. Some of his passengers began directing him to drive them to the restaurant. James called Robert after this had happened on a number of rides and the plan for Vugo was created.
Read the Q&A here.
A local group of entrepreneurs is making it easier for recreation enthusiasts to enjoy the outdoors. Otium Outdoors, taking its name from the Latin word for “sporadic adventure,” lets weekend warriors haul their gear easily — even if they drive a small car.
The SoftRack, Otium’s first product, is portable enough to fit in most trunks and is even compatible with many two-door vehicle models, yet it is able to carry surfboards, kayaks, lumber, and equipment like TVs.
Founder: Mickeli Bedore
City you live in: St. Paul
City of birth: Rollag, Minn.
High school attended: Hawley High
College attended: University of North Dakota
Mickeli is a self-proclaimed passionate technology geek who happens to love outdoor adventure. Prior to co-founding Otium Outdoors, Mickeli sold complex technologies for firms such as IBM, Oracle and Concur, which led him to launch the Bedore Business Group, a high-tech sales talent agency that helps build successful sales cultures at small-to-medium sized tech companies.
Business Start Date: 2014
Number of Employees: 4
I was at a local startup event a year ago called Beta.MN and saw Connor Mooney, my future cofounder, with a few Carlson classmates explaining their class project, which was this rack type thing which they had in the corner.
Since it was completely outside my usual tech world it caught my eye. I asked Connor how I could get one, and we met up the next day for a six-hour cup of coffee where we picked it completely apart, discussed what would need to be done to take it to the enterprise level and the various experts that would need to be involved if we did.
We walked away with the base strategy for what is now Otium Outdoors. We built a team that included Ben Larwa, from Boom Boom Prints, as our marketing specialist; my high school buddy Seth Rundle, who has more than 15 years in retail distribution and the sport industry; last but not least, I involved my lovely wife Allison to be our design consultant.
Read the Q&A here.
One Minnesota woman is working to improve the emotional well-being of thousands of senior citizens, college students and other underserved populations.
Mary MacCarthy, founder of Glorious Hugs, creates unique care packages for seniors and college students. Each care package comes in a beautiful, locally-manufactured custom box and includes a piece of original handmade art from a local artist, food from a local bakery, poetry from a local poet and a welcome letter. Mary presented at 1 Million Cups St. Paul and says, “I’m leading Glorious Hugs because it is my lifelong dream and a tremendous challenge that is helping me grow while helping others.”
Founder: Mary MacCarthy
City you live in: Dellwood
City of birth: Ayer, Mass.
High school attended: Woodbury Senior High School
College attended: UW-Eau Claire for BA in Psychology, University of St. Thomas for MBA
Mary describes herself as a “Minnesota woman, mother, volunteer and entrepreneur.” She has 30 years of multi-functional experience in some of the most successful Minnesota organizations: 3M, Medtronic, Minnesota Public Radio and Cardiovascular Systems. Mary comes from a family of successful entrepreneurs and is following in their footsteps.
Glorious Hugs’ mission is to make it easier for us to care for each other, starting with curating and selling care packages designed to be shared, to build relationships and alleviate loneliness in seniors aged 65+ or anyone needing a hug.
Business Start Date: January 2015
Number of Employees: 1
Number of Customers: 300
On Jan. 1, I made a list of my passions, strengths and the legacy I want to leave. Then I developed a business model that incorporated all the elements plus addressed multiple underserved segments of society.
I commercialized Glorious Hugs LLC on April 20, 2015, with an ecommerce store, a mission, a business plan and advisers.
Read the Q&A here.
About 10 million students and 60 percent of adults are struggling with attention challenges, according to Rod Greder, founder of Awear Technologies. Greder believes he has a product that reduces the cost of dealing with diagnosed attention deficit disorder and without the side effects of the drugs commonly used to treat it.
Awear Technologies’ initial product is the ConfiBoost Trainer. This is a set of glasses which are a neurosensing device that detects when one’s mind wanders. The glasses darken to get the “attention” of the wearer. Awear claims that repeated use of the device strengthens neural pathways controlling attention.
Founder: Rod Greder
City you live in: Pine City, Minn.
City of birth: Denison, Iowa
High school attended: Dow City-Arion, Iowa
Colleges attended: Iowa State, University of Minnesota, University of Illinois.
Rod Greder, a Ph.D. and certified new product development professional, has been teaching young adults for the past decade. He has experienced firsthand the inability of some students to pay attention when they don’t want to or when there is no “high stimulus” to engage them. Rod has observed that there now appears to be an attention deficit epidemic manifesting itself in the classroom and workplace. Rod, who has a doctorate in genetics, has been involved in discovering, developing and launching new products most of his career.
Rod has teamed up with Gary Jader, an experienced product tinkerer and clinician who is passionate about making a difference in the lives of young people. Gary also has experienced the struggles of poor attentiveness with his two sons being diagnosed with ADHD — Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Company Snapshot: Awear Technologies
Business Start Date: 2011
Number of Employees: 2
Number of Customers: 1
The students’ faces gave it away. As a teacher, I’d say three straight sentences and all I got were blank looks. After 10 years in education, I’d been told that children learn differently now. They say we must hook the video game generation with high stimulus — “shiny stuff” — to keep them engaged.
Yet I resisted. I understand the benefits of videos and games. But, I also know that while “the world is a stage” it is not a video game.
Improving attention skills in low-stimulus environments has become my passion.
Awear Technologies wants to help students rewire neural pathways to strengthen focus skills and improve distraction control. If we can create awareness about mind-wandering and distraction in the moment, we can begin to resist these debilitating impulses — without drugs.
Read the Q&A here.