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Startup Showcase: Homi

By Lee George

It is no secret that many industries face a workforce shortage. In the health care field alone, the World Health Organization estimates a global shortage of 12.9 million workers by 2035. The ability for companies to engage in developing their future employees and for young workers to engage with mentors is paramount.

Enter Homi.

Homi uses a digital platform to help students and alumni from colleges and universities build a mentor-mentee relationship. Conversation on Homi has the potential to assist students in choosing a career path. And companies have an opportunity to introduce their brand and work culture to a future employee.


Homi founder Philip Xiao (Courtesy photo)
Homi founder Philip Xiao (Courtesy photo)

Founder: Philip Xiao
Age: 22
City you live in: Minneapolis
High school attended: Troy High School
College attended: Carleton College
Philip Xiao was working toward a career in business and finance. After leveraging Carleton College’s alumni network and getting informational interviews with senior insurance bankers, he had the idea for Homi.


Homi is a student-alumni Q&A platform that helps employers make data-driven hiring decisions. We have built the HomiScore, comparable to a credit score for networking, which helps companies hire more effectively from schools where they would not traditionally recruit. We help companies rebrand to millennials through alumni career stories. This organic content is different from a job posting or a banner ad — it’s real people telling stories of how they fell into an industry and built their careers.

Business start date: February 2015
Number of employees: 6
Number of customers: 1,200
Website: www.homi.io
Twitter: @Homitweets

Read the Q&A here.

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Startup Showcase: WholeMe

By Lee George

Two local food entrepreneurs have a personal mission to create healthy snack alternatives.

Krista Steinbach and Mary Kosir, founders of WholeMe, started the company because each of them saw the positive results of a healthier diet on themselves and close family members. This company’s products, originally made in Mary’s kitchen, are now sold in over 350 retail spaces.

When asked what is next for WholeMe, Krista says, “I’d like to have an assortment of WholeMe snacks, ranging from sweet to savory, offered at your favorite grocery store, the gas station when you’re on a long road trip, or the coffee shop on the corner. WholeMe wants to make snacking delicious, nutritious and convenient, so we want to be wherever you’re in need of a snack!”

Entrepreneur Snapshot

Founder: Krista Steinbach

Age: 34

City you live in: Minneapolis

City of birth: Alliance, Neb.

High school attended: Alliance High School

College attended: University of Minnesota, The Culinary Institute of America, currently attending St. Catherine University for my Masters in Holistic Health

Krista Steinbach’s background is in food and business. She attended the Carlson School of Management with a focus in marketing and joined the Army National Guard where she was deployed to both Kosovo and Iraq. While deployed to Iraq, Krista decided to pursue her passion, food. After attending the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, Calif., Krista co-owned and operated Sweets Bakeshop located in St. Paul and Minneapolis. She ended up selling the bakeshop to her business partners and went on to be the pastry chef at The Bachelor Farmer restaurant in Minneapolis.

Then a dramatic shift in diet and exercise resulted in more energy and a new-found curiosity for life. Krista was approached by Mary Kosir to help launch a company she had been thinking about. WholeMe was born and blended Krista’s new understanding of nutrition with her passion for food.

Company Snapshot: WholeMe

Making food with nutrition integrity, WholeMe currently offers three flavors of clusters – almond coconut, lemon berry chia, and cinnamon banana chip. They plan to continue to innovate products, entering new product categories that offer their consumers convenient, nutritious snacks for any time of day.

Business Start Date: March 1, 2014

Number of Employees: 2 full-time, 2 part-time

Number of Customers: 350+ retail outlets

Website: http://www.wholeme.com

Twitter: @WholeMeFoods

Read the Q&A here.

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Startup Showcase: Collectivity

By Lee George


Scott Cole is not new to growing successful businesses. Now he is using his experience to help foundations and organizations be more successful in their social mission. Scott started Collectivity as a for-profit technology cooperative to provide the services and support that organizations need to be more efficient and have greater impact.

Entrepreneur Snapshot

Founder: Scott D. Cole

Age: 59

City you live in: St. Paul

City of birth: Minneapolis

High school attended: Spring Lake Park

College attended: University of Minnesota

Scott Cole is a high-tech executive with blended experience leading for-profit, nonprofit, education, social enterprise and cooperative initiatives. He is committed to alleviating chronic social problems by building the capacities of foundations and community organizations to work collaboratively.

Using Web-based software embedded with expert services, he works with partners to connect and empower individuals, nonprofits, and foundations to create collective impact in communities. Scott co-founded Collectivity as a cooperative to rapidly and sustainably scale collaborative initiatives using international tested principles of co-working.

Company Snapshot: Collectivity

Collectivity is a technology-provider cooperative that helps nonprofits and their funders build capacity to optimize mission delivery and outcome performance such as building better teams and collaboration with community partners to create collective impact.

Business Start Date: May 6, 2014

Number of Employees: 2

Number of Customers: 3

Website: http://collectivity.coop/

Twitter: @CollectivityUS


Read the Q&A here.

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Startup Showcase: The Lift Garage

By Lee George

A local organization is taking the traditional auto repair model and making it affordable for low-income Minnesotans.

Many of us know the inconvenience of having a car in the shop for the day and the burden of figuring out how to get to work, get kids to school or make that dentist appointment we scheduled six months ago. For low-income Minnesotans there is an additional burden of paying for the repairs.

The Lift Garage’s services have been so in demand that there is a three-month waiting list. Becca Tumm, a board member with The Lift Garage, says, “I think so many individuals have gotten behind The Lift Garage and have become such faithful supporters because they can relate to both the need of having a car and because they can relate to the financial stress that occurs when they are faced with an unplanned, urgent repair.”

It will take this outside support to expand the services of The Lift Garage to reduce the three month waiting list.

Entrepreneur Snapshot

Founder: Cathy Heying

Age: 45

City you live in: Minneapolis

City of birth: Ossian, Iowa

High school attended: South Winneshiek High School, Calmar, Iowa.

Colleges attended: Loras College, Dubuque, Iowa/St. Mary’s University/Dunwoody

Cathy Heying has a background in social work and pastoral ministry. She has worked with many people experiencing homelessness and poverty. Through this experience she has seen lives altered because of expensive car repairs. For many, she says, “it meant the difference between keeping and losing a job, which meant the difference between keeping and losing housing.”

Initially feeling helpless to address these experiences, Cathy instead responded as an entrepreneur would: She decided to see what she could personally do to solve the problem. Cathy holds an MA in Pastoral Ministry and a BA in Social Work. With visions of providing low-cost care repair for low-income Minnesotans, she went to Dunwoody, a technical college, to get an Associate’s degree in Auto Technology.

Company Snapshot: The Lift Garage

The Lift Garage is a nonprofit auto repair shop that provides low-cost car repairs for low-income Minnesotans. Customers must qualify as low-income, 30 percent of Area Median Income, which is $20,800 for a household of two. Customers are charged $15 per hour for labor plus the cost of parts at no markup. Market rate is about $100/hour for labor. The garage provides a full range of car repair services and to date has served over 600 people. The low rate has allowed it to save customers over $300,000 in car repair costs.

Business Start Date: April 13, 2013

Number of Employees: 6

Number of Customers: 600

Website: www.theliftgarage.org


Read the Q&A here.

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Startup Showcase: Little Peanut on the Go

By Lee George

The $48 billion child care service industry is expected to grow at 1.7 percent per year, according to an IBISWorld Industry Report found through the James J. Hill Center’s business library services.

A mobile application launched by a local company has set its sights on taking a piece of the pie. Little Peanut on the Go is making it easier for parents to manage the details of their children’s lives when they are under the supervision of a day care or another caregiver.

Karla Lemmon could not find a mobile application to help her when she needed to organize important information for her own son, so she started Little Peanut on the Go.

Entrepreneur Snapshot

Founder: Karla Lemmon

Age: 43

City you live in: Plymouth

City of birth: Detroit Lakes

High school attended: Detroit Lakes High School

College attended: Valparaiso University and University of St. Thomas

Karla is a mechanical engineer by degree with an MBA. She eventually ended up as a software product manager. She has had several entrepreneurial ideas in the past but never pursued any until Little Peanut on the Go.

Company Snapshot: Little Peanut on the Go

Little Peanut on the Go is a mobile assistant for parents to help stay organized and connected when they, their children, or the whole family is away from home.

Parents can build packing lists and to-do lists, create emergency information and care instructions to share with caregivers, and connect with their children while they’re away.

Business Start Date:

April 24, 2015

Number of Employees: 1

Number of Customers: 1,000

Website: www.littlepeanutonthego.com

Twitter: @LittlePeanutOTG


Read the Q&A here.

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Startup Showcase: Bokos

By Lee George

When it comes to starting a business, at 24-years-old, Matt McManus is two ahead of most people. Matt leveraged his experience as a retail entrepreneur in high school to create Bokos, which creates colorful rubber sandals. With no knowledge or connections in the footwear industry, Matt had to rely on his entrepreneurial acumen to build his new company.

Entrepreneur Snapshot

Founder: Matt McManus

Age: 24

City you live in: St. Louis Park

City of birth: Plymouth

High school attended: Armstrong High School, Plymouth

College attended: University of Wisconsin-Madison

Matt attended the business school at the University of Wisconsin, where he double-majored in marketing and entrepreneurship.

As young entrepreneur, Matt ran a small clothing company in high school. This experience gave him the entrepreneurship bug, and it was his senior year of college that marked the beginning of Bokos.

Company Snapshot: Bokos

Bokos sells comfortable, colorful rubber sandals at an affordable price-point. Their customers see Bokos as their “go-to” sandals. They may be worn in locker room showers, around the campsite, in the garden, and after running.

Business Start Date: April 8, 2013

Number of Employees: 3

Number of Customers: more than 5,000

Website: www.BokosUSA.com

Twitter: @bokosusa

Read the Q&A here.


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Startup Showcase: Prempoint Inc.

By Lee George

In a connected world, companies like Prempoint Inc. can have co-founders that live across the country from each other. A local entrepreneur, Prempoint co-founder Paul Ward, lives in Minnesota, while the other co-founder, Matt Hartley, lives in Florida. For a company that is pre-revenue, this long distance partnership works. As Hartley says, “As we get to post-revenue we will evaluate a headquarter city and St. Paul, Minnesota, is in the top three”.

Prempoint Inc. is an Internet of Things company. Even if the phrase “Internet of Things” is a new term for you, most likely you have items in your life which fall into this category. Internet of Things is the development of the Internet in a way that everyday items are connected to a network and can send and receive data or commands. Use of connected thermostats, entertainment and home security systems have become widespread.

Prempoint has created a virtual access control system that provides access control to anyone with a smart mobile device. The mobile device can then be used to unlock doors, turn on lights, and control temperature. It basically becomes the master key to accessing anything.

Entrepreneur Snapshot

Founder: Matthew Hartley

Age: 41

City you live in: Key Largo, Fla.

City of birth: Key Largo

High school attended: Bishop Guertin H.S., Nashua, N.H.

College attended: University of Miami

Matthew has been in the software industry for over 15 years doing both engineering and sales. With a group of peers who had a desire to start their own company and a targeted market need, Prempoint Inc. was born.

Company Snapshot: Prempoint Inc.

Prempoint designs and develops a mobile solution for access control and publishing for the Internet of Things. Their solution streamlines access control through self-service and provides workflow automation for industries like property management, home services, transportation, events and travel/hospitality. Prempoint Inc. has a simple mission: share secure access to anything.

Business Start Date: June 1, 2014

Number of Employees: 6

Number of Customers: 2 (non-paying)

Website: www.prempoint.com

Twitter: @prempointapp

Read the Q&A here.


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Startup Showcase: Specialisterne Midwest

By Lee George

While the overall unemployment rate in Minnesota is around 3.7 percent, for individuals with disabilities the national rate exceeds 12 percent, according to the 2015 Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Tony Thomann, founder of Specialisterne Midwest, has two sons on the autism spectrum and he has set out on a personal mission to ensure there is a workforce that will hire them.

“While I have a personal stake in finding employment for people on the spectrum, I also feel that the current hiring process doesn’t get to the heart of why someone may or may not be a good fit,” Tony said. “The process is meant to exclude. We can and should do better than that. As we look into a future of more diversity in the workplace, the businesses that are able to make that paradigm shift are the ones that will succeed. People make a business successful. A wealth of diverse people make a business more wealthy.”

Entrepreneur Snapshot

Founder: Tony Thomann

Age: 46

City you live in: Maple Grove

City of birth: Franklin, Ind.

High school attended: St. Charles High School (St. Charles, Ill.)

College attended: Eastman School of Music

For the last 10 years Tony has been involved in nonprofits and workforce development. He wanted to work on finding a better way to utilize the abilities of people on the spectrum and change the way they are viewed in the labor market.

Company Snapshot: Specialisterne Midwest

Specialisterne Midwest works with companies to leverage the strengths of people on the autism spectrum. They recruit, assess, train and hire them for detail-oriented work, and then lease or contract them to businesses. Specialisterne Midwest then supports the business to find more productivity and tasks for their “Specialists”.

Business Start Date: Dec. 13, 2013

Number of Employees: 14

Number of Customers: 6

Website: usa.specialisterne.com/midwest

Twitter: @SpecialisterneM


Read the Q&A here.

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Startup Showcase: knectIQ

By Lee George

The first One in a Million national startup competition hosted by the Kauffman Foundation culminated in pitches by five finalists in a live-stream event viewed across the United States. 1 Million Cups St. Paul sent two alumni to the top 15, knectIQ and Upsie. Clarence Bethea, CEO and founder of Upsie, made it to the top five finalists and pitched to a national audience. Bethea gave an emotional pitch describing the personal benefit of financial savings to his customers.

Ken Morris, founder of knectIQ, made it to the semifinals. When asked about the financial prize of $10,000 for first place and the second place prize of $5,000, he said, “The competition is about much more than the cash prize. It has already helped me make connections across the country that will assist in the growth of my company.”

A Kansas company, blooom, took home the top prize of $10,000 and became the inaugural winner of the One in a Million competition.

Entrepreneur Snapshot

Founder: Ken Morris

Age: 62

City you live in: Oakdale

City of birth: Berkeley, CA

High school attended: Phillips Academy Andover

College attended: Hamline University School of Law

Ken describes himself as “a classically trained musician, admirer of the elegance of applied mathematics, legally trained as a problem solver, always looking to apply technology where applicable to increase efficiency, reduce cost, improve quality and outcomes for people and organizations.

” A former medical device executive, Ken says he is a “serial entrepreneur.” Ken co-founded CorCardia Group Inc. to optimize care, reduce cost and eliminate waste in the procurement and use of medical devices while providing accurate data to determine patient outcomes related to therapy. This led to developing technology to connect patient health records to data repositories containing patient medical device data. While pondering that problem, Ken had a number of friends who were victims of medical identity theft. This led to the foundation of knectIQ.

Company Snapshot

knectIQ Inc.

We help people and organizations sleep well at night. knectIQ is a cyber security company that protects identifiable information while maintaining the usability of the data. This resulted in development of a virtual biometric that connects all of an individual’s data or an Internet of Things device on unconnected data repositories.

Business Start Date

May 2015

Number of Employees







Read the Q&A here.

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Startup Showcase: Upsie

By Lee George

The Kauffman Foundation, based in Kansas City, Mo., and home of the original 1 Million Cups, is in the midst of their first One in a Million startup competition. Out of 377 applicants from across the United States, two 1 Million Cups St. Paul startups have made it to the semifinals. Clarence Bethea, founder of Upsie, and Ken Morris, founder of knectIQ, will be heading to Kansas City for the Nov. 17 semifinal round.

You may remember Bethea from a profile of Upsie that the Pioneer Press did in September.

1 Million Cups St. Paul is one of 77 chapters across the nation. In order to compete in One in a Million, all participants must be alumni of the program. Jade Barker, a 1 Million Cups St. Paul organizer, said, “Having two Minnesota tech startups as semifinalists is amazing. I’m so proud of what these teams are doing to help put Minnesota on the map. This really validates that we do have the talent and upside for startups to thrive here.”

When Bethea was asked about the experience of being in the One in a Million competition, he replied, “We’re proud to represent Minnesota in this competition, we have a great tech community on the rise here, and people are beginning to take notice, thanks to leaders like Code42, Sport Ngin, LeadPages and RetraceHealth.”

Entrepreneur Snapshot

Founder: Clarence Bethea

Age: 35

City you live in: Burnsville

City of birth: Atlanta

High school attended: Southwest Dekalb High School, Decatur, Ga.

College attended: Bemidji State

Before Upsie, Clarence started 2nd Chance Staffing and secured contracts to staff distribution centers for Best Buy. Prior to 2nd Chance, Clarence helped launch 43 Hoops, a premier basketball program. In the first two years, 43 Hoops reached $1.5 million in revenue. In 2005, Clarence also assisted in startup Gravelick, a local trucking company that served clients such as The Home Depot, Menards and Stock Builders.

Company Snapshot: Upsie

Upsie is a free mobile application that puts the power of warranty decisions directly in the hands of consumers at their convenience. With its low markup and customer-focused approach, Upsie is revolutionizing the warranty industry by demystifying everything from shopping to buying and storing warranty information. Upsie champions customer empowerment and helps users protect the products that matter most to them, including smartphones, personal electronics, home appliances, audio/visual equipment, video game consoles, lawn and garden tools, and more. Upsie is available now in the App Store and Google Play store.

Business Start Date: Nov. 19, 2014

Number of Employees: 7

Website: upsie.com

Twitter: @UpsieHQ


Read the Q&A here.


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