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Startup Showcase: Sitters on Call

By Krysten Alberg, James J. Hill Center Marketing Coordinator

As many parents know, trying to arrange child care while working can become a full-time job on its own.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, among the 34.4 million families with children under the age of 18, 88.7 percent had at least one employed parent in 2014.

Employed parents must ensure their children are cared for while they are working (or need a night off), and calling sitter after sitter is time-consuming and frustrating.

Sitters on Call aims to streamline the logistics of accessing child care by coordinating sitters’ availability schedules with parents’ needs. Rather than call their sitters, parents can quickly access a calendar of all their child care providers’ schedules and can arrange for a sitter with just a few clicks. Sitters on Call makes it simple for parents to connect with sitters they already know and trust.

Read the full article here.

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Startup Showcase: Instruments in the Cloud

By Krysten Alberg, James J. Hill Center Marketing Coordinator

Quality music education doesn’t come cheap. With even used musical instruments costing anywhere from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars, cost is a major barrier to students’ access to music education.

Vega Productions believes in musical equality for all, and so it developed Instruments in the Cloud, a site that allows owners of once-loved but no-longer-in-use musical instruments to donate those instruments to music programs in need.

Entrepreneur snapshot:

Caitlin Marlotte heads Vega Productions, which runs Instruments in the Cloud. (Photo courtesy James J. Hill Center)
Caitlin Marlotte heads Vega Productions, which runs Instruments in the Cloud.

Name: Caitlin Marlotte
Age: 38
City you live in: Minneapolis
City of birth: Minneapolis
High school attended: Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics, and Humanities
College attended: Indiana University-Bloomington and University of Wisconsin-Madison

Company snapshot:
Vega Productions, makers of Instruments in the Cloud
Website: http://instrumentsinthecloud.org
Twitter: @vegaproductions
Business Start Date: January 2015
Number of Employees: 1
Number of Customers: 275 music educators and 280 musical instrument donors

Caitlin Marlotte is executive director of Vega Productions and co-founder of Instruments in the Cloud. She joined Vega Productions in 2015, taking over for founder Mark Gehring, who moved on to start GNDWire Records.

Caitlin is a violinist and apprentice violin maker, and has focused her career on development, marketing, and strategy in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors.

Before leading Vega Productions, Caitlin worked at Twin Cities Public Television.

Read the Q&A here.

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Startup Showcase: Monkey with a Mustache, LLC

By Lee George

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 29 industrialized nations’ high school students perform better than U.S. students in math. And according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, by 2018, 92 percent of traditional STEM jobs will be for those with at least some postsecondary education and training.

Jerry Belich, founder of Monkey with a Mustache LLC, and developer of The Choosatron, says that his programmable storytelling device is not about saving the world but about making education fun.

Jerry Belich
Jerry Belich

Teachers and employers alike are engaging in developing new ways to educate and train a workforce that will need STEM education to do its work. Through programming and storytelling, Jerry’s company and product introduce users to STEM education, and they have fun doing it. He may not be saving the world, but he is preparing its future workers.

Entrepreneur Snapshot

Founder: Jerry Belich

Age: 34

City you live in: Minneapolis

City of birth: Duluth

High school attended: Centennial High School, Circle Pines

College attended: Bethel University

Jerry Belich grew up around the Twin Cities. A lifelong storyteller, he studied computer science, theater and film in college. Jerry’s opportunities helped him marry technical and creative work into a single form. After creating The Choosatron, Jerry’s career took the sharp turn he had been waiting for. Now he is a game designer, story and narrative writer, and inventor.

Company Snapshot: Monkey with a Mustache, LLC

Primarily, Monkey with a Mustache is providing game design and development services. This work is realized in the form of code, script and dialogue writing, hardware development, and product development in any of those areas. The Choosatron is the first manufactured product, and one that continues to develop along with the company’s related work. The Choosatron Deluxe Adventure Matrix is a Wi-Fi connected Choose Your Own Adventure-inspired story printer, blending digital and analogue storytelling. It uses an inkless thermal printer, like a receipt machine, to print stories. The user can select options via a touchpad to choose where the story goes. It is designed to be easily assembled by kids into a small interactive game box, and encourage social reading, learning, and play. Users can interact with pre-loaded stories or create their own.

Business Start Date: January 2014

Number of Employees: 1

Number of Customers: 600+

Website: http://jerrytron.com

Twitter: @j3rrytron

Read the Q&A here.

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Startup Showcase: Fresh Vine

According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the U.S. These organizations hold an immense amount of data about their constituents, donors, volunteers and other stakeholders. And their effectiveness often relies on effectively keeping track of all of these records.

There are numerous nonprofit databases created to assist other nonprofits in managing this data. In a crowded market, Minneapolis-based Fresh Vine focuses on simplicity to differentiate itself.

Paul Prins is founder of Fresh Vine, Minneapolis. (Courtesy photo)
Paul Prins is founder of Fresh Vine, Minneapolis. (Courtesy photo)

Entrepreneur Snapshot

Founder: Paul Prins

Age: 31

City you live in: Minneapolis

City of birth: St. Louis Park

High school attended: Eden Prairie High School

College attended: UW Stout

To run Fresh Vine and help nonprofits succeed, Paul Prins harnessed his lifelong experience participating in social programs like the Boy Scouts of America, youth sports, collegiate organizations — and observing his mother’s involvement with leading the programs he was in. Through this experience he saw a need for a system that allowed organizations to manage information easily and to leverage it to meet their goals. This idea formed into Fresh Vine.

Company Snapshot: Fresh Vine

Fresh Vine is nonprofit membership software used to manage rosters, receive and track donations, and manage events and email campaigns.

Business Start Date: 2011

Number of Employees: 2

Number of Customers: 130 Nonprofit Accounts

Website: https://freshvine.co/

Twitter: @FreshVine

Read the Q&A here.

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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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