James J. Hill Center Statement Regarding Current Closure

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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







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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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Startup Showcase: Mighty Axe Hops

By Lee George

A local farmer is breaking new ground in finding a way to keep his family farm in business. According to Eric Sannerud, founder of Mighty Axe Hops, “we’re at the start of a new industry that will have a sizable impact on specialty agriculture in Minnesota for years to come. The unique position of being one of the first entrants to a new market and being in a new agricultural market provides critical context to understanding our vision, strategy, and challenges.”

Mighty Axe Hops grows local hops for local beer and for Eric, it is more than just a business — it is a way to keep the family farm around for the next generation.

Entrepreneur Snapshot

Founder: Eric Sannerud

Age: 24

City you live in: Ham Lake

City of birth: Edina

High school attended: Edina High School

College attended: University of Minnesota

Eric is a fourth-generation back-to-the-land farmer. He graduated from the University of Minnesota where he explored his interests in sustainability, farming and business. With this academic knowledge and his family’s farming history, he started Mighty Axe Hops immediately after graduating. Interactions with key faculty in both College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources and Carlson School of Management heavily influenced Eric’s path towards entrepreneurship.

Company Snapshot: Mighty Axe Hops

Mighty Axe Hops grows local hops for local beer.

Business Start Date: March 2013

Website: www.MightyAxeHops.com

Twitter: @MightyAxeHops

The Origin

My cofounders and I were all in school together at the U and, like many upstanding college students, we were into beer. We homebrewed, biked to the tap rooms, and went to beer festivals. Realizing that our skills were in farming and horticulture, we planted some hops and tested assumptions about growing climate, local demand, and personal know-how. The tests went well and we’ve been off to the races ever since.

Read the Q&A here.

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Startup Showcase: BigRedDog Solutions

By Lee George

A component of our entrepreneurial community I am continually impressed with is the sharing of knowledge. Many entrepreneurs seek opportunities to give back to their community in the form of mentoring, teaching or connecting.

Brooks Clifford, from BigRedDog Solutions, is passionate about teaching business owners how to better grow their business and be more successful. He does this through his company and also by offering workshops like those here at the James J. Hill Center to teach entrepreneurs skills they may not have.

Entrepreneur Snapshot

Founder: Brooks Clifford

Age: 28

City you live in: Eden Prairie

City of birth: Edina

High school attended: Edina High School

College attended: James Madison University, Virginia

Growing up as a kid in the ’90’s I remember spending countless hours with my older brother designing and building websites for fun. In 2002, my brother and I built our first e-commerce website D2YRQ.com which sold “virtual goods” or as we like put it: weapons and swords within a computer game. I was 15 at the time, my brother was 17 and ever since we started our first business, back in 2002, I knew I was meant to be an entrepreneur.

Fast forward to today. I own BigRedDog Solutions a web design and online marketing company. Web design is something that I continuously strive to become better at. I’m Google Analytics Certified, Google Adwords Certified and am currently working on being approved for my Google Partnership program. I read, blog and love talking to anyone who’s interested in discussing websites.

Company Snapshot: BigRedDog Solutions

BigRedDog Solutions offers two distinct services which include Web design and online marketing services such as SEO. Our Web design projects are bid on a per-project basis and are typically completed over an 8-12 week period. Complementary to Web design we offer online marketing solutions that help business increase their sales or leads generated through their website. Our online marketing clients are billed on a monthly retainer that is based on the scope of work and size of budget. We strive to build long-term relationships with all our clients.

We operate with the goal of maintaining low operational costs which allows us to charge a more affordable rate to our clients vs. our competition. In addition our business development is done through networking and referrals which also help reduce the cost of acquiring new clients.

Business Start Date: December 2009

Number of Employees: 1

Number of Customers: 40

Website: https://bigreddogsolutions.com

Twitter: @BrooksClifford

The Origin

Originally after I graduated from college, BigRedDog Solutions was positioned as a market research company that gathered market and financial data for third party data analysis. Overtime this led me into the world of online marketing, which is where our focus has been since 2014. In addition, having a background in computer programming and Web design, it was an easy combination to add that aspect to my business. Today, Web design projects accounts for 50 percent of our sales while the other half is still generated from providing online marketing services.

Read the Q&A here.


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Startup Showcase: Faces of Hope

By Lee George

When I asked Bianca Dawkins what led her to start her business, Faces of Hope, I was surprised by her response.

“Growing up in a household where domestic violence took place, which led my family to become homeless, really caused a lot of trauma in my life and those around me.

“I learned very quickly that it was important to find therapeutic practices in order to help myself heal and shape a positive mindset. I also knew that trauma from issues like violence, health disparities and homelessness are huge issues that impact communities, especially communities of color, so I wanted to be the facilitator of raising awareness about these issues in a positive way and that’s why I started my company.”

Entrepreneur Snapshot

Founder: Bianca Dawkins

Age: 23

City you live in: St. Paul

City of birth: Minneapolis

High school attended: Southwest High School

College attended: Minneapolis Community Technical College

Bianca Dawkins is a youth social entrepreneur whose life changed for the better in July, 2013. Bianca was 20 years old and looking for an opportunity to explore her leadership ability when she came across the Change Fellows program that Youthprise offers. Working at a job where she was not thriving, she decided to apply for the fellowship, not knowing where it could take her — but she took the risk. She was accepted and began her fellowship on July 25, 2013.

Company Snapshot: Faces of Hope SBC

I have started one of the first “Benefit Corporations” in Minnesota called Faces of Hope (FOH).

FOH’s focus is on providing therapeutic products for youth. This year we are launching our first product, called “Foh-zzies”. Foh-zzies are therapeutic dolls that inspire youth to reflect on what empowers them. Every time a doll is purchased, one is given to a youth who has experienced violence, homelessness or health disparities. Once the dolls are purchased, we donate them to local shelters and youth programs to be distributed. This best part about the Foh-zzies is that the front states, “I am empowered by _____ .” Youth get to choose from over 200 empowerment words and draw it on with a marker to help shape a positive mindset.

Business Start Date: Feb. 15, 2015

Number of Employees: 3

Number of Customers: 500 (projected)

Twitter: @projecthopemn

The Origin

My “Big Idea” at the beginning was to use fashion as a medium to raise awareness about violence while teaching youth about the fashion industry, where they could obtain transferable skills. I have always stuck with the name “Hope” because to my company it means “Helping Overcome Potential Endangerment.” And by that we mean the mindsets of our youth.

Read the Q&A here.

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Startup Showcase: Vugo

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.

Entrepreneur Snapshot

Founder: Robert Flessner

Age: 30

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.

Company Snapshot

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

Website: www.govugo.com

Twitter: @go_vugo

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.


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Startup Showcase: Otium Outdoors

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.

Entrepreneur Snapshot

Founder: Mickeli Bedore

Age: 34

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.

Company Snapshot

Otium Outdoors

Business Start Date: 2014

Number of Employees: 4

Website: www.otiumoutdoors.com

Twitter: @otiumoutdoors

The Origin

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.

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Startup Showcase: Glorious Hugs

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.”

Entrepreneur Snapshot

Founder: Mary MacCarthy

Age: 50

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.

Company Snapshot

Glorious Hugs

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



Twitter: @glorioushugs

The Origin

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.

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