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Angel Investors and Their Criteria for an Investment

For startups, financing can be challenging, and often the biggest barrier. Each month we’re focusing on a different financing option in Minnesota for startups and featuring experts in the field. 

It is important to first understand that angel investors and VCs all share one thing in common: the need for a return on their investment. This is not philanthropy. Even Impact Investors who may accept lower rates of return, still need that ROI.

After a founder understands this, one must realize that there are angel investors who specialize in an industry while others are “agnostic” meaning they are open to all industries.  Do your homework in advance of contacting investors.

What all investors rate highest in evaluating a deal is the strength of the team.

  • Does the management team have the relevant skills to be successful?
  • The team should bring diverse skill sets to the business.
  • After funding, who would be the first hires to help round out the team?
  • If not the management team, are there mentors or an advisory board to help guide the management team.
  • The gold star is a founder or early team member that has been through the business stages from concept to an exit.
  • Many investors like to see some “skin in the game”. Have the founders invested in their own startup?
  • Passion for their concept
  • Are the founders coachable? Will they listen to others and sift through their advice for better ways to build the company?

A great team can carry a good concept to success. A dysfunctional team can kill the best business models.

Back to the ROI…

Is there an exit in the plan? The business can be very successful but without an exit there is generally no ROI. Ideally, investors would like to see an exit (acquisition or an IPO for example) in 5 to 7 years. There are other ways to structure an exit. This could be a form of revenue sharing or a guaranteed founder buy out of the investors.

 

David Russick is an established entrepreneur and angel investor. Russick is co-founder, Managing Director, and Board Member of Gopher Angels.  Russick was also founder and CEO of TUBS, Inc., a family owned waste and recycling business operating in the Twin Cities, Denver and Cleveland.   In addition, Russick serves on the Board of Advisors for the Dakota Venture Group.  Russick has been featured in the “Star Tribune,” “Twin Cities Business,” and the “Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal.” “Twin Cities Business” named him a “2014 People to Know – Finance.”  

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A Consumer’s Guide to Women’s Equity

Check back each month for the Original Thinker Series as we explore local innovation in entrepreneurship, the arts, and our community one pioneering mind at a time.

It is hard not to be optimistic after a conversation with Kateri Ruiz, founder of MAIA.community. Kateri is committed to emboldening women’s equity and has vowed that she “will not cease until all data sets can prove it.” Her approach to gender equity work: speak passionately and carry a big directory.

MAIA is a free access directory of women-owned businesses across the nation. It is built for the conscious consumer who wants to spend their money in alignment with their values—especially when it comes to gender equity. Companies with at least 50% or greater female representation in the highest levels of leadership are listed for free with the option to purchase a premium listing for greater visibility.

The idea for MAIA began when Kateri and her husband started paying attention to the products and services they were bringing into their home. They put them through a litmus test: were these products and services ideated by, created by, or done in a holistic image of a woman? After failing month after month to match their spending with the 5:1 female to male ratio of their household, Kateri realized there was a larger problem to solve. “Why is this so hard,” says Kateri. “Women owned firms are everywhere.”

Kateri began earnestly gathering every list of women-owned businesses she could get her hands on. (Shameless plug: She did some of her research at the James J. Hill Center.) What she realized in the process was that these lists are plentiful but scattered. They are often owned by groups or associations and accessible only to paying members. Additionally, most are designed for business-to-business use and not for the consumer.

Someone needed to gather all these lists into one place and make them searchable and user-friendly to the everyday person trying to live a socially conscious life. Thus MAIA was born. “We wanted to make it easier for consumers to have that level of information,” says Kateri. “So that consumers could spend their money in a way that meant something to them.”

Women make up nearly half of the workforce in the United States (46.9%). Yet, only 5% of S&P 500 companies have a female CEO and only 21.2% of board seats in these same companies are filled by women. “The disparity between who is doing the work and who is leading the companies we find to be a systemic barrier,” says Kateri.

After spending a career in workforce solutions, Kateri is taking the reverse approach with MAIA to influence systemic change. “If we are being told that we cannot figure out how to solve gender pay parity for another 50 years… then perhaps we should move outside of that status quo and drive a more female-centric economy—potentially on its own,” says Kateri. This is what makes Kateri an original thinker. She is harnessing the free information philosophy of the Internet to allow us to support the businesses—and the women leading them—that we’d like to see more of in the world.

“We believe that when women are involved equally at the highest levels of leadership where we ideate, where we create, where we are making the decisions… that can yield a more holistic product and solution,” says Kateri.

To join the MAIA Community visit their website maia.community or reach out to the team at info@maia.community.

 


Written by Christopher Christenson, Program & Event Coordinator, at the James J. Hill Center. Have an idea of a person or organization to feature in this series? Send your recommendations to 
christopher@jjhill.org.

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Startup Showcase: Job Matchmakers

Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews 1 Million Cup presenters for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press. Recently we connected with presenters Nathan and Alex Guggenberger. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on June 17, 2018.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 9.8 million jobs are projected to be created by 2024 and, according to employee-screening services company EBI, 75 percent of that workforce will be made up of millennials.

Alex and Nathan Guggenberger have been a part of those job seeking statistics and ultimately decided to help themselves by helping others find the best fit. With 42 percent of people searching through job boards but only 14.9 percent of hires happening from those boards, Alex and Nathan thought they saw an opportunity to make job searching more efficient, holistic and ultimately give back to companies with a higher retention rate. Thus the birth of Jobiki — helping job seekers explore, discover and find meaningful work.

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Nathan and Alex Guggenberger
City you live in: Minnetonka
City of Birth: Minnetonka
High School Attended: Hopkins High School
College attended: Augustana University

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Jobiki
Website: www.jobiki.com|
witter: @jobikiHQ
Business Start Date: Sept. 2, 2017
Number of Employees: 2
Number of Customers: 12

Q. What led to this point?

A. Nathan and Alex grew up together. Why? Because we are siblings. I guess you could say we have always worked together. We actually “tried” to start a business when we were in elementary school. It was called “A.B.C. Gum.” We wanted to make a brand new gum that looked like it had already been chewed. We closed up shop after the R&D (research and development) phase because the gum came out rock hard. In all seriousness though, we have always been a duo that bounced ideas off each other. With me (Alex) having a degree in business and accounting, and Nathan having a background in software development, it just made sense.

Q. What is your business?

A. We help people find meaningful work by finding a meaningful workplace. For many, including ourselves, nothing is more daunting then searching for employment. You often don’t know where to start or even what opportunities are out there. The solution for many is to apply to as many jobs as possible, hoping that they will eventually hear back from someone.

At Jobiki, we do things a little bit differently. The Jobiki job search starts with finding the right company. Our platform allows job seekers to explore company cultures through photos, videos, benefits, amenities, and neighborhood data of companies near them. Using the Jobiki filters, job seekers can discover the perfect company that fits with their lifestyle and personal brand. With Jobiki we allow you to signal interest in a company with a simple click of a button. After explaining why you want to work for that company, Jobiki will send your information and résumé to our contact with that company.  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 8AM – 4PM, Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.jjhill.org

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It’s Tough to Stump a Librarian

The Hill Center has a rich archival history of our early years, including original book receipts from 1918, annual reports beginning in 1917, and even reference correspondence from as early as 1921.

The reference correspondence, which includes written requests for information and specific books, demonstrates both what people were researching here ninety years ago and what truly remarkable information finders librarians are!

One of the most fun discoveries was the numerous requests for the identity of a poem—usually with the patron providing only little or incorrect information.

In 1930, someone wrote in to the Hill asking, “Would you be kind enough to advise from what the following quotation was taken. ‘None knew him but to honor him; / None named him but to praise.’” Our diligent librarians discovered this to be the beginning of “On the Death of Joseph Rodman Drake, September 1820,” a poem by Fitz Green Halleck. 

How did they do it? While we can never say for sure since the processes for particular reference questions weren’t written down, we can assume it was how most research was done those days: mainly a matter of immense knowledge and familiarity with the subject and the library catalog. It’s possible we had a librarian who specialized in literature or, if not, outsourced the question to an outside librarian or expert. 

The editor of “The Daily Argus-Leader” in Sioux Falls, SD, was a particularly curious man. He once quipped in a letter to the Hill that, “I begin to feel there ought to be fees charged for my inquiries.” He often needed help identifying poems. In 1929, he wrote in: 

Have you anything in your anthologies whereby you could give authorship and “location” of old poem about the goat that used a shirt off the clothes line to flag a train? 

It thus begins: 

There was a goat—a one-eyed goat— 

And he was old enough to vote etc. 

Our librarians performed beautifully, promptly sending off the following response: 

The version which I found of the poem of a goat that flagged a train reads as follows: 

A HARLEM GOAT 

A Harlem goat was feeling fine,
Ate nine red shirts off Sallie’s line
Sal grabbed a stick, gave the goat a whack
And tied him to the railroad track.
A fast express was drawing nigh,
The Harlem goat was doomed to die
But with an awful shriek of pain
The Harlem goat coughed up those shirts and flagged the train.  

(Our research department today enjoyed learning more about Harlem goats here and here, even though the latter features a different version of the poem.)

But even the Hill librarians got stumped time to time. Our prolific friend in Sioux Falls wrote in, in 1928: 

“An inquiry comes to this office about a poem the burden of which is the following. There is a steep hill and a road runs down the land below. There is a number of accidents happening there and an ambulance is stationed at the foot of the hill to gather up the wounded. Some one [sic] suggests that a railing be placed on the side of the road going down hill [sic], but some one [sic] also says it is not necessary since there is an ambulance at the foot to receiving the injured. Did you ever hear about this?” 

Unfortunately, our librarians had not heard about this, even after scouring our poetry anthologies. 

Today it’s (usually!) easy to identify a poem or song from misremembered lines by typing them into Google, but for topics such as private company information, consumer behavior, and five-year industry forecasts, it’s still best to consult the experts. For your tough business questions, come in to check out our free specialized business databases, or connect one-on-one with a business research specialist through a Hill membership or premium research services. 

 


Written by Ann Mayhew, Reference & Support Specialist, at the James J. Hill Center. If you have more questions about the reference library our our historic collection at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or hillreferencelibrary@jjhill.org.

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It All Adds Up: Celebrating Growth

When I think about pivotal growth seasons in my life, one of the most memorable, but often scary experiences was becoming a parent. If you’re anything like me and began your parenting journey in the early 2000’s, then you probably owned and/or read one of the books from the series, “What to Expect…”. In spite of the millions of parents before me and the countless times I read and reread from the book series, my growth process of becoming a parent was unique to me. The same is true in the growth process as an entrepreneur and business owner. In spite of the case studies and research published by thousands of entrepreneurs, starting a business is extremely difficult and choosing to remain in business and experience growth is excruciatingly painful. But just like parenting, entrepreneurship adds immeasurable value to my lived experiences.

Over the last 1-1/2 years, I’ve been working with Minneapolis based brand consultants, Neka Creative, to redefine everything about my cookie company. While we’ve just reached the final stages in the planning and development process with a new name and logo, clearly defined messaging and a robust sales and marketing strategy, all of this preparation leads to another pivotal and scary growth process for me. However, just like my anticipation of becoming a new parent, I celebrate the possibilities first, followed by confidently leaning into the very common, yet extremely personal growth process.

The commonalities of the business growth process can be found in the business plan. The personalization of the business growth process is shaped by the life that is breathed into making the business plan a reality. Today, as I anticipate the new life I will infuse into my cookie company I am filled with an abundance of hope. Hope that something as simple as a cookie made from my favorite childhood recipes can be the force behind a movement of a safer, kinder, sweeter world by spreading a message that #HopeMunchesOn!

While the process is very personal, it is never experienced in isolation. As I take another step on my entrepreneurial journey, I’m inviting you to join me. I hope you will join me as I celebrate the re-branding and launch of my life’s work, Junita’s Jar. Stop over and visit the new website, junitasjar.com and stay tuned for more details on our July 31st launch party, which be held at the James J. Hill Center.

Entrepreneurship, just like parenting has been an extremely rewarding gift that has strengthened my character, defined my resilience and influenced my compassion for humanity. And similar to my hopes and dreams as a parent, I am committed to leading a cookie company that inspires good and spreads hope.

I’d love to hear from you. In anticipation of the upcoming launch party, I am looking for stories that reflect a message of #hopemuncheson. If you’d like to share your story, click here to request more information.

 


You can read more about Junita Flowers on her website junitasjar.com. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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“Building” Data

Opening a store-front location adds an additional research layer onto an already complex process. In addition to industry and competitor investigation, you now must consider foot traffic, signage, and accessibility issues as part of your research! Thankfully, the James J. Hill Center’s resources offer ways to connect you to the information you need to finalize your business’ location.

The Hill offers SimplyAnalytics on a walk-in basis for demographics and consumer behavior research. You can look up survey data on a variety of topics including buying behavior and consumer attitudes, and blend it with information on population, ethnicity, household income, and others pulled from the U.S. Census Bureau. SimplyAnalytics, formerly SimplyMap, offers multiple ways to view this data. You can compare two (or more!) specific locations down to the block level using the Comparison chart tool or rank counties, cities, zip codes, and beyond using the Ratings view. A stand-out feature of SimplyAnalytics allows users to map other, similar businesses as sorted by NAICS code onto a map of a desired location. You can literally chart your competitors in a designated location, creating exportable maps for future presentations!

While the Hill is your first stop when it comes to business research, when it comes to location-specific information, however, there’s no substitute for going straight to the source. The City of St. Paul can seem overwhelming for an entrepreneur at any stage of business development. Fortunately the Saint Paul Public Library’s Nicholson Workforce and Innovation Center is here to help. Located at the George Latimer Central Library downtown St. Paul, the Innovation Center works with St. Paul businesses to connect them to city resources on zoning, state-specific human resource requirements, and other support organizations to get your storefront up and running. If you need any help navigating the Twin Cities business research ecosystem, head over to the Hill for guidance and support during your referral process!

Additional questions? Book a complimentary 20 minute introductory appointment at the Hill by heading to jjhill.org and choosing a time that fits your schedule.

 


Written by Jessica Huffman, Business Outreach Librarian, at the James J. Hill Center. If you have more questions about the reference library at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or hillreferencelibrary@jjhill.org.

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A Crowdfunding Vanguard for Investors, Entrepreneurs

Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews 1 Million Cup presenters for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press.  Recently we connected with presenter David Duccini. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on June 2, 2018.

According to Crowdexpert.com, “The crowdfunding industry is projected to grow to over $300 billion by 2025.”  With the new rules for crowdfunding portals, regulation crowdfunding (as opposed to rewards-based crowdfunding, like Kickstarter) has an opportunity to fill in after banks stop lending and/or before an angel or venture capitalist steps in. According to Huffington Post, “blockchain crowdfunding might just be the next step in startup evolution, helping important and interesting projects come to fruition.”

David Duccini likes to be on the forefront of problem solving, saw that evolution of crowdfunding on the rise and waited patiently as rules and regulations evolved so he could breakout his company and help business owners raise capital legally, slashing added fees and helping their dreams grow.

 

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: David V. Duccini
City you live in: St. Paul
College attended: MS, University of St. Thomas; MBA, University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Silicon Prairie Portal & Exchange
Website: https://sppx.io
Business Start Date: October 2016
Number of Employees: 1 Full time / 8 contractors
Number of Customers: 6 live crowdfunding campaigns to date / 24 investors with pre-paid credit

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?
A. I am a serial FinTech entrepreneur. I grew a Twin Cities-based Internet Service Provider from 1994-2008 through seven acquisitions and one merger before selling it off. I then launched a VOIP company in 2016 and tried raising capital locally and from the coasts. I became familiar with Small Company Offering Registration (SCOR) as an exemption from going public and I found natural synergy with blockchain-based distributed ledgers for shareholder registries in 2010. I then waited patiently for the JOBS act crowdfunding rules to kick in four years later and another two for MNvest to become effective.

Q. What is your business?
A. Silicon Prairie Portal & Exchange is a registered crowdfunding portal operator in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and nationally through the SEC and FINRA. We help business owners raise capital legally through regulation crowdfunding in the amounts of $1 million, $2 million or even $5 million depending on which exemption from federal securities law is used. This can be in the form of stock, debt, convertible notes or the Simple Agreement for Future Equity (SAFE) instrument.

Using a smart document technology we created called “Geppetto” we are able to dramatically slash the amount of legal costs typical for a Private Placement Memorandum. Once filed and approved by the regulator we host the offering on our website as well as facilitate all financial transactions from investors to issuer. Once the campaign is successful and closed we can manage those shareholders in an “Investor Relations as a Service” model, helping with communications, voting and liquidity, first peer to peer and soon on an approved exchange.

Q. What problems does your business solve?
A. Cost effective capital raising at scale. All fundraising is essentially “the slow conversion of your social capital into financial capital.” Our Geppetto smart document technology slashes the legal costs from the $15,000-$25,000 range down to around $5,000 — and we think we can get it down to about $2,500.

Q. Where did you pivot in your company’s journey? What big obstacle or hurdle did you have to overcome?
A. We have not deviated from plan yet. Our biggest hurdle to date has been dealing with the legacy regulatory apparatus that is in place to maintain the status quo. There are very few “service level agreements” in government agencies and no sense of urgency.

We’re looking forward to the next phase of delivering an intra-state exchange system for exempt securities, something that has been contemplated in states like Michigan, but does not appear to have been tried yet. Under the rules an investor absolutely has the right to sell their interest in a crowdfunded offering to another resident of the state within the first six months and then in theory to anyone in the world. We will likely be the first company ever to put that theory to test….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 8AM – 4PM, Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.jjhill.org

 

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Top Tips for Startup Success From Investor Ann Winblad

By Katie Moritz

(This article originally appeared on Rewire)

Nine out of 10 startups fail. That’s a hard truth of being an entrepreneur. Some of that is just plain luck, said Silicon Valley investor Ann Winblad during a workshop at e-Fest Entrepreneurship Challenge at the University of St. Thomas’ Schulze School of Entrepreneurship on April 13.

Caption/credit: Ann Winblad, right, meets students competing in e-Fest at the University of St. Thomas on April 13. Photo by Katie Moritz.

In San Francisco, where Winblad has built a successful venture capital firm that funds innovations in software, Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, an entrepreneur failing means they’re one step closer to succeeding. A lot of them bounce back and get on to the next idea.

In her role as a partner at the firm, Winblad “(auditions) the future every day,” she said.

“I see some wacky versions of it, some wishful versions of it, and some we buy into.”

(Fun fact: Back in the day, Winblad’s first business—a Minneapolis software company—was housed over Prince’s first studio, before he was Prince.)

What are the other factors—besides luck—that can make or break a startup? Winblad shared some of the insights she’s gained from decades working with some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the country:

1. Build the right team early on

Assembling the wrong people to work on your dream can spell failure, Winblad said. That might mean you have to have some tough conversations early on with people who are likely your friends. But if you really want your project to succeed, you need the right people in the right jobs.

Caption/credit: Your founding team should write down as many as 10 assumptions about what your company will do. Quarterly, revisit and revise those assumptions.

Venture capitalists invest in companies, not products, Winblad said. When Winblad’s firm looks at teams to invest in, “some of this sounds kind of fairy-taleish, but we look for someone who has a big vision of how the future will unfold.

She gave the example of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, whom she knew early on in his career. He was in love with his own big ideas, and that passion showed through to the people around him.

“Bill Gates believed there would be a personal computer on every desk,” Winblad said. “He was infused with the energy of this potential.”

Winblad’s firm also looks for team members who have “glass-half-full” attitudes. Positivity will buoy you through the difficulties of starting a business.

“If you’re a glass-half-empty person, you’re going to meet some real challenges that are going to make you not even want to look at the glass,” Winblad said.

2. Center the customer

Do your market research and develop a product or a service that customers need. When you’re pitching to investors, if you can show the need for what you’re hoping to deliver, you’re in a good position.

Winblad used the example of MuleSoft, a software company her firm invested in and was recently sold to Salesforce for $6.5 billion. MuleSoft gave their product away for free at first and built up a portfolio of loyal customers. When it came time to scale up and look for more money, MuleSoft leaders were able to produce a long list of people who not only saw a need for the product, they were already using it.

Another couple of founders arrived at a pitch meeting at Winblad’s firm with a long scroll that they rolled out on the board room table.

The entrepreneurs said to the investors, ” ‘Pick any name on here. There are 500 customer names—we’ll tell you what they said about our product,’” Winblad said. “We were captivated. … They told us what the customer wanted, not just what they were building.”

“We’re not the batters, we’re only pitchers in the end, and the market has to bat at this. … Both these companies captivated us with the strong need in the market and the voice of the customer first.”

3. Define and redefine your ‘assumptions’

When you’re starting out, brainstorm and write down as many as 10 assumptions about where your business will go. These assumptions define your business strategy. Once a quarter, you should revisit them as a group and determine if they are still true.

Caption/credit: Having the wrong team and getting money at the wrong time or in the wrong amount are two common missteps of startups.

“If any of them are false, huddle together and change something in your business strategy,” Winblad said.

Writing down and revisiting these assumptions will help you “keep your eye on the prize,” she said.

“It takes enormous intellectual and physical stamina to do a startup. It’s all uncertainty.”

Eventually, as your business grows, the assumptions that make up your business plan will manifest into facts, Winblad said. But don’t wait until you have a list of facts to reach out for funding.

As venture capitalists, “we like uncertainties,” she said. “We want to hear about the bigger promise, not about the smaller proof. We want to hear about your assumptions. We don’t need facts, so don’t tiny it down—come to us with the prize and your thinking about the prize. Because that’s our job—our job is to say, were willing to take risk.”

This article is part of America’s Entrepreneurs: Making it Work, a Rewire initiative made possible by the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and EIX, the Entrepreneur and Innovation Exchange.

© Twin Cities Public Television – 2018. All rights reserved.

About the writer(s):

Katie Moritz is Rewire’s web editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores, rock concerts and pho. She covered politics for a newspaper in Juneau, Alaska, before driving down to balmy Minnesota to help produce long-standing public affairs show “Almanac” at Twin Cities PBS. Now she works on this here website. Reach her via email at kmoritz@tpt.org. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz and on Instagram @yepilikeit.

 

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Offering stylish comfort for teens with autism

Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews 1 Million Cup presenters for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press.  Recently we connected with presenter Molly Fuller. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on May 19, 2018.

 

According to the Autism Society, more than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder and the prevalence of autism in U.S. children increased by 119.4 percent from 2000 to 2010. It is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the country.

A person with autism typically has sensory disorders, meaning their senses can be intensified or be diminished. Deep pressure therapy, such as hugging, squeezing, or swaddling, has been shown to be beneficial, providing a sense of calm and relaxation. While there are some products providing deep pressure therapy, many are expensive, low quality, or lack style.

Molly Fuller is out to change that. She is tired of medical products drawing more attention to the medical condition than the actual person and believes just because someone has a medical condition doesn’t mean they don’t deserve or care about style and quality.

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Molly Fuller
City you live in: Hopkins
Age: 29
City of Birth: Cincinnati
High School Attended: Princeton High School
College attended: University of Cincinnati (undergrad), University of Minnesota (grad school)

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of Company: Molly Fuller Design
Website: mollyfullerdesign.com; Facebook & Instagram: facebook.com/mollyfullerdesign; instagram.com/mollyfuller.design
Business Start Date: September, 2016
Number of Employees: 1
Number of Customers: 31

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?
A. I have a background in fashion design and human factors. I always wanted to design better-looking products that served a medical purpose. In undergrad, I partnered with biomedical engineering students to redesign diabetic footwear and compression garments. I’ve worked in the health care industry, such as the Mayo Clinic, my entire career designing better patient experiences for various conditions.

Q. What is your business?
A. My business is an online clothing store that specializes in creating stylish clothing that is designed for specific medical conditions. I’m focusing first on clothing for teens with autism.

My first product is called the Charlie shirt, a stylish therapeutic compression shirt for teens with autism. The compression provides deep pressure therapy that is calming and relaxing to many people with diminished senses due to their autism. The Charlie shirt uses a high-quality power stretch super soft material that adds substantial compression while not irritating the skin. The seams and stitching are designed to feel invisible to the wearer. The stylistic detailing on the sleeves double as a fidget for tactile stimulation.

Q. What is the origin of the business?
A. My senior year of undergrad I decided to do a second thesis focused on medical clothing. I reached out to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and they let me observe in different units to see where there might be an opportunity to design better products. I observed with two occupational therapists in the autism unit and that’s where I saw the biggest need for better clothing options for teens.

I then connected with special education teachers to understand another perspective and saw that teachers were DIY-ing clothes for their students because the current products made the kids stand out more and be bullied. An autism distribution company happened to launch around the same time, so I reached out to the CEO and she was generous with her time and allowed me to tag-along to the AutismOne Conference with her.

There I talked with parents and professionals to gain a better understanding of their needs. I had three designs prototyped and started testing. I put the business on hold while I worked at the Mayo Clinic. By 2016, I hadn’t seen enough things change in the market and I wanted to provide a solution to these teens and families. I started designing and testing out samples again with teens across the U.S.

Q. What problems does your business solve?
A. A person with autism typically has sensory disorders, meaning their senses can be intensified or be diminished. People with a diminished sense of touch may exhibit arm flapping, excessive hugging or crawling under heavy objects such as mattresses or couch cushions in order to feel pressure.

Deep pressure therapy, such as hugging, squeezing, or swaddling, has been shown to be beneficial for people with sensory disorders, providing a sense of calm and relaxation. One way to provide deep pressure therapy is through compression clothing that provides a consistent firm sensory input….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 8AM – 4PM, Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.jjhill.org

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A Seller’s Daily Amazon Life

Check back each month for the Original Thinker Series as we explore local innovation in entrepreneurship, the arts, and our community one pioneering mind at a time.

“The future of retail is no longer ‘where did you get that product’ but ‘what did you search,’” says Darrin Levine, CEO and Founder of ASDAL Inc. And he should know, it’s what he does.

Darrin’s company, ASDAL – an acronym that stands for A Seller’s Daily Amazon Life – is unique for a number of reasons. For starters, they offer comprehensive Amazon store management. To explain this, Darrin uses the following comparison: When you go to the mall, each store has a marketing manager, a display manager, an inventory manager, and lots of software keeping things straight on the back end.

“[It’s] the same concept on Amazon,” Darrin says. “We have a store manager who oversees everything, we have an account support specialist who can fix the files and templates, and content creators who do design, writing, product copy and EBC (enhanced brand content).” ASDAL can take responsibility for the whole package (literally and figuratively) including inventory storage, repackaging, and forwarding.

The second thing that makes ASDAL unique is their single-minded focus on brands. They will only take on clients who own a trademark but – once they do – will help them navigate the strict rules for registering and launching trademarked products on Amazon. Part of this launch process is removing unauthorized resellers of a product. Darrin and his team have made themselves experts in this process – they know exactly how to submit cases to Amazon to remove 90-100% of third-party sellers.

Finally, ASDAL is paving the way for others in the online retail industry by developing a proprietary software called GRIT. “There is yet to be an enterprise level software for brands to understand where their products are at,” says Darrin. Most of the current software is made for third-party sellers. Because their focus is on trademarked products and they are in the trenches every day managing branded accounts, the ASDAL team is creating an all-in-one tool that combines inventory management, PPC (pay-per-click advertising), keyword tracking, inventory forecasting, sales and reporting.

Despite the hype, only 8% of retail sales happen online. However, according to reports by eMarketer and One Click Retail, in 2017 Amazon was responsible for 44% of all ecommerce sales – roughly $196.75 billion. Darrin spends a lot of time analyzing this tech giant and he has notice Amazon moving from a third-party seller’s platform towards a brand-driven platform. “When online retail sales start reaching the 12-15% range more brands are going to have to step on Amazon,” says Darrin. His prediction is that by 2020 companies with trademarked products will need to hire their own Amazon specialists and teams – or hire ASDAL.

There are many things that set Darrin apart as an original thinker but arguably most admirable is that he recognizes, respects, and defends original thinking in others. Many of the clients he works with will discover that others have been reselling their trademarked products at wholesale levels without their knowledge. “I do see us as champions to retain smaller companies’ revenue,” says Darrin. He has a special contract for small, local companies who need an ally in their corner – someone to clear the field of unauthorized sellers and set their brand up online. After that, he’s only a click away. “This is kind of a Minnesota nice thing [we do],” says Darrin. “If you need help just call me.”

To learn more about ASDAL Inc. visit their website or reach out to the team at friends@asdalamz.com.

 


Written by Christopher Christenson, Program & Event Coordinator, at the James J. Hill Center. Have an idea of a person or organization to feature in this series? Send your recommendations to 
christopher@jjhill.org.

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