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Startup Day Across America: Get Involved

James J.  Hill Center has been supporting Minnesota innovators for 96 years by connecting business, entrepreneurs and community to research, knowledge and network.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, firms less than one year old created 1.7 million jobs, or 60% of total employment growth, in 2015. More than half these jobs were from firms with fewer than 10 employees.  The startup companies we support are involved in a variety of industries including technology, retail, healthcare, food and beverage, education and more.

On August 1, 2017, members of Congress have been invited to celebrate the ingenuity and entrepreneurship taking place right in their own cities. Startup Day Across America connects elected officials with startups in their communities so they can learn about the challenges new companies face and meet the business leaders building the future.

This bipartisan, bicameral effort also raises awareness and helps generate support for startup communities across the country.  Last August marked the third annual Startup Day and Minnesota’s Senator Al Franken participated.

Each startup organization has withstood the challenges and obstacles of entrepreneurialism, and many continue to grow, foster job creation and improve our economic ecosystem.

August 1st is an important day for all entrepreneurs – successful, new, struggling or persevering.  This is a time when you get to show them what is needed, what steps should be taken and what change needs to be made.  This is a time for your voice to be heard and celebrated.

If your startup is interested in participating, contact your local representative and request a visit. Work with Startup Day 2017 and make it happen.  We don’t get opportunities like this all the time.

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Allowing Gift Cards to Keep on Giving

Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews entrepreneurs and 1 Million Cup presenter Tori Utley. As seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase on July 15, 2017.

Gift cards have long been staples of holidays, birthdays, and graduations. Giving gift cards can be a good way to give cash in a way that appears more planned and thoughtful than simply a card with a $20 bill in it. However, many gift cards go partially or wholly unused. A 2015 survey of Canadian consumers by Ipsos found that 28 percent of respondents regularly left money on gift cards, with reasons ranging from not knowing the remaining value of the card to the inconvenience of carrying cards around.

Tori Utley, coming from the nonprofit sphere, realized the potential value of connecting this wasted gift card money with charities and nonprofits in need of funds, and she created Tinua to do just that.

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Tori Utley
Age: 24
City you live in: Rochester
City of birth: Sacramento, Calif.
High school attended: Byron High School, Byron, Minn.
Colleges attended: Liberty University, Lynchburg, Va.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Tinua
Website: http://www.wearetinua.com/
Business Start Date: 2017
Number of Employees: 3
Number of Customers: None yet

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?
A. My background is in counseling and psychology — I’m a licensed alcohol and drug counselor in Minnesota. After working in treatment centers and working with a few human services nonprofits, I experienced a growing interest in the nonprofit sector. I started working for Mayo Clinic on the side but grew passionate about business, went for my MBA, and ended up working in both fundraising and product development at Mayo Clinic full-time. From these experiences, I launched two organizations — More Than An Addict, a nonprofit, and Tinua, a tech startup. My background is diverse with many experiences that don’t seem to mix together; however, it’s been the perfect blend of experiences to help me with what I’m working on today.

Q. What is your business?
A. Tinua is a tech startup building a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform where gift card funds can be donated to charitable causes. We’re building an infrastructure that can be licensed by nonprofits and giving platforms to accept gift cards as a form of donation. We’re launching our mobile app this month to test our platform, though we hope to eventually integrate our technology with giving platforms and donation software so people can donate gift cards wherever they choose to give.

Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?
A. I’m grateful to have wise mentors who have helped me get to where I am today. I’m also a member of a co-working space in Rochester called Collider Coworking, where we have community managers and other entrepreneurs willing to share advice, resources and connections.

Q. What is the origin of the business?
A. I was at Starbucks in 2015 and had 17 cents left over on my Starbucks card. There was nothing special about that day because I’ve had unused gift cards for as long as I can remember, but it got me thinking about how many times I’ve thrown away gift cards with a balance — even a small one….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 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit 1millioncups.com/stpaul.

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“Wait Training”: How it all Started

Junita Flowers is a writer, speaker, entrepreneur, mom and the owner of Favorable Treats. With more than 20 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations, she spent her career advocating for families and leading social change initiatives. Junita is starting a blog series with the Hill, called ‘Wait Training’. Over her career, Junita has learned the value of “waiting” with her business and is looking forward to sharing her experiences.


I’ve known I wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was a little girl. I didn’t know all it entailed, but I was always intrigued with the idea that if something didn’t exist, an entrepreneur could just create it. I had several business ideas throughout my childhood, each always associated with food or coffee.

I began my ‘official’ entrepreneur journey in 2006 when I launched Favorable Treats, a Minnesota-based mission driven cookie company. Though the idea of a cookie company is founded upon my best childhood memories, the road to success has been shaped by my most difficult experiences as an adult.

My journey as an entrepreneur is best described as one of resilience, patience and strength. Due to a tumultuous marriage, I stopped and restarted my business three times over ten years. I’ve learned the value of personal hardship, which provided the unexpected benefits of lessons and training that positively impacted my business.

Through this blog, I will share the ups and downs of starting a business, and what it takes to be successful in the hopes that I can translate some of my “waiting” into “training.”  I will share the resources that have helped me, the bumps along the way, the characteristics I have found important to acquire and big decisions made during this process.  All of these stories and personal anecdotes are meant to inspire, invigorate and build this incredible ecosystem of small businesses and entrepreneurs we have surrounding us.  So, join me on this journey and check in the second Tuesday of each month for a little bit of ME and some WAIT TRAINING. 

You can read more about Junita Flowers on her website at favorabletreats.com. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram.   In addition we are pleased to have Junita join us at the  James J. Hill Center on August 10th from 9AM to 10AM  as she moderates our TAKING THE LEAD panel discussion focusing on the complex and rewarding ecosystem of women entrepreneurs.  This month’s topic will be on the “Financials of Business.” This program is free and open to the public.  RSVP NOW

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Surmounting a Clothing Barrier for Female Muslim Athletes

Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews entrepreneurs and 1 Million Cup presenter Fatimah Hussein. As seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase on July 1, 2017.

The National Federation of State High School Associations’ report, “High School Athletics Participation Survey 2015-2016” finds that sports participation is growing among high school students.

While male students experienced a 33 percent increase in participation between 1992 and 2016, female students experienced an even greater increase of 66 percent during that same time period.

Sports participation is clearly an important part of student life, but for some students, participation is difficult. Participation can be especially difficult for Muslim girls. It can be hard for these girls to balance their religious and cultural desire to dress modestly and cover their hair while participating in vigorous physical activity.

Traditional hijabs are not designed for strenuous activity and can impede an athlete’s performance. Fatimah Hussein spent years working on ways to get Muslim girls more involved with sports, including setting up girls-only gym time. Eventually, she came up with the idea to create hijabs specifically designed to withstand the rigors of sports while still being modest and fashionable, and ASIYA Modest Activewear was born.

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Fatimah Hussein
Age: 29
City you live in: Minneapolis
City of birth: Mogadishu, Somalia
High school attended: Roosevelt High School, Minneapolis
College attended: St. Mary’s University, Minneapolis

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: ASIYA Modest Activewear
Website: www.asiyasport.com
Business Start Date: January 2016
Number of Employees: 3
Number of Customers: 1,000+

 

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?
A. I was born in Somalia and moved with my family to Minnesota when I was 6-years old.  As a teenager, I started volunteering at a local community center, which is where I saw that girls were not going into the gym or trying sports nearly as much as boys were. I formed a nonprofit, the G.I.R.L.S. Program (Girls Initiative in Recreation and Leisurely Sports) to provide girls-only gym time several nights a week. I have continued my volunteer work, focused on helping our community of East African girls gain access to gym time and sports.

Q. What is your business?
A. ASIYA is a modest activewear company created to help enable more Muslim girls and women to be physically active and participate in sports, while upholding their religious and cultural beliefs. We are the first U.S.-based company to create sports hijabs focused on helping more youth get involved in sports.

Our first line of products are the sports hijabs. These products were designed by Muslim girls for Muslim girls, created and tested for top sports performance and intense physical activity.

ASIYA will be coming out with a line of activewear tops and bottoms, and also with swim hijabs later this year.

Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?
A. We have a great group of mentor and volunteer advisers who have been great sounding boards, and they have helped us navigate a variety of business challenges.

Q. What is the origin of the business?
A. I founded ASIYA in 2016, after spending the prior decade supporting Muslim girls in athletics as a volunteer in Minneapolis. I had formed the G.I.R.L.S. Program. The girls in this program wanted to go on to play sports in their school and community sports teams, and they worked with myself, community members, and community partners to design sports hijabs and apparel that would allow them to play while staying true to their cultural desire to dress modestly….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 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit 1millioncups.com/stpaul.

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Good Cookies, Good Things

Junita Flowers  is a writer, speaker, entrepreneur, mom and the Owner of Favorable Treats. With more than 20 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations, she spent her career advocating for families and leading social change initiatives. Junita will be moderating the Hill Center’s upcoming series “Taking the Lead”, conversations dedicated to women entrepreneurs.  We had a few minutes to check with Junita to chat about her company and her commitment to supporting women on their journey toward living their best life.

What is your Business and how did your entrepreneurial journey begin? 
I am the founder/owner of Favorable Treats. We make homemade baking easier, more convenient and delicious through our frozen pre-cut cookie dough which is available for retail and food service operations in three flavors; triple chocolate chip, oatmeal peanut butter chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin.

What do you want people to know about you and your business and what sets it apart? 
Favorable Treats is definitely a work of heart;).  When people think of my company, I want them to think two things: we make good cookies, we do good things. Founded upon recipes that have been in my family for decades and inspired by my personal experience of overcoming domestic violence, we are a mission driven company, donating a portion of our annual profits to support dating/domestic violence awareness and prevention education programs.

What or who has made the biggest impact on your entrepreneurial career so far?
My family is my greatest source of inspiration. I have a ginormous family rooted in southern traditions. My family spent a lot of time in the kitchen and that is where many of my favorite childhood memories were made. Later in life, those childhood memories became a way of escape and I began baking in my own kitchen as a way of reconnecting to the times that brought me a lot of joy. From there, Favorable Treats began.

How does your entrepreneurial spirit contribute to the Twin Cities Business Ecosystem and Community?
I am a dreamer at my core and I believe anything is possible. I believe greatness lives in each of us and if there is a way that I can inspire, support or encourage someone to believe in and pursue their dream, then that becomes my task. I work hard on my own business growth which adds value to the larger business community. I will always support the work of others within our small business community through purchases, referrals and moral support.

What has been the largest hurdle and / or success you have experienced as an entrepreneur?
My largest hurdle has been to keep going. My biggest success has been that i did not quit. I’ve had to restart my business on three separate occasions as I worked through a physically and emotionally abusive relationship. While I would not have chosen the experience, that experience has added depth, renewed strength and a level of confidence that I had not ever tapped into. Creating a business rooted in the traditions of homemade baking while giving a voice to the reality of domestic violence is an amazing way to lead, live and grow.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs just getting out of gate?
I’ve shared this piece of advice many times and I continue to live it:  Identify and accept your WHY for charting your course. There will be days when you don’t feel it, you can’t see it, you can’t finance it, or you have to fight for it, but if you rehearse your WHY, you will not quit! Make a promise to yourself to always DREAM about your why, BELIEVE your why, EXECUTE your why, CELEBRATE your why, then repeat!

What is it about Minnesota and how has it managed to keep you here?
I love the spirit of entrepreneurship in Minnesota. Minnesotans support their own. We take pride in being connected to the the producers of our goods and services. we take pride in supporting the financial stability of our neighbors and friends. Minnesotans are resilient and we just make things happen. We are small enough to feel like a close knit community and large enough to receive national recognition in many industries. Minnesota is simply home.

The James J. Hill Center mission honors the legacy of its founder by continuing to support entrepreneurial spirit in the 21st Century. We offer research, programs, and networking for each stage of business development. Our efforts also include services to the broader community through the hosting of cultural and artistic programming and events.  Visit us in downtown Saint Paul at 80 West Fourth Street, off the corner of Market and Fourth.  

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Startup Secrets and Sh#$ to Know

Aleckson Nyamwaya has his beat on the pulse of the startup world in MN.  He is an Associate @gener8tor, a Dreamchaser @powermovesdev  and a lover of all things Tech & Startups.  We are pleased to have his monthly insight on Startup Secrets and Sh#$ to Know.  Check back each month for his thoughts, observations and featured companies.

The Rise of Venture Capital in MN

And what this means for the startup community

It goes without saying, the Twin Cities startup ecosystem is less than mediocre. The good news is, there are many worthwhile initiatives underway to help change that. One of those efforts is venture capital. In late 2016 & early 2017, Minnesotans saw an increase of venture capital activity.

What this means for the local ecosystem

The bad…

MEETINGS, MEETINGS, MEETINGS. The hype will inevitably lead the community to play a game called “Startup”. Suddenly everyone becomes an entrepreneur with an “Uber for X”. This will be a result of 2 things.

  1. The new VCs are first-timers, They are too excited about their new found “Gatekeeper” role which will lead them to make mistakes as they adjust.
  2. Instead of tackling challenging problems, The Twin Cities eco-system will abuse & misuse these funds on stupid ideas that don’t deserve funding.

The Good…

In this day and age, VCs are expected to have a moral responsibility. Give back to the community in which you serve. The most valuable way to achieve this is through inspiring, mentoring and cultivating the generation of leaders. Perhaps through initiatives put in place by community leaders to develop the strong founders. Such as, mentorship, free mini accelerators, high school/college involvement, EIR programs etc.

Conclusion

My prediction is that half of these firms will fail, crashing and burning to the ground. Only time can tell, specifically the next 3–5 years. It’s important to note that, Minnesota’s early stage venture capital market is still in it’s infancy. Relative to older markets, such as silicon valley. Where firms like KPCB have reigned supreme before the 90’s to this day.

This is our golden age of entrepreneurs-turned-VCs. I am excited to see where this journey leads us.


Featured Resource:

Bunker labs: A national NOT-FOR-PROFIT 501(C)(3) organization built by military veteran entrepreneur to empower other military veterans as leaders in innovation.

Guest writer:  Aleckson Nyamwaya
To sign up for his monthly tech newsletter CLICK HERE.

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Transformation from Innovation

“It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to management than the creation of a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely the lukewarm defense in those who gain by the new ones.”  –  Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527), Philosopher and playwright

I recently ran across this quote by Niccolo Machiavelli at the Hill entrepreneurial center and would have thought it was written today.  Not so, it shows that change has been a process of mis-acceptance for as long as man has innovated on new ideas.  

 I define innovation as the introduction of new and improved ways of putting ideas into action. In an economic sense, an innovation is accomplished with the first commercial transaction involving a new or improved product, process, or organizational business model. Innovation is then intentional attempts to bring about value from change. These values include; economic benefits, personal growth, increased satisfaction, improved group coherence, better organizational communication, as well as productivity and economic measures.  

Sound like entrepreneurism?  I think so, to the entrepreneur that means transformation of creative ideas to accountable, actionable changes.  Maximizing customer value and experience is a core principle in innovation.  The entrepreneur needs to understand that ‘emotion trumps logic’ and that their audience needs to feel and experience the value brought by their innovation.  

We are a society of habit and as Nicolo Machiavlli’s quote shows of the past, the same is currently true.  The creation of new must provide a value proposition that goes beyond current habits to prevent sabotage from those who feel threatened by change.  

To generate “Transformation from Innovation” identify and target market your change agents early so they may become your evangelists to help you articulate and promote your values. 


Jeff Brown p
ositively transforming the way people grow their personal business brand.
• Board Member, Coaching, and Strategy for Fortune 500 companies to start-ups
• Developing and transforming ideas into something superb
• Creating accountable strategies to helping clients where they are stuck or want to go

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Don’t Tweak, Transform

James J. Hill Center Community Engagement Specialist, Maggie Smith, shares her experience at her first “design session” with 1 Million Cups. 

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a design session. If that sounds vague, it’s because it is. I honestly wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, but I was told it was a “participatory workshop, wherein diverse stakeholders co-create solutions.” Over the two-day session we used a variety of collaborative activities to break down the posed issue, and come up with viable solutions based on questions and concerns relating to the issue.

Simply put, it was a room full of strangers working together to create actual solutions to a problem that connected all of us.

A concept we heard over and over during our session was “don’t just tweak, transform,” meaning don’t just edit the existing structure to make it better, completely rethink and rebuild. This concept really resonated. As entrepreneurs, our ideas are often born from seeing a problem and wanting to solve it. Some succeed, many do not. The reasons for this are varied, but this mantra, if you will, changed my focus and lens for looking at why ideas succeed and how to ‘up’ your creative game.

It seems many solutions and ideas for startups are simply tweaks, upgrades and adjustments made to an existing platform. But what if everyone who saw a problem they wanted to solve took a step back and broke it down before building the idea back up? Our design session started with breaking down how the problem made us feel, finding themes within those feelings and then finding questions we could solve related to the themes. Questions like, “how might we create an experience that pulls people into deeper engagement?” “How might we reduce isolation and increase inclusion? “How might we make resources both educational and community focused?”

Once these questions were established, the brainstorming began. A lot of problem-solvers head straight to actual brainstorming. But next time try adding these few steps beforehand and see if you get different ideas, or if the problem/solution goes in a direction you weren’t expecting.

From there the brainstorming took a normal path. Narrowing down ideas, deciding how viable they were and road-mapping for the future.

The process was intensive and surprisingly tiring, but fun. And most importantly, it worked! Our small group of strangers came up with four solid, viable and feasible ideas.

Imagine what you could do with people you knew, and more time.

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 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday. You can hear from new startups each Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul.

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A Spark of Genius: A Conversation with James Jones



James Jones Jr. is the co-founder and CEO of Spark DJ, Inc.  He is a lover of music, engineering and experiences.   A continued example of the talent here in Minnesota.  We got the chance to have a brief conversation to ask him a few short questions about his journey as an entrepreneur.  We look forward to watching his continued success.

What is your Business and how did your entrepreneurial journey begin?
Spark DJ is a music platform that uses artificial intelligence to DJ your parties. My entrepreneurial journey began in college when I began DJing to pay for school. I got really into it because I loved using music to create these awesome experiences. At some point, I ended up having more offers for gigs than I could do. Instead of bringing on another DJ to cover the gigs I could not do, I came up with the odd idea of trying to create a software-based algorithmic clone (I was an engineering major).

What do you want people to know about your business and what sets it apart?
What makes Spark DJ unique is that we focus on a party experience rather than just “listening to music”. Party goers can send song requests to the host app from their phones and have their favorite tunes brought into the mix. Music goes from one to the next seamlessly, matching tempo and key and blending songs to create one seamless mix. And our software application reads your crowd to make sure that the music being played is always fun and relevant.

What or who has made the biggest impact on your entrepreneurial career so far?
John Boss, my co-founder, has made the biggest impact on my entrepreneurial career. He’s not only my business partner but one of my closest friends. He had a similar experience DJing through college to pay for school. Although we have heated debates about who was the better DJ, he has had a tremendous impact in making this idea a reality.

How does your entrepreneurial spirit contribute to the Twin Cities Business Ecosystem and Community?
John and I both take time to engage and support other entrepreneurs. We’re always up to grab a coffee or beer. We have been a part of programs and groups such as Graveti, COCO, Minnesota Cup, entrepreneurial and tech meetups, TechDotMN, etc. We also volunteer our time to provide business help to other startups and charities.

What has been the largest  success you have experienced as an entrepreneur?
One of our successes has been becoming semi-finalist in the Minnesota Cup. It was a great program that enabled us to meet many entrepreneurs and investors.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs just getting out of gate?
I’m not sure if we’re best position to provide too much advice as we’re still learning a lot everyday. But one of the things we’ve realized is how important relationships are. Many opportunities have come from building great relationship with others in the community.

What is it about Minnesota and how has it managed to keep you here?
Not only is Minnesota a great place because of the people and the support and excitement we’ve seen throughout the state, but also being in Minnesota has provided us cost-effective access to enterprise resources.

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One Story at a Time: A Conversation with Uzoma Obasi


Uzoma Obasi
is an entrepreneur, photographer, film maker, storyteller and creator. He is the Executive Producer of Creative Mind Studios and the founder of Midwest Creative Connection.  Another great example of the talent and skill that is housed in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.  We got the chance to have a brief conversation to ask him a few short questions about his company, advice for other entrepreneurs, why Minnesota and more.

Describe your business. What do you want people to know about your company and what makes it different?
Creative Mind Studios is a photo and video studio that focuses on business needs. We pride ourselves in our ability to help our clients tell their stories through still and motion pictures.

How does your company contribute to the Twin Cities business ecosystem and community?
We contribute by making high quality business photography and videography accessible to businesses of all sizes and budgets. Helping entrepreneurs and small business owners compete with the largest of companies.

What has been the largest hurdle and / or success you have experienced as an entrepreneur and business owners?
The largest success we have had is being hired by the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee to provide our photo and video services.

My biggest hurdle was finding the right studio space. I needed a space that fit my small budget but had the square footage I needed.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Make sure that whatever you’re doing is a passion. Being an entrepreneur and running a business is hard work. Harder than showing up for a 9-5. If you are just in it for the money, you’ll burn out quickly.

How has the James J. Hill Center played a role in your entrepreneurial experience?
The James J. Hill Center has played an important role in helping network, learn and grow. I believe that the events and resources the Hill provides has been key to my businesses growth.

What is it about Minnesota and how has it managed to keep you here?
Minnesota is home. Even with the snow, ice and wind chill Minnesota has a way of feeling comfortable. I can’t imagine another place to raise a family and run a business. The people are genuine, and the culture is very diverse, which makes it a great climate to conduct business in.

Check out more on Uzoma Obasi and his projects.

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IMPORTANT NOTICE:

We are pleased to announce the completion of our elevator renovation at the James J. Hill Center. This project was financed in part with funds provided by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society and the F. R. Bigelow Foundation. It will greatly increase our ability to serve patrons with accessibility needs.

Please access our ground floor elevator entrance via Kellogg Ave at the back of the building. Please ring the doorbell on the right hand side of door and a Hill staff member will assist you. If you have questions or concerns please call 651.265.5500. We look forward to having you visit our brand new elevator!

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