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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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Before Planting and Harvesting…

 

Farmers Need to Glean Data.able-logo

Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews Entrepreneur and
1 Million Cup presenter, Chris Lukenbill from Bright Agrotech  with product ABLE As seen in the Pioneer Press, Startup Showcase on November 19, 2016


In order to thrive, business owners need access to information. They need to have an understanding of their industry including its trends, new developments, growth patterns, and regulations. Farmers, of course, need all this information too, as well as reliable technical information.

It was this need for information that gave Chris Lukenbill the idea for Able, a software that helps farmers strategically plan their crops, understand the market, and manage their finances. Able, a product of Bright Agrotech, is designed to give farmers the most up-to-date knowledge available without wasting valuable time digging for information. With data aggregated from farmers across the world and connections to local farming organizations, Able provides farmers with the tools they need to grow their farm business.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Bright Agrotech (product is called Able)

Website: https://BrightAgrotech.com; https://able.ag

Business Start Date: 2010 for Bright Agrotech; 2015 for Able

Number of Employees: 30+ for Bright Agrotech and five for Able specifically

Number of Customers: Approximately 6,000 for Bright Agrotech and 1,300 for  Able specifically

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Chris Lukenbill

Age: 33

City of birth: Bemidji, Minn.City you live in: Rochester, Minn.

High school attended: Warroad High School, Warroad, Minn.

College attended: South Dakota State University, Brookings, S.D.

Q&A

Q. What led you to this point?

A. I am a software developer by trade who has a large interest in the environmental impact of agriculture.

Three years ago I started a greenhouse operation in Rochester, Minnesota. My goal was to help my community to understand the challenges of local food production and to improve its effectiveness, especially in challenging climates like Minnesota’s.

Through starting a farm, I came to understand that the challenge wasn’t in growing food but in 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 jjhill.org/1-million cups

 

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Giving when you buy, to yourself and to others

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Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews Entrepreneur and
1 Million Cup presenter, Susan Langer from Live.Give.Save. Inc.  As seen in the Pioneer Press, Startup Showcase on November 5, 2016

According to a recent poll conducted by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 48 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 30 have no retirement savings.

Susan Langer of Live.Give.Save. wants to try to fix that problem, while at the same time providing a way for Americans to more easily donate to charities. Live.Give.Save. allows users to add a small amount of money to each purchase they make using their smartphones, allowing them to painlessly build retirement accounts and contribute to worthy causes.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Live.Give.Save. Inc.
Website: www.livegivesave.com
Business Start Date: Feb. 1, 2016
Number of Employees: 2
Number of Customers: 0

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Susan Langer|
Age: 55
City you live in: Red Wing
City of birth: Red Wing
High school attended: Ellsworth High School, Ellsworth, Wis.
College attended: University of Minnesota

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?

A. I am a wife, stepmother and entrepreneur. My professional background spans banking, marketing and philanthropy. At U.S. Bank (then First Bank), I installed and managed their first customer-relationship management system. I later helped build and launch First Bank’s first website, as well as market their credit card portfolio. From there I launched my own marketing firm, Mosaic Marketing, where I blended branding with direct marketing before it was in vogue to help small- and medium-sized companies move to the next level. My international and philanthropic work — traveling to over 30 countries — is what drives my passion for creating a virtuous ecosystem that encourages, empowers and equips all to be better.

Q. What is your business?

A. Live.Give.Save. is an all-in-one mobile platform that empowers and rewards consumers to effortlessly boost retirement savings and increase charitable giving. We do this by leveraging existing behaviors in spending with one-touch simplicity. Our proprietary three-way payment process allows consumers to add a self-defined amount of money to each purchase they make using their smartphone. These micro amounts are automatically applied to their retirement savings and charity (or cause) of choice. One act = three gifts: Spend on self today, save for tomorrow and help someone in need.  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 jjhill.org/1-million cups

 

 

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Start Up Showcase

An app that could become the life of the party!

spark-dj-logo

Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews Entrepreneur and 1 Million Cup presenter, James Jones with Spark.dj.
As seen in the Pioneer Press, October 22, 2016

 

Many people are unable to hire DJs for house parties because of the expense, instead making do with preset playlists and streaming services. But they know there are a lot of advantages to using a DJ — because unlike playlists and streaming services, DJs can take requests, play songs at a preferred tempo, and tailor song choices based on the various events and stages of the party.

James Jones believes he has found a happy medium between a live DJ and a streaming service. Spark DJ is an inexpensive alternative to DJs using smart software to create the perfect musical atmosphere for any party, providing the experience of a live DJ at a fraction of the cost.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Spark DJ, Inc.
Website: http://spark.dj
Business Start Date: Feb. 15, 2016
Number of Employees: 5
Number of Customers: 0 (pre-revenue). Signup being taken for the beta trial.

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: James Jones
Age: 27
City where you live: Minneapolis
City of birth: New Orleans
High school attended: Brother Martin High School, New Orleans
College attended: University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind.

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?

A. I’m a self-taught software developer and professional DJ. I’m originally from New Orleans. I went to the University of Notre Dame to attain a dual degree in mechanical engineering and economics.

I worked for Target as a stats analyst for three years. As much as I enjoyed working there, the Spark DJ venture was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, so I left. We entered the Minnesota Cup 2016 and placed as a semifinalist in the High Tech Division.  READ MORE…

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 www.JJHill.org/go/1MCSPL.

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Hill Spotlight: Snobcorn

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A Hill Spotlight conversation with local entrepreneur Patty McDonald.

Describe your business. What do you want people to know about your company?

Snobcorn is a gourmet popcorn business with one goal: to transform the Great American Snack into something truly special. Snobcorn is for popcorn lovers who are adventurous, passionate, and craving something new. It’s time to go beyond cheese corn, caramel corn, and kettle corn. Let’s give Mocha, Gingerbread, or Caprese a try. How about Bourbon Brown Butter, Margarita, or Tex-Mex popcorn? Yum! Snobcorn uses only non-GMO popcorn, avocado oil, and all natural ingredients.

How can your product contribute to the Twin Cities business ecosystem and community?

Just like craft beer, coffee, and chocolate, popcorn is ready to be elevated for a superior taste experience. Popcorn is a healthy snack, a blank canvas, and it’s ready for a makeover. Most people say they enjoy popcorn, but many people are not satisfied eating unhealthy or tasteless varieties found at movie theaters, popped in their microwaves, or at the mall. Snobcorn will provide a healthy, delicious, and unique popcorn snacking experience for popcorn lovers everywhere.

What is your dream for your future and/or the future of your business?

My dream for Snobcorn is that people will enjoy the Great American Snack at the highest level possible. I want to raise the bar for popcorn. It can (and should) be extremely delicious, use the best ingredients, and be as healthy as possible. (And it should never, ever, taste like styrofoam.) My dream is that the word Snobcorn will define gourmet popcorn in the truest sense of the word. And that Snobcorn will be enjoyed by popcorn connoisseurs, foodies, and proud popcorn snobs everywhere.

What opportunities have you engaged with at the James J. Hill Center?

I have used the James J. Hill Center for my research on the popcorn industry. The very helpful and knowledgeable staff has pointed me in the right direction as I figure out where Snobcorn fits within the marketplace. The James J. Hill Center has been an invaluable resource for me in getting Snobcorn off the ground.

How has your involvement with the James J. Hill Center helped further your entrepreneurial and business goals?

From preliminary research, to crafting a business plan, to finding answers to my questions, the James J. Hill Center has been a fantastic place to begin my journey of starting my own small business.

Join us every Wednesday from 9AM to 10AM for 1 Million Cups and get an inside peek on two local entrepreneurs as they present their startups to a diverse audience of peers, mentors, and entrepreneurs. 

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Hill Spotlight: Mine the Bird

minethebird

A Hill Spotlight conversation with local entrepreneur Mark Daigle.

Describe your business. What do you want people to know about your company?

Our company, Mine The Bird, aspires to become an accelerator for Minnesota businesses. Over the past eight years, we have developed an international portfolio of granted and pending patent applications relating to beacon technology. (Beacons are an important hardware component in the Internet of Things.) We would like to serve startups and Fortune 500 companies in Minnesota by providing them with valuable intellectual property and by helping to coordinate a beacon platform centered here in Minnesota.  Our next step is to find a corporate sponsor who believes in our vision for Minnesota and values the patents in our portfolio.


How can your product contribute to the Twin Cities business ecosystem and community?

Minnesota is home to a diverse cross-section of civic-minded corporations. Mine The Bird aspires to serve our corporate sponsors by providing them with exclusive beacon-related intellectual property for their industry. If we succeed, our corporate sponsors will be able to exert greater control over their industries as they test new business models centered on the Internet of Things. We also aspire to provide Minnesotan startups with intellectual property, seed capital, access to our corporate sponsor executives, and guidance from our leadership team that has over two decades of Silicon Valley experience.

What is your dream for your future and/or the future of your business?

We hope that our contributions will encourage collaboration among local business and community leaders. My dream is to see Minnesota become the global capitol of beacon technology. As I work on accomplishing this dream, I aspire to be a good person, husband, and dad.  I’d like to someday be in a position to pay livable wages to qualified employees from under served communities.  For this and other reasons, we plan to incorporate Mine The Bird (www.minethebird.com) as a Minnesota General Benefit Corporation in the near future.

What opportunities have you engaged with at the James J. Hill Center?

I was thrilled to discover the James J. Hill Center this summer after my friend, Julie Haddad, read about Hill Capital. In the past few months I have attended panel discussions at the Hill, participated in networking events, and enjoyed watching startup pitches during weekly One Million Cups events. I have also spent time researching the beacon market using a database available at the Library. On November 30th I am scheduled to present Mine The Bird at the weekly One Million Cups event. I hope some people who read this article will come out on November 30th to learn more and support our efforts.

How has your involvement with the James J. Hill Center helped further your entrepreneurial and business goals?

The informal networking that takes place at the James J. Hill Center has been extremely valuable for our accelerator. In just a few short months I have met several key people that I would now describe as friends. Our next step is to find a leading corporate sponsor who believes in our vision for Minnesota and values the patents in our portfolio. We believe we are closer to that point now because of the James J. Hill Center.

Join us every Wednesday from 9AM to 10AM for 1 Million Cups and get an inside peek on two local entrepreneurs as they present their startups to a diverse audience of peers, mentors, and entrepreneurs. 

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Taking on Childhood Diabetes

St. Thomas Freshman takes it on!

expressionmed-logo

Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews Entrepreneur and 1 Million Cup presenter, Meghan Sharkus with ExpressionMed.  As seen in the Pioneer Press, October 8, 2016

EXPRESSIONMED

  • Website: www.expression-med.com
  • Business Start Date: June 26, 2016
  • Number of Employees: 1
  • Number of Customers: We are in the beta testing stage, on the verge of a 90-day trial

MEGHAN SHARKUS

  • Age: 18
  • City you live in: St. Paul
  • City of birth: Fort Atkinson, Wis.
  • High school attended: Oregon High School, Oregon, Wis.
  • College attended: University of St. Thomas

Having a chronic illness like diabetes is frightening and overwhelming for children, and wearing an insulin pump can make them feel self-conscious. In response to this, Meghan Sharkus created ExpressionMed, a company whose adhesive product makes insulin pumps easier to use and comes in fun patterns and designs, so kids will feel more confident wearing them.

Q. What led to this point?

I am a creative, driven college freshman looking to make a difference. When I was younger, I went to Camp Invention, and it made me realize how much I enjoyed making things. Throughout high school, I explored my creativity through art and choreography, and eventually business. I served for one year as Wisconsin DECA  previously known as Delta Epsilon Chi and Distributive Education Clubs of America) vice president of community service and placed nationally for both my business plan and my advocacy campaign for the epileptic cause. Towards the end of high school, I really found out what I wanted to do READ MORE…

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 www.JJHill.org/go/1MCSPL.

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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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