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Startup Showcase: Send best wishes while doing the dishes

Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews entrepreneurs for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press.  See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on December 1, 2018. 

Approximately 6.5 billion greeting cards and 13 billion rolls of paper towels are sold and used every year. The unfortunate end game for both these products is the trash. That is a lot of waste. However, what if you had the opportunity to reduce that waste, while still enjoying the tradition of a novelty card and soaking up a mess … all at once? Entrepreneur Carla Scholz is making that idea possible with her businesses Soak it Up and Clards. She has created eco-friendly products that not only appeal to the heart but the mind, and by doing so is impacting the future of our environment.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of companies: Soak it Up; Clards

Websites: Clards.com & Soakitupcloths.com

Twitter: @soakitupcloths

Business Start Date: October 2017

Number of Employees: 1

Number of Customers: For Soak it Up we are working with wholesale 120+ gift shops including local locations in St. Paul: Bibelot & Corazon. Also, a few hundred e-commerce through soakitupcloths.com and Etsy.  Clards is just getting up and running.

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Carla Scholz

Age: 50ish

City you live in: St. Paul

High school attended: Sevastopol

College attended: University of Wisconsin – Stout

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?

A. I am a mom, an art director, and an award-winning goat milker. I grew up in Door County Wisconsin. As a kid, I fell in love with goats because my parents created and ran a “Living Museum of Rural America” called The Farm. I designed my first t-shirt when I was 12 that read “I’m a Kid from The Farm.” I’ve been designing stuff ever since. Art directing thousands of retail catalogs exposed me to loads of products and provided an opportunity to come up with original ideas for products like shirts, mugs, snow globes, and greeting cards. All things that nobody really needs. My latest business allows me to create products that are environmentally friendly and useful.

Q. What is your business?

A. Soak it Up sells clever, compostable European sponge cloths. 1 cloth = 1,500 paper towels. By choosing to print on bright colored cloths with a single color, our process uses minimal production materials making them more eco-friendly than similar cloths. Fun regional designs like “Minnesota land of 10,000 lakes and a whole lotta flakes,” “Great Lakes Always have been,” and “Wisconsin proud world capital of bratwurst, toilet paper and more” make sales at (mostly Midwest) gift shops steady and growing. Most are available online too, but you must visit Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock Lighthouse, or Minnesota State Parks for custom cloths.

My latest new big idea with Soak it up cloths is Clards: greetings that clean up — literally.

Clards eliminate the waste and give an alternative to paper towels. Multi-function Clards are more than a greeting card, they are a useful, eco-friendly gift that become a daily reminder of the event/emotion given for. Clards appear to be like any high end greeting card but the difference is once wet they transform into soft, durable, long lasting cloths. Monitor the growth of this product at Clards.com.

Q. What is the origin of the business?

A. I met with a friend from Valley Art Group — a wholesale rep group that specializes in local artists — to pick his brain and learn more about what was trending. He brought a sample sponge cloth and one of my first thoughts was, what else can this be used for? What about a greeting card? After months of research we agreed that if I designed and produced some regional, funny cloths Valley Art Group could sell them. At the same time a retail client of mine agreed to several custom designs. The first Soak it Up Cloths order was placed in September 2017. To date over 10,000 cloths have been sold.

Designing and producing Soak it Up Cloths established manufacturing, sales, materials and time to file a patent for my big idea. I was very fortunate to be chosen by an outstanding attorney through Legal Corps. (recommended at a JJHill Center program called Meet the Expert).

Q. What problems does your business solve?

A. Soak it Up cloths and Clards are a healthy and earth-conscious solution to everyday items.

Q. Where do you go when you need help?

A. I ask anyone that will listen for suggestions, meet with people, call old friends, go to networking events and make cold calls.

Q. What big obstacle or hurdle did you have to overcome?

A. Designing a greeting card with unusual material sizes and processes with large minimum quantities has been challenging. Finding a digital printer that was willing and able to try to print on the unique material was key. I recently found a willing participant and samples have turned out well. This will allow for small print runs and customization.

Q. What personal strengths or skill sets do you bring to the business?

A. I enjoy idea generation and problem solving. I have worked with many startups and have learned by others success’ and failures.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. The potential of this idea to make a difference.

Q. What obstacles must you overcome to be wildly successful?

A. Manufacturing details including product importing and assembly.

Q. How are you funding your business?

A. To date it both Soak it Up has been funded by sales. A crowdfunding campaign is in the works for Clards for early 2019.

Q. What would be success for your business in the next 2-3 years?

A. Success would be American Greetings (Papyrus) embracing my Clards concept.

Q. In your opinion, what does it take to be a great entrepreneur?

A. A great entrepreneur needs to trust instincts, ride the highs to survive the lows, and believe it can be.

Q. Why do you do what you do?

A. My parents instilled in me the importance of nature and our environment. Anyone living on this planet has an obligation to future generations to be aware of their impact. I want to make eco-friendly products an easy choice even for extreme or careless consumers.

Q. How did the James J. Hill Center help you with your business?

A. I just finished the James J. Hill Centers first Co.Starters program which helped me fill in the blanks, understand important details, and left me energized and feeling confident. I have made many helpful connections through various events at the Hill including people from Score, Legal Corp, and WIN.

You can hear from startups like this every other Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. Visit jjhill.org/calendar for scheduled dates.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
8 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.JJHill.org/1-million-cups

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Startup Showcase: A police body cam app, of sorts, for citizens

Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews 1 Million Cup presenters for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press.  See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on November 19, 2018. 

According to Governing the States and Localities, between 2013-2015, 20 of the 25 largest U.S. cities paid out a combined annual average of $1.2 billion in judgments and settlements of lawsuits stemming from real or alleged police misconduct.

Mondo Davison, the developer of new app called SafeSpace, built in partnership with Software for Good, believes he can help reduce those city costs by giving community members a tool to engage and share feedback about the police interactions they witness. With immediate access and later evaluations of these interactions, SafeSpace is hoping to curate enough data to predict negative and positive outcomes based on behavior trends. This  information can then be provided to police departments in real-time to help create preventative and productive strategies to truly create a safer community for all.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: SafeSpace (built in partnership with Software for Good)
Website: https://safespaceapp.com
Business Start Date: January 2018|
Number of Employees: 1|
Number of Customers: 14 and growing

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Mondo ‘The Black Tech Guy’ Davison
Age: 33
City of Birth: St. Paul
City you live in: St. Paul
High school attended: Central High School
College attended: University of Tennessee and Florida A&M

Q. What led to this point?

A. My mission has been to inspire a generation of black males to pursue a career in technology. I have branded myself as “The Black Tech Guy,” to be a trailblazing figure in the tech space and lead to show a more compelling “Plan A” than rapper, trapper, or athlete. During the past eight years I have worked to birth minority-led tech startups with TEAM Studios. In partnership with Dario Otero of Youth Lens 360 and Mary Rick, TEAM Studios brings together tech, entrepreneurship, art, and media to impact the world specifically through the brilliance of youth aged 18-24.  SafeSpace is one of the businesses young cohorts within TEAM Studios has been challenged to scale as an impactful solution to the fear, distrust, and insecurities between police and communities of color.

Q. What is your business?

A. SafeSpaces overall goal is to separate good cops from bad cops as well as ones unfit to serve on the force. Our solution is a two-step approach.

1) Immediate interaction — when being pulled over, a single tap of the SafeSpace automatically alerts emergency contacts and people nearby to witness and record the interaction to increase immediate accountability and transparency.

2) Post interaction — SafeSpace asks specific questions to involved community members about the interaction. Our intent is to curate quantitative and qualitative data in real-time to better understand how the community believes they are being served and how to make these interactions safer.

Q. What is the origin of the business?

A. I can point to multiple police interaction stories (personal or otherwise) that may have served as the origin for SafeSpace. Unfortunately, the common denominator is black men feel their life is potentially in jeopardy when engaging with law enforcement. Creating a technology tool to decrease the fear and anxiety in that moment makes perfect sense.

Q. What problems does your business solve?

A. When people have a conversation about police, it’s likely someone will say, “but not all cops are bad.” This statement is 100 percent accurate. When the follow up question is, “but who is bad?” Nobody seems to have the answer. SafeSpace can solve that problem over time through accurate and real feedback.

Q. Where do you go when you need help?

A. I tend to seek help from people whom I am confident will challenge me. If I’m seeking help, it’s likely because I am facing a tough decision and I consult with people that don’t allow me to take the easy way out.

Q. What big obstacle or hurdle did you have to overcome?

A. Our biggest obstacle to date has been owning the narrative. Internally we perceive ourselves as an independent company trying to make our communities safer. But over the past year our story has been hijacked as the “black people app AGAINST police.”

The past year we’ve had independent conversations with police chiefs, mayors, and community leaders to come together in a joint effort to combat this dynamic problem. But I’ve concluded the topic is too polarizing for all stakeholders to freely opt into a unifying strategy.

Q. What personal strengths or skill sets do you bring to the business?

A. I believe my greatest strength is empathy. I love listening to perspectives that don’t match my own because I genuinely want to understand how people presented with the same information can conclude opposite opinions. With that, I believe I can help craft solutions that meet the needs of people with whom I may not agree.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. I’ve never wavered in my journey to change the world. I believe so strongly I am on the right path that it’s not “if,” it’s “when.”

Q. What obstacles must you overcome to be wildly successful?

A. WE vs. Me is the key to success. The more I’m able to surround myself with amazing, dynamic, passionate people, the more successful WE will become.

Q. How are you funding your business?

A. To-date everything has been self-funded or in collaboration.

Q. What would be success for your business in the next 2-3 years?

A. If SafeSpace is operating on all cylinders in the top 25 populated cities, decreasing police brutality, and increasing confidence in local law enforcement, I’d feel a level of success.

Q. In your opinion, what does it take to be a great entrepreneur?

A. (Product + Marketing + Sales) is the recipe for business. But the two parentheses on each end hold it all together. Those parentheses represent TEAM & CULTURE. If a business has all the assets of this equation, success is inevitable.

Q. What haven’t we asked you that we should understand about your business?

A. We currently have a technical barrier. We are only built for iOS (iPhone) to date and seeking financial resources or development talent to build out an Android version. Any support from the community would be helpful.

Q. How did 1 Million Cups St. Paul help you?

A. Post 1MC pitch I had a great conversation with a seasoned PR expert to talk through our story and how to control the narrative. If it weren’t for 1MC I likely would have never met this person.

You can hear from startups like this every other Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul.  Please check the calendar at jjhill.org/calendar for up to date information. 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 All Adds Up: Gratitude is Good

Way back in January 2018, I wrote my first blog post of the year, All Systems Go, where I shared my work and life theme for 2018. This Has Meaning has been my theme for this year, specifically around making meaningful decisions and choosing actions that lead to targeted growth and building key relationships. Fast forward to November, which is typically a month dedicated to gratitude and reflection. I’d like to share a few points of my personal reflection from my journey through this year.

  1. The Power of Intention – For the last five years, I have purposefully selected an annual theme designed to create focus on how I spend my time, how I set and measure  goals and how I celebrate growth. This simple practice of focus and intention has been life changing. I am a dreamer, a visionary and I thrive at mapping out the big picture. I struggle and often carry feelings of failure when it comes to following through on the simple details required to execute. For years, my weaknesses resulting from inattention to simple details showed up like a humongous STOP sign which stagnated growth and incubated shame. Choosing to be intentional in my planning process has dramatically changed my quality of life and quiets the negative self-talk that once played loudly inside my brain. Being intentional has created space for being grateful…and gratitude is good.
  2. The Power of Community – However you show up in the world; (i.e.: an entrepreneur, a corporate employee, a full time parent, etc) you are guaranteed that there are millions of people who are traveling a path that resembles your path. In spite of that fact, most of us struggle to find a community of like-minded individuals, so we navigate life in isolation. When I finally made connections and became a part of a community of social entrepreneurs, my personal and professional growth trajectory changed. I felt a sense of belonging. I gained instant access to information and inspiration that resonated with me. I felt stronger and supported as a member of the collective. Being connected within community creates space for being grateful…and gratitude is good.
  3. The Power of Vulnerability – I recently completed a comprehensive personality and leadership assessment profile. It was quite intense and very accurate. As I read the narrative which explicitly described my personality, my strengths and how I show up in the world, I felt a sense of pride and satisfaction. This assessment also clearly pointed out my blind spots, my weaknesses and my areas of selfishness. As I read through those pages of details, I felt uncomfortable and exposed. I wanted to rush through those details because I didn’t need reminders of the areas in which I struggle. However, in my quest for choosing behaviors that have meaning, I slowed down and digested the information. Everything that was identified, were things I was aware of, but I wasn’t being intentional in planning growth. It was time to be okay with that information. Accept that information and take action to be better. I chose to be vulnerable and I asked for help as an initial step. Vulnerability opens your heart to acceptance. Acceptance creates space for being grateful…and gratitude is good.

This year has been an amazing year. I have stuck with my decision of intentionally choosing actions that aligned with #ThisHasMeaning. As we coast through the final months of the year, we are presented with a perfect opportunity to slow down and reflect upon our journey through 2018. Reflection creates space for being grateful…and gratitude is good.


Junita L. Flowers,
Founder/Owner
Baking hope in every cookie. #HopeMunchesOn
Follow her on Facebook. Like her on Instagram. Order your cookies now.
You can also read more about Junita Flowers on her website junitasjar.com.

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A New Livestock for a New Minnesota

There is no handbook for cricket farming, Eric Palen will tell you. If you want to raise urban chickens there is a way to do that. If you want to start a cattle ranch there are others who have gone before. But when you have founded Minnesota’s first edible insect farm you have to do things the old fashioned way—you have to figure it out yourself.

“[North Star Crickets is] continuing in Minnesota’s agricultural tradition but looking to the future at how food production needs to change to accommodate a growing population, food security, [and] climate change,” says Eric.

The idea for North Star Crickets began percolating in Eric’s mind sometime after 2013 when the United Nations released a report advocating for edible insects as a key component in the future of sustainable food production. As countries become more affluent their demand for protein grows. At the same time, a growing global population means less land to utilize for food production.

We know first hand in a place like Minnesota that raising a protein source like beef cattle requires a lot of land space, feed, and water. What if there was a way to produce protein more efficiently with less space and fewer resources?

Enter the cricket.

Eric has done his research and has a plethora of reasons to support the viability and benefit of farming crickets as a new protein-rich livestock. Not only are crickets superior to cattle in resource usage, they also produce far fewer greenhouse gasses and they are more simple to process—100% of a cricket is edible food as compared to 40% of a cow.

In addition to being a protein source, crickets are also very nutrient dense boasting an impressive combination of iron, calcium, and vitamin B12 among other health benefits.

What do they taste like?

“That is like asking what do vegetables taste like,” says Eric. “There is a whole range of tastes and flavors and applications.”

After harvesting his crickets (which can be done year-round by the way), Eric either roasts a batch in the oven and flavors them for snacking or grinds them into a powder that can be added to or substituted for flour in baked goods.

Since its launch in the past year, North Star Crickets has formed some unique local business partnerships. Eric has teamed up with T-Rex Cookie on a limited run of chocolate “chirp” cookies and Lake Monster Brewing to upcycle their spent brewing grain as cricket feed.

North Star Crickets is the first business of its kind in Minnesota and one of only a handful of other edible insect companies in the nation. That said, Eric’s primary contribution to the edible insect market—his “original thinker” edge—is still emerging. The demand is greater than what he is able to supply. Right now he is looking for an investor and business partner to expand his operation.

In the meantime, Eric is perfecting his process and writing the proverbial handbook for cricket farmers to come.

To learn more about North Star Crickets follow them on social @northstarcrickets.

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: A hip alternative to avoid backpacking back pain

Two of the most common activities that cause back muscle strains and sprains are summer fitness and long trips. According to an Outdoor Industry Association report almost half of the U.S. population participated in an outdoor activity at least once in 2017. That is a lot of potential sore backs.

HipStar is out to change that with a new, “hip” invention that allows people to travel hands-free over any type of terrain with little effort, literally doing the heavy lifting for you — back pain free.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: HipStar LLC
Website: www.hipstar.net
Business Start Date: 2014
Number of Employees: 3
Number of Customers: 1500 potential customers, as we are at pre-sale phase

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Igor Koshutin
City you live in: Rochester
Country of Birth: Russia
Colleges Attended: Undergraduate work in Electrical Engineering, Moscow Engineering Physics Institute; Russian State Professional Pedagogical University; Russian Foreign Trade Academy

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?

A.  I am the founder of HipStar and have been on the cutting edge of smart solutions for over two decades. My motto has always been to find easy solutions to difficult problems. I spend time carefully studying the market to find opportunities and then work to develop something that will create wide appeal.

Q. What is your business?

A. I developed HipStar, a new type of travel gear: a collapsible hands-free cart for all terrains. It also can be used as a backpack or bike trailer. HipStar will redefine the way people carry on the go. It will change the way hikers, campers, backpackers and other travelers move by literally taking the weight off their shoulders. It is designed to handle tough terrain and reduce carrying weight by over 90 percent.

Designed with an active lifestyle in mind, the HipStar allows users to travel for longer periods of time without having to sacrifice any important gear. It will help people achieve full mobility with only the power of two legs and accomplish physical feats they never thought possible, no matter if they’re young or old.

Q. What is the origin of the business?

A. The idea for HipStar came in 2014 as I was traveling across Europe on business and later with my family. Between the three of us, we had one backpack to carry everything. There was so much to see, but after half a day’s worth of walking around, all I could think about was how the straps of my heavy bag were digging into my shoulders. No matter where and how you travel, even a light backpack begins to weigh as much as a few bricks. You get tired. You get impatient. That’s when the idea for the HipStar was born.

Q. What problems does your business solve?

A. The struggle between packing all the essentials while minimizing total weight has always been a challenge; a challenge that has too often meant having to sacrifice important gear to cut down on weight. Even the best prepared travelers discover that a few hours of carrying a light pack begins to sap their strength, often forcing them to cut excursions and sightseeing trips short.

Heavy backpacks create a forward trunk lean (rounding of upper back), which causes a forward head posture with extended neck, creating a neck and shoulder pain and make it difficult for muscles and ligaments to hold the body up. After a long day on the trail, even 11 pounds will feel heavy no matter what you are carrying it in.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. Our potential customers are excited about our product. Our passionate supporter, John Pernu from Australia, wrote: “The most versatile and effective hiking trailer! Everything seems to have been included in the design — multiple adjustments, shock absorbing, running, walking or resting flexibility — really impressive!”

Q. What obstacles must you overcome to be wildly successful?

A. To date we spent near $100,000 and we are currently finalizing the product development stage to take the product design even further and seeking for seed capital. Although, we are seeking $1.5 million for the whole project, our immediate needs are to cover and start a product development stage of the HipStar heavy-duty version that would be around $100,000.

Q. How are you funding your business — organically, angel or VC investments?

A. Family and pre-orders.

Q. What is your business model?

A. Collecting sales revenue directly from customers and distributors in exchange for the product. Both Direct and Indirect Sales (tier-1, tier-2) depending on the region/market.

The units will be manufactured after the final CAD Build design is completed. Once the manufacturer has been identified, the company will focus on the fulfillment end of the operation. The intent is to secure a firm that can handle both individual unit sales as well as larger orders for major clients. The users will also be able to order directly from the site and have the unit shipped globally. Outside sales will be handled by commissioned sales personnel who will sell to both individual and regional retail operations.  All national sales will be handled by one of the management team members. We also have been contacted by potential distributors from France, Germany, Australia, U.S., U.K., etc.

Q. What would be success for your business in the next 2-3 years?

A. The potential users of HipStar find the HipStar’s unique design a convenient addition to their activities and the market for HipStar units is diverse, including outdoor recreation equipment, in-town use and specialty equipment.

Q. How did 1 Million Cups St. Paul help you? Did you get valuable feedback? Did you get connected to resources? Did you pivot because of the experience?

A. We needed help finding financing, marketing and introductions to angel investors, so it was a great opportunity to have exposure to those possible audience members.

You can hear from startups like this every other Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul.  Please check the calendar at jjhill.org/calendar for up to date information. 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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Startup Showcase: Helping First Responders Respond Accordingly

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 Nick Tietz. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on October 6, 2018. 

A 2017 two year study by the Ruderman Family Foundation found that “Disabled individuals make up a third to half of all people killed by law enforcement officers.” And a recent research update by the Treatment Advocacy Center reinforces that “across the United States the unavailability of appropriate psychiatric treatment has forced people with mental illnesses into unnecessary — and too often dangerous — encounters with law enforcement officers, rather than medical personnel.”

Entrepreneur Nick Tietz saw a social need here, a market, and took steps in the only way he knew how — though technology. His ongoing interest in changing lives through technology has ultimately grown into the creation of a vital app that is not only changing lives but saving them.

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Nick Tietz
Age: 41
City you live in: Brooklyn Park
City of birth: Bogota, Colombia
College attended: University of St. Thomas (BA – Journalism and Mass Communication); Minneapolis College of Art and Design – Animation; U of M – Naval ROTC Program

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Vitals Aware Services
Website: www.thevitalsapp.com
Business Start Date: The Vitals app was developed in partnership with the Autism Society of Minnesota. The service was launched August of 2017 in St. Paul.
Number of Employees: 10
Number of Customers: 1,366 Individuals, 26 public safety agencies in Minnesota and Ohio

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?

A. I’ve spent the last 15 years working for myself as a business consultant, technologist, user experience designer, and serial entrepreneur. I’ve designed more than 100 apps, crafted the strategy to help redefine the public education experience at Minneapolis Public Schools, and led multiple innovation efforts at Life Time Fitness to improve the employee experience and define the health club of the future.

Additionally, I’ve spent the past decade donating my time and creative services at PACER Center, where I serve on their Marketing Advisory Board, producing communication videos and helping with the production of their annual benefit.

I’m very passionate about helping others become the best version of themselves. I am focused on building technology that change people’s lives, so profoundly they can’t imagine living any other way.

Q. What is your business?

A. Vitals Aware Services is a new company creating technology for social good. We are makers of The Vitals App.

Vitals is the first and only company to have created a platform based on community created content and apps on law enforcement/first responder phones. Avoiding costly encounters between first responders and people with invisible and visible conditions and disabilities such as autism, mental health, and other disabilities.

Our community has many members with intellectual, developmental, behavioral disabilities and other mental health conditions such as autism, high anxiety, depression, dementia, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, epilepsy, down syndrome, Parkinson’s, fetal alcohol syndrome, bi-polar and schizophrenia.

Q. What is the origin of the business?

A. The Vitals app was developed by co-founders (Steve Mase, Nick Tietz, G.L. Hoffman, Jim Dolan and Rob Zink) in partnership with the Autism Society of Minnesota. We made this business because we were motivated to “give back” after learning about how vulnerable populations are at risk in their communities. Our idea was to give first responders crucial information at critical times, so tragedies can be avoided.

Q. What problems does your business solve?

A. The Vitals app will keep people safe by helping them communicate critical information in real time to police and first responders.

This is a new product offering in a new marketplace that hasn’t been served well. We are solving a major pain point for municipalities, individuals and first responders across the United States and beyond. The Vitals services works across any geographic boundary and is technology agnostic. Our product has been designed to improve existing police workflows, while closing the information gap that exists today between police and individuals in the community.

The more individuals and families that have the Vitals App the faster we can create safer communities across the U.S.

Q. What big obstacle or hurdle did you have to overcome?

A. Our biggest obstacle has been raising money to build this business. We worked on the business for a year before launching it publicly. We have self-funded this business and raised about a million dollars to build the technology and get this business off the ground. We are finally into our first equity round and are seeking additional investors to help us expand faster and move into additional communities across the U.S.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. Getting calls from caregivers, parents and individuals thanking us for making a product that has saved their lives. When you build a product, you hope that people love it. But when you get to build a product that saves people’s lives, I’m still humbled that we can impact people’s lives in such a positive way.

 

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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Moving from Networking to Positive Mentorship Relationships that Last

Have you ever been faced with a difficult decision in your career and you desperately needed advice, but did not know who to call? Nine years ago, I began to understand the connection between networking, mentorship, and my personal board of advisors. When faced with difficult career decisions, I now rely upon my mentorship relationships that have grown into my personal board of advisors.

I first learned about a personal board of advisors while in law school. This board consists of people you trust and can turn to throughout your life when faced with difficult decisions or questions. Before I could begin building this board, I had to have the relationships in place to create it.

When I moved to Minnesota, I did not know anyone. Truthfully, I did not know where to begin in terms of creating a network. I happened to attend an event where a woman was introduced as “the most networked woman in Minnesota”. I figured if anyone could help me, this woman could.

During my first meeting with this woman she changed the way I thought about networking and mentorship. She also introduced the concept of a personal board of advisors. She taught me three lessons that I have not forgotten.

First, I needed to change the way I was thinking about networking. As a young professional, I was thinking about networking as a one-way street for me to connect with someone who could teach me something. I needed to recognize that I had something to offer as well. She told me to never leave a coffee meeting without asking, “How may I support you and your work?”

Second, whether networking or building a mentorship relationship, the foundation is relationship building. Relationship building requires a time investment. Invest the time in getting to know your new connections and what is important to them in their work. If a professional event comes up that may interest them, extend an invitation to attend together. Again, the key is not to think of this as one sided.

Third, for relationships that are thriving, consider adding those people to your personal board of advisors. I had to learn that an advisor does not need to be someone further along in their career or older. Someone starting out or younger may also serve as an advisor. What is most important is that your advisors are those you trust to be honest with you and that they can provide you with different perspectives.

I am so grateful for the people who took the time to meet with me for coffee and eventually become mentors and advisors. As a result of what I have learned through these relationships, I try to do the same for others looking to connect. You never know, your next mentee may be your next advisor.


You can read more about Tisidra Jones on her
website. She will also be moderating the panel for our event Taking the Lead: Lifting Up the Next Generation: Mentorship in the 21st Century. You can RSVP here for the event.

 

 

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Startup Showcase: Weaving Together a Company’s Culture and Mission

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 Rosalynn Verges. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on September 22, 2018. 

In the 2018 Forbes article “15 Best Ways to Build a Company Culture That Thrives,” John M. O’Connor from Career Pro Inc. states: “If your leaders don’t buy into cultural change and healthy cultural environments, don’t expect your employees or stakeholders to follow suit.” In a 2015 report by TruPath, turnover at companies with a poor culture is 48 percent while in contrast turnover at companies with a great culture is 14 percent.

All of this goes to show that having a company with a mission to “create great places to work” is truly necessary. That is exactly what Rosalynn Verges is set out to do with Fabric. She believes culture begins with a clearly defined message and great leaders who embody them. And with today’s unemployment levels and the “war on talent,” organizations need to be focused on their culture to attract and retain top talent.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Fabric
Website: www.befabric.com
Twitter: @befabric.com
Business Start Date: Oct. 13, 2017
Number of Employees: 3
Number of Customers: 20

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Rosalynn Verges
Age: 33
City you live in: Blaine
City of birth: St. Paul
College attended: University of Minnesota, Morris; University of South Dakota (post-graduate)

 

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?
A.  I grew up on the Eastside of St. Paul (go Knights!) and then did my undergrad at the University of Minnesota, Morris. After graduating from Morris, I moved to Sioux Falls, S.D., where I earned my Professional in Human Resources (PHR) Certification and studied organizational development, business operations and lean manufacturing through the University of South Dakota’s MBA program. I was fortunate early in my career to often have a seat at the table when it came to learning about how organizations functioned and understanding business operations. As a result, I am a process-focused person who loves figuring out the actions needed to reach a goal or produce a desired outcome. Which is probably why organizational development and leadership coaching became a logical progression for my career.

Q. What is your business?
A. At Fabric, we help businesses define who they are, what they do and how they do it. And we give them the tools to actually LIVE IT. Through developing their culture messages (their mission, vision, values and strategies) and coaching leaders on how to communicate and embody those messages, we help them gain organizational alignment. We provide workshops designed to define the most important yet often obscure areas of your business. We can help create the culture your employees deserve.  Everything we do at Fabric is centered on our vision which is to “create great places to work.” So all of our services are centered on creating healthy successful organizational culture.

Q. What is the origin of the business?
A. I’ve always wanted to own my own business and after 10 years in HR helping people create great places to work I knew that was where I wanted to focus my attention. Given my background in organizational and leadership development, creating Fabric was a natural fit.

Q. What problems does your business solve?
A. I think all organizations want to have great cultures they just often don’t know HOW to make that happen. Fabric takes the guess work out of that. We help organizations live up to their culture messages and create great places to work.

Q. Where did you pivot in your company’s journey?
A. One of the biggest pivots we made was not doing it all at once. We have a lot of vision for what Fabric can be and how we can create a community to support organizational leaders, but we decided — rather than trying to do it all at once — to start with the services we see as most valuable to leaders.

Q. What is your biggest obstacle?
A. Right now our biggest obstacle is exposure. Developing a presence can be a challenge. We know there are a lot of organizations out there who would benefit from our services, but it can be difficult to know how to reach them. We’ve found the most success by focusing on organizations that are already aligned with and understand our vision of creating great places to work…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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Startup Showcase: Food for Thought in Helping the State’s Business Growth

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 Lauren Mehler Pradhan. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on September 8, 2018. 

According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, “Minnesota leads the nation in food patents per capita and has long been on the forefront of research and innovation in agriculture, food production and food safety.” In addition, Minnesota ranks among the top 10 in more than 20 agricultural products and is home to some of the nation’s largest agricultural and food production companies.

To accelerate this growth and build an interconnected ecosystem of support, The Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship at the Carlson School of Business established “Grow North.” Since launching in January of 2017 the organization has already made its mark in the community and with Lauren Mehler Pradhan at the helm, sharing stories of success and lending support, the ongoing growth in the North is inevitable.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Grow North
Website: www.grownorthmn.com
Twitter: @grownorthmn
Business start date: January 2017
Number of employees: Me and two amazing interns
Number of customers: Sometimes too many to count.

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Lauren Mehler Pradhan
Age: 36
City you live in: Hopkins
City of birth: New Brunswick, N.J.
High school attended: South Brunswick High School
College attended: Rutgers College

Q&A

Q. Who are you and what is your history?
A. I am the founding managing director for Grow North, a mom, a lover of food and deep believer in the impact that entrepreneurs and innovators can have on our food system. While I am originally from New Jersey, I am very proud to call Minnesota home for the last 14 years.

Q. What is your business?
A. Grow North is an initiative of the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship at the Carlson School of Business focused on accelerating Minnesota’s ecosystem for entrepreneurship and innovation in food and agriculture. We offer education, mentorship, and networking programming as well as create large events like Food, Ag, Ideas Week Oct 8-12.

Q. What is the genesis of the business?
A. Grow North was inspired by a cross-section of the community coming together through the MN Cup, a venture competition out of the Carlson School, and their Food, Ag, Beverage division. The division quickly became the fastest growing division in the Cup. Community leaders started asking how they could extend support and connectivity to the community throughout the year, and so the idea of Grow North as an ecosystem builder, resource hub and connector came to life.

Q. What problems does your business solve?
A. We believe that startup businesses will grow and scale faster and smarter if they are a part of an interconnected, supportive, sophisticated ecosystem. To make this happen, we focus on solving the problem of connectivity — to resources, individuals and organizations. If we can help entrepreneurs and organizations get the right connection at the right time, they will spend more time growing their business — fewer clicks, fewer coffees, more growth. We also want Minnesota’s community to be connected and visible across the globe, and so I spend time connecting with leaders in other cities to drive awareness and bring best practices back.

Q. What personal strengths or skill sets do you bring to the business?
A. Minnesota has so much here to be proud of, but for some reason we do not like to talk about it. I bring a little bit of east coast straight forwardness to my work and so I happily share stories about the remarkable individuals and companies that are here to anyone who will listen. I spent 12 years at General Mills before Grow North, so I bring industry experience, connectivity and an appreciation for the complexities of our food system.

Q. Where do you go when you need help?
A. I feel very fortunate that I have found mentors in the community who have acted as sounding boards, advisers, as well as shoulders to cry on. I meet with two entrepreneurs a week not only to provide support but also to keep me honest that Grow North programming remains relevant. My interns and colleagues at the Holmes Center are great and we brainstorm ideas all of the time….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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Startup Showcase: Busy Baby Mat Keeps Babies Busy So You Can Eat

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 Beth Fynbo. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on August 26, 2018. 

According to Reuters Top Trends in Baby and Child Care Market 2018 parents are constantly on the lookout for more convenient ways to make baby and child care easier. Grand View Research states that the global baby product market is expected to reach $121 billion by 2025. Not a bad business to jump into when you have an idea. This is exactly what Beth Fynbo did when she realized there was something missing from her baby equipment. With tenacity and resourcefulness, she has taken her idea into action. Beth’s new invention busies babies while putting restaurants and mommies at rest.

 COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Busy Baby LLC
Website: busybabymat.com
Business Start Date: Established the LLC in July 2017. Currently still working on product development and building the business. Hoping to have first sales in December 2018.
Number of Employees:  1
Number of Customers: No customers, yet.

PROFILE

Name: Beth Fynbo
Age: 41
City you live in: Oronoco, Minn.
College attended: Bachelor program for Business Management at MSU-Mankato after the Army and then earned a Master of Business with a concentration in Project Management from Colorado Technical University.

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?
A.  I was born and raised the daughter of an entrepreneur in Albert Lea, Minn. I started college at Minnesota State University, Mankato before joining the United States Army for a 10-year adventure around the world. I eventually returned to Mankato and completed my undergrad in Business Management. I then went on to complete a Master’s degree program in Business Management with a concentration in Project Management. I’ve been excelling in corporate work for the past 7 years, but have always felt a calling toward entrepreneurship.

Q. What is your business?
A. For parents of 6 to 16-month-old babies who like to eat out, but don’t like the stress of keeping the baby entertained, the Busy Baby Mat is here for you. The Busy Baby Mat’s tether system allows caregivers to attach a baby’s items to the mat, and regardless of an accidental drop or toss, they will stay within arm’s reach. The Busy Baby Mat also keeps baby protected from surface germs and has a place to put their food. What makes Busy Baby better are the suction cups under the mat that keep it in place and the tethers that keep toys or pacifiers within reach. As a bonus, the first accessories to the Busy Baby Mat, salt and pepper teething toys, come with the restaurant set. It all rolls up into a convenient carrying case that fits in most diaper bags and purses.

Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?
A. I was extremely fortunate to discover Bunker Labs, an organization that helps veteran entrepreneurs on their journeys. Through their launch lab program, a 12-week entrepreneurship course, I was able to learn how to start a business and was able to quickly develop a network of mentors to help me along the way.

Q. What is the origin of the business?
A.  The idea came to me as I ate lunch with a few girlfriends and their young children. The babies were constantly reaching for things they couldn’t have, and then when the moms would give them something to play with, they would just throw it on the floor. It was so distracting! That night, I scoured the internet for something to buy that I could take with me to restaurants once my son was old enough to sit up in the high chair. When I couldn’t find something that would work, I started making it on my own from things around the house. My best friend had a baby the week after me, so I made one for her too. Another friend saw it in action and asked for one as well.

Q. What problems does your business solve?
A. Busy Baby takes some of the stress out of taking an infant or toddler out to eat. The main problem our product solves is keeping baby busy at the restaurant. It keeps all the toys within reach and everything free from germs, and as an added bonus, the silicone deadens the sound of banging….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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