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Startup Tips from the Hill

In celebration of Twin Cities Startup Week 2017, the James J. Hill Center thought they would share their top 5 tips for entrepreneurs and small business owners.

  1. Find the best data and use it
    You need solid information and data to support your start-up, whether you are writing a business plan, researching venture capital or looking for business leads. A few hot tips: IBISWorld is the best database for industry information, PrivCo is your bet for hard-to-find private company information and SimplyAnalytics is perfect for demographic information that can be used to inform you on developing into new markets. You can find all of these databases at the Hill…and they are free to use.
  2. Learn from those who have traveled the same path
    At the Hill, we provide a lot of opportunities to do just that. Meet the Expert is a perfect example of a program that connects you with experts across fields of law, marketing, digital, business development and more. Find the missing link for your start-up in this speed-dating style program.
  3. Show up
    You’ve heard it before “the world is run by those who show up.” Try out a networking event or attend 1 Million Cups St. Paul. By showing up, you’ll get the double benefit of learning more about the start-up landscape in the Twin Cities, as well as an opportunity to share your dream and find those willing to support you along the way.
  4. Look for help from those who know
    Thinking about writing a business plan, starting a non-profit, or moving your product into a new market? Try our Database Deep Dive series to take the edge off the research. These free workshops occur twice a month and will offer the best tips and tricks to navigating our databases. We love to answer questions, so come ready to dig in!
  5. Remember you’re part of something bigger
    Chipping away at a new start-up can bring up a number of feelings, but isolation doesn’t have to be one of them. Consider us your new home-base for your business. The Hill is a powerful space ripe with a rich tradition of entrepreneurial wins. Come use our free Wifi, sit and work, bring your lunch or use our resources to build your dream. Do you think you are one of the “original thinkers” that James J. Hill wanted to attract to his library? We think so. Come in and give us a try.

Written by Lindsey Dyer, Director of Library Services, James J. Hill Center. If you have more questions about the reference library at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or hillreferencelibrary@jjhill.org.

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The American Hospital Directory: A Hidden Gem

The region spanning from the Twin Cities metro area down to Rochester is such a hotbed of healthcare organizations and medical device companies that it’s known as “Medical Alley.” In fact, a 2015 article by EMSI notes that the Twin Cities Medical Alley has far more medical-related jobs than any other metro area in the United States, over 10,000 more than New York. Minnesota is clearly a leader in the medical industry housing such influential companies as 3M, Medtronic, the Mayo Clinic and the Medical Alley Association.

The business reference library at the James J. Hill Center is here to help professionals in the medical device industry find the information they need. We offer a highly specialized database, the American Hospital Directory.  This database can be accessed for free at the Hill Center in downtown Saint Paul.

The American Hospital Directory is a tool that medical device sales professionals find invaluable for finding detailed information about hospitals in their market. Data is collected from both public and private sources such as Medicare claims, hospital cost reports and commercial licencors. Using this directory, you can learn a hospital’s specialties, bed count, revenue broken down by services and more.

This type of research is a vital tool in the medical field.  To have the ability to compare and contrast hospitals by patient statistics, revenue and services puts you at the top of your game and on the road to success. Stop by the Hill today, have a conversation with one of our business librarians and use this hidden gem.


Written by: Leah Kodner, Business Librarian, James J. Hill Center.

If you have more questions about the reference library at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or hillreferencelibrary@jjhill.org.

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The Birth of GovDocs

Zach Stabenow is the CEO and Co-Founder of GovDocs. We had the opportunity to connect with  Zach about his entrepreneurial journey starting GovDocs and GovDelivery.  His story of success and thoughts on what is important are an inspiration for anyone taking the steps to make their dream happen.

How did your entrepreneurial journey begin?
It started in a studio basement apartment in the City of St. Paul with a small desk, one Dell computer with a dial-up modem and a futon for a bed.  I was fresh out of the University of Minnesota having been in the work force (tech industry) for only two years, when the entrepreneurial bug bit me.  My mother was a school teacher turned entrepreneur who started and ran a small business during my childhood and her father had a number of entrepreneurial ventures in North St. Paul so it was probably inevitable that I would have a passion for starting my own business just based on hereditariness.  So in June of 1999, I co-founded two companies; GovDocs and GovDelivery with a close friend, Scott Burns, as my business partner.

What are your current projects and or business ventures you are working on?
I currently own and run GovDocs, which is now independent from GovDelivery. GovDocs employs 50 people and growing who have a passion for providing employment law management software, data, and print solutions to the largest companies in North America.

What are the most important things to consider when starting a new idea / venture or start up?
Focus first on addressing a small niche market that is being under served.  Then, go serve that tiny market better than anyone else in the world for years, or even a decade.  It is incredibly tempting for entrepreneurs to build a business that serves a mass market right out of start-up phase because of the attractiveness of scale, but what I’ve learned is that your business first must prove that it can be #1 or #2 at something on a smaller level before it can advance to serving a mass market.

What resources did you use when starting your journey?
Books.  I read a lot of business books and trade publications before starting my entrepreneurial journey.  The most useful books that contributed to my business learning though were the historical biographies and auto-biographies of entrepreneurs who shaped our country’s history through business.  Ironically, one of those important biographies, was The Life of James J. Hill by Joseph Pyle and I also studied Highways of Progress written by Hill himself.  I have found that the most valuable business lessons come from reading and learning from those who have come long before us who are able to offer their life-time perspective of experience, rather than a recent business fad or technique.

How did you leverage the resources at the Hill Center?
Several years ago, I decided to examine GovDocs’ potential for additional strategic expansion from our core product offering.  To know whether my market hunch had any validity, I needed more empircal data.  A business acquaintance had suggested I use James J. Hill Center’s research library databases to gather data profiles on the largest companies in the U.S. so that I could analyze their geographical locations and other attributes.  That data and analysis turned-out to be crucial to convincing me and our leadership team to pursue our next strategic expansion opportunity.  Today, we still refer to that data when analyzing how well we are capturing market share.

What or who has made the biggest impact on your entrepreneurial career so far?
My mother.  If she hadn’t made the entrepreneurial leap herself, I wouldn’t have had the front-row seat to see what real guts and determination it takes to risk personal failure and money and to push through all the adversity required to start and grow a business. What has been the largest hurdle and / or success you have experienced as an entrepreneur?

Getting the very first customer (or set of customers) to purchase and use our products/services has always been the biggest hurdle when entering new markets.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs just getting out of gate?
Research the market you’re about to live in.  You can have a huge competitive advantage if you put effort and time in to this step.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs that are stuck or have had their first failure?
Immediately perform physical movement on activities that will inch your business forward.  Make another phone call, write another email, design another prototype, interview a prospective customer… do anything that gets you physically moving and the business forward.  This helps bring your mental determination back and it gets one more item done for the business. Then repeat that 10,000 more times.

What is it about Minnesota and the entrepreneurial ecosystem and how has it managed to keep you here?Two key reasons:

  1. Minnesota has a long and consistent history of incubating some of the most successful entrepreneurs and businesses in the world.  That history and tradition motivates me.
  2. Minnesota weather and mosquito’s make for a hardy work force to hire from and build great teams. Whether you grew up here or were a transplant, to endure -15 temperatures, snow and mosquito bites year in and year out will turn almost anyone into a consistently hard-working team member. You can’t get that Silicon Valley.

The James J. Hill Center mission honors the legacy of its founder by continuing to support entrepreneurial spirit in the 21st Century. We offer researchprograms, 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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Best State to Start a Business

When it comes to finding a community that supports and empowers entrepreneurs and small businesses, look no further than the Twin Cities and surrounding suburbs. Nationally recognized as the place where business starts and thrives, the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area has the 4th highest concentration of small businesses in the nation, making it the 3rd “Best State to Start a Business” (Entrepreneur.com).

The area’s library systems have long been important resources to enriching life. A new video series called Libraries out Loud out of Kansas City explores how libraries are adapting to the needs of today, including finding ways to support local entrepreneurs. It is not much different in the Twin Cities where in a collaborative effort to support the growing entrepreneurial population, the James J. Hill Center provides resources complimenting the offerings at neighboring libraries.

The Hill often works together with Hennepin County Library and St. Paul Public Library to provide the best business information for entrepreneurs. This has always been part of the Hill’s mission. In our first year in business, head librarian Joseph Pyle explained in the 1921 Librarian Report, that James J. Hill intended for the library to “pick up where the public library ended,” which is exactly where our mission falls today. We fill in the gaps with our unique programs and resources.

On Monday, Aug. 21 from 5:30-7:30pm, Lindsey Dyer (JJHC), Erin Cavell (HCL) and Amanda Feist (SPPL) from our three area libraries will conduct a presentation called “Fill in the blanks of your business plan: getting started with research,” hosted by George Latimer Library.  This presentation will share resources, tips and tricks to navigate the best that our metro libraries have to offer.  SIGN UP NOW to join this informational free event.

Written by Lindsey Dyer, Director of Library Services, James J. Hill Center. If you have more questions about the reference library at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or hillreferencelibrary@jjhill.org.

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Soft Skills Revolution: Finding Soft Skill Value

Chris Carlson is an entrepreneur, actor,  lawyer and the founder of NarrativePros dedicated to coaching stronger connections. Chris is setting the standard for soft skills training across the region and will be sharing his tips and tricks in our monthly blog Soft Skills Revolution. Come back the first Tuesday of each month and learn key steps to unleash your efficiency, effectiveness and maximize your input.

FINDING SOFT SKILL VALUE

I used to have a hard time finding my keys. Then I bought this little plastic disk that my phone can make beep. They’re usually sitting right on the counter, hidden in plain sight.

A recent survey of 2.6 million employers reported that 59% have difficulty finding candidates who are proficient in “soft skills.” I believe that soft skilled people are really not that hard to find. They just need to tag their skills with the equivalent of that beeping disk.

Making your own soft skill set “beep” out begins with understanding why they’re “soft”, what are the skills and the value to employers.

The Soft
Among the most sought-after soft skills are the “4 Cs”: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Creativity.

The term soft skills was originally defined by the Army in 1972 as

“Job functions about which we know a good deal are hard skills and those about which we know very little are soft skills.”

From the beginning soft skills have been associated with misunderstanding.

One of the biggest insights to soft skills is how little we know about them and ourselves. Studies like Sage Journals “Perceived Versus Actual Transparency of Goals in Negotiation” have shown how we believe others see us and what they actually perceive are statistically unrelated. The only accurate way to gauge how you’re being perceived is to ask someone else.

And yet, as Seth Godin points out “what actually separates thriving organizations from struggling ones are the difficult-to-measure attitudes, processes and perceptions of the people who do the work.”

The Skills
In that aptly titled post, “Let’s Stop Calling Them ’Soft Skills,” Godin argues that the term should be avoided:

“We call these skills soft, making it easy for us to move on to something seemingly more urgent. We rarely hire for these attributes because we’ve persuaded ourselves that vocational skills are impersonal and easier to measure.”

He feels that they are more accurately understood as “real skills” because of their impact on businesses:

“…when an employee demoralizes the entire team by undermining a project, or when a team member checks out and doesn’t pull his weight, or when a bully causes future stars to quit the organization — too often, we shrug and point out that this person has tenure, or vocational skills or isn’t so bad. But they’re stealing from us.”

He then goes on to list nearly 100 different skill sets in five categories that make up his first draft of real skills.

The Value
Godin’s argument carries significant weight when you consider how reliant the economy is on soft skills. Three decades ago 83% of the value of an S&P 500 company was in its tangible assets—real estate, equipment, inventory. Today 87% of the value is in intangible assets—ideas, brand, or stories.

Companies that had paid workers to build value with their labor now pay them to create with their minds. The majority of companies’ value can no longer be delivered by trucks. Instead, the majority of worth is created, transmitted and maintained through soft skill mastery.

Developing mastery is also hiding in plain sight. The process is the same one practiced by athletes, artists and entrepreneurs.

More on that later. I have to find my phone.

To be continued….

Guest writer: Chris Carlson
Visit @NarrativePros for more information.

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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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Cabinets of Curiosity

With some recent archival projects on our plate an article from MPR News caught the attention of Lindsey Dyer our Director of Library Services. “File this under nostalgia: New book pays tribute to the library card catalog shares information about a new book from the Library of Congress entitled,  “The Card Catalog: Books, Cards and Literary Treasures.”  It celebrates catalogs “as the analog ancestor of the search engine.” Library of Congress author, Peter Deveraux, states that “There’s tens of millions of cards here.  It’s a city block long.” This was a very timely article considering some of the historic catalog items we recently found here at the James J. Hill Center.  Lindsey recently took some time to dig up and share a few iconic treats from the vault.

Lindsey: Card catalogs are indeed “cabinets of curiosities” as are the ways we have kept track of information over time. Librarians worked tirelessly to create calm in the chaos of information, cutting and pasting any relevant facts and tid-bits. Take these snapshots in time from the 1980s – gems of nostalgia for Gen Xers and older millennials. What research paper would be complete without the help of the card catalog?

At the Hill, business librarians had a special task of identifying and capturing industry trends – like how Nike is taking over the sneaker industry, or the rise in fax machine sales. While the methods have certainly changed (we aren’t cutting out and taping facts to cards, though I have to admit that sounds cathartic), we still aim to find the best industry information there is, combing databases (paid and free), and translating that information.

We have been, and always will be, an entrepreneur’s best resource!

Visit the James J. Hill Center and it’s reference library Monday through Thursday 10AM to 5PM and check out all of the current resources.  Also, ask one of our business librarians for some assistance with a database and see what gems of knowledge you can find to build you business success.

 

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Introducing: Lindsey Dyer

Lindsey Dyer is the new Director of Library Services at the James J. Hill Center, and comes with experience from both public and academic libraries, as well as Target, Corp. and the Minnesota Historical Society. Lindsey lives in St. Paul with her husband and is the mom of three kids.  We took a few minutes to chat with her about her new position at the Hill.  Come in and join us at the Hill next week during National Library Week to meet Lindsey and her team and participate in free programming.

How did your journey with the James J. Hill Center begin?
The Hill Center inspired me to pursue a career in libraries back in 2005, when I worked here as a volunteer. It is easy to see why – the building draws you in and speaks for itself. Though I had since moved on to new professional opportunities, I maintained an admiration for the mission and staff – particularly the Hill Papers Archivist, Eileen McCormack, whose job I aspired to at the time. I am honored to be back!

What do you want people to know about you?
I am very interested in how library services fit into the broader user experience landscape when it comes to looking for and using information. Libraries have an important task, especially now, to be conduits for authentic and unbiased information that we use every day in business decisions. I think we’ve lost sight of why this is important to talk about. At the Hill Center, we have a unique opportunity to narrow that down to information that entrepreneurs in particular need to get to the next step in their business planning. It’s exciting and inspiring when our information becomes the turning point for a startup.

What has made the biggest impact on your career so far?
Working for both Target and the Minnesota Historical Society gave me a unique perspective on service and management. I like to think that I took the best from both worlds, specifically non-traditional approaches to what accessibility looks like, and have been working to implement some of these things at the Hill Center.

What has been the largest hurdle and success you have experienced in your career?
I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside some talented entrepreneurs, and have had some real conversations about what they need to be successful. I am working towards the hurdle of transforming reference services at the Hill Center to best fit those needs. I want the library to not only give entrepreneurs information – I want us to be the difference between success and failure.

What is it about Minnesota and more specifically Saint Paul that keeps you here?St. Paul – or “Small Paul” – has been my home for 13 years, and it’s the ultimate charmer. I am especially drawn to historic homes, and in fact used to be the Site Manager of the James J. Hill House – the historic house museum to rival them all. This city has a rich history, and it shows.

The Hills’ 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.

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The Hill Reference Round-Up

Blue Prints to Business Plans…
building-plans-sept

September at the Hill was buzzing with visitors from students to entrepreneurs researching blue prints to business plans.  It is a prefect example of the vast amount of resources our Reference Specialists have at their fingertips.

Here are some examples of who, what and why people visited us! 

  • Over 110 researchers welcomed in September.
  • Most researchers were from Minnesota, and a few traveled from Wisconsin.
  • Several researchers this month came to use our resources to help them develop their business plans.
  • The majority of our visitors in September self-identify as entrepreneurs.
  • A student from the U of M studying architecture viewed historic building blueprints for a course project.
  • One researcher explored sales data and patent information related to exercise equipment.
  • We often welcome job seekers, but had one unique researcher this month, who works to support individuals with severe mental illness and conducted job searches on behalf of those individuals to locate potential workplaces near their homes to accommodate transportation limitations.

We look forward to seeing you at the Hill.  Contact a Reference Specialist today!

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To the Dreamers…

blog-image-dreamer

“Great things never come from comfort zones”

Next week is Twin Cities Startup Week a celebration of the “startup capital of the north,” Minnesota. A great time to recognize innovation, creative thinking and economic empowerment.  After reviewing some of the startups that have presented at 1 Million Cups St. Paul (every Wednesday 9AM at the Hill) we were impressed by the variety of individuals who made up these organizations, and the creative implementation of each idea.

We started to wonder what characteristic these entrepreneurs possess…these ground breakers, these innovators.  We were surprised to find it was not the usual traits that often define a successful business person (i.e. professional, competitive, ambitious).  The traits instead were holistic, passionate and creative – not typically the words used in day-to-day corporate environments.

Entrepreneurs are described as the artists of business, the breakers of the mold and the dreamers of our time. They come in all shapes, sizes, ages and races.  Their services and products vary from small to large, specific to broad, for niche groups or the entire world.  They are for profit and not for profit (some profitable, some just surviving).  But all of them have one thing in common.  They all start as a dream.

These risk takers go beyond their comfort zone and strive to create a new world.  They are the inspiration behind new ideas and revolutions that shape our daily decisions and define our economic future.

After reading about these innovators of change, we wanted to thank them for their willingness to jump, to believe in an idea, to keep an open mind, flexible heart, a passionate belief AND the confidence to persevere when it doesn’t work the first time.  We all can learn from them.  We all can be a little more entrepreneurial every day.

“If it is still in your mind, it is worth taking the risk”
– Paulo Coelho, lyricist & Novelist-

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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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