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The Community’s the Thing

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

“Most plays you see were written by one person based on a what or a why,” says Leah Cooper, Co-Artistic Director at Wonderlust Productions. “We start with who.”

Leah and her company tell stories with and about communities—specifically those that are hidden, marginalized, or plagued by a single media narrative. In the spirit of theater companies like Cornerstone in Los Angeles, Wonderlust incorporates community members (the who) in the research, design, and production of stories based on their complex and universal experiences within that community.

“In a way it’s the original way people made theater,” says Leah. “They sat around and shared stories with each other and made a play out of it.”

So, how does it work?

After identifying a community with an untold story, the Wonderlust team works with organizations already serving that community to gather direct input from their constituents.

“We actively target diversity, both vertically and horizontally,” says Leah. “Horizontally is what people usually mean—demographics, gender, class, all that sort of thing. Vertically is across the power hierarchy that is in the community.”

Within these diverse story circles, Leah and her team listen for both the commonalities and contradictions in what people believe is the truth about the community. After what can be years participating in this process, the writers look for a classic storyline that can be adapted to encompass the complexity of experience entrusted to them.

“[At this point] we invite community members back to the table, so to speak, or the rehearsal room and we mix them together with professionals from our ensemble,” says Leah.

After many public readings, workshops, and rewrites, the final production includes both trained performers and community members sharing the same stage.

“It gives [community members] an opportunity to bear witness to somebody else’s experience which is kind of, weirdly, a sacred experience,” says Leah. “By entering into that it creates a reverence that they bring to it that ends up conveying a really similar quality to that created by professional artists.”

Though they did not originate this methodology for storytelling, the Wonderlust team has certainly made it their own. They are even beginning to experiment with new mediums for community stories—virtual reality, graphic novels, ritual, and sound installation. But what really sets Leah and her company apart as original thinkers is their willingness to deeply listen to people no matter who they are.

“This is a thing we’ve learned,” says Leah. “It doesn’t matter how important people are, how extroverted or introverted—nobody feels heard. This is a human thing.”

To learn more about Wonderlust Productions, view past projects, and catch upcoming performances visit their website wonderlustproductions.org.

 


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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Get Your Food Truck Cooking

With the long, hot days of summer upon us, plenty of budding entrepreneurs begin to dream of working out of the office, out on the open road. How can someone balance a roving heart and a small business? Open a food truck! Downtown at the Hill, we have plenty of food trucks surrounding Rice Park, but finding the right research to get one started can be a challenge. Save your energy for preparing delicious food and head to the Hill for all your research needs.

You can find a full industry report on food trucks in our IBISWorld database. Get a sense of food truck trends, national regulations, and a five year forecast. Curious whether you should specialize in Mexican cuisine or Peruvian fare? Look at product and service segmentation within the industry for a sense of market concentration at the U.S. level. IBISWorld can also discuss consumer expectations so you know if your customers will expect organic produce or biodegradable plates. By understanding the industry at the national level, you’ll be able to anticipate and prepare for new trends, understand the field’s influencing factors, and fulfill regulatory requirements, letting you concentrate on your recipes.

Interested in reading profiles on successful food truck? Use Business Source Premier to find local newspaper and magazine articles on other trucks. Keyword searching in Business Source Premier will instantly search thousands of trade journals, magazines, and product reviews in addition to publications like Forbes and Fortune. Looking up “Food Trucks” and “Minnesota” will yield articles on award-winning food trucks, truck design, unconventional menu trends, and beyond. This is a fantastic resource to investigate the latest news in the industry while getting in-depth interview from food truck owners on the secrets to their success.

Curious about these resources? Want to know what else the Hill has to offer? Schedule an appointment at jjhill.org to speak with us about everything the Hill can do to support your dreams.

 


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

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A Consumer’s Guide to Women’s Equity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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It All Adds Up: Celebrating Growth

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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A Seller’s Daily Amazon Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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No time for family dinner? She thought: ‘What if I cook it for you?’

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 Libby Mehaffey. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on May 6, 2018.

In 2018, families are constantly on the go, and it seems eating together as a family is on the decline. According to Statista, only half of American families eat dinner with their family at home six to seven nights a week.

Studies have shown eating together is beneficial not only for children but also for the parents. According to National Center on Addiction & Substance Abuse at Columbia University, teaching healthful eating habits make you less likely to develop substance dependencies, and more likely to perform better academically.  One Minnesota startup has taken this idea to heart and is looking to bring families together through healthy prepared dinners for all.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Weeknight Kitchen
Website: WeeknightKitchen.com
Business Start Date: Officially since August 2017
Number of Employees: 3 plus independent contractors
Number of Customers: 500, 75 to 100 orders on a weekly basis

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Libby Mehaffey
Age: 38
City you live in: Inver Grove Heights
College attended: University of Wisconsin, Madison
High school attended: Hastings Senior High School
College attended: University of Wisconsin, Madison

 

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?

A. I grew up in Hastings with a wonderful, hard-working family. My career started in Washington, D.C., working in politics where I met my now husband, Matthew, on a blind date. We moved to Minnesota in 2005. Since then I’ve done lots of interesting work including launching a local golf newspaper, working with the Secret Service at the 2008 GOP Convention and doing marketing and sales for the PGA Tour. So, when I sat down to think about what it was going to be like to go back to work — I thought — given my zest for work, my husband’s odd hours and travel schedule and my gaggle of kids, I needed to build a business that works for my family. So that’s what I did. Enter, Weeknight Kitchen.

Q. What is your business?

A. Weeknight Kitchen prepares hot, homemade, family-style meals to be shared at home. Our hope is that by preparing a hot, homemade meal we can give our clients 30 minutes of time to sit down and share dinner with their family. Our menu changes weekly and is designed to appeal to parents and kids alike — no foraged ingredients or spices you can’t pronounce — just simple, classic recipes like meatloaf and baby red potatoes or chicken chow mein.  Everyone gets the same thing — no substitutions or special orders as we stick to the mantra of “you get what you get and you don’t cause a fit.” All of our meals feed 4-6 people and cost $35 no matter what we’re serving. Clients pick up meals at corporate and residential locations between the hours of 3:30 and 6:30 p.m.

Some people confuse Weeknight Kitchen with a meal kit — which we are not. All of our meals are fully prepared and delivered hot — so there is absolutely no prep work involved. All meals are delivered in commercial catering boxes or bags that are designed to keep food safe for up to four hours.

Q. What is the origin of the business?

A. Growing up, my family ate dinner together at 5:30 almost every day. I think for many folks in my generation this was the norm. Weeknight dinner was when our family caught up about school, work, friends, and family. Dinner was never fancy – just simple meals my mom would “whip up.” Looking back, weeknight dinners were our family constant.

Unfortunately, people don’t sit down for dinner as a family anymore. Between work responsibilities, kid stuff and household chores – finding the time and energy to make dinner — and actually sit down together — well, it just doesn’t happen…..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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Helping Higher Education Improve Its Business Model

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 Vikas Mehrotra. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on April 21, 2017.

Each year, $30 billion are spent on incoming freshmen scholarships in our country. However, research indicates that several educational institutions are struggling financially and student success is questionable. Student loans continue to increase, and degree attainment rates for 4-year college are around 34 percent.

Far too many educational institutions are on probation or at risk of losing their accreditation. The loss of accreditation is a serious issue for students, institutions and the community. Senior leaders and their respective board members are under tremendous pressure because of an enrollment crisis in higher education. The business case for a quick turnaround is clear. There is a need for comprehensive end-to-end enrollment strategy and data-driven decision making to improve the business health of our universities and institutions.

MANBOAT enhances student success and increases net tuition revenue for institutions. It is an essential tool to close the college attainment rates as the demand and need for skilled talent grows higher than ever before.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Virtue Analytics LLC
Website: www.virtueanalytics.com | www.manboat.com
Business Start Date: 2013
Number of Employees: Our team size varies from project to project and consists of full-time and part-time consultants.

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Vikas Mehrotra
Age: 43
City you live in: Woodbury
College attended: Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Wisconsin-Madison

 

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?
A. I have two decades of field experience in business, consulting, analytics with an engineering background. My love for math, consulting and entrepreneurship led me to start Virtue Analytics back in 2013. I have a Master’s of Science degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a second Master’s degree in Engineering Logistics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Before starting Virtue Analytics, I worked in strategy & operations at Deloitte Consulting and in category management at Supervalu.

Q. What is your business?
A. Virtue Analytics solves critical business problems using advanced analytical techniques and predictive modeling. We are an emerging Midwest EdTech startup headquartered in Woodbury. We are the world’s first applied intelligent and AI enabled, end-to-end platform that allows educational institutions to increase net tuition revenue and improve student success by optimizing scholarship and admission processes and decisions.

We use advanced machine learning techniques and models to solve critical business problems. Our product platform is called MANBOAT. MANBOAT is an acronym for Merit and Need Based Optimization and Allocation Tool. MANBOAT helps optimize enrollment decisions and improves student outcome. Using our product institutions are able to minimize cost over-runs and reduce student withdrawals.

Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?
A. We rely heavily on our network in the Twin Cities. We recently graduated from the gBeta program and Eric Martell and Adam Choe from Gener8tor were phenomenal. Both 1MC and Gener8tor teams have helped us strengthen our local network immensely. We are also fortunate to have a strong team of advisers who believed in us right from the beginning and have continued to support us through our journey.

Q. What is the origin of the business?
A. A few years ago, I obtained an opportunity to work with an education institution. We were contracted to build predictive models to help their business. While working on the problem, I realized that the enrollment challenge is much bigger and decided to pivot the company from consulting to developing software to solve this challenging problem. We developed a prototype product and shared it with several industry leaders, receiving excellent feedback that gave us enormous confidence. We realized there is a marketplace for our product MANBOAT and went on to build the platform.

Q. What problems does your business solve?

A. The more substantial macro issues in higher education give rise to additional micro problems, which significantly impact a college or a university meeting its strategic goals; issues which we help institutions address strategically and mathematically. Each year post-secondary institutions increase tuition fees by 3 to 5 percent but are still struggling as businesses….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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Libraries Lead: Dru Frykberg

In celebration of National Library Week the James J. Hill Center has reached out to individuals who are involved with the transformation of libraries to celebrate their story and hear their perspective on the future.

Dru Frykberg is Librarian at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), is the state’s principal economic development agency. DEED programs promote business recruitment, expansion, and retention; international trade; workforce development; and community development.

Tell me a little bit about you and how libraries are integrated into your life?
As a librarian, libraries are obviously a big part of my professional life. But they’re also part of my personal life. During the last year, I’ve turned to libraries to get my toaster fixed at a Fix-It Clinic, attend a meditation class, learn about First Avenue’s history from local music writers, see my teenage crush actor-turned-travel-writer Andrew McCarthy read from his latest book, and of course, borrow all the fiction and nonfiction titles I want.

Where did libraries lead you?
Libraries led me to my academic degrees and to my careers in journalism and librarianship.

Tell me a about your library and its defining function?
The Minnesota Department of Employment & Economic Development (DEED) Library is an internal, staff library where I anticipate and respond to the information needs of my 1,500 colleagues. That means I’m performing research and managing resources for economic developers, labor market analysts, vocational rehabilitation counselors, regional trade managers, employment counselors and more. They keep me busy and on my toes!

Where do you see the future of libraries?
I see libraries continuing to respond to the needs of their communities. I’m not sure anyone knows what that will be. But if I had to guess I see libraries promoting the skills and literacy needed to live in a democracy, preparing people for jobs, providing space and resources for entrepreneurs and gig economy workers, and playing a role in the sharing economy. Maybe they’ll be circulating drones and driverless vehicles along with everything else they make available.

What is a way that communities can take action for libraries and be involved with their transformation?
Don’t take libraries for granted. Use them. Promote them through word of mouth. Let them know how they can better serve you. And support them financially.

 

The James J. Hill Center, founded as the James J. Hill Reference Library is 1921, 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 visit www.jjhill.org

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An Online Plan to Modernize Age-Old Shipping Industry

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 Tom Venable. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase on March 10, 2017.

According to the Inland Waterways section of the 2017 American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report, the waterway system supported “more than half a million jobs and delivers more than 600 million tons of cargo each year, about 14% of all domestic freight” and “between 2000 and 2014, the average delay per lockage nearly doubled from 64 minutes to 121 minutes.”

While delays are inevitable, freight shippers and receivers do have an opportunity to maximize their margins by making sure they limit (or eliminate) miles when a cargo container is empty. Enter Basin Commerce, offering technology to a business that currently relies heavily on low-tech solutions, to save time, money and headaches.

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

CEO/co-founder: Tom Venable
Age: 56
City you live in: Excelsior
City of birth: Peoria, Ill.
High school attended: Edina High School
College attended: University of Minnesota

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Basin Commerce
Website: www.basincommerce.com
Twitter: @basincommerce
Business start date: October 2016
Number of employees: 9
Number of customers: 15

Q&A

Q. What led you to this point?
A. I have over three decades of experience starting and managing software companies all over the country. Most notably in the Twin Cities, I was SVP of sales for Digital River for most of the ’00’s.

In 2016, I met one of my business partners who was a lifelong commodities trader. Scott Stefan explained to me the inefficiencies of the bulk freight market and I explained to him the efficiencies of ecommerce techniques. So we teamed up to create the first and only on-line marketplace for bulk freight transportation services.

It is the story of a commodity guy meets an ecommerce guy in a bar one night, and thus Basin Commerce was born.

Q. What is your business?
A. Based on the shores of Lake Minnetonka, Basin Commerce aims to increase the utilization of the U.S. Waterway System for the transport of bulk materials and other heavy loads that are typically moved via rail and trucks. We do this through an online service similar to Uber or Expedia. At ibookfreight.com a “shipper” can request pricing for moving large quantities of bulk commodities from a myriad of suppliers across the country using the Inland Waterways System.

Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?
A. My three co-founders and a network of trusted advisers I have built up over 30 years.

Q. What problems does your business solve?
A. The manual, cumbersome process of finding, buying and managing bulk freight services via barges and trucks.

Q. What big obstacle or hurdle did you have to overcome?
A. We have to overcome the hurdle of changing human behavior in an industry that has been around for over 100 years.

Q. What personal strengths or skill sets do you bring to the business?
A. Sales, leadership and the understanding of how to build a software company.

Q. What are you most proud of?
A. Besides my 33 year marriage and three adult children it would be the speed by which we were able to launch Basin Commerce and start generating revenue quickly….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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Angel Investing 101

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

An angel network is a group of investors who make individual investment decisions. In the case of Gopher Angels, our accredited investors collaborate on any deals of interest. There is a disciplined approach to this process and we have an administrative director who manages the due diligence.

An angel fund requires a minimum investment by angels of X dollars to go into a pool or fund to be managed by an individual or by a committee who deploys the dollars.

Seeking and using angel dollars should come after funding by friends, family, and self financing.

Angels generally invest in seed sage or early stage companies. By our definition seed stage is conceptual with a business plan supported by research to validate the business model.

Early stage is further along. It has a minimum viable product/prototype, a patent or being tested in the market with potential customers. The business can be pre-revenue but with some proof of concept. Better yet, there will be some level of revenue with paying customers.

While each fund/network/individual have their own criteria, here are some highlights:

  1. An exit such as an acquisition or an IPO where there is a return on investment within 5 to 7 years.
  2. Angels look for companies that can scale with a significant market potential.
  3. A team with relevant experience. This can be management but also can include a strong board of advisors.

So when angel investors pass on what could be a very successful business it is because there may not be an exit in sight, the company is not tapping into a large market potential or concern that the team does not have the skills to execute.

 

Further reading:

  • Rob Wiltbank, “Investment Practices and Outcomes of Informal Venture Investors”
  • Guy Kawasaki, The Art of the Start
  • Brad Feld, Venture Deals

 

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

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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.

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