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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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Business Plan Resources

Maybe the most overwhelming task that faces an entrepreneur is writing the business plan. Where to start? What data to include? While some sections, like finances and management plan, are hyper-specific to each individual venture, some sections require data that can be found at the James J. Hill Center. Let’s look at three major components: industry trends, competitor list, and market analysis.

Industry trends can be found in the Hill’s IBISWorld subscription. Within each industry breakdown, organized by both NAICS code and IBISWorld-specific specialized reports, IBISWorld provides a five-year forecast of the industry in question. The reports include some product or service segmentation, allowing researchers to learn more about the newest developments in their industry as well as projections forward.

Developing a competitor list for a business plan allows a researcher to better understand how crowded the market is and how much competition they’ll be up against once their business opens. Entrepreneurs can use the Hill’s subscription to A-to-Z Databases to make this a quick and simple task. Use this directory service to search for similar business listings by industry code, estimated annual revenue, geographic location, and employee size in order to locate your peer businesses for broader understanding of the local competitive market.

When it comes to building a customer profile or doing a market analysis, many business plan writers falter at step one: where to find relevant survey information? Thankfully, the Hill offers SimplyAnalytics, one of the premier consumer demographics and behavior databases. Look up information on household buying behaviors, types of media consumed, household demographics and concentrations by geography. You can even map this information to the state, city, or zip code level, then export a graphic to include in your business plan!

Make a Hill Introduction Appointment today at jjhill.org to learn more about the Hill’s resources and classes, and let us take some of the confusion out of finding data for your business plan.

 


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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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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Open Access

Wondering why you should check out the James J. Hill Center’s business resources? Can’t everything be found online nowadays? Not quite. While there are plenty of openly available data resources, often you end up spending your time in place of your money to access and understand them.

Say you’re looking for industrial information? Surely that’s accessible outside a subscription database like IBISWorld? You’re right! Much of the data in IBISWorld reports are gathered from open access resources. These sources can include federal or state government websites, annual reports for publicly traded companies, and general economic indicators published at the national level. For example, the U. S. Census counts more than just people. It also records the number of businesses in certain sectors and industries, which it updates every five years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases new information on industry-level employment including information on average employment and projected growth on a regular basis. The Bureau of Economic Analysis has industry and sector data on employment, wages, operations costs, and more at the state level. With all this available data, why bother with subscriptions?

The truth is that these resources are formatted for accuracy, not ease of access for a user. Learning to navigate and decipher government websites, let alone the charts and spreadsheets themselves can be a time-consuming and frustrating endeavor. In the James J. Hill Center’s Business Research Boot Camp, we address what’s publicly accessible and worth digging for and what are more easily found in a subscription database. Typically, while a subscription may cost money, you’re spending that instead of time. There’s no one right way to get data. Just know which of your resources you’re willing to spend!

Curious to learn more about openly accessible resources and how they interact with subscription databases? Check out the Hill’s newest class offering, Business Research Boot Camp. While sold-out for the September session, we’ll be back in November for another round, so please keep an eye on the Hill Center Calendar!

 


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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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, along with her Co-Artistic Director, Alan Berks, founded Wonderlust to 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, the Wonderlust team listens 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 the Wonderlust team 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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Accelerate & Generate

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. 

Time is the most valuable asset for a company. We meet a lot of founders and it doesn’t matter what vertical they are in or how well the company is doing. There is never enough time in the day or enough days in the week.

As a lean mean growing machine you and your small team wear many hats. You must go raise funds, make sales, plan for the future, hire (and fire) employees, take out the trash and countless other responsibilities. They all take time and effort. At the end of the day, some things fall behind. Often time building relationships with strategic individuals are one of them.

This is where an accelerator comes in to play. One of the biggest value propositions an accelerator can offer is access. What do we mean when we say access? We mean introductions to potential mentors, investors, corporates and other founders in a short amount of time. At gener8tor we make 100+ potential mentor introductions and set up 75+ investor pitches over the span of 12 weeks. If you stop and think about how much time and effort it would take a company to set up and execute 175+ meetings you realize the potential value.

Joining an accelerator means that companies can take chasing strategic introductions off of their to-do list for 12 weeks and beyond. This allows for companies and founders to focus on growth. Our job is to find the best companies and play matchmaker with our network.

This is not the only reason to join an accelerator and for many companies, there are a lot of variables that go into the decision. An accelerator is not for everyone, we are the first to admit it. One question for founders is if they look at this from an objective lens, do they feel the exchange of equity for cash and connections can shorten the timeline to IPO or Exit in a significant manner? If the answer is yes, the financial justification is quite clear. Time is money and we want to save you time!

Surround your company with people, investors, and organizations that help you get there faster. If you’d like to chat and learn more, feel free to connect with me via email adam@gener8tor.com.

Get out there and start something!


Adam is the director of gBETA Medtech, a program of nationally ranked gener8tor. He has previous experience in regulatory affairs, quality assurance, and early-stage product development.

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Underutilized Research Gems

If your first thought when hearing the phrase “government information,” is a stack of boring, bureaucratic reports, you’re not alone. There’s more to government information, however, than you may realize. Several government agencies regularly produce valuable business intelligence and the James J. Hill Center can direct you to some underutilized gems.

If you’re exploring a new industry, the U.S. Census Bureau should be your first stop. The Census does far more than count people; it counts businesses as well! The Economic Census run every five years and collects data at the sector and industrial level along with information about business expenses and industrial growth. The 2017 Census is scheduled for release soon, so keep an eye on that space for the latest information.

Interested in gleaning public company data from the web? Check out the SEC’s EDGAR search tool. Located on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission website, this tool allows users to pull certain mandated reports for public companies. These include annual reports (10-K), quarterly reports (10-Q), and special announcements (8-K) along with a variety of other documents. If you’re interested in getting the nitty-gritty information on publicly traded companies, using EDGAR can trim down your time spent searching company websites for glossy annual reports.

Want to learn more about government information and how it pertains to your business? Check out the Hill’s Research Boot Camp series. This accelerated class combines government and subscription database information for a 360-look at how business information is gathered and more importantly, how you can use it to succeed.

 


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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Angel Investors and Their Criteria for an Investment

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. 

It is important to first understand that angel investors and VCs all share one thing in common: the need for a return on their investment. This is not philanthropy. Even Impact Investors who may accept lower rates of return, still need that ROI.

After a founder understands this, one must realize that there are angel investors who specialize in an industry while others are “agnostic” meaning they are open to all industries.  Do your homework in advance of contacting investors.

What all investors rate highest in evaluating a deal is the strength of the team.

  • Does the management team have the relevant skills to be successful?
  • The team should bring diverse skill sets to the business.
  • After funding, who would be the first hires to help round out the team?
  • If not the management team, are there mentors or an advisory board to help guide the management team.
  • The gold star is a founder or early team member that has been through the business stages from concept to an exit.
  • Many investors like to see some “skin in the game”. Have the founders invested in their own startup?
  • Passion for their concept
  • Are the founders coachable? Will they listen to others and sift through their advice for better ways to build the company?

A great team can carry a good concept to success. A dysfunctional team can kill the best business models.

Back to the ROI…

Is there an exit in the plan? The business can be very successful but without an exit there is generally no ROI. Ideally, investors would like to see an exit (acquisition or an IPO for example) in 5 to 7 years. There are other ways to structure an exit. This could be a form of revenue sharing or a guaranteed founder buy out of the investors.

 

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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“Building” Data

Opening a store-front location adds an additional research layer onto an already complex process. In addition to industry and competitor investigation, you now must consider foot traffic, signage, and accessibility issues as part of your research! Thankfully, the James J. Hill Center’s resources offer ways to connect you to the information you need to finalize your business’ location.

The Hill offers SimplyAnalytics on a walk-in basis for demographics and consumer behavior research. You can look up survey data on a variety of topics including buying behavior and consumer attitudes, and blend it with information on population, ethnicity, household income, and others pulled from the U.S. Census Bureau. SimplyAnalytics, formerly SimplyMap, offers multiple ways to view this data. You can compare two (or more!) specific locations down to the block level using the Comparison chart tool or rank counties, cities, zip codes, and beyond using the Ratings view. A stand-out feature of SimplyAnalytics allows users to map other, similar businesses as sorted by NAICS code onto a map of a desired location. You can literally chart your competitors in a designated location, creating exportable maps for future presentations!

While the Hill is your first stop when it comes to business research, when it comes to location-specific information, however, there’s no substitute for going straight to the source. The City of St. Paul can seem overwhelming for an entrepreneur at any stage of business development. Fortunately the Saint Paul Public Library’s Nicholson Workforce and Innovation Center is here to help. Located at the George Latimer Central Library downtown St. Paul, the Innovation Center works with St. Paul businesses to connect them to city resources on zoning, state-specific human resource requirements, and other support organizations to get your storefront up and running. If you need any help navigating the Twin Cities business research ecosystem, head over to the Hill for guidance and support during your referral process!

Additional questions? Book a complimentary 20 minute introductory appointment at the Hill by heading to jjhill.org and choosing a time that fits your schedule.

 


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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IMPORTANT NOTICE:

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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