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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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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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Librarian vs. Research Consultant: Is there a difference?

If you’re familiar with the fast-paced world of start-ups, the last word that may spring to mind is “librarian.” After all, what do dusty, silent spaces have to do with the high-intensity, data-focused mindset of your business. You thrive on intel and need constant updates on the latest and greatest news within your field. But what if I told you that there’s a new disruptive force in the information game? Able to pivot with each new technological advancement, analyze new industries and companies daily, and mine the Web for the best business intelligence to be found? Amazing, right? Now what if I told you all that could be yours at the library?

The James J. Hill Center combines widely available online resources with industry-standard subscription databases to provide high-level intelligence for start-ups. Ready to starting pitching venture capitalists and unsure where to start? Curious what your competitors’ funding rounds look like compared to yours. Your first stop may be Crunchbase.com, like any good Internet sleuth. What happens, though, when you want to go more in-depth with a private company’s financial history? What about searching for funders geographically? Enter PrivCo.

PrivCo offers a behind-the-scenes look at private companies valued at $10 million and above, funding rounds for equity and venture capital investors, and a detailed history of mergers and acquisitions for profiled firms. Stop in to take advantage of this fantastic resources anytime the Hill is open, Monday to Thursday, 8AM to 4PM.

Disrupt your research routine. Visit out the library. Check out the Hill.

 


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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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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Take Your Interview Prep to the Next Level

It’s finally happened! You’ve landed the big interview for your dream position. You’ve got the passion and drive to succeed once you’re hired, but how do you stand out from the crowd of other applicants? Supplement that charming smile with some hot facts to impress your interviewer by visiting the James J. Hill Center.

Start by checking out an industry profile using IBISworld. IBISworld reports include sections on supply chain, competitive landscape, and a five year forecast for revenue, growth, and trends at the national level. Link your position within the company to one or all of these topics and explain how you’re ready to be a solution to a company’s present and future challenges.

Once you’ve perfected the macro-level view, head to A-to-Z Databases to get a sense of the company’s competition. You can pull a list of companies within a specific industry at the state, metro, or even zip code level. This helps you generate questions for the company, namely how are they different from the rest of the field? A-to-Z Databases partners with Indeed.com so you can also scope out other job postings, just in case.

Finally, check through Business Source Premier from EBSCO for recent news stories on your company. Nothing says “I did my homework” than casually referencing an upcoming merger or saying congratulations for a recent award.

Keen to find out how these resources can take your interview to the next level? Visit jjhill.org to see our collection of databases and research guides to get started.

 


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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