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Don’t Tweak, Transform

James J. Hill Center Community Engagement Specialist, Maggie Smith, shares her experience at her first “design session” with 1 Million Cups. 

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a design session. If that sounds vague, it’s because it is. I honestly wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, but I was told it was a “participatory workshop, wherein diverse stakeholders co-create solutions.” Over the two-day session we used a variety of collaborative activities to break down the posed issue, and come up with viable solutions based on questions and concerns relating to the issue.

Simply put, it was a room full of strangers working together to create actual solutions to a problem that connected all of us.

A concept we heard over and over during our session was “don’t just tweak, transform,” meaning don’t just edit the existing structure to make it better, completely rethink and rebuild. This concept really resonated. As entrepreneurs, our ideas are often born from seeing a problem and wanting to solve it. Some succeed, many do not. The reasons for this are varied, but this mantra, if you will, changed my focus and lens for looking at why ideas succeed and how to ‘up’ your creative game.

It seems many solutions and ideas for startups are simply tweaks, upgrades and adjustments made to an existing platform. But what if everyone who saw a problem they wanted to solve took a step back and broke it down before building the idea back up? Our design session started with breaking down how the problem made us feel, finding themes within those feelings and then finding questions we could solve related to the themes. Questions like, “how might we create an experience that pulls people into deeper engagement?” “How might we reduce isolation and increase inclusion? “How might we make resources both educational and community focused?”

Once these questions were established, the brainstorming began. A lot of problem-solvers head straight to actual brainstorming. But next time try adding these few steps beforehand and see if you get different ideas, or if the problem/solution goes in a direction you weren’t expecting.

From there the brainstorming took a normal path. Narrowing down ideas, deciding how viable they were and road-mapping for the future.

The process was intensive and surprisingly tiring, but fun. And most importantly, it worked! Our small group of strangers came up with four solid, viable and feasible ideas.

Imagine what you could do with people you knew, and more time.

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 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday. You can hear from new startups each Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul.

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Improvising Life: A Conversation with Shanan Custer


Shanan Custer is  a writer, actor, teaching artist, director as well as an improviser in the Twin Cities. Her original works includes: 2 Sugars, Room for Cream, (with Carolyn Pool) which won an Ivey Award for Best Ensemble in 2013;  Mick Sterling Presents: At Christmas  (with Jim Robinson); and From Here to Maternity (with Joshua Scrimshaw). Shanan has performed, directed and improvised all over the Twin Cities and can currently be seen performing in The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society presented by the James J. Hill Center.

How did you begin your entrepreneurial artistic career?
Shortly after I went to graduate school and started working at the Brave New Workshop as an actor/writer I began to create my own work. It felt right–more right than anything I had ever done before.

What has been the largest hurdle and / or success you have experienced as an artist and entrepreneur?
My largest success would be that I am still creating and producing after all of the highs and lows. The largest hurdle would be anything that distracts me from writing, which includes but is not limited to Netflix, books and wine!

How do you manage being a creative entrepreneur and what advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
One word: resilience. Nothing will ever be perfect, every project will require you to bend and flex and and there will always be people who want to change what you do–for good or worse, but it’s still a challenge. I’ve been told that my shows “don’t fit in a tidy box” and once had a producer tell me that “two women” onstage wasn’t going to sell tickets. I believed otherwise, so I knocked on the next door and the next. If you can keep moving forward in the midst of these kinds of challenges, then you are in the right place!

You do a ton of improvisation –  how did this come to be and how has it shaped your career?Improvisation changed my life. I was more classically trained as an actor and so I never experienced the form until I started working in theater professionally, but once I did it changed how I performed and wrote as well as how I approached my personal life. The first time I improvised was in an audition for the Brave New Workshop and the rest as they say is history. I love the form and the improv community in the Twin Cities is so vibrant and is growing so fast–it’s really exciting!

What is it about Minnesota and how has it managed to keep you here?
The Twin Cities has proven time and again to be a wonderfully supportive community for so many artists. I can have a life here outside of my work and still feel free to take risks artistically. The landscape of the cities changes enough to keep me invested and I feel like I am challenged to keep up. I also really, really love snow! Please don’t hold it against me.

Shanan Custer and a stellar Twin Cities cast will be performing in The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society at the James J. Hill Center on Sunday, January 29 at 3:30 pm.  REGISTER NOW!

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St. Paul’s Got Talent: A Conversation with Eric Webster


Eric Webster has been performing on stage, camera and radio for over 25 years. As recipient of the 2010 “Best Actor in a Musical″ from Lavender Magazine he has graced such stages as the Guthrie Theater, Mixed Blood, Park Square, The Playwrights’ Center, Hennepin Stages and many more. His on camera success has ranged from his Emmy Nominated show “The Big Bad Movie” to the nationally broadcast DirectTV program “Big Events”. Eric can currently be seen performing in The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society presented by the James J. Hill Center as well as in his original radio show Shades Brigade.

How did you begin your entrepreneurial career in the arts begin?
I started my career in sports broadcasting as a play-by-play, sports talk show host.  After spending 10 years in the field of sports radio – I walked away from it, realizing that I liked playing sports, but talking about them all day was not doing it for me.  I knew I liked the entertainment and creative aspect, so I tried my hand at all sorts of things like stand-up comedy and non-sports talk radio.  I eventually landed a gig as the Stadium Announcer for the St. Paul Saints Baseball Team.  There I was allowed to create anything I could imagine.  After 6 years at the Saints with free reign and  a “Go ahead and see if it works” environment I realized that I loved that creative freedom.  My first foray into theater was the long running “Tony and Tina’s Wedding,”  that allowed me to both act and create something new every night.

What has been the largest hurdle and success you have experienced as an artist and entrepreneur?
Largest hurdle?  Selling Tickets to shows you write and produce.
Biggest success? Being a self-employed full time actor for over 20 years.

Do you think being a creative entrepreneur is different from other entrepreneurial careers?
Trying to sell something to somebody is pretty much what everybody does at their job.  I’m selling the idea of “come see what I wrote and what I find interesting.” That’s a tricky sell.  It’s hard to guarantee anybody that they need what you’re selling.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
My advice is to anybody, in any field, is become good at a lot of things.  The more you can do the more options you have to create an opportunity.

You have an obsession with old time radio shows – how did this come to be?
When I was young my parents wouldn’t allow me to stay up to watch Johnny Carson.  So they bought me one of those radios that also get TV stations, so I could listen to Carson’s monologue and the comedians he had on while I was in bed.  It also had a tape deck so I could record all the monologues.  I had all these tapes of comedians from the Carson show.  Then I started listening to North Stars Hockey on the radio and the play-by-play man Al Shaver.  It was so amazing to me that he could paint that picture in my head.  I could see the players and all of the action just because of his words.  I was then introduced to some old-time radio shows on cassette that you could buy — the “Lone Ranger” and the “Shadow” and classics like that.  I loved how I was able to participate in the final piece.  It was up to me to decide how the room looked or a person looked or what they were wearing.  It was like a I was part of the creative process.  I was hooked forever on theater of the mind.  Years later, because of the internet, I didn’t have to scour and search for old-time radio shows – they were all there online.  Thousands and thousands of episodes. I love the internet.

What is it about Minnesota and how has it managed to keep you here?
I have lived all over from Boston to Los Angeles.  I came back here and I’m never leaving.  This is the best place on earth.  You have four seasons, two major cities, you can be in the middle of the woods in about an hour drive north, the quality of living is tops in almost every category, and there aren’t a lot of things that can kill you.  We have nothing really poisonous sneaking around in the grass waiting to bite you, no hurricanes or earthquakes.  Yes, tornadoes, but if you compare it to say, Florida, well there are so many things that can kill you in Florida.  Plus, again thanks to the internet, we no longer have to be in L.A. or New York to succeed as an actor.  You can audition here for national work and you can produce that work locally.  I can make a good living in my own backyard now.  And it’s not just for acting, almost every field is now able to function in any market.  YEAH INTERNET!!!

Eric Webster and a stellar Twin Cities cast will be performing in The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society at the James J. Hill Center on Sunday, January 29 at 3:30 pm.  REGISTER NOW!

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A Conversation with Scott Schwefel

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Scott Schwefel brings over 25 years of entrepreneurial experience. Starting in 1990 by founding Benchmark Computer Learning, which grew to Minnesota’s largest technology training company.   Scott was named to Minnesota’s 40 under 40 of successful top executives in the year 2001. He also founded Insights Twin Cities, delivering the Insights Discovery System to businesses all over the world.

How did your career as an entrepreneurial begin?

Like many baby boomer entrepreneurs, with a paper route at age 12.  Then a lawn mowing business, then after college I bought into a month old food company called Tinos, which we sold to Schwanns in 1991, then started Benchmark Computer Learning, which we sold in 2003, and then started Insights Twin Cities, which we sold in 2014.  It all started with the mindset I was taught at age 12, that is I could make choices everyday about the work I did, and to whom I would trade my skills for compensation.

What has been the largest hurdle and/or success you have experienced?  

Y2K was the hardest.  As a tech business, our revenues dropped over 40% in 2000, and we had several layoffs, but ultimately survived by buying our largest competitor Mindsharp in 2002. I learned that everything works out in the end, and if it isn’t working out, then it’s not over yet.

What is the best nugget of advice you can give fellow entrepreneurs? 

Program your mind everyday for success and resilience.  Read books, watch videos, draft and post your goals. Surround yourself with people who support your goals and dreams, and never, ever, ever give up. It is the only way you can do the work when it is the hardest, by being clear on why you are doing it in the first place.

What is it about Minnesota and how has it managed to keep you here?

I moved to Minnesota in 1982 from rural Wisconsin, and fell in love with the Twin Cities.  Just big enough, and the nicest people in the world.  Now, after 35 years here, I can’t imagine ever living anywhere else.

What do you think is the best way to empower Minnesota’s entrepreneurs? 

First, to acknowledge everyone is an entrepreneur, that truly everyone is self-employed.  It’s a mindset, not something designated on your tax form.  Everyone who works, who agrees each day to trade their skills to someone else for compensation, is self-employed.  Everyone is the CEO of themselves, and each day CHOOSES to trade their skills for compensation to an employer, to customers, to clients, etc.  Once a person accepts this reality, then they realize they are in charge of what they choose to do, and also that they can make better choices, to better their circumstances, and increase their income.  It is this mindset that enables entrepreneurs to keep driving in the face of adversity, knowing that they are making the choice to be an entrepreneur, and that success is ultimately within their ability to CHOOSE. My advice for entrepreneurs, “There is always a better way, keep looking for it, and never, ever, ever give up”

Join the James J. Hill Center on Monday, December 6th at 9AM as they host Scott Schwefel and his presentation Communicate in Full ColorREGISTER NOW.

 

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A Conversation with Mick Sterling

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Mick Sterling a Minnesota legend, talented artist and amazing philanthropist gave us a brief inside peek at his life as a creative entrepreneur.

How did your career in the arts begin?

I began singing when I was a small child.   It is something I always wanted to do.  My first professional job was in 1981 in a part time band.  From there, I have performed 35 years professionally as a singer-songwriter, band leader, philanthropist, event planner, film producer, columnist and author.

What has been the largest hurdle and or success you have experienced?

The largest hurdle is probably being considered as valid as an artist from out of town when you have such a presence in your home town.

How to you manage being an artist and a creative entrepreneur? 

I enjoy doing many things at once. It motivates me. I like to work with great people and I like to create events that bring people together through music and charity.   It motivates me to do both things.

You started the 30 Day Foundation –a very inspiring and amazing nonprofit – how did that evolve and how does that feed your artistic side?

The 30-Days Foundation evolved from friends and family members facing financial issues that were not in their control.   These issues were enough to seriously hamper their lives.  The situations happened within a two week period.  It gave me the inspiration to create The 30-Days Foundation for anybody in real-life financial crisis with one-time financial grant that is made payable ONLY to the service provider.  Since 2011, we have helped over 33,000 individuals and families in the state of Minnesota and hundreds more each week.    Anything creative, whether it’s planning or music is artistic for me. It drives me.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to do both.

What is Minnesota to you and how has it managed to keep you here?

It’s my home.  It is who I am and always will be.   I have been to other places in my life, but they hold no serious attention span in my head.   This is a lovely place to live. I have no plans to leave.  It is a fantastic music town and I have been blessed that people want to see me still sing after all of these years.

Join us for IT’S A WONDERFUL NIGHT with Super Bowl Champion and U of M Alum Ben Utecht and Mick Sterling, a joint event with the James J. Hill Center and The 30-Days Foundation.  Joined by a nineteen piece orchestra and guest vocalists  Cate Fierro, Mary Jane Alm, Aimee Lee, Shalo Lee and Lisi Wright as they perform a memorable night celebrating the classic Andy Williams and Bing Crosby Christmas Albums.

 REGISTER NOW

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The Creative Entrepreneur

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It has been said by some that artists are not business people.  That the very nature of being a trained artist assumes you are only fit for a specific artistic identity and do not someone how fit into the world of finance and capitalism or have a “real job”.  However, according to the Kaufman Foundation about 34% of US artists were self-employed in 2015 and as Forbes states “a burgeoning category of creative entrepreneurs are building wealth, creating jobs and becoming a major force in national and global economies.”

The Death of the Artist – and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur from The Atlantic states that artists are now being trained with the understanding they have to make AND sell a more versatile portfolio.  This is a complete rebirth of understanding for many artists and centers of training.

The evolution of entrepreneurialism has offered a path for these creative entities. It has opened the door to alternate routes to run a business.  As Artscape Launchpad states “Businesses –just like works of art –first start as in idea.” Artists are then often able to break the formality of business and strip down the barriers of conformity to find new and innovative ways to engage their audience and ultimately sell their products.

Minneapolis artist, Dessa Darling, is known for her indie hip hop music and is a perfect example of this burgeoning creative entrepreneur.  She is also the CEO of Minneapolis-based Doomtree Collective that is an LLC supporting 7 local artists from poets, to singers, to musicians.  A vast portfolio that delvers to its fan base.

In an interview with Minnesota Business she talks about her creative structure and that there is not a clear or distinct line between her work, purpose or social connections because they all three overlap.  She states that she can retain talent because business is second. “ Art is the objective, and we need the business to make and share the art.”

Mick Sterling, a Minneapolis icon known for his enormous talent and heart, is another great example of the variety of entrepreneurial dreams that artists can create. Not only is he a successful musician creating live events and recording, but his non-profit The 30-Day Foundation has assisted over 30,000 families with one-time financial grants.

Not all entrepreneurial endeavors need to make us millionaires. Some might actually make us better people.  Mick is a perfect example.  Giving back can often help you build.

We at the Hill believe in the spirit and transformation art can bring to a community.  We understand the value of creativity in our economy and support with free resources and research the tools artists need to ignite their dreams into action.

Join us at the Hill for Culture in the Columns as we celebrate the genius of the creative entrepreneur and build on history.

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The Power of Diversity in Economy

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In 2012 Bruce P. Corrie, PhD and Samuel Myers, J. PhD worked together to survey various organizations across our state to uncover preliminary data and analysis on Minority owned businesses in Minnesota.

The data had very positive discoveries for many of the surveyed minority organization, showing significant growth and economic stability from 2007 to 2012. You would think that these discoveries would have been used as positive reinforcement for the continued growth and empowerment of minorities and their contributions to our communities in Minnesota.  However, over the past four years the challenges have continued to be an uphill battle and the positive growth has barely escalated.

In a recent article in MINNPOST it stated that the number of minority entrepreneurs in Minnesota are significantly below average. Minorities currently represent 22% of the metro population and look to increase another 20% by 2020, but currently only represent 7% of all employer firms. This is significantly lower than other cities with similar populations.  What is standing in our way and why are we unable to leverage the amazing diverse talents that surround us?

“We are our own greatest agents of change. We must remove barriers and create visibility and continuously shine a spotlight on the economic value, job creation, and importance of minority owned business in Minnesota,” said Pamela Standing, Executive Director, Minnesota Indian Business Alliance.

Diversification, inclusion and the breaking down of preexisting barriers are the pillars of a thriving and empowered economy that we need to support our communities of color in Minnesota. This transparency of thought and openness will make our community grow, prosper and become a powerful arena of economic empowerment.  We can no longer stand behind or fear what we do not know.  Building together and supporting one another is the only way for prosperity and growth.

With organizations like MEDA, Kaufman Foundation, SCORE, Pollen and other initiatives led by individuals and our local Government like DEED and CERT we hope that more significant changes of support and reinforcement can happen. It takes one relationship at a time to build a business – it takes a community to build an inclusive and prosperous economy.  We need to start now to make ours stronger.

Join us at the James J. Hill Center on October 27th at 8AM as we continue the conversation on Minority Business Enterprise Inclusion: Empowering Minnesota’s Economy. Guest panelists will include Dr. Bruce Corrie, Gary Cunningham and Karen Francois.

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The Great Northern

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Last Friday we wrapped up Twin Cities Start Up Week in Minnesota.  It was truly inspirational to see all the interest and support for the empowerment of our economic ecosystem.  We decided it was important to give a nod to our entrepreneurial legacy, James J. Hill.

Entrepreneurs have been around since the start of time.  Think about it, at some point someone got sick of eating raw meat and thought, “I wonder what would happen if I rubbed two sticks together,” and poof – there was fire.  It probably wasn’t as simple as that but it is important to realize that these visionaries change our culture and economy.  People who have a dream, a passion and the motivation to stick it out can change history.  That is exactly what Mr. Hill did in the 19th century with his realization of the Great Northern Railway.

This railway was the only privately funded and successfully constructed transcontinental railroad in the history of the United States. Running from Saint Paul, Minnesota to Seattle, Washington it was the dream and passion of James J. Hill that made it happen.  His savvy business sense, smart partnerships, and innovative ways of engaging the public gave him the title of Empire Builder.  He used one of the first public relation campaigns to create interest and support in the railroad. Using contests to incentives he engaged the public on how the future of the railroad would not only shape their economic prosperity but changed the method of how people traveled. His vision put St. Paul, Minnesota on the map.

The Great Northern Railway is only one of the many amazing contributions that Mr. Hill gave to his community and our country. The James J. Hill Center is another perfect example of his forward thinking ability. His idea to build a location that was a meeting place of resource and learning is still celebrated today.

On November 11, 2016 we will once again be tipping our hats and toasting our legacy at our annual Great Northern Evening.  Join us to celebrate the legacy of Mr. James J. Hill and to support the economic empowerment of our local entrepreneurs.  Be a part of the Legacy and JOIN US on November 11th from 7pm to 10pm!

A Great Northern Evening – Tickets on Sale Now

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“Patience is hard. Knowing when to follow up can be even harder.”

Matt Middendorp, founder of Sales Math, shares his insights about patience vs. pushiness in the world of sales:

I get asked a variation of this theme all the time, “How long do I wait to call/follow-up/panic with my prospect?” Here’s the trick, as business owners we need to understand that every interaction has an outcome. Once we choose to take the initiative in determining that outcome, most of us will then save ourselves a lot of anxiety if we wrap things up with one easy step.
Read the full article here.

Matt will be bringing his expertise to The Hill for a two-part series, The Secret Formula for Sales Success. Part 1, “Profitable Prospect Follow-Up Routines,” will be held on March 1, and Part 2, “Master the Conversation,” will be held on March 8. Follow the links for details and to sign up!

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A course for aspiring entrepreneurs

“It’s your right to be uncommon if you can.”
-Ewing Marion Kauffman

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What is FastTrac

Kauffman FastTrac provides training across the United States and around the world that equips aspiring and established entrepreneurs with the business skills, insights, tools, resources, and networks to start and grow successful businesses. Ewing Marion Kauffman launched FastTrac in January 1993 to 900 aspiring entrepreneurs in Kansas City, Mo. In his remarks, he advised the group, “You should not choose to be a common company. It’s your right to be uncommon if you can. You seek opportunity to compete. You desire to take the calculated risk, to dream, to build, yes, even to fail, and to succeed.”

Why FastTrac? Why Now?

Over 46% of participants of FastTrac NewVenture go on to start a business. This course is a hands-on immersive experience that will help you to choose whether or not you should spend the next 5 years of your life and thousands of dollars on a business venture. The 54 % of participants who choose not to pursue their business idea, move forward with their business after taking this course do so with a deeper and more full understanding of what it means to be an entrepreneur and what it takes to start, run and grow a successful business. They have made a wise choice and are now equipped with the tools to apply to a new idea.

For more information about FastTrac NewVenture course details visit our information page.

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IMPORTANT NOTICE:

We are pleased to announce the completion of our elevator renovation at the James J. Hill Center. This project was financed in part with funds provided by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society and the F. R. Bigelow Foundation. It will greatly increase our ability to serve patrons with accessibility needs.

Please access our ground floor elevator entrance via Kellogg Ave at the back of the building. Please ring the doorbell on the right hand side of door and a Hill staff member will assist you. If you have questions or concerns please call 651.265.5500. We look forward to having you visit our brand new elevator!

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