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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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Hill Spotlight: Snobcorn

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A Hill Spotlight conversation with local entrepreneur Patty McDonald.

Describe your business. What do you want people to know about your company?

Snobcorn is a gourmet popcorn business with one goal: to transform the Great American Snack into something truly special. Snobcorn is for popcorn lovers who are adventurous, passionate, and craving something new. It’s time to go beyond cheese corn, caramel corn, and kettle corn. Let’s give Mocha, Gingerbread, or Caprese a try. How about Bourbon Brown Butter, Margarita, or Tex-Mex popcorn? Yum! Snobcorn uses only non-GMO popcorn, avocado oil, and all natural ingredients.

How can your product contribute to the Twin Cities business ecosystem and community?

Just like craft beer, coffee, and chocolate, popcorn is ready to be elevated for a superior taste experience. Popcorn is a healthy snack, a blank canvas, and it’s ready for a makeover. Most people say they enjoy popcorn, but many people are not satisfied eating unhealthy or tasteless varieties found at movie theaters, popped in their microwaves, or at the mall. Snobcorn will provide a healthy, delicious, and unique popcorn snacking experience for popcorn lovers everywhere.

What is your dream for your future and/or the future of your business?

My dream for Snobcorn is that people will enjoy the Great American Snack at the highest level possible. I want to raise the bar for popcorn. It can (and should) be extremely delicious, use the best ingredients, and be as healthy as possible. (And it should never, ever, taste like styrofoam.) My dream is that the word Snobcorn will define gourmet popcorn in the truest sense of the word. And that Snobcorn will be enjoyed by popcorn connoisseurs, foodies, and proud popcorn snobs everywhere.

What opportunities have you engaged with at the James J. Hill Center?

I have used the James J. Hill Center for my research on the popcorn industry. The very helpful and knowledgeable staff has pointed me in the right direction as I figure out where Snobcorn fits within the marketplace. The James J. Hill Center has been an invaluable resource for me in getting Snobcorn off the ground.

How has your involvement with the James J. Hill Center helped further your entrepreneurial and business goals?

From preliminary research, to crafting a business plan, to finding answers to my questions, the James J. Hill Center has been a fantastic place to begin my journey of starting my own small business.

Join us every Wednesday from 9AM to 10AM for 1 Million Cups and get an inside peek on two local entrepreneurs as they present their startups to a diverse audience of peers, mentors, and entrepreneurs. 

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The Hill Team

The Hill known for connecting business, entrepreneurs, and community welcomes Danika LeMay, Lily Shaw and Maggie Smith to round off the team that will drive the mission and build the brand.

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The James J. Hill Center is pleased to announce the addition of three new members of the Hill team that will support Executive Director Tamara Prato.  The existing staff has been joined by (pictured left to right) Danika LaMay, Director of Reference Services; Lily Shaw, Director of Marketing; and Maggie Smith, Community Engagement Specialist.

“With the support of this incredible team I will have the ability to execute my vision to provide the community with unique entrepreneurial programming, cultural experiences and access to a dynamic Reference Library, which in turn will support the growth and economic development of the region” states Tamara Prato.

Danika LaMay most recently worked as Course Reserve Coordinator at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Libraries, where she helped instructors make course materials easily accessible to their students and had the opportunity to collaborate on innovative cross-unit and cross-campus projects. Danika is excited to bring her dedication to the user experience and make a positive difference.

Lily Shaw joins the team from Twin Cities Diversity in Practice where she oversaw the communications and programming of high quality diversity and inclusion initiatives for leading Twin Cities Legal Employers.  Lily is excited to collaborate with her team and promote invaluable and unique opportunities for the community.

Maggie Smith spent the past 3 years working as the marketing and communications manager for the local health non-profit Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota.  As the community engagement specialist for the James J. Hill Center, she is excited to work with the community to spread the word and advance the mission of the organization.

***

About the James J. Hill Center – Opened in 1921, the James J. Hill Center supports the legacy of one of America’s greatest entrepreneurs. Today, the Hill is focused on supporting business, entrepreneurship, and community with the goal to build sustainable and lasting relationships that enable economic prosperity by providing services, programming, and cultural events. Learn more at jjhill.org or find us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

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Startup Showcase: OurOldNumber.com

Do you still remember your old home number, the one you had before cellphones became commonplace? Maybe you’re still using it for your landline because you know that number by heart and so do your friends, your family, your doctors, and everyone in your network.

Despite our reliance on cellphones, many people also keep their home numbers because it’s simpler to have that one household numbers for years. Jeff Swenson’s solution to that is called OurOldNumber.com.

OurOldNumber forwards calls to your home number to the cellphones of your household members, allowing the caller to choose which person they’d like to speak to. It even lets multiple conversations occur on that line simultaneously.

  • Name of company: Our Old Group, LLC dba OurOldNumber.com
  • Website: Ouroldnumber.com
  • Business Start Date: Dec. 30, 2014
  • Number of Employees: 1
  • Number of Customers: Dozens

Read the full article!

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Startup Showcase: Sitters on Call

By Krysten Alberg, James J. Hill Center Marketing Coordinator


As many parents know, trying to arrange child care while working can become a full-time job on its own.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, among the 34.4 million families with children under the age of 18, 88.7 percent had at least one employed parent in 2014.

Employed parents must ensure their children are cared for while they are working (or need a night off), and calling sitter after sitter is time-consuming and frustrating.

Sitters on Call aims to streamline the logistics of accessing child care by coordinating sitters’ availability schedules with parents’ needs. Rather than call their sitters, parents can quickly access a calendar of all their child care providers’ schedules and can arrange for a sitter with just a few clicks. Sitters on Call makes it simple for parents to connect with sitters they already know and trust.

Read the full article here.

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Startup Showcase: Instruments in the Cloud

By Krysten Alberg, James J. Hill Center Marketing Coordinator


Quality music education doesn’t come cheap. With even used musical instruments costing anywhere from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars, cost is a major barrier to students’ access to music education.

Vega Productions believes in musical equality for all, and so it developed Instruments in the Cloud, a site that allows owners of once-loved but no-longer-in-use musical instruments to donate those instruments to music programs in need.

Entrepreneur snapshot:

Caitlin Marlotte heads Vega Productions, which runs Instruments in the Cloud. (Photo courtesy James J. Hill Center)
Caitlin Marlotte heads Vega Productions, which runs Instruments in the Cloud.

Name: Caitlin Marlotte
Age: 38
City you live in: Minneapolis
City of birth: Minneapolis
High school attended: Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics, and Humanities
College attended: Indiana University-Bloomington and University of Wisconsin-Madison

Company snapshot:
Vega Productions, makers of Instruments in the Cloud
Website: http://instrumentsinthecloud.org
Twitter: @vegaproductions
Business Start Date: January 2015
Number of Employees: 1
Number of Customers: 275 music educators and 280 musical instrument donors

Caitlin Marlotte is executive director of Vega Productions and co-founder of Instruments in the Cloud. She joined Vega Productions in 2015, taking over for founder Mark Gehring, who moved on to start GNDWire Records.

Caitlin is a violinist and apprentice violin maker, and has focused her career on development, marketing, and strategy in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors.

Before leading Vega Productions, Caitlin worked at Twin Cities Public Television.

Read the Q&A here.

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Startup Showcase: Monkey with a Mustache, LLC

By Lee George


According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 29 industrialized nations’ high school students perform better than U.S. students in math. And according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, by 2018, 92 percent of traditional STEM jobs will be for those with at least some postsecondary education and training.

Jerry Belich, founder of Monkey with a Mustache LLC, and developer of The Choosatron, says that his programmable storytelling device is not about saving the world but about making education fun.

Jerry Belich
Jerry Belich

Teachers and employers alike are engaging in developing new ways to educate and train a workforce that will need STEM education to do its work. Through programming and storytelling, Jerry’s company and product introduce users to STEM education, and they have fun doing it. He may not be saving the world, but he is preparing its future workers.

Entrepreneur Snapshot

Founder: Jerry Belich

Age: 34

City you live in: Minneapolis

City of birth: Duluth

High school attended: Centennial High School, Circle Pines

College attended: Bethel University

Jerry Belich grew up around the Twin Cities. A lifelong storyteller, he studied computer science, theater and film in college. Jerry’s opportunities helped him marry technical and creative work into a single form. After creating The Choosatron, Jerry’s career took the sharp turn he had been waiting for. Now he is a game designer, story and narrative writer, and inventor.

Company Snapshot: Monkey with a Mustache, LLC

Primarily, Monkey with a Mustache is providing game design and development services. This work is realized in the form of code, script and dialogue writing, hardware development, and product development in any of those areas. The Choosatron is the first manufactured product, and one that continues to develop along with the company’s related work. The Choosatron Deluxe Adventure Matrix is a Wi-Fi connected Choose Your Own Adventure-inspired story printer, blending digital and analogue storytelling. It uses an inkless thermal printer, like a receipt machine, to print stories. The user can select options via a touchpad to choose where the story goes. It is designed to be easily assembled by kids into a small interactive game box, and encourage social reading, learning, and play. Users can interact with pre-loaded stories or create their own.

Business Start Date: January 2014

Number of Employees: 1

Number of Customers: 600+

Website: http://jerrytron.com

Twitter: @j3rrytron

Read the Q&A here.

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Startup Showcase: Fresh Vine

According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the U.S. These organizations hold an immense amount of data about their constituents, donors, volunteers and other stakeholders. And their effectiveness often relies on effectively keeping track of all of these records.

There are numerous nonprofit databases created to assist other nonprofits in managing this data. In a crowded market, Minneapolis-based Fresh Vine focuses on simplicity to differentiate itself.

Paul Prins is founder of Fresh Vine, Minneapolis. (Courtesy photo)
Paul Prins is founder of Fresh Vine, Minneapolis. (Courtesy photo)

Entrepreneur Snapshot

Founder: Paul Prins

Age: 31

City you live in: Minneapolis

City of birth: St. Louis Park

High school attended: Eden Prairie High School

College attended: UW Stout

To run Fresh Vine and help nonprofits succeed, Paul Prins harnessed his lifelong experience participating in social programs like the Boy Scouts of America, youth sports, collegiate organizations — and observing his mother’s involvement with leading the programs he was in. Through this experience he saw a need for a system that allowed organizations to manage information easily and to leverage it to meet their goals. This idea formed into Fresh Vine.

Company Snapshot: Fresh Vine

Fresh Vine is nonprofit membership software used to manage rosters, receive and track donations, and manage events and email campaigns.

Business Start Date: 2011

Number of Employees: 2

Number of Customers: 130 Nonprofit Accounts

Website: https://freshvine.co/

Twitter: @FreshVine

Read the Q&A here.

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Startup Showcase: Homi

By Lee George


It is no secret that many industries face a workforce shortage. In the health care field alone, the World Health Organization estimates a global shortage of 12.9 million workers by 2035. The ability for companies to engage in developing their future employees and for young workers to engage with mentors is paramount.

Enter Homi.

Homi uses a digital platform to help students and alumni from colleges and universities build a mentor-mentee relationship. Conversation on Homi has the potential to assist students in choosing a career path. And companies have an opportunity to introduce their brand and work culture to a future employee.

ENTREPRENEUR SNAPSHOT

Homi founder Philip Xiao (Courtesy photo)
Homi founder Philip Xiao (Courtesy photo)

Founder: Philip Xiao
Age: 22
City you live in: Minneapolis
High school attended: Troy High School
College attended: Carleton College
Philip Xiao was working toward a career in business and finance. After leveraging Carleton College’s alumni network and getting informational interviews with senior insurance bankers, he had the idea for Homi.

COMPANY SNAPSHOT

Homi is a student-alumni Q&A platform that helps employers make data-driven hiring decisions. We have built the HomiScore, comparable to a credit score for networking, which helps companies hire more effectively from schools where they would not traditionally recruit. We help companies rebrand to millennials through alumni career stories. This organic content is different from a job posting or a banner ad — it’s real people telling stories of how they fell into an industry and built their careers.

Business start date: February 2015
Number of employees: 6
Number of customers: 1,200
Website: www.homi.io
Twitter: @Homitweets

Read the Q&A here.

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Startup Showcase: WholeMe

By Lee George


Two local food entrepreneurs have a personal mission to create healthy snack alternatives.

Krista Steinbach and Mary Kosir, founders of WholeMe, started the company because each of them saw the positive results of a healthier diet on themselves and close family members. This company’s products, originally made in Mary’s kitchen, are now sold in over 350 retail spaces.

When asked what is next for WholeMe, Krista says, “I’d like to have an assortment of WholeMe snacks, ranging from sweet to savory, offered at your favorite grocery store, the gas station when you’re on a long road trip, or the coffee shop on the corner. WholeMe wants to make snacking delicious, nutritious and convenient, so we want to be wherever you’re in need of a snack!”

Entrepreneur Snapshot

Founder: Krista Steinbach

Age: 34

City you live in: Minneapolis

City of birth: Alliance, Neb.

High school attended: Alliance High School

College attended: University of Minnesota, The Culinary Institute of America, currently attending St. Catherine University for my Masters in Holistic Health

Krista Steinbach’s background is in food and business. She attended the Carlson School of Management with a focus in marketing and joined the Army National Guard where she was deployed to both Kosovo and Iraq. While deployed to Iraq, Krista decided to pursue her passion, food. After attending the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, Calif., Krista co-owned and operated Sweets Bakeshop located in St. Paul and Minneapolis. She ended up selling the bakeshop to her business partners and went on to be the pastry chef at The Bachelor Farmer restaurant in Minneapolis.

Then a dramatic shift in diet and exercise resulted in more energy and a new-found curiosity for life. Krista was approached by Mary Kosir to help launch a company she had been thinking about. WholeMe was born and blended Krista’s new understanding of nutrition with her passion for food.

Company Snapshot: WholeMe

Making food with nutrition integrity, WholeMe currently offers three flavors of clusters – almond coconut, lemon berry chia, and cinnamon banana chip. They plan to continue to innovate products, entering new product categories that offer their consumers convenient, nutritious snacks for any time of day.

Business Start Date: March 1, 2014

Number of Employees: 2 full-time, 2 part-time

Number of Customers: 350+ retail outlets

Website: http://www.wholeme.com

Twitter: @WholeMeFoods

Read the Q&A here.

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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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