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Startup Secrets and Sh#$ to Know

Aleckson Nyamwaya has his beat on the pulse of the startup world in MN.  He is an Associate @gener8tor, a Dreamchaser @powermovesdev  and a lover of all things Tech & Startups.  We are pleased to have his monthly insight on Startup Secrets and Sh#$ to Know.  Check back each month for his thoughts, observations and featured companies.

The Rise of Venture Capital in MN

And what this means for the startup community

It goes without saying, the Twin Cities startup ecosystem is less than mediocre. The good news is, there are many worthwhile initiatives underway to help change that. One of those efforts is venture capital. In late 2016 & early 2017, Minnesotans saw an increase of venture capital activity.

What this means for the local ecosystem

The bad…

MEETINGS, MEETINGS, MEETINGS. The hype will inevitably lead the community to play a game called “Startup”. Suddenly everyone becomes an entrepreneur with an “Uber for X”. This will be a result of 2 things.

  1. The new VCs are first-timers, They are too excited about their new found “Gatekeeper” role which will lead them to make mistakes as they adjust.
  2. Instead of tackling challenging problems, The Twin Cities eco-system will abuse & misuse these funds on stupid ideas that don’t deserve funding.

The Good…

In this day and age, VCs are expected to have a moral responsibility. Give back to the community in which you serve. The most valuable way to achieve this is through inspiring, mentoring and cultivating the generation of leaders. Perhaps through initiatives put in place by community leaders to develop the strong founders. Such as, mentorship, free mini accelerators, high school/college involvement, EIR programs etc.

Conclusion

My prediction is that half of these firms will fail, crashing and burning to the ground. Only time can tell, specifically the next 3–5 years. It’s important to note that, Minnesota’s early stage venture capital market is still in it’s infancy. Relative to older markets, such as silicon valley. Where firms like KPCB have reigned supreme before the 90’s to this day.

This is our golden age of entrepreneurs-turned-VCs. I am excited to see where this journey leads us.


Featured Resource:

Bunker labs: A national NOT-FOR-PROFIT 501(C)(3) organization built by military veteran entrepreneur to empower other military veterans as leaders in innovation.

Guest writer:  Aleckson Nyamwaya
To sign up for his monthly tech newsletter CLICK HERE.

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Cabinets of Curiosity

With some recent archival projects on our plate an article from MPR News caught the attention of Lindsey Dyer our Director of Library Services. “File this under nostalgia: New book pays tribute to the library card catalog shares information about a new book from the Library of Congress entitled,  “The Card Catalog: Books, Cards and Literary Treasures.”  It celebrates catalogs “as the analog ancestor of the search engine.” Library of Congress author, Peter Deveraux, states that “There’s tens of millions of cards here.  It’s a city block long.” This was a very timely article considering some of the historic catalog items we recently found here at the James J. Hill Center.  Lindsey recently took some time to dig up and share a few iconic treats from the vault.

Lindsey: Card catalogs are indeed “cabinets of curiosities” as are the ways we have kept track of information over time. Librarians worked tirelessly to create calm in the chaos of information, cutting and pasting any relevant facts and tid-bits. Take these snapshots in time from the 1980s – gems of nostalgia for Gen Xers and older millennials. What research paper would be complete without the help of the card catalog?

At the Hill, business librarians had a special task of identifying and capturing industry trends – like how Nike is taking over the sneaker industry, or the rise in fax machine sales. While the methods have certainly changed (we aren’t cutting out and taping facts to cards, though I have to admit that sounds cathartic), we still aim to find the best industry information there is, combing databases (paid and free), and translating that information.

We have been, and always will be, an entrepreneur’s best resource!

Visit the James J. Hill Center and it’s reference library Monday through Thursday 10AM to 5PM and check out all of the current resources.  Also, ask one of our business librarians for some assistance with a database and see what gems of knowledge you can find to build you business success.

 

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Transformation from Innovation

“It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to management than the creation of a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely the lukewarm defense in those who gain by the new ones.”  –  Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527), Philosopher and playwright

I recently ran across this quote by Niccolo Machiavelli at the Hill entrepreneurial center and would have thought it was written today.  Not so, it shows that change has been a process of mis-acceptance for as long as man has innovated on new ideas.  

 I define innovation as the introduction of new and improved ways of putting ideas into action. In an economic sense, an innovation is accomplished with the first commercial transaction involving a new or improved product, process, or organizational business model. Innovation is then intentional attempts to bring about value from change. These values include; economic benefits, personal growth, increased satisfaction, improved group coherence, better organizational communication, as well as productivity and economic measures.  

Sound like entrepreneurism?  I think so, to the entrepreneur that means transformation of creative ideas to accountable, actionable changes.  Maximizing customer value and experience is a core principle in innovation.  The entrepreneur needs to understand that ‘emotion trumps logic’ and that their audience needs to feel and experience the value brought by their innovation.  

We are a society of habit and as Nicolo Machiavlli’s quote shows of the past, the same is currently true.  The creation of new must provide a value proposition that goes beyond current habits to prevent sabotage from those who feel threatened by change.  

To generate “Transformation from Innovation” identify and target market your change agents early so they may become your evangelists to help you articulate and promote your values. 


Jeff Brown p
ositively transforming the way people grow their personal business brand.
• Board Member, Coaching, and Strategy for Fortune 500 companies to start-ups
• Developing and transforming ideas into something superb
• Creating accountable strategies to helping clients where they are stuck or want to go

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Introducing: Lindsey Dyer

Lindsey Dyer is the new Director of Library Services at the James J. Hill Center, and comes with experience from both public and academic libraries, as well as Target, Corp. and the Minnesota Historical Society. Lindsey lives in St. Paul with her husband and is the mom of three kids.  We took a few minutes to chat with her about her new position at the Hill.  Come in and join us at the Hill next week during National Library Week to meet Lindsey and her team and participate in free programming.

How did your journey with the James J. Hill Center begin?
The Hill Center inspired me to pursue a career in libraries back in 2005, when I worked here as a volunteer. It is easy to see why – the building draws you in and speaks for itself. Though I had since moved on to new professional opportunities, I maintained an admiration for the mission and staff – particularly the Hill Papers Archivist, Eileen McCormack, whose job I aspired to at the time. I am honored to be back!

What do you want people to know about you?
I am very interested in how library services fit into the broader user experience landscape when it comes to looking for and using information. Libraries have an important task, especially now, to be conduits for authentic and unbiased information that we use every day in business decisions. I think we’ve lost sight of why this is important to talk about. At the Hill Center, we have a unique opportunity to narrow that down to information that entrepreneurs in particular need to get to the next step in their business planning. It’s exciting and inspiring when our information becomes the turning point for a startup.

What has made the biggest impact on your career so far?
Working for both Target and the Minnesota Historical Society gave me a unique perspective on service and management. I like to think that I took the best from both worlds, specifically non-traditional approaches to what accessibility looks like, and have been working to implement some of these things at the Hill Center.

What has been the largest hurdle and success you have experienced in your career?
I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside some talented entrepreneurs, and have had some real conversations about what they need to be successful. I am working towards the hurdle of transforming reference services at the Hill Center to best fit those needs. I want the library to not only give entrepreneurs information – I want us to be the difference between success and failure.

What is it about Minnesota and more specifically Saint Paul that keeps you here?St. Paul – or “Small Paul” – has been my home for 13 years, and it’s the ultimate charmer. I am especially drawn to historic homes, and in fact used to be the Site Manager of the James J. Hill House – the historic house museum to rival them all. This city has a rich history, and it shows.

The Hills’ mission honors the legacy of its founder by continuing to support entrepreneurial spirit in the 21st Century. We offer research, programs, and networking for each stage of business development. Our efforts also include services to the broader community through the hosting of cultural and artistic programming and events.

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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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Get Connected for Success

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Networking. We often hear how dreaded it can be for professionals. People feel awkward, uncomfortable and fake, but we know it’s important – some might say vital – in today’s workforce. Networking has the potential to lead to job opportunities, partnerships and increased knowledge about the community and business network around you.

We’ve seen the most beneficial relationships here at the Hill come out of our networking opportunities.  According to an article from Hubspot, 95% of professionals surveyed say face-to-face meetings are essential for long-term business relationships.  So how do you make these connections? Here are three simple ways we feel are a great starting point.

First, find a networking group that appeals to you. Business networking is hosted here at the Hill the last Wednesday of every month for an hour before 1 Million Cups –  both great networking opportunities but there are many around the twin cities and with a little research on your industry or interest you will be surprised at the variety.

Second, when it comes to networking, practice makes perfect. It is a skill anyone can learn. It is easy to find helpful articles with tips and tricks to make networking less painful like “7 Tips for Networking” and “Learn to Love Networking”.  Advice varies from focusing on topics you’re interested in, to asking open ended questions to keep the conversation flowing, to knowing what you want to get out of the interaction. But what this all comes down to is effective communication with your peers and colleagues.

Third, communicating clearly and effectively in a professional setting is crucial to successful relationships and partnerships. So what makes a good communicator? How do you understand your own communication style? The Hill is hosting two sessions of “Communicate in Color” to help answer these questions. Learning how you as a leader communicate, and how others communicate with you, can lead to a positive and rewarding environment for you, your peers and colleagues. Presenter Scott Schwefel is a communication expert and serial entrepreneur who has spoken to over 1,000 companies on how they can leverage new communication strategies to increase sales, profits and productivity. We’re excited to have him share his resources and knowledge with our entrepreneur community.

By incorporating these three important tips you can feel more confident in your networking skills. And by joining us here at the Hill at any of our upcoming events you can practice! You never know what will come of a short conversation.

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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 Hill Reference Round-Up

Blue Prints to Business Plans…
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September at the Hill was buzzing with visitors from students to entrepreneurs researching blue prints to business plans.  It is a prefect example of the vast amount of resources our Reference Specialists have at their fingertips.

Here are some examples of who, what and why people visited us! 

  • Over 110 researchers welcomed in September.
  • Most researchers were from Minnesota, and a few traveled from Wisconsin.
  • Several researchers this month came to use our resources to help them develop their business plans.
  • The majority of our visitors in September self-identify as entrepreneurs.
  • A student from the U of M studying architecture viewed historic building blueprints for a course project.
  • One researcher explored sales data and patent information related to exercise equipment.
  • We often welcome job seekers, but had one unique researcher this month, who works to support individuals with severe mental illness and conducted job searches on behalf of those individuals to locate potential workplaces near their homes to accommodate transportation limitations.

We look forward to seeing you at the Hill.  Contact a Reference Specialist today!

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What did people do before Google?

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The first patent filed under the name “Google, Inc.,” was on August 31, 1999 – 17 years ago.  It was initially started as a research project for “watermarking systems and methodology for digital multimedia content.”  It has since become the primary tool for all things people question, wonder and need to know,   BUT what did we do before Google and is there a human need to reconnect, be certain and have a trusted “human “source?

The James J. Hill Center is considered the oldest free reference library in the nation and still holds some of the most relevant business research in the country. Reference desks did not become a service until the late 1800’s.  The Boston Public Library in 1883 was the first library to hire librarians whose primary purpose was reference and research.  Over this century reference services grew to be a trusted direct personal assistant to readers seeking information. The invention of the computer, web and Google has drastically shifted that perspective but not eliminated it.  As more time is spent in front of our computers and listening to automated voicemail there has been another shift.

A recent article on the New York Public Library (NYPL) proves reference desks are still a vital and growing way to find out anything from the odd and mysterious to the most challenging. The NYPL receives 300 inquiries per day and one of the number one comments is “Thank God I’ve reached a human being.” At the Hill though the numbers are smaller, the reaction is the same.  Business researchers have access to databases and materials that are not easily accessible.  This is not to say that reference librarians do not use the web to search for answers but they are experts at sifting through content, picking what is relevant and getting a trusted response, backed up with facts and put in one place.

So the next time you jump on Google and type in “Business Plan Templates” – why not consider coming to the Hill to ask an expert or research some of the most successful businessmen in history figured out.  Reference libraries hold the backbone to our past and are the seed for our future.

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Gale DemographicsNow

Businesses/People Module

One of the most frequently used subscription databases in the James J. Hill Center’s library is Gale DemographicsNow.*  Business researchers often request lists of companies to fulfill a variety of information needs.** Here are some of the requests we frequently hear:

  • I’m looking for a list of companies in a specific industry to target for my job search.
  • I’d like a list of companies that may be interested in buying my product or services.
  • I’m doing a competitive analysis for my business and I’d like to find out revenue information for similar companies.

Gale DemographicsNow is an excellent resource for finding this information and more.  The Businesses/People tab provides access to business information customizable by industry (using NAICS and SIC codes), company name, number of employees, sales volume, geography, and additional criteria.  An example of a business search with resulting list are pictured below.

NAICS Codes

 

 

 

NAICS 2

 

Demographics Module

In addition to the Businesses/People tab, the Demographics tab provides access to demographic reports customizable by geography, income, education level, retail spending, consumer expenditures and more.  Several customizable reports focus on specific product categories, for example the Simmons Pet Related Comparison report pictured below, which includes the percent of households making pet related purchases. All reports can be customized to focus on a particular location, or to compare multiple locations by zip code, city, or state.  The demographics section also includes a general Consumer Expenditures Comparison report listing household dollars spent on products, for example new cars and furniture. Comparison reports, summary reports, and ranking reports are available to compare a variety of demographic variables between geographic areas.

Maps Module

The Maps tab allows the user to choose from a list of demographic variables including consumer expenditure, income, Mosaic consumer profiles distribution, occupation, retail demand, and Simmons product profiles to create a map of the demographic distribution.

EZ Reports Module

The EZ Reports tab allows the user to create batch reports and several specialized reports. Two of the specialized reports, Business Site Prospector and Market Demand Map are based on location and industry and can be helpful in determining potential locations to start a business by providing an overview of similar businesses and consumer spending habits in the area.

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Whether you are creating a list of businesses in a specific industry or conducting a competitive analysis for your business, Gale DemographicsNow is a great place to start.  Come to The Hill and a Business Librarian will be available to assist you in using Gale DemographicsNow to your advantage.  The James J. Hill Center is open Monday-Thursday 10-5.

 

*What is a subscription database? A specialized database that James J. Hill Center pays a fee to access, which provides information not always available through Google.  James J. Hill Center subscribes to several databases containing specialized business information and we provide free access to the public in the James J. Hill Center’s library.

**Due to the licensing agreement with Gale, business lists can only be created by the patron in the library.

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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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