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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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A Technological Step Forward for Seniors

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 Peter Chamberlin. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase  originally posted on March 24, 2017.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention every second of every day an older adult falls, making falls the No. 1 cause of injuries and deaths among older Americans.

With more than 10,000 older Americans turning 65 each day, the number of fall-related injuries and deaths is expected to surge.  Physical therapists and other health care professionals have very little information about a patient’s everyday life, which doesn’t allow for proper assessment of treatment and demonstration of improvement.

Families are also constantly worried about their loved ones living at home. Peter Chamberlain was one of those family members and wanted to ensure his grandparents lived a healthier and longer life. The creation of WalkSmart was the best step to making that mission real. Since 2016 he has been working to help provide peace of mind to generations.



Name: Peter Chamberlain
Age: 26
City you live in: Grand Forks, N.D.
City of birth: Salem, Ore.
High school attended: South Salem High School
College attended: Undergrad: The University of Portland; Graduate: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)


Name of company: WalkSmart
Website: Walksmart.io
Business Start Date: March 2016
Number of Employees: 1
Number of Customers: 5



Q. What led to this point?

A. As an engineer, I have always been fascinated by how technology and innovation can solve some of the world’s toughest challenges. Every project I’ve done has been has focused on helping people, whether it was building the world’s first Hyperloop pod for fast transportation, designing a medical device to keep kids from getting hypothermia during Jaundice treatment, or starting the MIT Water Innovation Prize to reward those with innovation solutions. I saw a way that I could help my grandparents with new technology, and I took the leap.

Q. What is your business?

A. WalkSmart is about helping people maintain their independence and saving lives. People who use walkers are one of our most vulnerable and costly populations, yet few innovations have succeeded in reducing falls and improving care collaboration. With proper design and market focus, I think this can change.

WalkSmart is the world’s first smart walker attachment. It monitors motion throughout the day and night without the need for charging, (like) a smartphone, or a wearable, eliminating many of the adherence issues faced by existing devices. The device acts as a traditional fitness tracker, but it also alerts families and caregivers when a person may have fallen, had a stroke, or have a urinary tract infection. The implications for therapy, home care, and senior living are massive…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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The Truth Teller: Entering the Danger

In celebration of Women’s History Month we have reached out to a variety of female entrepreneurs to share their journey  on how they have navigated owning and building a business.

Sue Hawkes helps CEOs and their leadership teams succeed. As a bestselling author, award-winning leader, Certified EOS Implementer, Certified Business Coach, WPO Chapter Chair, and globally recognized award-winning seminar leader, Sue brings over twenty-five years of business experience to her clients. She is CEO of YESS! and has designed and delivered dynamic, transformational programs for thousands of people.

How did your entrepreneurial journey begin?
My entrepreneurial journey began in 5th My best friend and I wanted to make money to buy Christmas presents for our family, so we sold macramé plant hangers door-to-door. We made over $500 and this experience showed me that if I was willing to work hard, there was no limit to my income or success. I’ve carried that entrepreneurial drive with me from age ten.

What are your current projects and or business ventures you are working on?
My current business goal is to achieve best-seller status for our book, Chasing Perfection- Shatter the Illusion; Minimize Self-Doubt & Maximize Success. Along with that, we’re launching the Chasing Perfection Companion Toolkit, which includes a success journal and workbook to accompany the book. We continue to help entrepreneurs get what they want from their businesses with EOS and our other work in communication, leadership development, communication and high performance. Our mission is to help leadership teams create the businesses they’ve always wanted while helping people become the leaders they’ve always wanted to be.

What are the most important things to consider when starting a new idea /venture or start up?
Identify your core values, core focus, including what you do better than anyone else. Focus only on that aspect and don’t get distracted by other things, or what we call “shiny objects.” Too often businesses try to be all things to all people in the beginning and that strategy doesn’t work long term, you need to be known for one thing you’re GREAT at.

As a woman in the industry what opportunities or barriers have you experienced?
I believe women have to work twice as hard in order to be considered equally. We need to be more prepared; more experienced and have better ideas in order to be seated at the table. I won’t give it much energy; I accept it and work hard to be my best. The rest takes care of itself.

What women have made the biggest impact on your entrepreneurial career so far?
The women who have impacted me the most are my mother, Joyce Hawkes, and mentors Rhoda Olsen, rubye Erickson and Bettie Spruill. My mother instilled good values and a strong work ethic, and my other mentors have helped me learn what it takes to be a successful woman in business; including how to dress, how to negotiate and where I’m either hitting or missing the mark. It’s been invaluable to have mentors along the way.

What advice would you give to other female entrepreneurs just getting out of gate?
My advice to female entrepreneurs just getting out of the gate is to find a mentor as well as a peer group. Use these networks to learn, bounce off ideas and gain support. It can feel lonely as an entrepreneur just starting out, and a peer group will help you navigate all the situations you encounter from a holistic perspective. A mentor can provide more targeted personal perspectives.

What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs that are stuck or have had their first failure?
My advice would be to evaluate what worked, leave the rest behind, and above all, to persist. Most great businesses took time and encountered problems, none of which is failure. Build in practices to maintain momentum and positivity, even when faced with challenges. There’s no failure unless you quit. Pressure is the price of being at the leadership table. Pause, don’t quit.

What is different about Minnesota and the entrepreneurial ecosystem?
In my experience the Minnesota entrepreneurial ecosystem is a very small world. I consistently uncover mutual connections with people in my network. I believe our community is eager to help each other and make useful connections to forward business with each other. I think we have an incredible business environment for those who are willing to help first and are relationship driven. I take nothing for granted and know my actions always have consequences – good or bad, people in Minnesota will know.

Has the Hill center played a role in your success as a female entrepreneur?
Yes, both directly and indirectly. I admire the work the Hill center does to forward women entrepreneurs, and believe that when individual women achieve success we all benefit and move forward. Additionally, I’ve made useful connections at Hill events and been honored to speak there as well. I’ve used Hill center for some business searches and refer clients to Hill Center for searches and as an invaluable resource in growing our businesses.

 What is your “superpower”?
I am truth-teller. I help people gracefully work through the tough stuff. I will say what’s on my mind even if it’s contradictory or makes others uncomfortable. I believe everyone has this superpower, but many choose not to use it (especially in Minnesota!). I believe being honest and upfront about situations stops them from becoming larger problems, and with courageous dialogue you will always find a solution. My ability to have and facilitate tough conversations is a large part of all of my work. We call it “entering the danger” and I work with teams to engage in healthy conflict for the betterment of the team and company.

To read more about Sue visit her website or follow her on twitter @SueHawkesYESS

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America’s Seed Fund

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. 

From innovation, entrepreneurship and commercialization, America’s Seed Fund has helped startups and small businesses transform their ideas into marketable products and services. America’s Seed Fund focuses on high-risk, high-impact technologies — those that show promise but whose success hasn’t yet been validated — and each year, nearly $2.5 billion in non-dilutive funding are available from the congressionally mandated programs – Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR).  These programs support commercialization of technically risky ideas with research interests and budgets varying among the 11 federal participating agencies.

MN-SBIR, a program of the Minnesota High Tech Association, is the State’s focal point to assist seed, early stage, emerging and existing firms (1-500 employees) to successfully access funding through the SBIR/STTR programs. MN-SBIR’s goals are to foster innovation and help create businesses and jobs in Minnesota.  MN-SBIR assists companies with proprietary technology, which refers to technical innovations that are unique and legally owned or licensed by a business, including innovations that are patented, patent pending, a subject of trade secrets, or copyrighted across the spectrum of science, technology and engineering, and multiple industrial sectors.

MN-SBIR provides outreach, education and coaching to companies to research, develop and commercialize world class technologies for social and economic benefit.  MN-SBIR is funded in part through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, University of Minnesota, Office for Technology Commercialization and the Minnesota High Tech Association. To learn more click here: Minnesota High Tech Association.

Ms. Pat Dillon is the director of MN-SBIR. She is responsible for the strategic direction and leadership and its services to seed, startup and small businesses in Minnesota. Dillon has consulted with hundreds of businesses to support technology innovation and commercialization in science and technology sectors important to state and national economies.

For more information about MN-SBIR please visit the website or follow them on twitter @MHTA.

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All About Family

In celebration of Women’s History Month we have reached out to a variety of female entrepreneurs to share their journey  on how they have navigated owning and building a business.

Teresa Meschini resides in Minneapolis, MN and is co-owner of Familglia Meschini. She is living her dream co-creating with her family the best full bodied, authentic, Argentinian & Chilean wines produced out of their family owned vineyards.

What is your company and how did it begin?
My husband, Eugenio and I are wine producers and importers of Famiglia Meschini wines. I fell into wine by chance.  I always enjoyed drinking it and still do. Eugenio grew up in Mendoza, Argentina and was immersed in it from a child. You could say it’s in his blood. Eugenio’s grandfather, Primo Meschini, immigrated from Italy to Argentina at the age of 14 and later began producing wine under the Meschini label. Decades later we are proud to resurrect the line. We strive to maintain Primo’s legacy of hard work and passion of wine and family. The wine business started out as an investment (our first vineyard), morphed into a hobby (drinking the wine and sharing it with our friends and family) and grew into a business as the kids got older. Our business kicked off with our first container of wine over nine years ago.

What is different about your company?
True to our name “famiglia” is Italian as a tribute to his Italian grandfather, Primo Meschin, and is a business all about family. Bella, our oldest daughter keeps our social media current and cool; Mia, designed our Chardonnay label after her favorite football team, the Minnesota Vikings; Laura and Primo, have helped with catchy bottle wording.  We have found great joy in working together. It’s about putting family first, about working with family in Mendoza and now sharing the wine with our family here in Minnesota.

What are the most important things to consider when running a business?
Have passion for what you do and you will always have energy and enthusiasm to do what needs to be done.

What resources did you use when starting your journey?
When we started it was simply to produce wines that we enjoy to drink.  That way, if disaster struck and we couldn’t sell, we would simply throw a hell of a party and enjoy the wine ourselves.  This, fortunately, has not happened and we have been very lucky that the wines sell themselves.  Our smartest move was to convert our network of friends and acquaintances (aka drinking buddies) into fans of our wines.

What or who has made the biggest impact on your business so far?
The support from the local community.  Eugenio and I have been BLESSED to have a loyal following of fans who support us by buying the wine and coming to our tasting events.  This makes it all worth it.  My absolute favorite thing about this business is when someone says to me, “I brought your wine to a dinner last weekend and told your story.”  Eugenio and I are all about family, friends, good times, long dinners, and shared stories.  Knowing that our wine was brought to do just that, truly warms my heart.

What has been the largest hurdle and / or success you have experienced as a business owner?
My biggest challenge is juggling the calendar. One of the biggest bummers of the wine business is that most people don’t care to taste wine between 9 am and 2 pm but rather in the evenings when the soccer games and school concerts occur.  So, my challenge is juggling the calendar and with Eugenio traveling 50% of the time (for his “real” job) I can’t rely on him much.  On the flip side, I absolutely adore being my own boss and it gives me great satisfaction to work alongside Eugenio promoting our own wine.

What advice would you give to other business owners just getting out of gate?
Don’t take no for an answer.  Refuse to conform to what everyone else in your industry is doing.

What is it about Minnesota and the entrepreneurial ecosystem and how has it managed to keep you here?Eugenio and I met at St. Thomas a billion years ago back when it was still called College. I’m a native Minnesotan, grew up in Rochester in a large, close-knit family.  Although we have lived abroad in both Kiev and London, we LOVE raising our kids here near family and with all that Minnesota has to offer.  Sounds cliché but we really haven’t found a better place to live.  From a business standpoint the support we get as a locally owned business is truly incredible.

Famiglia Meschini is the wine sponsor of the James J. Hill Center’s upcoming concert “Wine, Women and Song” featuring Keri Noble on Thursday, March 29th. Ticket holders will have an opportunity to participate in a free tasting before the concert. For more information visit our event page or purchase tickets for the concert. 

To learn more about  Famigila Meschini please visit their website or follow them on Facebook @FamigliaMeschiniWines

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Girls are Powerful

In celebration of Women’s History Month we have reached out to a variety of female entrepreneurs to share their journey and give insight on how to navigate building a business.

Shawntan Howell is Founder and Executive Director of Girls are Powerful dedicated to encouraging girls to embrace and celebrate their power of being beautiful, unique, smart, confident and determined. As a dedicated mother this desire started after a conversation with her daughter on self-esteem and self-worth.  She wanted to start a personal transformation movement that would engage and empower girls to embrace their unique individuality.

How did your entrepreneurial journey begin?
My journey as an entrepreneur started with more of an idea / interest on how to provide a service to help others. All of my initial adventures, were founded in this concept, how do I assist others.  I found myself selling Avon, and some may not believe that this entity fits in this category but in my world, it was. However, several years later, my journey eventually led to helping someone who was very near and dear to my heart – my daughter.

What is your business?
When I am faced with a situation I use it as an opportunity to build a positive message which is how Girls Are Powerful was born in 2013. Girls are Powerful originally started by selling an inspirational line of products that included our signature tees, posters, journals, notecards and much more. Several years later, the business concept launched a non-profit that offers youth programming that aligns with our mission and vision to enhance the self-esteem of all girls by inspiring them to recognize and embrace their natural qualities of being beautiful, unique, smart, confident, determined and powerful.

What are your current projects and or business ventures you are working on?
Girls Are Powerful has several projects in flight! We are preparing to celebrate our 5-year anniversary. Our for-profit is working to relaunch the inspirational product line. The non-profit is kicking off their 2018 programming which includes are 3rd Annual Workshop Series themed “Ignite Your Imagination” and “Power Career and Self”; our 3rd Annual Mother-Daughter Event and we will be launching our very first Father Daughter Workshop.

What are the most important things to consider when starting a new idea / venture or start up?
Timing is everything. Do your homework, conduct research and understand your market. Talk to experts and learn from their experiences.

As a women in the industry what opportunities or barriers have you experienced?
When I started the for-profit nearly 5 years ago, I never found an entity that was willing to fund my inspirational product line. I was constantly told there wasn’t value in what I was doing and to go in a different direction. Although that was a difficult, I stayed true to my belief that there was value in surrounding girls with positive statements and messages that they could carry with them, so I was forced to self-fund to keep my mission alive.

What women have made the biggest impact on your entrepreneurial career so far?
During this journey, I have been surrounded by some great women that have helped me maintain balance but also push me forward – Junita Flowers, Tene Wells, the GRP Community & Board of Directors, and those who were around when this idea was as small as a mustard seed, Sharon Sayles-Belton and Donna Oda. There are still so many that I am thankful to have a part of my support network.

What advice would you give to other female entrepreneurs just getting out of gate?
When starting remember that there is power in an idea, explore it because you may be on to something. There will always be naysayers but they serve as great motivators. You will meet many along your journey, each interaction serves a purpose – so be open, be honest and trust your gut.

What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs that are stuck or have had their first failure?
Don’t give up. Stay encouraged because failure and getting stuck happens more frequently than not. Your vision has a purpose, so stay the course, (unfold it, look at it from a different angle) do your best to see it through.

Has the Hill center played a role in your success as a female entrepreneur?
Yes, I am very thankful to have found support at the Hill. The resources and events that the Hill offer’s I have found beneficial.

What is your “superpower”?
Being a visionary and optimist.

To learn more about Girls are Powerful please visit their website or follow them on Twitter @GirlsRPowerful

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Beautiful Solutions to Everyday Problems

In celebration of Women’s History Month we have reached out to a variety of female entrepreneurs to share their journey and give some insight on how to navigate building a business.

Marj Weir is a designer and innovator with extensive experience and a creative entrepreneurial background. Her mission is to create beautiful solutions to everyday problems.

How did your entrepreneurial journey begin?
I started as a freelance graphic designer over 30 years ago, though I worked part time at the State for insurance and a steady paycheck. In 2004 I quit to get my product, Prep & Serve to market. My husband at the time had a great job as a chef, but later was let go. We filled out time rehabbing homes, opened Sail Away Cafe, and I also did real estate on the side.

Current projects and or business ventures you are working on?
My current products are PrepAndServe.com, EZBarBox.com and EZLightWraps.com. Last week I met potential licensing partners and investors at the International Housewares Show in Chicago. This weekend, I’m at the Minneapolis Convention Center for EZLightWraps.com in the Twin Cities Women’s Expo, then the Home and Garden Show the following two weekends.

Most important things to consider when starting a new venture or start up?
Partner with others with dissimilar talents early on – it is a long road ahead. Do research and ask yourself is there a market? Do research at the Hill! Join Meet-ups and trade groups, from competitive products or ventures. Survey people – share your ideas to get real feedback.

As a women in the industry what opportunities or barriers have you experienced?
It’s amazing to me that men totally run the housewares industry, where most products are used by women. I was told early on – ‘you need a penis to play in that field’ – they were not kidding. There is change, but slow. What I saw last week at the Housewares show are more product startups, many founded by women. Personally, I’ve had more men than women help move things forward.

What women have made the biggest impact on your entrepreneurial career so far?
My mother, who is very creative; my friend Angie Polacek, who co-founded a manufacturing company and invested in rehabbing homes with me; and Marie Forleo’s B School has been a great resource.

What advice would you give to other female entrepreneurs just getting out of gate?
Keep track of connections and categorizing them. Someone may be the person you need down the line and it is frustrating to lose track of them.

What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs that are stuck or have had their first failure?
In the entrepreneurial world failure is not looked down upon, it depends on what you learned from the experience and where you went after. Remember it is the journey, not the end!

What is different about Minnesota and the entrepreneurial ecosystem?
Still mostly male, medical and tech, but it is great to be in the Midwest, feels safe and people like to help.

Has the Hill center played a role in your success as a female entrepreneur?
Yes, I’m armed with the research to validate ideas. I’ve spoken several times at 1 Million Cups and continue to meet great connections that way.

To find out more information about Marj Weir Products please visit marjweirproducts.strikingly.com.

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It All Adds Up: Top Three Traits of a Coachable Mentee

Junita Flowers is a writer, speaker, entrepreneur, mom and the owner of Favorable Treats. With more than 20 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations, she spent her career advocating for families and leading social change initiatives. She shares her thoughts and experiences with us in her monthly blog series “It All Adds Up.”

As a social entrepreneur, I’ve reached a point on my business journey, where in addition to being profitable, my benchmarks for measuring meaningful success are based on leading with integrity, being kind and choosing to serve the community in which I live and work.

While there are countless workshops, seminars, training and networking opportunities designed to create a road map to reach and measure those benchmarks, one of the best resources for supporting my growth was seeking out and building a relationship with a business mentor.

Initially, when I began the process of seeking out a mentor, my concept of this unique relationship was based on childhood experiences. A mentor/mentee relationship was designed to celebrate, encourage and gently guide the mentee. After some initial research and several conversations, I discovered that most professional mentor/mentee relationships are less about offering support and encouragement and everything about honesty and tough love.

I’ve learned a lot and grown a lot from having a mentor and I would highly recommend it as a must-have relationship for every entrepreneur. As I think back to the early days of my relationship with my mentor, I’m sharing the top three traits that made me a coachable mentee.

1. Personal desire to learn and grow — Since I was a young girl, I’ve always been identified as or put into the role of a leader. While there were times when I felt the pressure to lead, I was also driven to continuously seek out opportunities for growth. Having a growth mindset and a willingness to learn communicated to my mentor that I valued their commitment to my professional development and allowed me the opportunity to maximize their time investment.

2. Willingness to receive feedback AND take action — While a mentor ultimately wants to see you succeed, a mentor’s primary role is not to be a cheerleader and supporter. The most valuable pieces of advice I received from my mentor were often the toughest lessons to hear. My mentor challenged me to do things differently and to be open to change. I consistently welcomed and accepted the advice and committed to take the appropriate action to achieve better results.

3. The ability to embrace failure as valuable learning opportunities — As I’ve mentioned before, failure is a part of the growth and success process. It comes with the territory. If I’m not failing at least occasionally, then I’m not growing and I’m not challenging myself. My mentor served as a resource as I learned to accept failure as much as I accepted the wins. Having a safe space to work through failure, ultimately led me to accept my failures as a prerequisite for strength building.

I would love to hear from you. Have you developed a successful mentor/mentee relationship? If so, which traits have made your relationship a success?

You can read more about Junita Flowers on her website favorabletreats.com. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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Ballet + Boxing: How to Create (a) Movement

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.

“I think it was really curiosity that brought us together,” says Zoé Emilie Henrot, the Artistic Director at St. Paul Ballet. The “us” she refers to is a partnership between her dance company and their next door neighbors: Element boxing gym. “We decided not to be cold neighbors, we decided to be in each other’s lives and that is what started it.”

In 2014, St. Paul Ballet needed room to grow and began leasing studio space from Element Boxing & Fitness. Since then the two organizations have been making waves through a dynamic collaboration which has included interdisciplinary training, co-performances, and a Knight Foundation award. “As we continue to progress, we want to become a symbol for unity,” says Dalton Outlaw, CEO and Founder of Element. “If we are all neighbors, if we all exist together, why can’t we work together?”

Both boxing and ballet enjoy rich traditions within the history of human movement. There have been other examples of cross-training between ballet dancers and boxers but the bond that St. Paul Ballet and Element share is something rare and wonderful. “If you are open to giving and receiving a lot can happen,” says Zoé. “In moving together, in figuring out how to be on stage, how to make it work, spending time together and getting to know each other – that’s created this whole community.”

The James J. Hill Center recently hosted a public screening of The Art of Boxing, the Sport of Ballet – a live experience co-directed by Zoé and Dalton. The performance allows audiences to contemplate both boxer-as-artist and dancer-as-athlete in a celebration of movement that is almost sacred in tone. “It’s not about being judged. It’s not about looking a certain way. In those moments when we are performing together it is about feeling,” says Dalton.

Next on the horizon for these two organizations is a ‘movement space’ for the people of Saint Paul. Zoé and Dalton share a vision for a place where anyone can come to experience not only the freedom to move but the freedom that comes from movement. This facility would house their studio and gym and be available for the community to gather. “We’ve talked a lot about windows, I think a lot of stereotypes come from not seeing other people or watching them move in space,” says Zoé.

What is it that has allowed such a unique partnership to develop here? What makes Zoé and Dalton ‘original thinkers’ is something very fundamental: human curiosity. Proximity only leads to partnership when we allow ourselves to be open to the other and to find value in what they bring to the table (or, in this case, the studio/gym). “It’s not just about sport or art,” says Dalton. “It’s about people.”

Catch another performance of The Art of Boxing – The Sport of Ballet at the Ordway on Sunday, April 15th. Tickets and more information available here

Written by Christopher Christenson, Marketing & Events Coordinator, at the James J. Hill Center. Have an idea of a person or organization to feature in this series? Send your recommendations to

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An Online Plan to Modernize Age-Old Shipping Industry

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 Tom Venable. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase on March 10, 2017.

According to the Inland Waterways section of the 2017 American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report, the waterway system supported “more than half a million jobs and delivers more than 600 million tons of cargo each year, about 14% of all domestic freight” and “between 2000 and 2014, the average delay per lockage nearly doubled from 64 minutes to 121 minutes.”

While delays are inevitable, freight shippers and receivers do have an opportunity to maximize their margins by making sure they limit (or eliminate) miles when a cargo container is empty. Enter Basin Commerce, offering technology to a business that currently relies heavily on low-tech solutions, to save time, money and headaches.


CEO/co-founder: Tom Venable
Age: 56
City you live in: Excelsior
City of birth: Peoria, Ill.
High school attended: Edina High School
College attended: University of Minnesota


Name of company: Basin Commerce
Website: www.basincommerce.com
Twitter: @basincommerce
Business start date: October 2016
Number of employees: 9
Number of customers: 15


Q. What led you to this point?
A. I have over three decades of experience starting and managing software companies all over the country. Most notably in the Twin Cities, I was SVP of sales for Digital River for most of the ’00’s.

In 2016, I met one of my business partners who was a lifelong commodities trader. Scott Stefan explained to me the inefficiencies of the bulk freight market and I explained to him the efficiencies of ecommerce techniques. So we teamed up to create the first and only on-line marketplace for bulk freight transportation services.

It is the story of a commodity guy meets an ecommerce guy in a bar one night, and thus Basin Commerce was born.

Q. What is your business?
A. Based on the shores of Lake Minnetonka, Basin Commerce aims to increase the utilization of the U.S. Waterway System for the transport of bulk materials and other heavy loads that are typically moved via rail and trucks. We do this through an online service similar to Uber or Expedia. At ibookfreight.com a “shipper” can request pricing for moving large quantities of bulk commodities from a myriad of suppliers across the country using the Inland Waterways System.

Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?
A. My three co-founders and a network of trusted advisers I have built up over 30 years.

Q. What problems does your business solve?
A. The manual, cumbersome process of finding, buying and managing bulk freight services via barges and trucks.

Q. What big obstacle or hurdle did you have to overcome?
A. We have to overcome the hurdle of changing human behavior in an industry that has been around for over 100 years.

Q. What personal strengths or skill sets do you bring to the business?
A. Sales, leadership and the understanding of how to build a software company.

Q. What are you most proud of?
A. Besides my 33 year marriage and three adult children it would be the speed by which we were able to launch Basin Commerce and start generating revenue quickly….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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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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