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One Story at a Time: A Conversation with Uzoma Obasi


Uzoma Obasi
is an entrepreneur, photographer, film maker, storyteller and creator. He is the Executive Producer of Creative Mind Studios and the founder of Midwest Creative Connection.  Another great example of the talent and skill that is housed in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.  We got the chance to have a brief conversation to ask him a few short questions about his company, advice for other entrepreneurs, why Minnesota and more.

Describe your business. What do you want people to know about your company and what makes it different?
Creative Mind Studios is a photo and video studio that focuses on business needs. We pride ourselves in our ability to help our clients tell their stories through still and motion pictures.

How does your company contribute to the Twin Cities business ecosystem and community?
We contribute by making high quality business photography and videography accessible to businesses of all sizes and budgets. Helping entrepreneurs and small business owners compete with the largest of companies.

What has been the largest hurdle and / or success you have experienced as an entrepreneur and business owners?
The largest success we have had is being hired by the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee to provide our photo and video services.

My biggest hurdle was finding the right studio space. I needed a space that fit my small budget but had the square footage I needed.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Make sure that whatever you’re doing is a passion. Being an entrepreneur and running a business is hard work. Harder than showing up for a 9-5. If you are just in it for the money, you’ll burn out quickly.

How has the James J. Hill Center played a role in your entrepreneurial experience?
The James J. Hill Center has played an important role in helping network, learn and grow. I believe that the events and resources the Hill provides has been key to my businesses growth.

What is it about Minnesota and how has it managed to keep you here?
Minnesota is home. Even with the snow, ice and wind chill Minnesota has a way of feeling comfortable. I can’t imagine another place to raise a family and run a business. The people are genuine, and the culture is very diverse, which makes it a great climate to conduct business in.

Check out more on Uzoma Obasi and his projects.

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Before Planting and Harvesting…

 

Farmers Need to Glean Data.able-logo

Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews Entrepreneur and
1 Million Cup presenter, Chris Lukenbill from Bright Agrotech  with product ABLE As seen in the Pioneer Press, Startup Showcase on November 19, 2016


In order to thrive, business owners need access to information. They need to have an understanding of their industry including its trends, new developments, growth patterns, and regulations. Farmers, of course, need all this information too, as well as reliable technical information.

It was this need for information that gave Chris Lukenbill the idea for Able, a software that helps farmers strategically plan their crops, understand the market, and manage their finances. Able, a product of Bright Agrotech, is designed to give farmers the most up-to-date knowledge available without wasting valuable time digging for information. With data aggregated from farmers across the world and connections to local farming organizations, Able provides farmers with the tools they need to grow their farm business.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Bright Agrotech (product is called Able)

Website: https://BrightAgrotech.com; https://able.ag

Business Start Date: 2010 for Bright Agrotech; 2015 for Able

Number of Employees: 30+ for Bright Agrotech and five for Able specifically

Number of Customers: Approximately 6,000 for Bright Agrotech and 1,300 for  Able specifically

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Chris Lukenbill

Age: 33

City of birth: Bemidji, Minn.City you live in: Rochester, Minn.

High school attended: Warroad High School, Warroad, Minn.

College attended: South Dakota State University, Brookings, S.D.

Q&A

Q. What led you to this point?

A. I am a software developer by trade who has a large interest in the environmental impact of agriculture.

Three years ago I started a greenhouse operation in Rochester, Minnesota. My goal was to help my community to understand the challenges of local food production and to improve its effectiveness, especially in challenging climates like Minnesota’s.

Through starting a farm, I came to understand that the challenge wasn’t in growing food but in 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 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit jjhill.org/1-million cups

 

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Giving when you buy, to yourself and to others

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Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews Entrepreneur and
1 Million Cup presenter, Susan Langer from Live.Give.Save. Inc.  As seen in the Pioneer Press, Startup Showcase on November 5, 2016

According to a recent poll conducted by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 48 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 30 have no retirement savings.

Susan Langer of Live.Give.Save. wants to try to fix that problem, while at the same time providing a way for Americans to more easily donate to charities. Live.Give.Save. allows users to add a small amount of money to each purchase they make using their smartphones, allowing them to painlessly build retirement accounts and contribute to worthy causes.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Live.Give.Save. Inc.
Website: www.livegivesave.com
Business Start Date: Feb. 1, 2016
Number of Employees: 2
Number of Customers: 0

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Susan Langer|
Age: 55
City you live in: Red Wing
City of birth: Red Wing
High school attended: Ellsworth High School, Ellsworth, Wis.
College attended: University of Minnesota

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?

A. I am a wife, stepmother and entrepreneur. My professional background spans banking, marketing and philanthropy. At U.S. Bank (then First Bank), I installed and managed their first customer-relationship management system. I later helped build and launch First Bank’s first website, as well as market their credit card portfolio. From there I launched my own marketing firm, Mosaic Marketing, where I blended branding with direct marketing before it was in vogue to help small- and medium-sized companies move to the next level. My international and philanthropic work — traveling to over 30 countries — is what drives my passion for creating a virtuous ecosystem that encourages, empowers and equips all to be better.

Q. What is your business?

A. Live.Give.Save. is an all-in-one mobile platform that empowers and rewards consumers to effortlessly boost retirement savings and increase charitable giving. We do this by leveraging existing behaviors in spending with one-touch simplicity. Our proprietary three-way payment process allows consumers to add a self-defined amount of money to each purchase they make using their smartphone. These micro amounts are automatically applied to their retirement savings and charity (or cause) of choice. One act = three gifts: Spend on self today, save for tomorrow and help someone in need.  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 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit jjhill.org/1-million cups

 

 

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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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Hill Spotlight: Mine the Bird

minethebird

A Hill Spotlight conversation with local entrepreneur Mark Daigle.

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

Our company, Mine The Bird, aspires to become an accelerator for Minnesota businesses. Over the past eight years, we have developed an international portfolio of granted and pending patent applications relating to beacon technology. (Beacons are an important hardware component in the Internet of Things.) We would like to serve startups and Fortune 500 companies in Minnesota by providing them with valuable intellectual property and by helping to coordinate a beacon platform centered here in Minnesota.  Our next step is to find a corporate sponsor who believes in our vision for Minnesota and values the patents in our portfolio.


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

Minnesota is home to a diverse cross-section of civic-minded corporations. Mine The Bird aspires to serve our corporate sponsors by providing them with exclusive beacon-related intellectual property for their industry. If we succeed, our corporate sponsors will be able to exert greater control over their industries as they test new business models centered on the Internet of Things. We also aspire to provide Minnesotan startups with intellectual property, seed capital, access to our corporate sponsor executives, and guidance from our leadership team that has over two decades of Silicon Valley experience.

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

We hope that our contributions will encourage collaboration among local business and community leaders. My dream is to see Minnesota become the global capitol of beacon technology. As I work on accomplishing this dream, I aspire to be a good person, husband, and dad.  I’d like to someday be in a position to pay livable wages to qualified employees from under served communities.  For this and other reasons, we plan to incorporate Mine The Bird (www.minethebird.com) as a Minnesota General Benefit Corporation in the near future.

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

I was thrilled to discover the James J. Hill Center this summer after my friend, Julie Haddad, read about Hill Capital. In the past few months I have attended panel discussions at the Hill, participated in networking events, and enjoyed watching startup pitches during weekly One Million Cups events. I have also spent time researching the beacon market using a database available at the Library. On November 30th I am scheduled to present Mine The Bird at the weekly One Million Cups event. I hope some people who read this article will come out on November 30th to learn more and support our efforts.

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

The informal networking that takes place at the James J. Hill Center has been extremely valuable for our accelerator. In just a few short months I have met several key people that I would now describe as friends. Our next step is to find a leading corporate sponsor who believes in our vision for Minnesota and values the patents in our portfolio. We believe we are closer to that point now because of the James J. Hill Center.

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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Taking on Childhood Diabetes

St. Thomas Freshman takes it on!

expressionmed-logo

Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews Entrepreneur and 1 Million Cup presenter, Meghan Sharkus with ExpressionMed.  As seen in the Pioneer Press, October 8, 2016

EXPRESSIONMED

  • Website: www.expression-med.com
  • Business Start Date: June 26, 2016
  • Number of Employees: 1
  • Number of Customers: We are in the beta testing stage, on the verge of a 90-day trial

MEGHAN SHARKUS

  • Age: 18
  • City you live in: St. Paul
  • City of birth: Fort Atkinson, Wis.
  • High school attended: Oregon High School, Oregon, Wis.
  • College attended: University of St. Thomas

Having a chronic illness like diabetes is frightening and overwhelming for children, and wearing an insulin pump can make them feel self-conscious. In response to this, Meghan Sharkus created ExpressionMed, a company whose adhesive product makes insulin pumps easier to use and comes in fun patterns and designs, so kids will feel more confident wearing them.

Q. What led to this point?

I am a creative, driven college freshman looking to make a difference. When I was younger, I went to Camp Invention, and it made me realize how much I enjoyed making things. Throughout high school, I explored my creativity through art and choreography, and eventually business. I served for one year as Wisconsin DECA  previously known as Delta Epsilon Chi and Distributive Education Clubs of America) vice president of community service and placed nationally for both my business plan and my advocacy campaign for the epileptic cause. Towards the end of high school, I really found out what I wanted to do READ MORE…

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 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.JJHill.org/go/1MCSPL.

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The Great Northern

1897_poors_great_northern_railway
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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To the Dreamers…

blog-image-dreamer

“Great things never come from comfort zones”

Next week is Twin Cities Startup Week a celebration of the “startup capital of the north,” Minnesota. A great time to recognize innovation, creative thinking and economic empowerment.  After reviewing some of the startups that have presented at 1 Million Cups St. Paul (every Wednesday 9AM at the Hill) we were impressed by the variety of individuals who made up these organizations, and the creative implementation of each idea.

We started to wonder what characteristic these entrepreneurs possess…these ground breakers, these innovators.  We were surprised to find it was not the usual traits that often define a successful business person (i.e. professional, competitive, ambitious).  The traits instead were holistic, passionate and creative – not typically the words used in day-to-day corporate environments.

Entrepreneurs are described as the artists of business, the breakers of the mold and the dreamers of our time. They come in all shapes, sizes, ages and races.  Their services and products vary from small to large, specific to broad, for niche groups or the entire world.  They are for profit and not for profit (some profitable, some just surviving).  But all of them have one thing in common.  They all start as a dream.

These risk takers go beyond their comfort zone and strive to create a new world.  They are the inspiration behind new ideas and revolutions that shape our daily decisions and define our economic future.

After reading about these innovators of change, we wanted to thank them for their willingness to jump, to believe in an idea, to keep an open mind, flexible heart, a passionate belief AND the confidence to persevere when it doesn’t work the first time.  We all can learn from them.  We all can be a little more entrepreneurial every day.

“If it is still in your mind, it is worth taking the risk”
– Paulo Coelho, lyricist & Novelist-

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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: 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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IMPORTANT NOTICE:

We are in the process of renovating the James J. Hill Center to make the space more accessible to individuals with wheelchairs or limited mobility. This construction includes major renovation of our interior elevator. Due to this renovation, elevator access to the building and second floor for persons with accessibility constraints will be limited. A manual mobility Liftkar operated by a trained JJ Hill staff person will be available so that individuals in wheelchairs have access to our space. To schedule assistance before your visit, or if you have questions, please contact 651.265.5500. Unfortunately we are unable to transport electric scooters. Elevator construction will begin October 31, 2016 until completion in April, 2017. We apologize for any inconvenience during this construction. Thank you for your understanding.

This project has been financed in part with funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society and the F. R. Bigelow Foundation.

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