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A Seller’s Daily Amazon Life

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.

“The future of retail is no longer ‘where did you get that product’ but ‘what did you search,’” says Darrin Levine, CEO and Founder of ASDAL Inc. And he should know, it’s what he does.

Darrin’s company, ASDAL – an acronym that stands for A Seller’s Daily Amazon Life – is unique for a number of reasons. For starters, they offer comprehensive Amazon store management. To explain this, Darrin uses the following comparison: When you go to the mall, each store has a marketing manager, a display manager, an inventory manager, and lots of software keeping things straight on the back end.

“[It’s] the same concept on Amazon,” Darrin says. “We have a store manager who oversees everything, we have an account support specialist who can fix the files and templates, and content creators who do design, writing, product copy and EBC (enhanced brand content).” ASDAL can take responsibility for the whole package (literally and figuratively) including inventory storage, repackaging, and forwarding.

The second thing that makes ASDAL unique is their single-minded focus on brands. They will only take on clients who own a trademark but – once they do – will help them navigate the strict rules for registering and launching trademarked products on Amazon. Part of this launch process is removing unauthorized resellers of a product. Darrin and his team have made themselves experts in this process – they know exactly how to submit cases to Amazon to remove 90-100% of third-party sellers.

Finally, ASDAL is paving the way for others in the online retail industry by developing a proprietary software called GRIT. “There is yet to be an enterprise level software for brands to understand where their products are at,” says Darrin. Most of the current software is made for third-party sellers. Because their focus is on trademarked products and they are in the trenches every day managing branded accounts, the ASDAL team is creating an all-in-one tool that combines inventory management, PPC (pay-per-click advertising), keyword tracking, inventory forecasting, sales and reporting.

Despite the hype, only 8% of retail sales happen online. However, according to reports by eMarketer and One Click Retail, in 2017 Amazon was responsible for 44% of all ecommerce sales – roughly $196.75 billion. Darrin spends a lot of time analyzing this tech giant and he has notice Amazon moving from a third-party seller’s platform towards a brand-driven platform. “When online retail sales start reaching the 12-15% range more brands are going to have to step on Amazon,” says Darrin. His prediction is that by 2020 companies with trademarked products will need to hire their own Amazon specialists and teams – or hire ASDAL.

There are many things that set Darrin apart as an original thinker but arguably most admirable is that he recognizes, respects, and defends original thinking in others. Many of the clients he works with will discover that others have been reselling their trademarked products at wholesale levels without their knowledge. “I do see us as champions to retain smaller companies’ revenue,” says Darrin. He has a special contract for small, local companies who need an ally in their corner – someone to clear the field of unauthorized sellers and set their brand up online. After that, he’s only a click away. “This is kind of a Minnesota nice thing [we do],” says Darrin. “If you need help just call me.”

To learn more about ASDAL Inc. visit their website or reach out to the team at friends@asdalamz.com.

 


Written by Christopher Christenson, Program & Event Coordinator, at the James J. Hill Center. Have an idea of a person or organization to feature in this series? Send your recommendations to 
christopher@jjhill.org.

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No time for family dinner? She thought: ‘What if I cook it for you?’

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 Libby Mehaffey. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on May 6, 2018.

In 2018, families are constantly on the go, and it seems eating together as a family is on the decline. According to Statista, only half of American families eat dinner with their family at home six to seven nights a week.

Studies have shown eating together is beneficial not only for children but also for the parents. According to National Center on Addiction & Substance Abuse at Columbia University, teaching healthful eating habits make you less likely to develop substance dependencies, and more likely to perform better academically.  One Minnesota startup has taken this idea to heart and is looking to bring families together through healthy prepared dinners for all.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Weeknight Kitchen
Website: WeeknightKitchen.com
Business Start Date: Officially since August 2017
Number of Employees: 3 plus independent contractors
Number of Customers: 500, 75 to 100 orders on a weekly basis

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Libby Mehaffey
Age: 38
City you live in: Inver Grove Heights
College attended: University of Wisconsin, Madison
High school attended: Hastings Senior High School
College attended: University of Wisconsin, Madison

 

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?

A. I grew up in Hastings with a wonderful, hard-working family. My career started in Washington, D.C., working in politics where I met my now husband, Matthew, on a blind date. We moved to Minnesota in 2005. Since then I’ve done lots of interesting work including launching a local golf newspaper, working with the Secret Service at the 2008 GOP Convention and doing marketing and sales for the PGA Tour. So, when I sat down to think about what it was going to be like to go back to work — I thought — given my zest for work, my husband’s odd hours and travel schedule and my gaggle of kids, I needed to build a business that works for my family. So that’s what I did. Enter, Weeknight Kitchen.

Q. What is your business?

A. Weeknight Kitchen prepares hot, homemade, family-style meals to be shared at home. Our hope is that by preparing a hot, homemade meal we can give our clients 30 minutes of time to sit down and share dinner with their family. Our menu changes weekly and is designed to appeal to parents and kids alike — no foraged ingredients or spices you can’t pronounce — just simple, classic recipes like meatloaf and baby red potatoes or chicken chow mein.  Everyone gets the same thing — no substitutions or special orders as we stick to the mantra of “you get what you get and you don’t cause a fit.” All of our meals feed 4-6 people and cost $35 no matter what we’re serving. Clients pick up meals at corporate and residential locations between the hours of 3:30 and 6:30 p.m.

Some people confuse Weeknight Kitchen with a meal kit — which we are not. All of our meals are fully prepared and delivered hot — so there is absolutely no prep work involved. All meals are delivered in commercial catering boxes or bags that are designed to keep food safe for up to four hours.

Q. What is the origin of the business?

A. Growing up, my family ate dinner together at 5:30 almost every day. I think for many folks in my generation this was the norm. Weeknight dinner was when our family caught up about school, work, friends, and family. Dinner was never fancy – just simple meals my mom would “whip up.” Looking back, weeknight dinners were our family constant.

Unfortunately, people don’t sit down for dinner as a family anymore. Between work responsibilities, kid stuff and household chores – finding the time and energy to make dinner — and actually sit down together — well, it just doesn’t happen…..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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It All Adds Up: Steps Along the Way

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.”

In my mind, the business journey is much like being a parent. It’s common, the stages of development are clearly defined and you invest loads of time and energy in preparation, yet you find yourself on a wild and crazy adventure asking, “what have I gotten myself into?!”

I’ve known since I was a tween that I would someday become an entrepreneur. While I didn’t understand the full scope of what it meant to be an entrepreneur, I was always intrigued with the idea that if something didn’t exist, an entrepreneur would just create it.

Looking back over the years, I chuckle at the way in which entrepreneurship as a career choice was presented to the young dreamers such as myself. The thought of pursuing entrepreneurship was much like pursuing a career in professional sports…we were told to get a good education first and foremost because the likelihood of achieving success by pursuing our dreams was very small.

Today, colleges and universities across the country are offering degree programs in entrepreneurship, community development agencies exist to support business success, and business ownership is presented as a viable and rewarding “plan A” career choice.

Currently, as I stand at the threshold of a new chapter in my business and reflect upon the last twelve years of my “on again/ off again” entrepreneurial journey, I am overcome with gratitude. This very common, but uniquely personalized practice of starting and growing a business, defines who I am and mirrors every aspect of my lived experiences. In my life, entrepreneurship has evolved into a calling which is less about the products I sell and everything about the purpose my life represents.

I started on this journey, creating a cookie company offering convenience, quality and taste. I’ve arrived at this point with the same yummy family recipes, but now mixing in all of the ingredients and baking up hope. The business I lead and the life I live represent HOPE!

They represent the expectation of being something good and the action of doing something good.

While profitability is a foundational principle to business growth, and one of the leading determining factors for keeping your doors open, my journey to achieving business success can be summarized by three important concepts…trust the process, believe in the possibilities and be the change.

  • In order to trust the process, I had to educate myself and prepare for the journey ahead while letting go of the expectations of how it will all unfold.
  • I had to believe in the value of hardship just as much as I cherished the experience of achievement. I had to believe in the possibilities even when I was experiencing a deficit.
  • Just as I imagined as a tween, entrepreneurs create products that don’t exist, I later learned as an adult that I must accept the responsibility to be the good that I want to see. I must first accept and then lead.

The business journey I imagined and the business journey I’ve experienced look nothing alike, but everything I imagined and everything I’ve experienced represent me and my personalized steps along the way.

As always, I love hearing from you. Are you thinking about starting a business? Are you currently traveling your business journey? Do you find any commonalities from my business journey? Send me an email or connect with me on social media. Here’s to a journey of adventure and prosperity.


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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Helping Higher Education Improve Its Business Model

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 Vikas Mehrotra. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on April 21, 2017.

Each year, $30 billion are spent on incoming freshmen scholarships in our country. However, research indicates that several educational institutions are struggling financially and student success is questionable. Student loans continue to increase, and degree attainment rates for 4-year college are around 34 percent.

Far too many educational institutions are on probation or at risk of losing their accreditation. The loss of accreditation is a serious issue for students, institutions and the community. Senior leaders and their respective board members are under tremendous pressure because of an enrollment crisis in higher education. The business case for a quick turnaround is clear. There is a need for comprehensive end-to-end enrollment strategy and data-driven decision making to improve the business health of our universities and institutions.

MANBOAT enhances student success and increases net tuition revenue for institutions. It is an essential tool to close the college attainment rates as the demand and need for skilled talent grows higher than ever before.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Virtue Analytics LLC
Website: www.virtueanalytics.com | www.manboat.com
Business Start Date: 2013
Number of Employees: Our team size varies from project to project and consists of full-time and part-time consultants.

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Vikas Mehrotra
Age: 43
City you live in: Woodbury
College attended: Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Wisconsin-Madison

 

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?
A. I have two decades of field experience in business, consulting, analytics with an engineering background. My love for math, consulting and entrepreneurship led me to start Virtue Analytics back in 2013. I have a Master’s of Science degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a second Master’s degree in Engineering Logistics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Before starting Virtue Analytics, I worked in strategy & operations at Deloitte Consulting and in category management at Supervalu.

Q. What is your business?
A. Virtue Analytics solves critical business problems using advanced analytical techniques and predictive modeling. We are an emerging Midwest EdTech startup headquartered in Woodbury. We are the world’s first applied intelligent and AI enabled, end-to-end platform that allows educational institutions to increase net tuition revenue and improve student success by optimizing scholarship and admission processes and decisions.

We use advanced machine learning techniques and models to solve critical business problems. Our product platform is called MANBOAT. MANBOAT is an acronym for Merit and Need Based Optimization and Allocation Tool. MANBOAT helps optimize enrollment decisions and improves student outcome. Using our product institutions are able to minimize cost over-runs and reduce student withdrawals.

Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?
A. We rely heavily on our network in the Twin Cities. We recently graduated from the gBeta program and Eric Martell and Adam Choe from Gener8tor were phenomenal. Both 1MC and Gener8tor teams have helped us strengthen our local network immensely. We are also fortunate to have a strong team of advisers who believed in us right from the beginning and have continued to support us through our journey.

Q. What is the origin of the business?
A. A few years ago, I obtained an opportunity to work with an education institution. We were contracted to build predictive models to help their business. While working on the problem, I realized that the enrollment challenge is much bigger and decided to pivot the company from consulting to developing software to solve this challenging problem. We developed a prototype product and shared it with several industry leaders, receiving excellent feedback that gave us enormous confidence. We realized there is a marketplace for our product MANBOAT and went on to build the platform.

Q. What problems does your business solve?

A. The more substantial macro issues in higher education give rise to additional micro problems, which significantly impact a college or a university meeting its strategic goals; issues which we help institutions address strategically and mathematically. Each year post-secondary institutions increase tuition fees by 3 to 5 percent but are still struggling as businesses….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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Local Painter’s Bucket List Doesn’t Cut Corners

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 Ben Hildre. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on April 7, 2017.

The painting industry generates more than $31 billion in revenue each year, but it is estimated that only 5,500 new painting jobs will be created in the next decade. With high demand and a small labor force, there is not much time for innovation in the industry. But a company in Minnesota is looking to change that.

Bucket Tools has a new invention to cut painting time, costs and is better for the environment. Ben Hildre is looking to shake up the industry, and help his team improve and grow.

 

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Ben Hildre
Age: 35
City you live in: Athens Township
City of birth: Coon Rapids
High school attended: St. Francis High School

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Bucket Tools LLC
Website: www.buckettoolsllc.com
Twitter: @BucketEdge
Business Start Date: March 2014
Number of Employees: 2 (Hildre and partner, Sean Erickson)
Number of Customers: Goes up everyday

 

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?

A. I’m a creative guy who enjoys living life to the fullest. However, “real” life started a little earlier than I anticipated. I found out I was going to be a dad my last semester of high school. That kicked my butt in gear and kept me working as a painter. Over the years I kept painting and then started my own company in 2007. I invented the Bucket Edge the winter of 2014.

The Bucket Edge was created with two main goals in mind. First, I needed a tool that would help expedite or eliminate the need to tape off rooms. As owner of my own painting company, I noticed that countless man-hours and endless amounts of tape were being used at each jobsite. There was so much waste product created, which led me to my second goal. To create a product that would reduce the amount of waste put into landfills and be better for the environment. The Bucket Edge is meeting both of those goals.

Q. What is your business?

A. Bucket Edge is multi-use painting tool to cut down on costs of taping off woodwork before painting. The Bucket Edge was created to cut down on materials and time when painting practically anything, anywhere. As owner of my painting company, Bucket Painting LLC, I have already noticed significant savings. Costs have gone down almost 80 percent on tape alone. There is no need to keep buying sleeves of tape spools on every job. The savings don’t stop there. My labor costs and set up times have also decreased.

It’s almost like tape and dropcloth in one because of the length it extends off the wall. Tape only protects an inch and a half away from the wall, (Bucket Edge) gives you over 13 inches to save from paint splatters. It will pay for itself and give you money back in your pocket the more you use it.

Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?

A. My partner, Jessica; we have been together for 14 years. She is always there to cheer me on or pat me on the back when something doesn’t work.

Q. What is the origin of the business?

A. It is kind of a funny story. It was back during the foreclosure craze.  I painted lot of dirty houses where tape didn’t stick. One night I came home and was watching “Shark Tank” on ABC with my oldest daughter. Someone made a great deal with one of the “sharks” and Hannah looked over and said, “Dad, you think you’re so smart, create something to put me through college!” I turned to her with a devilish smirk and said “Fine I will, but I’m going to use money for a boat instead.” We have great sense of humor in my house. The next day, I show up to my jobsite and all the taping I had put up had fallen down. What my daughter said sparked the light bulb in my head. That day I drew up the first draft of the Bucket Edge….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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It All Adds Up: Assessing the Importance of Emotional Capital

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.”

 

Later this month, I will moderate Taking the Lead, a panel discussion for women in business, on the topic of accessing and raising financial capital, so I thought it was especially fitting to take a few moments to share my perspective on the importance of raising an additional source of capital…emotional capital.

When describing entrepreneurship, I often hear words like passionate, visionary, dreamer, inspired, optimistic, etc. Words that describe strong emotions…emotions that produce great results. Yet, there is still a strong sentiment communicated, that “emotions have zero place in business.” As a woman in business and a solo parent, I remember meeting with a small business advisor who “advised” me to postpone starting my business and focus on raising my family because the emotional demands of managing both are extremely tough. At that time, I didn’t have a term for it, but that interaction was my first introduction to the importance of emotional capital as an entrepreneur.

Emotional capital is simply the ability to build and sustain strong relationships that ultimately lead others to want to work with you, buy from you, support you and to conduct business with you. Clearly, the business advisor from my example didn’t understand the importance of emotional capital in building a trusting advisor/advisee relationship and the overall impact to the business financials. That interaction was my first and last as that advisor’s business client.

Emotions are a piece of the equation in everything we do and should be positioned as a valuable commodity in creating strong and thriving businesses. As a social entrepreneur, emotional capital is at the core of my work. Emotional capital is an asset that, over time, becomes the differentiator which aids in my ability to build meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships, allows me to strengthen my influence, is the foundation to create a trustworthy brand and is ultimately a positive impact on my business financials.

In addition to a solid business foundation, growing and maintaining a financially strong and profitable business must prioritize the importance of emotional capital. Whether purchasing cookies from my cookie company or hiring me to speak at an event, every potential customer will want to conduct business with me based on how they feel when interacting with my products and services, and for me, that is the result of successfully raising emotional capital as an entrepreneur.

I would love to hear from you. How does emotional capital fit in your business operations? You can share your perspective with me by clicking here.

 


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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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.

 

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

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)

COMPANY PROFILE

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

 

Q&A

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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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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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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