Startup Secrets and Sh#$ to Know

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

The Rise of Venture Capital in MN

And what this means for the startup community

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

What this means for the local ecosystem

The bad…

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

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

The Good…

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


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

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

Featured Resource:

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

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

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The Power of Diversity in Economy


In 2012 Bruce P. Corrie, PhD and Samuel Myers, J. PhD worked together to survey various organizations across our state to uncover preliminary data and analysis on Minority owned businesses in Minnesota.

The data had very positive discoveries for many of the surveyed minority organization, showing significant growth and economic stability from 2007 to 2012. You would think that these discoveries would have been used as positive reinforcement for the continued growth and empowerment of minorities and their contributions to our communities in Minnesota.  However, over the past four years the challenges have continued to be an uphill battle and the positive growth has barely escalated.

In a recent article in MINNPOST it stated that the number of minority entrepreneurs in Minnesota are significantly below average. Minorities currently represent 22% of the metro population and look to increase another 20% by 2020, but currently only represent 7% of all employer firms. This is significantly lower than other cities with similar populations.  What is standing in our way and why are we unable to leverage the amazing diverse talents that surround us?

“We are our own greatest agents of change. We must remove barriers and create visibility and continuously shine a spotlight on the economic value, job creation, and importance of minority owned business in Minnesota,” said Pamela Standing, Executive Director, Minnesota Indian Business Alliance.

Diversification, inclusion and the breaking down of preexisting barriers are the pillars of a thriving and empowered economy that we need to support our communities of color in Minnesota. This transparency of thought and openness will make our community grow, prosper and become a powerful arena of economic empowerment.  We can no longer stand behind or fear what we do not know.  Building together and supporting one another is the only way for prosperity and growth.

With organizations like MEDA, Kaufman Foundation, SCORE, Pollen and other initiatives led by individuals and our local Government like DEED and CERT we hope that more significant changes of support and reinforcement can happen. It takes one relationship at a time to build a business – it takes a community to build an inclusive and prosperous economy.  We need to start now to make ours stronger.

Join us at the James J. Hill Center on October 27th at 8AM as we continue the conversation on Minority Business Enterprise Inclusion: Empowering Minnesota’s Economy. Guest panelists will include Dr. Bruce Corrie, Gary Cunningham and Karen Francois.

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The Hill Team

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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National Library Week

By Leah Kodner, Business Reference Librarian

As you may or may not know, April 10-16 is National Library Week, and the librarians at The Hill are pretty excited. The theme for this year’s National Library Week is “Libraries Transform.” The point of the “Libraries Transform” theme is to encourage librarians and library users to consider the ways in which their libraries transform the community. So how does The Hill transform its community?

national library week

We transform job seekers into employees

Using databases like Gale DemographicsNow, our librarians help you find tailored lists of companies in your chosen industry and in any part of the state or country. Other databases provide in-depth information about those companies, so that if you get an interview, you’re well prepared to talk knowledgeably about the company’s history, strengths, and recent developments. We also have several books available to help you build amazing resumes.

We transform ideas into business plans

When you come to the library to research your business plan, the task can seem overwhelming. Our librarians take the time to show you how to use the databases you’ll need. We show you how to use Gale DemographicsNow to find a list of competitors and demographic information about your target audience. We show you IBISWorld to provide you with the industry trends and statistics you need. We introduce you to IndustriusCFO to help you with financial projections. Finally, we bring you to Bplans, where you can put it all together into a business plan template. With our help, business plans go from insurmountable tasks to finished products.

We transform startup-stage businesses into growth-stage businesses

Our usefulness doesn’t end once your business is off the ground, because even established business owners need information to grow their businesses. You can keep up with industry trends and competitor news using EBSCO. You can build new client lists with Gale DemographicsNow. You can learn about developments in your industry and its expected growth rate in IBISWorld. You can come to our Business @ The Hill Speaker Series to hone your marketing or leadership skills. You can build a targeted list of venture capital firms using PrivCo, if you need funds to expand. Whatever information you need to take your business to the next level, we can help you find it.

We transform individual business owners into an entrepreneurial community

All business owners need a good network. The right network can support you when business is bad and can help you to troubleshoot problems and try out new ideas. And that is exactly what 1 Million Cups does!  It gives entrepreneurs a safe space to practice their pitches and provides them with valuable feedback from the entrepreneurial community. This is a network you can really use to support yourself and your business, and you can find it at The Hill every Wednesday morning from 9:00-10:00.

Clearly, The Hill library is doing its bit to transform the community. Pay us a visit and help us celebrate National Library Week! The James J. Hill Center is open Monday-Thursday from 10-5.

Learn more about National Library Week: http://www.ala.org/conferencesevents/celebrationweeks/natlibraryweek

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James J. Hill Center Board Selects Tamara Prato as New Executive Director

St. Paul, MN – March 8, 2016 – The James J. Hill Center in St. Paul is pleased to announce that Tamara Prato, currently Group Publisher at Tiger Oak Media, will become its Executive Director effective April 4.

“I am thrilled to be back in St. Paul and have the opportunity to lead an organization that has been serving the public for nearly 100 years” said Ms. Prato. “The Hill Center’s mission of connecting business, entrepreneurs, and community is more important than ever as St. Paul and the surrounding metro look to accelerate economic development and job growth. With all of the momentum at The Hill I could not be joining at a better time.”

“Tamara has more than twenty years’ successful management, community commitment, and marketing experience with a demonstrated track record of business success. Her experiences at Tiger Oak Media, Twin Cities Public Television, and the St. Paul Pioneer Press will serve us well at The Hill” said Patrick H. O’Neill Jr., The James J. Hill Center’s newly elected Board Chair. “The process we used to select Tamara, led by Board member Sandi Schmiesing and facilitated by our external search partners, was absolutely top notch” added O’Neill.

Ms. Prato received her B.A. from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire and completed post-graduate work at The University of St. Thomas. She spent more than six years in advertising and marketing at Twin Cities Public Television and The St. Paul Pioneer Press before becoming the group publisher at Tiger Oak Media. In that role she had general management oversight of more than a dozen magazines including Minnesota Business, Saint Paul Magazine, and Minnesota Bride. “As the new Executive Director at The Hill I will bring my passion and skills back to St. Paul and look forward to working with the many stakeholders who are vested in the ongoing success of the non-profit that is all about continuing the legacy of one of America’s finest entrepreneurs. I feel the organization is well positioned to succeed today and accelerate future growth.”

About the James J. Hill Center – Opened in 1921, the James J. Hill Center supports the legacy of one of America’s greatest entrepreneurs. Today, The Hill’s focus is supporting business, entrepreneurship, and community. It delivers its mission by providing an iconic place to learn, convene and connect – in the community, business, and the arts. Our goal is to build sustainable and lasting relationships that enable entrepreneurial activities and economic prosperity by providing services, programming, and events. Learn more at www.jjhill.org. or find us on LinkedIn and on Twitter @JJHillCenter .

James J Hill Center Selects Tamara Prato as Executive Director – PDF

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“St. Paul investment fund seeks to build on James J. Hill legacy”

A Pioneer Press article reports on the Hill Capital Corporation, a group based at The Hill that seeks to fund small businesses in the Midwest:

More than a century ago, an empire was built along railroad tracks stretching across the Upper Midwest. The founder of the Great Northern Railway was James J. Hill, and the empire consisted of towns and businesses the railroad spurred across the northern plains and Rockies to the Pacific Northwest.

Now, a group is being formed in Hill’s name that sees still-untapped opportunities in the region. The vehicle this time is not steel and steam but capital, and the home base is the James J. Hill Center, the ornate business research library on downtown
St. Paul’s Rice Park.

In the idea stage for several years, Hill Capital Corp. is just now gauging interest from investors in creating an investment fund that would support growing small businesses in the region Hill’s railroad ran through. It will start in western Wisconsin, Minnesota and the eastern Dakotas and eventually move west.

Urban areas on either end of the line, Chicago/Milwaukee and Seattle, have fully organic clusters of business and funding. The Twin Cities, in between, does as well. But looking west, there are few major population centers or sources of capital willing to take a risk on a small business.

Read the full article here.

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Greatest Historical Treasure

Greatest Historical Treasure

Friend of the James J. Hill Center, Michael Boeckmann from Pixel Farm, entered a photo in the Gale Cengage Learning “Your Beautiful Library Photo Contest”. The contest is a celebration of libraries and of National Library Week. The Hill won in the category of Greatest Historical Treasure. Thank you Michael and to all those who voted.

St. Paul’s Hill library named ‘greatest historical treasure’

Article by : Jim Anderson, Star Tribune

As gorgeous a setting as the James J. Hill Center is, it’s a wonder any work gets done.

Since opening in 1921, the center has awed and inspired visitors with its historical intrigue and stunning architecture. On Monday, it received national recognition, being named the “greatest historical treasure” among the nation’s libraries in a nationwide photo contest that coincides with National Library Week (which started on Sunday — you can look it up).

Read the full article. 

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We are pleased to announce the completion of our elevator renovation at the James J. Hill Center. This project was financed in part with funds provided by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society and the F. R. Bigelow Foundation. It will greatly increase our ability to serve patrons with accessibility needs.

Please access our ground floor elevator entrance via Kellogg Ave at the back of the building. Please ring the doorbell on the right hand side of door and a Hill staff member will assist you. If you have questions or concerns please call 651.265.5500. We look forward to having you visit our brand new elevator!