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It All Adds Up: Celebrating Growth

When I think about pivotal growth seasons in my life, one of the most memorable, but often scary experiences was becoming a parent. If you’re anything like me and began your parenting journey in the early 2000’s, then you probably owned and/or read one of the books from the series, “What to Expect…”. In spite of the millions of parents before me and the countless times I read and reread from the book series, my growth process of becoming a parent was unique to me. The same is true in the growth process as an entrepreneur and business owner. In spite of the case studies and research published by thousands of entrepreneurs, starting a business is extremely difficult and choosing to remain in business and experience growth is excruciatingly painful. But just like parenting, entrepreneurship adds immeasurable value to my lived experiences.

Over the last 1-1/2 years, I’ve been working with Minneapolis based brand consultants, Neka Creative, to redefine everything about my cookie company. While we’ve just reached the final stages in the planning and development process with a new name and logo, clearly defined messaging and a robust sales and marketing strategy, all of this preparation leads to another pivotal and scary growth process for me. However, just like my anticipation of becoming a new parent, I celebrate the possibilities first, followed by confidently leaning into the very common, yet extremely personal growth process.

The commonalities of the business growth process can be found in the business plan. The personalization of the business growth process is shaped by the life that is breathed into making the business plan a reality. Today, as I anticipate the new life I will infuse into my cookie company I am filled with an abundance of hope. Hope that something as simple as a cookie made from my favorite childhood recipes can be the force behind a movement of a safer, kinder, sweeter world by spreading a message that #HopeMunchesOn!

While the process is very personal, it is never experienced in isolation. As I take another step on my entrepreneurial journey, I’m inviting you to join me. I hope you will join me as I celebrate the re-branding and launch of my life’s work, Junita’s Jar. Stop over and visit the new website, junitasjar.com and stay tuned for more details on our July 31st launch party, which be held at the James J. Hill Center.

Entrepreneurship, just like parenting has been an extremely rewarding gift that has strengthened my character, defined my resilience and influenced my compassion for humanity. And similar to my hopes and dreams as a parent, I am committed to leading a cookie company that inspires good and spreads hope.

I’d love to hear from you. In anticipation of the upcoming launch party, I am looking for stories that reflect a message of #hopemuncheson. If you’d like to share your story, click here to request more information.


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

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A Crowdfunding Vanguard for Investors, Entrepreneurs

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 David Duccini. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on June 2, 2018.

According to Crowdexpert.com, “The crowdfunding industry is projected to grow to over $300 billion by 2025.”  With the new rules for crowdfunding portals, regulation crowdfunding (as opposed to rewards-based crowdfunding, like Kickstarter) has an opportunity to fill in after banks stop lending and/or before an angel or venture capitalist steps in. According to Huffington Post, “blockchain crowdfunding might just be the next step in startup evolution, helping important and interesting projects come to fruition.”

David Duccini likes to be on the forefront of problem solving, saw that evolution of crowdfunding on the rise and waited patiently as rules and regulations evolved so he could breakout his company and help business owners raise capital legally, slashing added fees and helping their dreams grow.



Name: David V. Duccini
City you live in: St. Paul
College attended: MS, University of St. Thomas; MBA, University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management


Name of company: Silicon Prairie Portal & Exchange
Website: https://sppx.io
Business Start Date: October 2016
Number of Employees: 1 Full time / 8 contractors
Number of Customers: 6 live crowdfunding campaigns to date / 24 investors with pre-paid credit


Q. What led to this point?
A. I am a serial FinTech entrepreneur. I grew a Twin Cities-based Internet Service Provider from 1994-2008 through seven acquisitions and one merger before selling it off. I then launched a VOIP company in 2016 and tried raising capital locally and from the coasts. I became familiar with Small Company Offering Registration (SCOR) as an exemption from going public and I found natural synergy with blockchain-based distributed ledgers for shareholder registries in 2010. I then waited patiently for the JOBS act crowdfunding rules to kick in four years later and another two for MNvest to become effective.

Q. What is your business?
A. Silicon Prairie Portal & Exchange is a registered crowdfunding portal operator in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and nationally through the SEC and FINRA. We help business owners raise capital legally through regulation crowdfunding in the amounts of $1 million, $2 million or even $5 million depending on which exemption from federal securities law is used. This can be in the form of stock, debt, convertible notes or the Simple Agreement for Future Equity (SAFE) instrument.

Using a smart document technology we created called “Geppetto” we are able to dramatically slash the amount of legal costs typical for a Private Placement Memorandum. Once filed and approved by the regulator we host the offering on our website as well as facilitate all financial transactions from investors to issuer. Once the campaign is successful and closed we can manage those shareholders in an “Investor Relations as a Service” model, helping with communications, voting and liquidity, first peer to peer and soon on an approved exchange.

Q. What problems does your business solve?
A. Cost effective capital raising at scale. All fundraising is essentially “the slow conversion of your social capital into financial capital.” Our Geppetto smart document technology slashes the legal costs from the $15,000-$25,000 range down to around $5,000 — and we think we can get it down to about $2,500.

Q. Where did you pivot in your company’s journey? What big obstacle or hurdle did you have to overcome?
A. We have not deviated from plan yet. Our biggest hurdle to date has been dealing with the legacy regulatory apparatus that is in place to maintain the status quo. There are very few “service level agreements” in government agencies and no sense of urgency.

We’re looking forward to the next phase of delivering an intra-state exchange system for exempt securities, something that has been contemplated in states like Michigan, but does not appear to have been tried yet. Under the rules an investor absolutely has the right to sell their interest in a crowdfunded offering to another resident of the state within the first six months and then in theory to anyone in the world. We will likely be the first company ever to put that theory to test….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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Top Tips for Startup Success From Investor Ann Winblad

By Katie Moritz

(This article originally appeared on Rewire)

Nine out of 10 startups fail. That’s a hard truth of being an entrepreneur. Some of that is just plain luck, said Silicon Valley investor Ann Winblad during a workshop at e-Fest Entrepreneurship Challenge at the University of St. Thomas’ Schulze School of Entrepreneurship on April 13.

Caption/credit: Ann Winblad, right, meets students competing in e-Fest at the University of St. Thomas on April 13. Photo by Katie Moritz.

In San Francisco, where Winblad has built a successful venture capital firm that funds innovations in software, Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, an entrepreneur failing means they’re one step closer to succeeding. A lot of them bounce back and get on to the next idea.

In her role as a partner at the firm, Winblad “(auditions) the future every day,” she said.

“I see some wacky versions of it, some wishful versions of it, and some we buy into.”

(Fun fact: Back in the day, Winblad’s first business—a Minneapolis software company—was housed over Prince’s first studio, before he was Prince.)

What are the other factors—besides luck—that can make or break a startup? Winblad shared some of the insights she’s gained from decades working with some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the country:

1. Build the right team early on

Assembling the wrong people to work on your dream can spell failure, Winblad said. That might mean you have to have some tough conversations early on with people who are likely your friends. But if you really want your project to succeed, you need the right people in the right jobs.

Caption/credit: Your founding team should write down as many as 10 assumptions about what your company will do. Quarterly, revisit and revise those assumptions.

Venture capitalists invest in companies, not products, Winblad said. When Winblad’s firm looks at teams to invest in, “some of this sounds kind of fairy-taleish, but we look for someone who has a big vision of how the future will unfold.

She gave the example of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, whom she knew early on in his career. He was in love with his own big ideas, and that passion showed through to the people around him.

“Bill Gates believed there would be a personal computer on every desk,” Winblad said. “He was infused with the energy of this potential.”

Winblad’s firm also looks for team members who have “glass-half-full” attitudes. Positivity will buoy you through the difficulties of starting a business.

“If you’re a glass-half-empty person, you’re going to meet some real challenges that are going to make you not even want to look at the glass,” Winblad said.

2. Center the customer

Do your market research and develop a product or a service that customers need. When you’re pitching to investors, if you can show the need for what you’re hoping to deliver, you’re in a good position.

Winblad used the example of MuleSoft, a software company her firm invested in and was recently sold to Salesforce for $6.5 billion. MuleSoft gave their product away for free at first and built up a portfolio of loyal customers. When it came time to scale up and look for more money, MuleSoft leaders were able to produce a long list of people who not only saw a need for the product, they were already using it.

Another couple of founders arrived at a pitch meeting at Winblad’s firm with a long scroll that they rolled out on the board room table.

The entrepreneurs said to the investors, ” ‘Pick any name on here. There are 500 customer names—we’ll tell you what they said about our product,’” Winblad said. “We were captivated. … They told us what the customer wanted, not just what they were building.”

“We’re not the batters, we’re only pitchers in the end, and the market has to bat at this. … Both these companies captivated us with the strong need in the market and the voice of the customer first.”

3. Define and redefine your ‘assumptions’

When you’re starting out, brainstorm and write down as many as 10 assumptions about where your business will go. These assumptions define your business strategy. Once a quarter, you should revisit them as a group and determine if they are still true.

Caption/credit: Having the wrong team and getting money at the wrong time or in the wrong amount are two common missteps of startups.

“If any of them are false, huddle together and change something in your business strategy,” Winblad said.

Writing down and revisiting these assumptions will help you “keep your eye on the prize,” she said.

“It takes enormous intellectual and physical stamina to do a startup. It’s all uncertainty.”

Eventually, as your business grows, the assumptions that make up your business plan will manifest into facts, Winblad said. But don’t wait until you have a list of facts to reach out for funding.

As venture capitalists, “we like uncertainties,” she said. “We want to hear about the bigger promise, not about the smaller proof. We want to hear about your assumptions. We don’t need facts, so don’t tiny it down—come to us with the prize and your thinking about the prize. Because that’s our job—our job is to say, were willing to take risk.”

This article is part of America’s Entrepreneurs: Making it Work, a Rewire initiative made possible by the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and EIX, the Entrepreneur and Innovation Exchange.

© Twin Cities Public Television – 2018. All rights reserved.

About the writer(s):

Katie Moritz is Rewire’s web editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores, rock concerts and pho. She covered politics for a newspaper in Juneau, Alaska, before driving down to balmy Minnesota to help produce long-standing public affairs show “Almanac” at Twin Cities PBS. Now she works on this here website. Reach her via email at kmoritz@tpt.org. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz and on Instagram @yepilikeit.


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Offering stylish comfort for teens with autism

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 Molly Fuller. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on May 19, 2018.


According to the Autism Society, more than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder and the prevalence of autism in U.S. children increased by 119.4 percent from 2000 to 2010. It is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the country.

A person with autism typically has sensory disorders, meaning their senses can be intensified or be diminished. Deep pressure therapy, such as hugging, squeezing, or swaddling, has been shown to be beneficial, providing a sense of calm and relaxation. While there are some products providing deep pressure therapy, many are expensive, low quality, or lack style.

Molly Fuller is out to change that. She is tired of medical products drawing more attention to the medical condition than the actual person and believes just because someone has a medical condition doesn’t mean they don’t deserve or care about style and quality.


Name: Molly Fuller
City you live in: Hopkins
Age: 29
City of Birth: Cincinnati
High School Attended: Princeton High School
College attended: University of Cincinnati (undergrad), University of Minnesota (grad school)


Name of Company: Molly Fuller Design
Website: mollyfullerdesign.com; Facebook & Instagram: facebook.com/mollyfullerdesign; instagram.com/mollyfuller.design
Business Start Date: September, 2016
Number of Employees: 1
Number of Customers: 31


Q. What led to this point?
A. I have a background in fashion design and human factors. I always wanted to design better-looking products that served a medical purpose. In undergrad, I partnered with biomedical engineering students to redesign diabetic footwear and compression garments. I’ve worked in the health care industry, such as the Mayo Clinic, my entire career designing better patient experiences for various conditions.

Q. What is your business?
A. My business is an online clothing store that specializes in creating stylish clothing that is designed for specific medical conditions. I’m focusing first on clothing for teens with autism.

My first product is called the Charlie shirt, a stylish therapeutic compression shirt for teens with autism. The compression provides deep pressure therapy that is calming and relaxing to many people with diminished senses due to their autism. The Charlie shirt uses a high-quality power stretch super soft material that adds substantial compression while not irritating the skin. The seams and stitching are designed to feel invisible to the wearer. The stylistic detailing on the sleeves double as a fidget for tactile stimulation.

Q. What is the origin of the business?
A. My senior year of undergrad I decided to do a second thesis focused on medical clothing. I reached out to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and they let me observe in different units to see where there might be an opportunity to design better products. I observed with two occupational therapists in the autism unit and that’s where I saw the biggest need for better clothing options for teens.

I then connected with special education teachers to understand another perspective and saw that teachers were DIY-ing clothes for their students because the current products made the kids stand out more and be bullied. An autism distribution company happened to launch around the same time, so I reached out to the CEO and she was generous with her time and allowed me to tag-along to the AutismOne Conference with her.

There I talked with parents and professionals to gain a better understanding of their needs. I had three designs prototyped and started testing. I put the business on hold while I worked at the Mayo Clinic. By 2016, I hadn’t seen enough things change in the market and I wanted to provide a solution to these teens and families. I started designing and testing out samples again with teens across the U.S.

Q. What problems does your business solve?
A. A person with autism typically has sensory disorders, meaning their senses can be intensified or be diminished. People with a diminished sense of touch may exhibit arm flapping, excessive hugging or crawling under heavy objects such as mattresses or couch cushions in order to feel pressure.

Deep pressure therapy, such as hugging, squeezing, or swaddling, has been shown to be beneficial for people with sensory disorders, providing a sense of calm and relaxation. One way to provide deep pressure therapy is through compression clothing that provides a consistent firm sensory input….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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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 

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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.


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


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. 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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Attracting Talent, Even When It Snows in April

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.

Minnesota is cold. There is no avoiding it. Despite the fact that we gave the world Snoopy and Post-It notes (thank you C. Schulz and 3M respectively) people outside of Minnesota still think of the weather when they think of us. And after a record snow storm in April, it is hard to blame them.

Yet we live and work here, and we enjoy it. The numbers speak to this: the Greater MSP region has a positive net migration five times higher than the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim region for example. We have developed winter-resistant companies, schools, and people who thrive through the cold.

“We are trying to bring people up to the party everyone else is having,” says Matt Lewis, Director of Make It. MSP. Matt works with the Greater MSP team – an economic development partnership for the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area – on one of their core strategies for the region: prioritizing talent. They are committed to not just attracting but retaining professionals who choose Minnesota as their home.

One of the things that stands out about Make It. MSP.’s strategy is their focus on retention. One of our region’s biggest problems when it comes to talent is retaining professionals of color. The Greater MSP region attracts professionals of color at a higher rate than it does white professionals, however, professionals of color are more likely (about 77%) to leave the region than their white counterparts.

Probing into this talent disparity and working to reverse it has become a priority for Make It. MSP. Through research partnerships with the University of St. Thomas and others they found the main reason professionals of color give for leaving is a “lack of diversity and cultural awareness” in the region.

Since realizing this, Make It. MSP. has been sharing their data with leaders in the non-profit, education, media, and private sectors. They have been forming partnerships (the backbone of their work) across industries to develop a toolkit for local employers and are testing this with a cohort through 2018.

“Our region isn’t just dominated by one strong city or county or one main industry or foundation,” says Matt. “We’re diversified.” Here we have decision makers around tables all over the region. Make It. MSP. is inviting people from their separate tables into the same room to facilitate the conversation on talent.

What makes Matt and his team original thinkers is that they are not trying to reinvent Minnesota to attract talent to our region. They are not trying to pretend it isn’t cold or that we don’t have an inclusion issue. Rather, they are trying to get us to talk to each other. “We’re trying to be true to who we are rather than something we’re not,” says Matt. “Our brand is built around the reality that people here are driven by solving problems – and they value doing that together.”

To get involved with Make It. MSP. visit their website at makeitmsp.org or email them at info@makeitmsp.org.


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 

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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.



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


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. 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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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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