James J. Hill Center Statement Regarding Current Closure

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Market Research Pitfalls

An attendee at a recent Database Deep Dive workshop asked a very important question about our resources. Are they biased? This is a question any business researcher ought to ask when pursuing new information. Nowhere is this more critical than when reading and evaluating industry data. Oftentimes companies will publish their own reports on the industry in which they operate. Always tread carefully. They may be motivated to have certain of the details reflect positively on their own company. This is problematic, though equally problematic is the fact that less biased information is not as widely available and not without an often prohibitively high cost involved.

Look no further than the business library at the James J. Hill Center. We offer visitors free access to databases like IBIS World and SimplyMap. These two resources in particular are of interest to those doing market research, a topic on which we will be presenting on July 11th. IBIS World provides reports on more than 700 industries worldwide. In business for nearly 40 years, its reports are written in-house by its own staff of independent analysts and updated annually. IBIS World is solely in the information industry, and with the myriad areas on which it addressed, its information is unbiased. It is also of a very high quality and quite valuable, used by hundreds of Hill visitors each year. Similarly, SimplyMap provides tens of thousands of variables relating to everything from demographics and consumer expenditures to sales and various market segments. Data comes from partners comprising some of the oldest names in market research like Nielsen and Simmons in addition to the United States Census. Users can be sure of the validity of this information.

These resources and others in our collection avoid the pitfalls, some of them recently outlined in a post by Inc. Magazine, of other less vetted products. Our business library staff at the James J. Hill Center is constantly testing our databases and soliciting feedback from visitors on their user experience. If you ever have a question, particularly about the validity of the information or data you encounter, let us know.

Written by Alex Ingham, Business Librarian, James J. Hill Center. 
If you have more questions about the reference library at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or [email protected].

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Startup Secrets and Sh#$ to Know: Crowd Funding

Aleckson Nyamwaya has his beat on the pulse of the startup world in MN.  He is an Associate at @gener8tor, contributor for @startupgrind, ambassador for @1millioncupsspl and a lover of all things tech & startups. We are pleased to have his monthly insight with our blog “Startup Secrets and Sh#$ to Know.”  Check back each month for his thoughts, observations and featured companies.

How Equity Crowd Funding Is Going To Change The Minnesota Startup Eco-system

“97% of Americans couldn’t invest in early-stage startups, due to the SEC’s regulation on early stage finance.”

Early stage investing used to be reserved only for accredited investors. That is, individuals who have a net worth of $1M, or have an annual income of $200,000. That all changed in June of 2015, when MNVest went into effect. MNVest is a law that allows the average Minnesotan, regardless of their income, net worth or socioeconomic status to invest in early stage startups in exchange for equity. Read more about the MN Vest law here.

This is wonderful news for the Minnesota startup ecosystem because it gives us a fair shot at becoming industry leaders, in solving tough problems that affect the whole of humanity such as space travel, famine and climate change – just to name a few. This has been made possible due to two side effects of equity crowd funding. The first being a vastly diverse pool of investors and second, a low barrier of entry to starting a business. 

“The problem lies within who is giving the money, and who is receiving the money”

Diversity of investor pool 🏊🏼‍

Diversity in startup financing is broken. The problem lies with who is giving the money, and who is receiving the money.

This lack of diversity in investment has measurable economic effects. Mickinsey & Company reports that “companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially.” Social effects cannot be ignored either. 43% of venture-backed startups are in the software industry with biotech following in at just 12.6 %. This is not representative of the problems humans face across the globe. Crowd funding utilizes this potential that otherwise would have been wasted.

Low barrier to starting a business🔐

Crowd funding also lowers the barrier of entry to starting financially. It makes it a great way to raise a pre-seed/seed capital for people such as myself, who may not necessarily have that “friends and family” network. It also serves as a great platform to launch and finance your MVP, all while getting valuable feedback from customers. Small scale & less venture back-able initiatives also benefit from crowd funding in that they now have an alternative to the usual funding sources such as VCs, banks or angels.


I’m excited to see where this crowd funding journey leads us as a community. Hopefully we will see a rise of startups that tackle more challenging problems due to a more diverse set of investors and underrepresented groups getting access to capital.

Featured Resource:

New Lion Labs: a development, design, UX & product strategy firm that will help your new ventures thrive all while being cost-effective. Find more resources like this here 

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

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Bridging Digital Divides

On May 16th and 17th of 2017 the  James J. Hill Center was happy to house an important conference presented by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.  The conference was on Digital Inclusion.  It was an eye opening experience to understand the full scope of our digital world and the work that needs to be done to ensure all people have access and opportunity to grow in our continually growing digital community. We felt NDIA was an important organization for others to know about and took a few minutes to chat virtually with their Director, Angela Siefer.

What do you want people to know about NDIA and what sets it apart?
NDIA is a unified voice representing digital inclusion programs across the country. This role is unique. It is why we exist. Local digital inclusion programs are doing the incredibly hard work of  increasing home broadband access, running public broadband access labs, teaching digital skills and getting appropriate devices into the hands of the most disadvantaged among us.

NDIA does this through:

  • Developing and empowering a community of practice of digital inclusion programs in our communities.
  • Discussing the full definition of digital inclusion, related challenges and solutions with decision makers and partners.

How did your organization begin?
In the spring of 2015, representatives of local digital inclusion programs and national digital inclusion advocates launched the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA). We did so because federal policy was being discussed that would impact the work of local digital inclusion programs yet the expertise of these programs (even the existence of these programs) was not part of the discussion. NDIA currently represents over 250 affiliates, most of whom are community based organizations, libraries and local government entities with digital inclusion programs.

What do you feel has been NDIA’s biggest impact so far?

  • Developing definitions of digital inclusion and digital equity that have furthered an understanding and increased awareness of programming gaps.
  • Influencing federal policymaking (including the modernization of Lifeline).
  • Influencing local policymaking, particularly through Digital Inclusion Trailblazers.
  • Strengthening programs through information sharing online and at our annual gathering Net Inclusion.

What has been the largest hurdle and / or success your organization has faced?
NDIA is a bootstrap startup nonprofit program. Starting with nothing has been both a challenge and a strength.

What advice would you give to businesses and organizations regarding digital inclusion efforts?
Look for potential partners.  The most impactful programs are those that work collaboratively in their communities and have trusted relationships with the individuals they are serving.

What do you see for the future of our digital world?
Technology will keep changing and more digital divides will develop. We as a society can shrug our shoulders or we can work together to create solutions that strengthen our communities.

To read more about NDIA and their continued efforts to increase a unified voice for digital inclusion please visit their website at digitalinclusion.org.  

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An Online, On-Demand Marketplace for Car Repair

Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews entrepreneurs and 1 Million Cup presenter Jacob Koelln. As seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase on June 17, 2017.

According to the 2017 IBISWorld report “Auto Mechanics in the U.S.,” auto repair is a $63.8 billion industry, and that figure continues to rise.

Americans own more cars than ever before, and these cars need mechanics. Because of the expense required to maintain cars, it is important that consumers are able to find mechanics that they trust to perform any needed repairs.

Jacob Koelln created his company, CheckNGN, in order to connect consumers to a vetted and trusted network of mechanics, allowing them to post projects and accept bids from these mechanics and select the one that seems like the best fit.


Name: Jacob Koelln
Age: 33
City you live in: Minneapolis
City of birth: Appleton, Minn.
High school attended: John Marshall High School, Rochester, Minn.
College attended: Augsburg College


Name of company: CheckNGN
Website: www.checkNGN.com
Business Start Date: February 2017
Number of Employees: 3 founders
Number of Customers: 20+ repair shops and 200+ users


Q. What led to this point?
A. I consider myself a thinker, solver, and entrepreneur who happened to be working in a corporate setting most of my professional career. I grew up in Rochester, son of Rev. Thomas Koelln and Dr. Rebecca Koelln who always encouraged me to follow what I believe in. I started my corporate work after graduating Augsburg College with a degree in Business Management and Management Information Systems. I have worked for various Fortune 500 companies in the Twin Cities area including Target Corp., United Health Group, and Blue Cross & Blue Shield — all of which have motivated me positively to start my own business. My motivation behind the mission of CheckNGN really resonates with me, and it gives me that “all in” feeling that is difficult to re-create outside of true entrepreneurship.

Q. What is your business?
A. CheckNGN is an automotive service iOS app that connects users with local independent repair shops. We screen (or vet) shops, and then invite them to join our private network of independent repair professionals. Once they’re part of our network, they’re then eligible to receive bids, which allows them to make a connection. The business model is predicated on a two-way interactive bidding platform that creates transparency in price, quality, and communication of a car service or repair need. Although price is certainly a benefit, the real value comes from the interaction between a car owner and repair shop.  By increasing communication and being transparent about the process, users not only get a fair price, but they also develop a lasting relationship with a repair shop that they can count on.

Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?
A. I’ve been blessed to have found some very helpful and purposeful mentors throughout my career, such as Aaron Eggert and David Jacobsen. Aaron and David are local businessmen, and I’ve had a personal friendship with both even before CheckNGN. We also have a very strong core team of founders….READ FULL ARTICLE


You can hear from startups like this one each Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit 1millioncups.com/stpaul.

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Joseph Pyle, Librarian and the Original “Original Thinker”

Deciding who to lead James J. Hill’s brand new reference library was an easy pick – look no further than Joseph Gilpin Pyle – newspaper editor and Hill’s very own speech writer and biographer. “In May, 1915, Joseph Gilpin Pyle, a long time friend of J.J. Hill, with the guidance of Hill himself, began the work of preparing the library book lists.” With close ties, Hill was sure to have a trusted partner in Pyle to create the vision for the reference library.

When Hill passed away in 1916, Pyle maintained leadership at the library – carefully selecting books from around the world to support this general research library. Many of these books were rare and valuable, which made a trip to the James J. Hill Reference Library even more appealing for both the common and advanced researcher.

By the time the doors opened in 1921, Pyle had acquired 10,000 volumes (many of which were selected by Hill himself), which was not an easy task during the early acquisition phase of WWI. Nevertheless, the library opened its doors and was an easy sell to the people of Saint Paul. The James J. Hill Reference Library welcomed nearly 23,000 annual visitors in the early years and upwards of 60,000 annual visitors during its peak years of the early 1940s.

To be sure, Pyle’s vision of the library as the hub for the “original thinker” stands today. Entrepreneurs and small businesses trying their hand at original products and services are at the hub of action at the Hill, and our resources are still the backbone of research to get a product from seed stage to for sale on the shelf.

Joseph Pyle, James J. Hill, and the story of this epic building on the National Registry of Historic Places will be further explored in the Cabinet of Curiosity tour every third Thursday at 10:30am. Go back in time in this one hour tour, up and down the catwalks, and through the vault in a nooks and crannies inspired experience. We’ll also explore some of Pyle’s original documents, including this immaculate scrapbook of newspaper clippings that Pyle collected from 1907-1911. Our June tour sold out, so get your tickets early!

Written by Lindsey Dyer, Director of Library Services, James J. Hill Center. 
If you have more questions about the reference library at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or [email protected].

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Catering to Success

Thao Moore is the chef and co-proprietor at local catering company, Green Mangos. She followed her passion for food and studied culinary arts at The Art Institutes International Minnesota and has experience working in the catering and restaurant industry. You can follow Thao on her culinary and life adventures through her blog, Small Bites. We had the opportunity to talk with Thao about her experiences running a business over the last 10 years.

What is your organization and when and how did it begin?
My husband Tom and I own a boutique catering business and started it in 2007. My employer at the time was relocating to another state so I decided it was time to follow my dream.

What do you want people to know about Green Mangos and what sets it apart from other catering companies?
We are passionate about what we do and we believe it shows in our food and service. When you hire us, you work directly with the owners and not a sales person. For us, it’s about quality and not quantity.

What has been the largest hurdle and/or success your organization has faced?
Since I have an Asian background, it’s hard to not get stereotyped into one style of cuisine. Over the years we’ve overcome that stereotype because we’ve now catered for many different people from all over the world.

What advice would you give to others interested in the catering businesses?
It’s never easy to start any business. Catering can be especially competitive, especially when you’re competing against large caterers. Focus on your vision and see it through. It’s extremely hard work, but the hard work will pay off.

What is your favorite part of catering at the Hill Center?
I love how the venue transforms from a reference library during the day to a magical event space at night. It almost appears to be two separate venues, which is why the Hill Center is great for both Corporate and wedding events.

What do you love most about Saint Paul, Minnesota and having your business here?
St. Paul has such a rich and diverse history. This is a great fit for us because we are a diverse company. St. Paul is a natural niche for us and our business.


The James J. Hill Center mission honors the legacy of its founder by continuing to support entrepreneurial spirit in the 21st Century. We offer research, programs, and networking for each stage of business development. Our efforts also include services to the broader community through the hosting of cultural and artistic programming and events.  Visit us in downtown Saint Paul at 80 West Fourth Street, off the corner of Market and Fourth.  

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Selling the Arts and Crafts of Good Cheese

Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews entrepreneurs and 1 Million Cup presenter Alise Sjostrom. As seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase on June 3, 2017.

Americans love cheese. Multiple surveys by the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that Americans’ cheese consumption continues to grow.

Yet though it’s a long-established staple of our diets, cheese also continues to be trendy.

The National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot 2017 Culinary Forecast” lists the top up-and-coming trends on restaurant menus for 2017, as predicted by professional chefs. In the survey, 59 percent of respondents list artisan cheese as a hot trend on restaurant menus. This refers to cheese handcrafted by skilled cheesemakers, as opposed to being mass-produced.

Artisan cheese is unique, with more variety in texture and flavor. Having grown up on a dairy farm, Alise Sjostrom already had an appreciation of good cheese. Armed with her dairy farm background and studies in dairy marketing, she decided to launch her business, Redhead Creamery. Redhead Creamery not only produces a selection of artisan cheeses but also offers customers a firsthand view into the dairy farm and cheesemaking facility, giving them an added understanding of the process that goes into creating their food.


Name: Alise Sjostrom
Age: 31
City you live in: Brooten, Minn.
City of birth: Sauk Centre, Minn.
High school attended: Sauk Centre High School
College attended: University of Minnesota – Twin Cities


Name of Company: Redhead Creamery, LLC
Website: www.redheadcreamery.com
Business Start Date: 2014
Number of Employees: 3 full-time, 2 part-time, and 1 summer intern
Number of Customers: With a distributor and direct sales, we are in 100+ retail and restaurant locations. During summer time, we see hundreds of people a week at our farm in our cheese shop and on our farm tours.


Q. What led to this point?
A. Since I was 17, I have been known as “Cheese Alise,” as I took on a passion for cheesemaking early in life. Now I’m three years into my full-time life as an on-farm cheesemaker working hand in hand with family. I grew up on the farm where I now live in west central Minnesota. After visiting Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese as part of the National 4-H Dairy Conference Tour, I came home to tell my parents that I was going to make cheese on the farm someday. After getting some good advice to focus on marketing for the time being and learn cheesemaking later, I decided to focus on dairy marketing in college, and then joined national food broker Acosta for a year after graduation. I then followed my husband’s job to Vermont, the hotbed of artisan cheese, where I got a job at Grafton Village Cheese Co. and visited nearly two dozen farmstead plants in the northeast. We moved to Wisconsin after two years, where I worked at Crave’s. After a while we moved back to my hometown to join a goat cheese dairy and I began working on my own farm. Our family milks 200 cows and uses 8 percent of their milk for the cheese plant.

Q. What is your business?
A. My business is farmstead, artisan cheese production. We make artisan cheeses ranging from Ridiculously Good Cheddar Cheese Curds to a clothbound cheddar, Little Lucy Brie, and North Fork Whiskey Washed Munster. We have an on-farm cheese shop where you can view the cheesemaking facility, try some delicious cheeses, and purchase other locally made products that pair well with cheese. Our dairy farm tours are on Saturdays at 12:30 p.m.

Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?
A. I often reach out to other cheesemakers around the country and to the suppliers of our cultures and other supplies when I need help. The cheese industry is full of knowledge and the willingness to share it.

Q. What is the origin of the business?
A. I grew up on a dairy farm, and I decided when I was 10 years old that I would always find a way to come home to my farm. At the age of 17, cheesemaking became my way of coming back home. Through tours and experience at other cheese companies, we developed our business model, which continues to evolve….READ FULL ARTICLE


You can hear from startups like this one each Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit 1millioncups.com/stpaul.

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She Wants to Open People’s Eyes to the Importance of Sleep

Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews entrepreneurs and 1 Million Cup presenter Sarah Moe. As seen in the Pioneer Press, Startup Showcase on May 20, 2017.

A 2017 report by RAND Europe notes the startling cost of sleep deprivation among the working population. In the United States alone, sleep deprivation costs the country $411 billion annually. This cost comes from lost work (1.2 million days per year) and decreased productivity while at work.

Clearly, improving their employees’ sleep is an issue that corporations should take seriously. Sarah Moe, in her career as a sleep technician, saw this problem firsthand, and she came up with a solution: employer-sponsored sleep-health education. In 2015, she launched Sleep Health Specialists in order to address this need.


Name: Sarah Moe
Age: 34
City you live in: Minneapolis
City of birth: St. Paul
High school attended: Tartan Senior High School, Oakdale
College attended: University of Wisconsin, River Falls, and Minneapolis Community and Technical College


Name of Company: Sleep Health Specialists
Website: www.sleephs.com
Business Start Date: April 2015
Number of Employees: 3
Number of Customers: Unknown


Q. What led to this point?
A. I actually grew up wanting to be a nurse. I always loved the idea of helping people feel better. As I got older though, I realized my fear of blood was not going away so I looked into other medical fields that would allow me to help in that same capacity. I found the Polysomnography program at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and decided to take a class just to see what it was about — I had never heard of the job of a sleep tech before. I was hooked after one hour — sleep was the most fascinating thing I had ever learned about.

After graduating with my degree in Polysomnographic Technology and passing my boards, I became a Registered Polysomnographic Technologist and performed overnight sleep studies for years. Working with those patients to solve their sleep issues were some of the best years of my life. There is no way to describe watching someone walk into a sleep lab sad and fatigued and walk out refreshed and full of hope. I loved every night. I was then asked to return to MCTC as an Adjunct Professor where I began teaching the future generations of RPSGT’s the in’s and out’s of sleep medicine. It was then that I had the idea for Sleep Health Specialists.

Q. What is your business?
A. Sleep Health Specialists provides sleep health education to local businesses and corporations. Basically, we work with companies to address their employees’ sleep concerns, creating healthier, happier, and more productive teams.

Our services include classes, training, and seminars revolving around sleep. In our workshops, employees will learn everything they need to start achieving the kind of sleep that will allow them to be their best selves.

Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?
A. I have needed quite a bit of help to create a successful business. With my health care background, starting my own business was daunting and confusing at best and seemingly impossible at worst….READ FULL ARTICLE



You can hear from startups like this one each Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit 1millioncups.com/stpaul.

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Aiming to Make Scheduling Meetings Simpler

Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews entrepreneurs and 1 Million Cup presenter Keith Resar. As seen in the Pioneer Press, Startup Showcase on May 6, 2017.

A 2010 study by meeting scheduling tool Doodle entitled “Second International Study on Scheduling Trends” found that professionals spend an average of 4.8 hours per week scheduling meetings. That amounts to 10 percent of a typical 40-hour workweek.

Scheduling meetings takes time, and time is money. Especially for professionals in the sales realm, those extra hours wasted on scheduling represent time that could have been spent going after more sales and commissions. In an age when technology is an increasing part of our lives, it’s surprising that so many people still schedule their meetings the old-fashioned way, over the phone and email.

Having worked in sales himself, Keith Resar understood how much of his time he wasted coordinating calendars in order to schedule and re-schedule his meetings. From this frustration came the idea of Appointment.one, an online meeting scheduler that finds availabilities in potential meeting attendees’ calendars and helps select a time that works for all parties. Appointment.one also builds in the necessary buffer time required to travel to and from off-site meetings. Using Appointment.one, professionals can spend less time scheduling meetings and more time attending them, increasing productivity manifold.


Name: Keith Resar
Colleges attended: Carleton College and Carlson School of Management
City you live in: Minneapolis


Name of company: Appointment.one
Website: http://Appointment.one
Business Start Date: March 2016
Number of Employees: 1
Number of Customers: Hundreds of customers across all platforms


Q. What led to this point?
A. I began with a technical background before spending years in business development and sales. In my career, I found there just weren’t enough hours in the week to do what I needed to do, due primarily to too many no-show appointments. Trying to schedule and reschedule appointments was making it difficult for me to maintain my sanity. That’s where the idea for Appointment.one was born.

Scheduling meetings within an organization is easy since free/busy information is widely available to employees of that organization. However, this disappears immediately when looking between companies. When I wasn’t able to connect with someone via phone to sync up calendars I was wasting my time with endless back-and-forth rounds of email tag.

Q. What is your business?
A. Appointment.one is a web service that takes the guess work out of scheduling appointments, interviews, and product demos.  Once the entire team’s calendar is visible, phone tag and double booked meetings become a relic of the past.

Appointment.one is the new norm for scheduling professional appointments. Whether you’re selling, recruiting, or giving product demos — to name a few — scheduling meetings is the most frustrating part of your job. Once you’ve eliminated the friction from phone-tag and double booking, then everything changes.

Sharing your personal Appointment.one web link with contacts to schedule meetings, rather than suffering through email-tag, gives real-time visibility into the whole team’s calendar. Besides the basics — enabling colleagues to self-schedule appointments — our AI engine optimizes multiple schedules, balances personal/work calendars, and guarantees you’re never on the hook to drive across town for back-to-back meetings.

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

A. The metro area has a strong network that helps sound out technology, marketing, and other core contributors to entrepreneurial success. Outside of that, I heavily reference my personal network that is highly represented with sales professionals, freelancers, and others who have the same problem: too much friction scheduling meetings….READ FULL ARTICLE


You can hear from startups like this one each Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit 1millioncups.com/stpaul.

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Be Present to the Good Stuff with Chris Carlson

 A Conversation with Entrepreneur Chris Carlson

Chris Carlson is an entrepreneur, actor,  lawyer and the founder of NarrativePros.  We had the opportunity to chat with Chris about his life as an entrepreneur and the upcoming program Soft Skills Revolution that will be at the Hill Center on June 1st.

What is your business and how did you begin your entrepreneurial career?
I think the best way to describe Narrative Pros, is to think of it as a high tech health club for soft skills. Just like you can go to a gym to feel better and improve your health, we work with people to feel better about their connections with audiences and improve their skill at doing that. Like the personal trainers at a gym, we have what you could call “connection trainers”—professional communicators from theater and business who continue to make their living from connecting with audiences. Instead of treadmills that tell you your pulse, we use audio and video tools to measure your progress. Just like we all know we have to get in shape, pretty much everyone realizes that they can be more genuine, confident and present.

My career as an entrepreneur started as an extension of my work as a professional actor and an attorney. After working professionally as an actor, I went to law school to get some more control over my career (I was sick of waiting tables). At law school, I saw how poorly trained law students were in how to communicate effectively. We spent nine months learning how to write like an attorney, but only a few weeks on how to speak like one. Ever since then, I have worked to bring my acting colleagues as well as other artists together to work with business professionals to help them connect with their audiences more effectively.

What has been the largest hurdle and / or success you have experienced as an entrepreneur?
I think that one of the most significant hurdles of entrepreneurship is the periodic isolation. One of the great things about being your own boss is also one of the hardest—you’re always on the job and you’re always scrutinizing your own work. A network of like-minded people is an invaluable resource to get feedback,  verify assumptions, and provide moral support.

How do you manage being an entrepreneur and what advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
I ask myself how I manage that almost every day… I guess I would have to say it’s a combination of persistence and some sort of cultivated ignorance of the downsides. The more present I can be to the good stuff—doing what I love, having more control over how and when I work—the more I am able to put up with all the other b.s. that goes with being an entrepreneur.

There are a lot more entrepreneurs out there with a lot more experience and accomplishments, but if I had to give advice it would be just that: be present to the good stuff. Hold on tightly to your passion and vision, but let go loosely of the things that don’t matter. The best way I’ve found to do that is to go out and share what I’ve found with as many people as possible. Especially other entrepreneurs. You are not alone and can stand on the shoulders of giants when you open up for advice and feedback.

You come from a diverse background of acting, Improvisation and law.  Can you tell me how those worlds have informed what you do know?
I have come to see each of these diverse disciplines as united by the same thing: listening to, crafting, and retelling stories. Whether it’s an audience or a judge, a play or a client’s claim; many professions primary value can be traced back to their ability to connect with their audiences in a way that moves them to action.

Tell me why you think business professionals could benefit from skill sets that actors and improvisers uses?
Everyone can benefit from increasing their skill to connect better with others. Even though that’s something we do quite naturally with the people who are close to us, many people find that connecting at that level of effectiveness with people we are not as comfortable with is very difficult. The first hurdle to overcome is to recognize creativity, collaboration and communication as skills, not talents. Just like when you learned to ride a bike or tried to perfect your golf swing, these soft skills are skills that can be developed through deliberate practice.

Over centuries, actors have developed a pretty efficient system of developing their abilities to be creative, collaborate with others under pressure and connect with audiences. This is a mental and physical process that is open to anyone who wants to develop the same skills.

What is it about Minnesota and how has it managed to keep you here?
I am fiercely proud of Minnesota. I made a conscious choice about 10 years ago to remain here because of the people and the great quality of life here. Looking back, I may have missed out on some big opportunities by not moving to New York or L.A., but I have been happy with the trade-off. I have enjoyed a much steadier flow of opportunities that I can imagine I ever would have had elsewhere. And, as the world takes more notice of the excellent talent and people here, the larger opportunities are finding their way here as well.

You can find out more about Chris Carlson and his company at NarrativePros.com OR join us at the Hill as we host him and his team on Thursday, June 1st from 1pm to 5pm in a half day intensive training on Soft Skills Revolution. Learn the key steps to unleash your efficiency, effectiveness and maximize your input.

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