James J. Hill Center Statement Regarding Current Closure

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Fizzy Energy: A Passion with a Prize

Sarah Nichols is the Founder and CEO of RSVTea,  She is a powerful, poised and passionate Minnesota entrepreneur on a mission to revive the power of celebration where everyone is invited. She took an idea with fizzy energy to a full fledged business.  In celebration of Women’s History Month we had the opportunity to ask Sarah about her success so far.   

What is your Business and how did your entrepreneurial journey begin?

My business is RSVTea, a startup beverage company that makes fizzy energy teas! I started brewing the company concept when I was a Junior at Macalester College and studying abroad in Vienna, planning for a career in international relations. I was prepping for the LSATs and tired of drinking too much coffee. I needed a pick-me-up, but I wanted something healthier than energy drinks and more exciting than flat iced tea. So I decided to make caffeinated tea bubbly and better for me with natural sugar substitutes. I prototyped recipes and had so much fun sharing them with my friends, that tea became my focus, and by the end of my study abroad program, I had a recipe, the start of a business plan, and a very dusty LSAT prep book. I left that book in Vienna and returned the U.S. excited to brew and bring a new kind of tea to town.

What do you want people to know about you and your business and what sets it apart?
I am a young founder. Although I just turned 23, my age combined with my entrepreneurial spirit gives me a dynamic energy that propelled the launch RSVTea. I graduated in May 2016 and began incubating the company in the Mac Startups summer program, and now have a strong board of directors, a strong brand, a product ready for distribution, and swelling momentum. We’re on a mission to revive the power of celebration, and we’re ready to bring a new type of tea party to the Twin Cities.

What or who has made the biggest impact on your entrepreneurial career so far?
My big brother, Taylor. He was born with severe disabilities and has been nonverbal his whole life. Although he can’t speak, Taylor has taught me more about this world than anyone else. More importantly, he showed me how I want to make a lasting, positive impact on this planet. The motto for RSVTea, “everyone’s invited” stems from my childhood with Taylor. I grew up seeing him intentionally and unintentionally excluded- but excluded nonetheless, and I wanted to change that with an inclusivity initiative. I wanted to bring people together to celebrate ourselves for what we are and not what we aren’t. So, this is a toast to Taylor for being my inspiration to change the world, the best hugger when I’m scared I may fail, and my biggest reminder that I am a powerful, poised, and positive force in this world.

How does your entrepreneurial spirit contribute to the Twin Cities Business Ecosystem and Community?
I contribute to the Twin Cities Business Ecosystem by being a young woman professional who is engaged with her community and building a resilient, local brand. I am an example that regardless of generation, the Twin Cities are a fertile place to start a successful company. I want to make opportunities like mine more accessible and dynamic for new and emerging entrepreneurs. I am especially focused for new graduates or current college students. I am still very involved with entrepreneurship at Macalester, and I am a firm believer that linking the Twin Cities institutions of academia with entrepreneurship initiatives is a paramount addition to the Business Ecosystem.

What has been the largest hurdle and / or success you have experienced as an entrepreneur?
My biggest hurdle and success as of now was starting RSVTea. The odds were certainly stacked against me. I was young, a solo founder, a first-time CEO, inexperienced in the beverage industry, staring down the barrel of student debt, little accumulated wealth, and a woman. I faced the odds, took a bet on myself, and dove all in. There was no time for me to fear failure. Fear is crippling, but failure is something one can get up from. I certainly stumbled and fell over the past 10 months, but I persevered because I was not afraid to take the bet on myself, even with all odds considered.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs just getting out of gate?
Start something for the sake of passion and not the sake of prize. Stories of Silicon Valley and Shark Tank deals give a luster and allure to entrepreneurship. But, there are times when it is not so glamorous or thrilling. There are times when things are rough, unstable, and in severe need of capital. But, if you really care about the problem you are solving, that flicker of passion will keep you navigating the dark and depressing scenarios all startups inevitably face.

What is it about Minnesota and how has it managed to keep you here?
I grew up on a farm in southern Missouri and came to Minnesota for college. Missouri is very similar to parts of rural Minnesota, but I fell in love with the Twin Cities. They are alive with countless new experiences, a swelling economy, and a cool patchwork of Midwesterners, East/West-coasters and newcomers. I consider Minnesota my home now, and I’m proud to be a T.C. Entrepreneur!

Sarah presented RSVTea at 1 Million Cups in 2016.  For more information on 1 Million Cups or to present your start up at the James J. Hill Center please visit jjhill.org or apply now

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A Budding Business in Replaceable Earbuds

Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews entrepreneurs and 1 Million Cup presenter Bharat Pulgam. As seen in the Pioneer Press, Startup Showcase on March 11th, 2017.

In October 2016, the Consumer Technology Association found that 40 percent of people it surveyed planned to give headphones as a gift — making it the most popular technology gift of last year.

Headphones vary widely in quality, size, and price, and earbuds remain popular. Though often cheaper than larger sets of headphones, earbuds are also often noticeably flimsier, with many consumers buying, breaking, and ultimately discarding several pairs a year.

Bharat Pulgam noticed this problem and realized that when earbuds break, it is usually because only one component has broken, and the rest of the product still functions. He created mXers Audio in response to this problem. mXers Audio creates affordable, customizable earbuds that are easy and inexpensive to repair, making earbuds less of a disposable product.


Entrepreneur profile

Name: Bharat Pulgam
Age: 18
City of birth: Hyderabad, India
City you live in: Maple Grove
High school attended: Wayzata High School
Colleges attended: Will be attending the University of Minnesota in the class of 2021

Company profile

Name of company: mXers Audio
Website: https://mxersaudio.com
Business start date: January 2015
Number of employees: 8
Number of customers: 20+


Q. What led to this point?

A: My team and I are a group of students committed to solving the problems that we and our peers face every day. Our company started with a simple problem we refused to ignore: Why do we pay for a whole new set of earbuds when just one part breaks? After breaking earbuds of our own, we finally found a solution: fully modular earbuds. Modular earbuds are earbuds that you can put together and take apart piece by piece. With modularity, you are only a snap, twist, and bam away from earbuds that look and feel as good as new.

We took this concept to the Catapult Incubator Program in Chicago, a four-month intensive business development program, which empowers young entrepreneurs to start a company from nothing more than a good idea. The company went from concept to reality within four months. We ended our first incubator with a successful pitch to a panel of investors, who provided valuable support and advice.

After returning to Minneapolis we began working with a new team and began the process of product development. The incredible support that our team has received paved the way for our successes. We’ve been able to leverage an incredible network of friends and family, raise money, and have been able to achieve support from business professionals. From patenting to incorporation, mXers has a significant network of investors and industry practitioners in the Twin Cities area.

Q. What is your business?

A. mXers Audio is an LLC that is solution-oriented and is dedicated to giving back to the community, encouraging youth innovation and entrepreneurship throughout the greater Minneapolis/St. Paul area…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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Steps Towards Confidence and Empowerment

Jenny Evans is the Founder and CEO of Powerhouse Performance.  She is a speaker, award-winning author and on-air expert on resiliency, stress, confidence and human performance.  She is obsessed with human performance and has created a career and life designed around maximizing her own potential, and helping others do the same.

My computer made the familiar ding of a new email. I clicked on the message and found a request to do a speaking engagement on women’s confidence. I speak on resiliency, and this was not the first time someone had asked me to talk about confidence and empowerment. I realized it was finally time I started listening to the Universe…and the marketplace.

After chatting with the client and getting excited about their needs, I said “Absolutely! It’s something I feel strongly about and I’d love to do it!” Then in an ironic twist, as I reflected on why others perceive me to be self-assured, I began losing confidence on what made me the expert. Confidence is incredibly personal, malleable and individualized.

For me, knowledge leads to a sense of confidence. So I created a hypothesis, jumped into research mode and conducted interviews. According to one of the most comprehensive business case studies ever conducted, companies that perform best financially have the greatest numbers of women in leadership roles. Unfortunately, only 1 in 5 senior executives is a woman. I could fill pages with statistics and explanations on the gap between women and men in business, education, politics, pay, health and finally confidence, but instead I’d like to share four important things I learned during my research.

#1: Confidence is influenced by how well we know our values and purpose.
When we lack clarity, we typically lack confidence as well. It is difficult to feel confident in our abilities when we are uncertain about why and how we make decisions. Every woman I interviewed had a strong sense of purpose and internal knowing that what they do is not only meaningful, but also an extension of their values system, who they are and what they believe. Once we truly understand ourselves, our decisions can align with our ideals. We grow in confidence as we learn to trust our internal locus rather than be swayed by external forces. We are fueled to step into uncomfortable situations, take risk and overcome fear.

#2: Confidence is shaped by what we consume.
Who we surround ourselves with and what we watch, listen to and read can make us feel either positive and empowered or inadequate and insecure. Unfortunately, much of the input we “eat” is junk, filling us with empty “calories” and making us weak. The confident women I interviewed have networks of “up-lifters”, mentors and friends that are essential forms of professional and personal support. They have a growth mindset and love to learn and try new things. In order to build confidence, we must provide our minds with nourishing input.

#3: Confidence is affected by recovery.
Our days are filled with incessant obligations and habitual time wasters. How can we feel confident when it seems we are not doing enough or not doing it well enough? Each woman talked about losing confidence when they’re feeling overwhelmed and the importance of doing things that made them feel grounded. Recovery means granting ourselves permission to refuel and recharge. Only then will there be time and space for confidence to grow.

#4: Confidence is linked to our physical being.
In particular, we can use movement in strategic ways to connect and change. Our movement needs vary from day to day and person to person, but every woman I interviewed mentioned some form of regular physical practice being essential to their state of mind. Gentle forms of movement help us center and connect to the inner power within ourselves. More challenging types of movement allow us to build grit and tenacity—if it doesn’t challenge us, it doesn’t change us.

In the end confidence does not mean you are bullet proof or infallible. It’s stronger in some aspects of our lives and weaker in others. When you build it in one area of your life, it transfers to ALL of them. It is a complex trait, shaped by both our personalities and circumstances. While I can’t completely change everything about society’s framework around women, I can help women thrive where they are until things change systemically.

To view more information on the confidence gap and jenny’s video research please visit her website or follow her on twitter @PowerhousePC #theconfidencegap.   To keep up on to date on the latest James J. Hill Center blog please follow us on Social Media.  We can be found Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn

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Live. Give. Save. with a Purpose

Susan Langer is an observer, planner, connector,  life-long learner and a  lover of people.  She is also the CEO and Founder of Live.Give.Save, the only mobile solution that uses your everyday spending to help you give to causes you care about and save for your future.  Susan is another perfect example of Minnesota women entrepreneurs that are blazing trails for the future.  We are pleased  to share her journey as the James J. Hill Center continue to celebrate Women’s History Month with amazing Minnesota women. 

What is your Business and how did your entrepreneurial journey begin?
Live.Give.Save. (LGS) is the first all-in-one mobile platform to empower and reward consumers to spend wisely, boost retirement savings and increase giving with one-touch simplicity.  Our vision is to create a fiscally fit society by using the inertia of consumer spending habits to inspire good – for self and others – today and tomorrow. We like to say we’re the FitBit® of personal finance.

The concept was born out of my travels to Africa in 1995 and discovering the ground-breaking concept of micro-credit, making access to finance approachable, inclusive and empowering to micro-entrepreneurs in the developing world.  The concept of making micro-payments to achieve goals struck me as a way to offer US consumers a new way forward for saving for retirement and giving to the causes they care about … without changing their lifestyle.  I was marketing co-branded credit cards for First Bank (now US Bank) enticing cardholders to increase usage through points and frequent flyer miles.  Why not entice and reward folks to save for a secure future and help others in need? Micro-savings + Micro-giving = Macro-Impact.

What do you want people to know about you and your business and what sets it apart?

We believe that every person has a purpose, and that purpose drives our relationships, choices and behaviors. How we choose to manage our money reflects our priorities. Our priorities and actions today will determine the overall health and well-being of our future. When we have ready-access to relevant, actionable knowledge, we will make wiser, more satisfying financial decisions. And, we believe we will measurably transform our financial future – and that of others – when we live, give and save with purpose.

Apps like Acorns, Digit, Mint and others have made good attempts to help consumers better save and manage their personal finances through spending, yet, each have missed the mark in some way and often by simply incorporating traditional methods within new technology. Digit is the exception. What makes us different is that no one is including “giving” within their offering.  We are. Our model is designed around the philosophy of decision, action and impact. Our users will be part of a community where they will experience the impact of their decisions and actions on society. Finally, our patent-pending technology and socially-driven mobile platform builds toward a powerful branded data asset that will offer highly predictable data, providing more relevant, timely and valuable knowledge to the marketplace.

What or who has made the biggest impact on your entrepreneurial career so far?
Is it nature or nurture that makes one an entrepreneur? Probably a little of both in my case. My late grandfather, Svend Sorensen, would be described today as a serial entrepreneur. I tagged along with him everywhere. My father and uncle took over one of his businesses and my brother another. I was raised on taking risks. My corporate experience taught me the fundamentals of planning, management and the significance of measuring impact … always.  One of the most influential leadership books I read was Execution, The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan and the importance of distributing equal power among people, strategy and operations.

How does your entrepreneurial spirit contribute to the Twin Cities Business Ecosystem and Community?
I commute to the Twin Cities weekly for meetings with advisers, investors and prospective strategic partners. The technology scene is strong and thriving.  There are endless opportunities to attend or participate in events the help shape, inspire and challenge thinking. I love it.  James J. Hill has played a pivotal role in introducing me to the start-up culture. From presenting at 1 Million Cups and attending its many thought-leader panels, I have richly benefited from the proactive resources and seemingly infinite networking opportunities.

What has been the largest hurdle and / or success you have experienced as an entrepreneur?

I am a people person. I love meeting, listening to and learning from people. It has been a tremendous gift to meet all the amazing knowledgeable, highly-caffeinated, young entrepreneurs and sage mentors within the start-up community.  It truly is a culture unto itself.  Never dull.  That said, while I’ve had good success raising funds in my previous careers – for-profit and non-profit – this has been my greatest challenge, mystery and opportunity. So, I keep my ears perked and my eyes wide open to make sure I keep learning, growing and improving.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs just getting out of gate?
You will be challenged, stretched, encouraged and discouraged at every level – and oftentimes within the same day. When you think you can’t take one more “No”, there it is.  AHHHH! Yet, all it takes is one “Yes”, or an itty-bitty win, and you’re back in the game shaking those pom-pom’s.

So, keep the faith, remain focused and be intentional in surrounding yourself with individuals who inspire and feed your mind, body and soul … because you will need to maintain mental, physical and spiritual strength to get through the doubters, the nay-sayers, the silence, the what-the-heck-am-I-going-to-do-NOW moments. I often recite my favorite bible verse to keep me sane:  “Be joyful always, pray continually and be thankful in all circumstances …” It always helps calm my sagging spirit and put things into a new perspective.

What is it about Minnesota and how has it managed to keep you here?
Live.Give.Save. was founded out of the Red Wing Ignite accelerator. We have been hugely blessed by the support we’ve received. We are launching our beta in the coming weeks and have literally had the community wrap its arms around us and say, “How can we help?”  Red Wing Shoe, the Red Wing Credit Union and the Red Wing YMCA all raised their hand in support to help us prove our concept.  When I asked the three beta partners what success looked like for them, their collective response was how they wanted to be part of bringing something good for society out of Red Wing and helping make it big. Together, we will inspire a new generation to live, give and save with purpose.  I’m not going anywhere.

Visit the James J. Hill Center every Wednesday from 9AM to 10AM for 1 Million Cups and hear from some of Minnesota’s most interesting up and coming entrepreneurs.  2 pitches  – 1 hour – free coffee – great networking.  We hope to see you soon at jjhill.org

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She Saw a Rural Need for Natural Food

Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews entrepreneurs and 1 Million Cup presenter  Kendra Rasmusson. As seen in the Pioneer Press, Startup Showcase on February 28th, 2017.

A 2014 poll by Harris Interactive ranked consumers’ preferences in choosing food and beverages to purchase. According to that poll, 30 percent of U.S. adults prefer to buy natural foods, and 17 percent prefer to buy organic food.

For rural consumers, however, local, natural and organic food is more difficult to come by. With limited access to specialty grocery stores, these consumers often do not have the option to purchase natural or organic food. Kendra Rasmussen’s family ran into this issue when they relocated to her hometown of New Prague. Lacking access to any nearby natural food stores, she started her own: Farmhouse Market.

Company profile

Farmhouse Market
Website: www.farmhousemarketnp.com
Business start date: Oct. 31, 2015
Number of employees: 1
Number of customers: Approximately 500 customers; more than 200 members

Entrepreneur profile

Kendra Rasmusson
Age: 33
City you live in: New Prague
City of birth: Born in Shakopee but grew up in New Prague
High school attended: New Prague High School
Colleges attended: B.S. in marketing communications from University of Wisconsin, River Falls; master’s in business communication from the University of St. Thomas


Q. What led to this point?

A. My husband and I lived in Minneapolis after we got married. We had our first child and decided to move back to my hometown of New Prague. Shortly before her second birthday, our daughter was diagnosed with epilepsy. We decided to try some alterations to her diet as a means of seizure control. Now living in a more rural environment, we only had one grocery store option and it lacked some of the grocery options we were looking for. The closest natural foods store was at least 20 miles away. So we started looking into opening our open store, but our biggest obstacle was how to staff it to keep it open conveniently but yet keep operating costs low. So, we got creative….

Q. What is your business?

A. Farmhouse Market is a local, natural and organic foods market in New Prague. It is best suited for small, rural communities because of the way it operates. Farmhouse Market is primarily unstaffed yet open 24/7 to its members thanks to technology like a keycard entry system, self-checkout and remote video surveillance. It is open to the public for limited hours, as well…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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Five Pillars to Hit Your Goals

Whether you are an established business owner, a serial entrepreneur or fresh on the scene, your to-do list is likely a mile long.  Goal setting is a vital key to any success because it tracks progress, ensures the tactics are working and keeps the business on track.

It is important to set measurable, achievable and practical goals. When the goals are realistic, it’s easier to put forth enough effort needed to create a successful venture. Thinking through the future of the business and what goals to set forces you set expectations and reevaluate old processes for productivity and outcome. Setting goals will help your staff prepare for potential problems, which helps employees feel fulfilled and capable to handle the situation.

Your personal and professional goals will sometimes overlap and affect the other, so when setting goals and milestones for the business, be sure to think through how they could affect your personal life.  When goals are not met in one aspect of your life, it can negatively affect the other.

One of the most effective goal setting techniques is the SMART method:

Specific: well-defined and clear

Measurable: can track how the goal is achieved and when

Attainable: reasonably achievable

Realistic: ensure the goal won’t create a stressful situation because it isn’t within an achievable realm

Timed: there is a due date & end

These are the five pillars of hitting real goals. Using this technique is an easy way to eliminate lofty ideas and improve ideas that do not push enough.

Starting and running a business is a big enough challenge. Prepare for the unexpected and set yourself up for success with a well thought plan and set those realistic goals!

Join us at the James J. Hill Center for programs and resources to reach some of your goals. 

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Showbiz Guy Wants to Move Bikes — Fast

Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews entrepreneurs and 1 Million Cup presenter  Rich Kronfeld . As seen in the Pioneer Press, Startup Showcase on January 28th, 2017.
According to a 2016 study by the Outdoor Foundation, biking is the fourth most popular outdoor activity among adults, with 12.3 percent of American adults classifying themselves as regular bike riders. Some 26 million American adults ride bikes every year, for a number of different purposes.

Bikers ride for fun, both on city streets and on trails. And many bikers also use their bikes to commute to work. Of course, this is only feasible for bikers who live near enough to their workplaces, and for those who have access to relatively safe streets to bike on.
Rich Kronfeld started Kronfeld Motors in a desire to make biking faster and safer for these commuters. The result is a bike that, when pedaled, can move as fast as a car, while also including important safety features.


Name of company: Rahtmobile, changing name to Kronfeld Motors
Website: www.rahtmobile.com
Business Start Date: 2012
Number of Employees: 1
Number of Customers: None — yet


Richard Kronfeld

Name: Rich Kronfeld
Age: 53
City you live in: Golden Valley
City of birth: Huntington, Long Island, N.Y.
High school attended: St. Louis Park High School
College attended: Bennington College, Bennington, Vt.


Q. What led to this point?

A. I have been an entrepreneur and bike lover all my life. I sold tickets to watch movies in my parents’ garage as a kid, wrote and sold screenplays in Hollywood, appeared in the Paramount film “Trekkies” and produced and starred in a series I co-created and shot in Minnesota called “Lets Bowl” on Comedy Central. I’m also an Emmy Award-winning producer of the children’s series, “The Choo Choo Bob Show” on the Qubo/ION networks, which is also shot in Minnesota. I even entered and won a demolition derby in Anoka. I have volunteered for many organizations and currently serve on the board of Nechama Jewish Disaster Response. Now I have started an alternative-vehicle company, and my background in the entertainment industry taught me the importance of showmanship and new ideas. All my life, I have wanted to do something innovative and unique, and I intend to accomplish this with Kronfeld Motors.

Q. What is your business?

A. My company is Kronfeld Motors, formerly Rahtmobile. It’s the manufacturer of the world’s only highway-speed cycling vehicle. My industries are manufacturing and engineering. READ FULL ARTICLE…


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

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January Reference Round-Up

Lists, Leads and Trends…

  • Most of our researchers this month came from Minnesota, but we also received a visitor from Wisconsin, one from North Dakota, and one from Indiana.
  • Our librarians gave a presentation at the end of January on how to use library resources to learn how to research industry trends, how to expand a business into new markets, and how to research an industry. The presentation was designed with established business owners in mind.
  • Two researchers stayed after the presentation to do research, using the databases they had learned about in the presentations. Both of these researchers created marketing lead lists for their businesses, and one performed market research as well.
  • Several researchers this month were writing business plans. Some were writing them as part of a Women Venture class, and others were writing them on their own.
  • Many researchers came to the library to build lists of businesses, either as sales lead lists or to gather information on competitors or as part of a job search.

The James J. Hill Center’s reference library is a world-class research facility with an unparalleled collection of print materials and online databases dedicated to business and leadership.  Take research to a new level with free access to powerful business databases and resources. Entrepreneurs can generate lists of companies matching user-defined criteria and find thousands of full-text articles from business magazines, industry specific financial metrics, lists of grant-making foundations, consumer psychographics, and geographically-specific market data. If you are unable to find what you are looking for, call or email our Reference Specialist to schedule an appointment 651-265-5500.

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How to Have a Productive 2017

At the beginning of every year it’s important to think back and check off all you’ve achieved. Give yourself a pat on the back, be proud of all you’ve accomplished, and then, look ahead. What do you want to achieve in the coming year? What are the priorities to move you and your business forward? And most important, HOW are you going to do all of this? We’ve thought back to our year here at the Hill and came up with a list of tips and actions to help have the most productive year yet!

Create short-term AND long-term goals

When setting goals for yourself and your business, it’s important to cover all bases from overall organization goals and day-to-day priorities. The short term goals help create a feeling of productivity – plus it’s satisfying to cross items off the list. These goals keep you and your employees moving throughout the day and week and ensure the small, but important tasks are done. The long-term goals push the business in the right direction and dictate the clear action plan for the organization. They tie all the small decisions together and at the end of the year – or the time frame set – it is clear whether the goal is hit and the business is moving in the desired direction.

Multi-task, but only when necessary

Decide whether you want quality over quantity for each major project and enforce it. When an employee or employer is being pulled in too many directions, work suffers. Now, this isn’t to say you can’t have a to-do list with 4 top priority items all in the works at the same time. But when you’re working on one of those items, focus. For example, don’t send emails while you’re on a conference call, keep the amount of tabs low on your browser so you’re not tempted by other projects, don’t text while you’re in a meeting. Work on one thing at a time, and do it well.

Minimize digital distractions

In the office it can be especially hard to minimize digital distractions. Most people work on a computer for the majority of the day, and it’s easy to end up on social media or reading articles when you should be checking items off of that daunting to-do list. It is ok to take mental breaks, but don’t allow them every 10 minutes. If social media is vital to your work or professional life, pick a time to check and hold yourself to that time. This feels nearly impossible, but I promise it’s not. It just takes some self-control. If you have a busy week, take social media apps off your phone. It’s an easy way to minimize this time waster.

Write everything down

It may seem simple and obvious, but keep track of everything.  Write it down, make a note on your phone, send yourself an email, use post-it notes, whatever works for you. It’s easy to have a casual conversation and a great idea to come of it, and then forget because you get pulled into a scheduled meeting or an email distracts. Along the same idea, physically writing down what needs to get down will help organize and prioritize.  It’s also important to write out goals and track the progress. You’ll be able to see the actual progress being made in a tangible way, and hopefully this encourages you and your employees.

Productivity looks different to everyone, but setting goals and minimizing distractions are easy ways to keep you and your business on track for the best year yet.  In December Forbes published a list of actual tools to help with productivity in the workplace. Goals are not achieved alone; use the people around you and all tools at your disposal.

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The Vision to Help Everyone See the Big Picture

Leah Kodner, Library Specialist from the James J. Hill Center, interviews entrepreneurs and 1 Million Cup presenters Henry Amoloja of Murol. As seen in the Pioneer Press, Startup Showcase on January 14, 2016.

Have you ever taken a group selfie, shared it on Instagram, and found that some of the people got cut out of the frame? That’s what happens when you take a photo in landscape orientation and share it on sites like Instagram, where the photos are displayed in portrait orientation. Instead of seeing the entire photo, you only see the part of the photo that fits into a square, and anything (or anyone) appearing outside of that square is lost.

Having experienced this problem, Henry Amoloja set out to create a solution. That solution: MUROL, a landscape orientation photo-sharing app.


  • Name of company: MUROL
  • Website: www.murolapp.com
  • Business Start Date: April 2016
  • Number of Employees: 4 team members: Marketing Director Tamir Hussein, CTO Ben Fossen, Business Development Specialist Jeremiah Osopko, and Creative Director Elly Olson.
  • Number of Customers: Approaching 2,000 users


  • Name: Henry Amoloja
  • Age: 24
  • City you live in: Maplewood
  • Country of birth: Desenzano Del Garda, Italy
  • High School attended: Roseville Area High School
  • College attended: University of Minnesota Duluth


Q. What led to this point?
A. I was raised in Nigeria. My family immigrated to Minnesota in 2003 and I have lived here ever since. I took up football and track in high school. Playing sports taught me the value of hard work and the reward of the seeing the results. While at college at UMD, I took an interest in business courses like Intro to Marketing and Corporate Finance. I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I just had no idea what I was good at and what products or services I would selling.

I began cutting my own hair in college because I did not trust any barbers in Duluth to do a good job with my hair. I bought a clipper set and began experimenting with different hair styles on myself. Friends took notice and became coming to me for a free haircut. I eventually got good enough to start charging $5 and I saved up to buy professional clippers and started charging $10. This was a rewarding experience for me to monetize on a self-taught skill.

I had a short stint of selling custom sunglasses in college, as well. I knew I had an entrepreneurial bone in my body but I struggled to harness it to its full potential. I began reading business articles outside of school and becoming really fascinated by branding, marketing strategies, financial statements and other components of corporations.

A co-worker named Luida recommended a book to me called “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill that completely changed my life. I feel like it was exactly what I needed to fully maximize my entrepreneurial potential. I read other self-development and business books and planned to start a company when I graduated.

After college, I decided to attend a nine-month barbering program while working to support myself. When the program concluded I accepted a job at Ferguson Enterprises and was sent to North Carolina for a five-month training program. While in North Carolina, the concept behind MUROL was conceived. When I returned to Minnesota in January 2016, I worked hard on the branding and the first public announcement of what I had been working on. I added four people to the team to help with the overwhelming tasks. We launched in the app store on June 21, 2016. Held a beautiful launch event in August which brought us to 1,000 users about eight weeks later. In December of 2016, I decided to quit my sales job at Ferguson to focus on MUROL.

Q. What is your business?
A. MUROL is the first photo sharing app that allows users to capture, display and share photos on a strict landscape-oriented interface as opposed to a portrait-oriented interface.




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

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