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Ignite Minneapolis provides window into local culture

Love TED Talks? Then Ignite Minneapolis, a cross between open-mic night at your local bar and a scripted TED Talks session, is for you.
Patrick Kuntz and a team of committed volunteers have organized nine semiannual Ignite Minneapolis events thus far; the latest (Ignite Minneapolis 9) went down on November 18 at the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis.
The nearly three-hour event holds dozens of scheduled speakers to strict time and material limits: five minutes and 20 slides. The slides advance automatically, forcing speakers to keep up. That sounds scary, says Kuntz, but it’s actually a helpful crutch for nervous or less experienced presenters.
Ignite’s rapid-fire talks are, to put it mildly, eclectic. “There’s no set subject matter,” says Kuntz, “though our attendees tend to focus more on cultural and ‘writerly’ topics, and not so much on technical things.”
Ignite 9’s speakers and topics ran the gamut: light, if worthy, topics like ornithophobia (the crippling fear of birds) and reality television shared equal time with serious social and political issues such as sex trafficking in MSP’s Native American community and gender inequality in the Muslim community. The 700-plus attendees, who paid $15, tweeted actively and applauded heartily.
Kuntz can’t claim credit for inventing Ignite. Nor can any MSPer. Bre Bettis and Brady Forrest, with patronage from local media organizations, started the first Ignite in Seattle back in 2006. The format has since expanded to more than 300 cities across the globe.
But Ignite Minneapolis certainly captures the flavor of MSP. “The Ignite format is a window into local culture,” says Kuntz. “Every Ignite is unique and that’s the beauty of it.”
“Tickets typically sell out in minutes,” adds Kuntz. “We’re continually impressed and gratified by the community’s support.” Ignite Minneapolis 10 is tentatively scheduled for next April at the Riverview Theater.

Make It. MSP: New initiative designed to attract, retain talent

MSP’s economic vitality is a perennial source of envy for other metro regions. Some of the country’s most recognizable brands live here, unemployment is chronically low, and local educational institutions do an excellent job of preparing young people for the workforce.
But MSP can’t rest on its laurels. The competitive landscape is changing faster than many realize.
“The global economy is catching up with us,” says Peter Frosch, vice president of strategic partnerships at the MSP Regional Economic Development Partnership (GREATER MSP). “As other regions try to be more like MSP, our competitive advantage is waning.”
Meanwhile, the region’s labor force growth rate is slowing as employer demand for high-skill positions takes off. Even if every current MSP high school student graduated from two- or four-year college on time, the region’s homegrown talent pipeline wouldn’t be sufficient to fill the growing “skills gap.” To keep pace, MSP needs to pull talent from other U.S. and international regions. Problem is, few outsiders know much about MSP beyond “It’s cold, right?” And they certainly don’t know whether they’d want to move here, should the opportunity present itself. (“It’s cold, right?”)
That’s where Make It. MSP. comes in. Make It. MSP. is “an initiative designed to attract and retain talent” in MSP, while “[seeking] to improve the transplant experience for new residents as they put down roots in the community,” according to a GREATER MSP release.
Make It. MSP.’s most visible component is an interactive online portal that leans heavily on user-generated input. The Q&A page, for instance, is a clickable panel of open-ended questions about life in MSP: favorite month to be outside, what’s great about your neighborhood, what makes MSP different than other places, and so on.
“Authentic stories, told by real people, are critical to Make It. MSP.’s success,” says Frosch.
Make It. MSP. also features an in-depth, internally generated rundown of MSP, geared toward individuals and employers. Topics include arts and culture, cities/neighborhoods, outdoor activities, cost of living and weather.
Finally, Make It. MSP. has an impressive, MSP-centric careers portal, complete with tens of thousands of job postings from regional employers — a one-stop resource for current residents looking to change jobs (key to retention) and recently relocated “trailing spouses” who need jobs of their own.
According to Frosch, Make It. MSP.’s scope is unprecedented both here and around the country. Though Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Detroit all have similar attraction strategies, “[Make It. MSP.] is a next-generation approach to attraction and retention that functions as a comprehensive resource for workers and families,” not just a glorified visitors’ bureau.
Formally announced October 13, Make It. MSP. is the fruit of a two-year collaboration between upward of 80 MSP employers (including blue chip companies like St. Paul-based Ecolab), public institutions (including the University of Minnesota) and a host of nonprofit organizations, collectively dubbed the “makers’ network.” Makers’ network participants agreed on five goals to focus and shape Make It. MSP.:
  • Improve social inclusion, particularly for newcomers, people of color and “rising leaders” (Frosch: “We don’t want people to struggle to fit in or struggle to find passion for months or years here”)
  • Support innovative talent, including traditional entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, creatives and others
  • Connect talent to community
  • Connect talent to employers
  • Close near-term talent gaps, particularly in technology and engineering disciplines
 And Make It. MSP. isn’t just for people and employers who’ve never set foot in MSP. It’s also about keeping members of MSP’s diaspora — people who’ve moved away for school or jobs — informed and engaged around their home region. Diasporans who’ve stayed in touch are more likely to remember MSP fondly, the thinking goes, and jump at opportunities to return.
“Make It. MSP’s message [for wayard Minnesotans] is simple,” says Frosch. “We say, ‘This is home. If you leave, it’s always okay to come back.’”

Thread Connected Content puts the focus on creative storytelling

Thread Connected Content is MSP’s newest independent creative agency — and it’s an overnight powerhouse, thanks to its cofounders’ combined decades of agency experience, a multidisciplinary approach to creative campaigns, a unique penchant for high-touch storytelling and one of the most unique internship programs around.
Launched in July on St. Paul’s East Side, Thread already has 30 employees and is hiring for a handful of additional positions: digital designers, account managers and others as the need arises.
Thread’s client roster, burnished by its cofounders’ and employees’ past professional relationships, is already wildly diverse: blue chips like 3M and Target coexist comfortably alongside public institutions like Mia, and MSP originals like The Wedge Co-op and FOOD BUILDING.
“Our client strategy is a three-legged stool,” says Kim Rudrud, vice president. The first leg is “large companies with multiple brands and distinct visions,” like 3M and General Mills, she says. The second is the middle market, broadly defined: mostly MSP-, Minnesota-, and Midwest-based companies with eight- or nine-figure annual revenues and “similar cultural philosophies,” says Rudrud. And the third is “passion projects,” clients that more traditional firms might work with on a pro bono basis to burnish their creative bona fides and impress deeper-pocketed prospects.
“We’re not looking to leverage [the third leg] so that someone bigger and better walks through our door,” says Rudrud. “We’re actually passionate about helping these clients.” Earlier this year, Christiana Kippels, Thread’s director of accounts and business development, brought in a friend who’d just purchased St. Paul’s Treadle Yard Goods and sought to rebrand on a shoestring budget.
Thread’s diverse client base is reflective of its cofounders’ and employees’ diverse professional backgrounds. Many came from top-tier MSP creative agencies, like Campbell + Mithun (now simply Mithun) and Olson. Some cut their chops as internal communications and branding gurus: Kippels came over from Thymes’ product development department. Others have boutique backgrounds: Rudrud honed her storytelling intuition at WomanWise, a marketing research consultancy that “uncovers insights into what makes people tick,” she says.
Thread’s diverse staff, in turn, supports an impressive range of in-house capabilities: market research, brand strategy, copywriting and graphic design, technical digital marketing work, video production and more. “We do have outside research partners,” says Rudrud, “but we handle the bulk of our research and all of our production work internally.”
According to Rudrud, Thread’s in-house approach sets the agency apart from MSP’s smaller independents — and even many of the region’s biggest players, which tend to farm out labor-intensive production to specialized studios. “It’s not an accident that we call ourselves a ‘studio,’” says Rudrud.
Thread has a couple other differentiators up its sleeve, too. Compelling stories, not overcooked data, form the nub of each Thread campaign. According to Kippels, other agencies have “veered away from the creative side of marketing and branding,” creating an opportunity for an agency willing to mount comprehensive, authentic and human-scale — if subjective — campaigns.
“Human relationships are messy in the best possible way,” she explains. “More than ever, [marketing] is about creating useful, authentic experiences.”
When it comes to messy and authentic, thread definitely walks the walk. The agency’s website deftly blends what you’d expect from a well-produced business property — succinctly described services, employee headshots and bios, “about us” copy — with edgy, interactive elements that drive interaction. Each service description, for instance, ends with an open-ended question and live tweet button, inviting visitors to loop their followers into the conversation. Thread’s “Connect” page is a constantly evolving social feed that changes daily. Even its website logo is interactive, morphing and changing color in response to qualitative social media interactions (“a major development challenge,” says Rudrud).
In its employees’ admittedly biased collective opinion, Thread offers MSP’s best creative-industry internship. Dubbed “Spool,” Thread’s three- to six-month program is “not your typical internship,” says Rudrud. “Spoolers” hail from diverse academic backgrounds — from graphic design and comp sci to English lit — and can choose from several openended programs (“blogs to code,” “apps to animation,” and others).
“In many cases, we just give [interns] cameras, send them out into the world and tell them, ‘See what you can find,’” says Rudrud. The current crop recently spent a week producing and editing creative content onsite at the FOOD BUILDING, for instance. The results, says Rudrud, were “amazing.”
“The Spoolers are our Ph.Ds of pop culture,” says Rudrud. “As digital natives, they see the world differently — they provide us with insights that we don’t have and help us tell stories that we couldn’t tell on our own.”

FocusStart, a startup that gets medical devices to market

Bringing a new medical device to market is a costly, time-consuming process. Innovations that seem like a slam dunk in the research lab often turn out not to work as intended during development. Clinical trials require minute, painstaking attention to detail. Federal regulators, understandably, demand proof that any new device is reasonably safe and works as its manufacturer claims. Each of these steps requires adequate funding and skilled manpower.
At the end of it all, Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance firms must be willing to reimburse providers that use the device. With rare exceptions, devices that don’t qualify for reimbursement—a highly complex consideration—fail to find traction in the market.
“Even with unlimited funding, it can take two years or more to complete the process for relatively simple medical devices,” says FocusStart founder and CEO Dr. Daniel Sigg.
Sigg and FocusStart co-founder Peter DeLange, who previously ran a successful medical device startup called Devicix (recently purchased by Nortech Systems, a local medical engineering company), had each spent years searching for a better early-stage device development model. When they met a few years back, they quickly realized their professional skills complemented each other.
So they founded FocusStart, a St. Paul startup that shepherds promising medical technologies through the tricky testing and development phase, refines validated devices for commercialization, and seeks strategic partners (typically multinationals) to complete the regulatory approval process and actually bring devices to market. FocusStart’s model is less capital-intensive than traditional medical device development models, though the company still assumes risk for technologies that don’t pan out during development.
FocusStart currently has four promising technologies in its portfolio: a cardiac product that may reduce blood clot risk following certain surgical procedures; a urological catheter that may reduce the risk of certain infections; a “smart” respiratory inhaler; and a “tissue tension sensor” that may promote better outcomes following partial and total knee replacement procedures.
Sigg and the team are devoting substantial energy and attention to the tissue tension sensor, which is capable of directly measuring ligament tension without requiring an invasive cut. Direct measurement enables surgeons to properly “balance” the knee during the replacement procedure, reducing the likelihood of complications or outright failure.
The sensor could potentially benefit other orthopedic procedures, such as rotator cuff and ACL surgeries, though FocusStart is concentrating on knee replacement for now. According to Sigg, it also has potential as a training tool for newer surgeons, who lack the intuitive “feel” of more experienced operators.
Although each technology is different, FocusStart’s development approach is fairly standardized. First, the company approaches a research institution to work out a licensing agreement for the technology. FocusStart works with the University of Minnesota, Mayo Clinic, the University of Zurich (in Switzerland) and an Israeli inventor.
“We quickly found that these agreements are fairly standard, with some variation,” says Sigg.
FocusStart generally would pay a royalty on future sales of the product, possibly with an equity component to sweeten the deal for the institution should the technology find its way into a marketable device.
“We find it easier to develop relationships locally,” says Sigg, adding that his Swiss background (he grew up in Switzerland and attended medical school at the University of Basel) probably helped with the Zurich partnership.
FocusStart’s lean model helps, too. “Once [our partners] understood our approach, we become more successful in finding very interesting technologies,” says Sigg. And the combined expertise of the firm’s principals—Sigg was a board-certified anesthesiologist and subsequently amassed almost two decades of medical research and development experience, while DeLange had the business chops to build Devicix into a successful concern and boasts insider knowledge of the medical device field—doesn’t hurt.
But that doesn’t mean swift success is assured. FocusStart has been “fortunate” to receive National Institutes of Health grants during the early going, but the company continues to seek government grants and private funding—a process that will likely continue as Sigg and DeLange seek out and develop promising new technologies.
There’s no such thing as a perfect batting record in the medical device business. “As we do our own work, we may find challenges or problems that weren’t apparent previously,” says Sigg. “Occasionally, you have to know when to say ‘that’s it’ and walk away [from a technology].”

Turning MSP into the Silicon Valley of med tech innovation

In August, downtown Minneapolis-based healthcare incubator TreeHouse Health teamed up with LifeScience Alley, a local biotech accelerator, for a well-attended demo day called Healthcare Innovation Is Alive and Well in Minnesota. According to Dr. John Blank, a TreeHouse Health cofounder (and, previously, a pediatric oncologist and health system administrator), the event supported TreeHouse’s ambitious-sounding mission: to turn MSP into the “Silicon Valley of medical technology innovation.”
Healthcare Innovation is Alive and Well featured lectures and workshops on pressing issues facing early-stage medical technology and life science companies — raising capital, bringing ideas to market, becoming cashflow-positive and more — plus an open, craft brew-fueled networking hour with some of the region’s top healthcare decision-makers.
But the real stars of the show were the innovative startups tapped to pitch their solutions to the high-profile crowd. Many were current TreeHouse Health tenants: Cellanyx, whose diagnostic solution could revolutionize the industry’s approach to certain cancers; PerkHealth, a virtual health coaching app that made The Line’s 10 life-changing startups list last year; and VitalSims, an education platform for medical professionals.
TreeHouse Health’s portfolio is compelling. But Blank believes that if MSP is to live up to TreeHouse’s “Silicon Valley” promise, more needs to be done to support current and future medical technology entrepreneurs. At the moment, MSP lacks a critical mass of native venture capitalists willing to go out on a limb for potentially disruptive healthcare ideas.
Blank cites an early-stage health IT firm, currently in residence at TreeHouse Health, that had struggled to meet a $2 million funding round target with local backers despite a proven technology solution and more than $1 million in annual revenues. After six or seven months of banging on doors in MSP, the firm broadened its search and eventually completed the round with outside investors.
“There are plenty of investors interested in the health IT space,” says Blank, a Massachusetts native, “but they’re mostly based on the East or West Coasts and tend to fly over Minnesota.”
That’s why Blank and the TreeHouse team are fanatical about boosting the visibility of the companies in and outside of TreeHouse’s portfolio, starting with initiatives like the Life Science Alley collaboration.
TreeHouse is also working to attract promising companies that began life in regions better known for tech innovation, like Boston (arguably the capital of the U.S. life sciences industry) and the Bay Area. According to Blank, TreeHouse currently has one tenant from each region, with an eye for more.
A key selling point for TreeHouse and MSP in general, he says, is location. “You can easily travel anywhere in the continental United States and back within a 24-hour period, or even in the same business day” from MSP, says Blank. He mentions a TreeHouse tenant that recently flew overnight to Seattle for morning meetings with hospital executives there, then caught an early-afternoon flight back in time for dinner—a nearly 3,000-mile round trip in less than 24 hours.
“That kind of turnaround isn’t possible when you’re based on the coasts,” says Blank.
Another big advantage for MSP: a diverse array of established medical “payers” (health systems like Mayo and HealthPartners), insurers (like UnitedHealth Group), and device/technology manufacturers (like Medtronic and St. Jude Medical).
In other words, local life science and medical technology startups that do manage to find funding here are apt to find lots of paying customers close by, regardless of niche—an important measure of security for any early-stage company. Over the long term, that existing customer base, coupled with a healthy dose of Minnesota nice, should prove enticing for coastal entrepreneurs looking to relocate to a cheaper, business-friendly locale.
“[MSP] is one of the few places in the country where you have Fortune 100 companies in every major healthcare sector,” says Blank. “And it’s a friendly enough place that you can make real progress toward building a professional network within a few days.”

LogicStream makes MSP heathcare smarter

Healthcare spending accounts for a huge chunk of national GDP. And with dozens of major providers, insurers and medical device companies headquartered in and around MSP, the sector is absolutely critical for the local economy.
But the healthcare industry is notoriously inefficient. “Up to 30 percent of every dollar spent on healthcare is wasted due to unnecessary variations in care,” says Patrick Yoder, founder and CEO of LogicStream Health.
Yoder and LogicStream co-founder Dan Rubin want to bring healthcare delivery into the 21st century by making hospitals, clinics and individual medical professionals smarter about the care they provide.
Dozens of hospitals around the country believe in LogicStream’s solutions. Fairview, one of MSP’s largest hospital systems, is a current client; so is Yale-New Haven, a prestigious East Coast provider. LogicStream has nearly 500 ambulatory (walk-in) clinics in its system, too; not bad for a company that got its start just two years ago and still offices out of TreeHouse Health, a downtown Minneapolis healthcare business incubator.
LogicStream is built around the aptly named LogicStream Intelligence Platform, an algorithmic “learning system built for standardization,” as Yoder described it in an October 1 presentation at the MN Venture Conference. The goal of the LogicStream Intelligence Platform is to “improve clinical quality, provider satisfaction and cost efficiencies throughout the enterprise [while reducing or even eliminating] some critical hospital acquired conditions,” according to the company’s website.
While the technical aspects of LogicStream’s platform are complex, the gist is simple: It runs the huge amounts of data generated by each patient’s journey through the hospital or ambulatory clinic through a constantly evolving algorithm that spots trends and develops “rigid, clinically appropriate” (in other words, medically sound) protocols to reduce the risk of complications or waste.
LogicStream’s platform is designed to develop protocols rapidly, without hands-on human guidance. The platform’s speed and accuracy allows it to cover potentially thousands of life-threatening conditions that can affect hospital and clinic patients.
One early success: venous thromboembolism, a common clotting condition responsible for thousands of hospital deaths each year. According to a LogicStream case study, one client “reduced the rate of venous thromboembolism (VTE) in post-surgical patients by more than 80%, resulting in a significant overall decline in associated morbidity and mortality and $1.1M in cost savings.”
Yoder notes that, in most cases, reducing VTE risk is straightforward: Upon admission, “a patient’s care team needs to assess his or her individual risk for clots,” he says, not rely on statistical data that may not be relevant to the situation. LogicStream’s VTE protocols include an individual risk assessment; most electronic health records (EHRs), which clinicians use to track patient data and monitor condition changes, don’t.
As more clients discover LogicStream’s solution, Yoder expects the LogicStream Intelligence Platform to scale rapidly. At MN Venture, he projected three- to four-fold growth in total protocol content between Q3 2015 and Q1 2017, a huge boost to the platform’s power and reach. The company currently has 12 employees, and that count is likely to increase through 2016.
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Adventures with a Locavore Offers Fitzgerald Art Deco Walking Tour

Any attentive MSP citizen knows that F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby, was a born-and-bred St. Paulite. Fitzgerald’s most famous novel explored the excesses of 1920s “Jazz Age” culture in the New York City area, but St. Paul was a pretty hopping place back then, too. Now, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age tour, hosted by St. Paul pastry chef and local historian Joan Mathison, lets you experience the era firsthand.
“I looked at the assets that would differentiate St. Paul from Minneapolis and appeal to a wide audience of travelers and potential residents,” explains Mathison, founder of Adventures with a Locavore. “It also happens that the 1920s is my favorite era in history.” Her next tour commences on Saturday, October 10.
Mathison’s tour, a walking excursion that winds through downtown St. Paul, hits more than a dozen examples of Art Deco design—an ascendant architectural style during the 1920s.
“St. Paul is the only city designated as a Distinctive American Destination by the National Trust, so I decided to focus the tour on historic preservation,” she says.
Mathison also conducted a fair bit of original research during the run-up to her inaugural tour this year. She was particularly intrigued by the old Kilmarnock Bookstore, which (according to period maps) sat at the corner of 4th and Cedar in downtown St. Paul.
Founded by a wealthy intellectual with a penchant for rare books and managed by a talented, aspiring writer (Thomas Boyd of Through the Wheat fame), the Kilmarnock was never financially successful. In fact, it lasted less than a decade. But for a brief period during the early 1920s, it was the haunt for the cream of the American literary crop. On cold winter afternoons, Fitzgerald and other young writers met around the fireplace in the Kilmarnock’s smoky back room to trade stories and inspiration.
“The important thing I learned from that research was how critical collaboration is to innovation,” says Mathison. “The young writers that gathered in the back room of the avant-garde Kilmarnock Bookstore to talk about their work and other books...did the best work of their careers during those few years in the early 1920s.”
As an ode to the Jazz Age’s literary side, Mathison chose to pair the tour with three well-known books (not all written in the 1920s): Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, a nod to “St. Paul's sustainability evolution;” The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs, which ties in to former St. Paul mayor George Latimer's downtown revitalization efforts; and, naturally, The Great Gatsby.
The Kilmarnock inspired Mathison to connect with the just-as-vibrant community of modern artists and makers who live and work in downtown St. Paul. Mathison produced a “Meet the Makers” guide highlighting some of downtown’s top creatives; every tour-goer gets a complimentary copy.
Featured makers and artists include Susan Brown of Mademoiselle Miel, Stephen Gallilvan of Leprechaun's Dreamcycle, Alicia Hinze of The Buttered Tin, Jeff Moriarty of Tin Whiskers, Monica Larsen and Bill Moran of Hamilton Ink Spot, and Jan Selby of Quiet Island Films.
John Anfinson, superintendent of the Mississippi River & National Recreation Area, Lee George of the James J. Hill Center, and Andy Sturdevant of Springboard for the Arts are also involved.
Longer-term, Mathison wants to bring her special brand of walking tour to other MSP neighborhoods. “I'm curious about 38th and Chicago [in Minneapolis], and Lake Street is so amazing,” she says. “The more tours we can offer in the Twin Cities, the higher we’ll raise our profile as a tourist destination.”

Beekeeping chocolatier grows hyper-local product with national placements

MSP’s rapidly growing pro-pollinator community is turning the region into an urban oasis for honeybees and other pollinating insects, raising the likelihood that future generations will know the joys of easily accessible fresh produce and biodiverse green spaces.
But plenty of intrepid pollinator entrepreneurs are focused on the here and now. Susan Brown of Mademoiselle Miel, a hyper-local sweet treats company based in downtown St. Paul, was an early evangelist for pollinator power—and continues to inspire a growing cohort of makers, chefs and educators who earn a living at the intersection of urban agriculture, environmental stewardship and old-fashioned craftiness.
Mademoiselle Miel is a “beekeeping chocolatier” specializing in rich chocolate honey bon-bons, many wrapped in edible 23 karat gold leaf—“a brilliant union of elegance and raw nature,” according to Brown’s website. The bon-bons come in several varieties, including a decadent Scotch infusion and various seasonal flavors.
The honey for Brown’s bon-bons comes from hives situated on rooftops throughout MSP—for instance, at Union Depot (near Brown’s downtown St. Paul headquarters) and atop Tiny Diner in Longfellow. The bees collect pollen from whatever flowers happen to be in bloom, providing Brown’s creations with an ever-changing array of local flavors.
Brown has been fascinated with bees and honey since she her youth. Ironically, though, she hasn’t always been a fan of honey’s taste. “I didn't actually like the taste of honey when I was young,” she told CityPages earlier this year. “I just started cooking with it because I was trying to eat in a way that made me feel good.”
In the intervening decades, Brown embarked on a successful cooking and catering career that found plenty of uses for the sticky substance. But she didn’t start making honey full-time until 2011, when she launched Mademoiselle Miel in St. Paul.
Hungry for a hyper-local alternative to sickly sweet candies and ho-hum storebought honey without a distinctive terroir, MSP foodies embraced Brown’s concept with gusto. Her creations quickly found their way into high-end cooking stores like Cooks of Crocus Hill and crunchy grocery outlets like Seward Co-op.
Brown’s products have since appeared in prominent hotel and restaurant properties around the area: high-end Minneapolis hotels like the Hyatt Regency, W Minneapolis and Le Meridien Chambers are customers, as is Surdyks Flights (at MSP International) and the Walker Art Center.
More exciting still, Mademoiselle Miel has lately joined a growing list of successful Minnesota exports. Brown’s sweet creations aren’t quite as well-known or widely available as SPAM and Post-it notes—yet —but they’re nevertheless available at select boutiques in New York City, Seattle and the Washington, D.C., area. More accounts could be in the works, though Brown’s production capacity is somewhat limited by bee, hive and rooftop counts.

MiX builds momentum with 2015 speaker series on innovation and engagement

The Minneapolis Idea eXchange (MiX) was launched a year ago during an interactive event at City Center featuring city leaders, performances and networking between the hundreds of attendees curious about MiX. The brainchild of the city’s Downtown 2025 Plan’s Festival of Ideas committee, MiX’s purpose is to bring together citizens and visitors with energetic thinking and civic engagement in order to further Minneapolis’ already considerable vitality.
On September 28, and October 1 and 2, MiX builds on its momentum with a free speaker series created in collaboration with Westminster Town Hall Forum. Pete Docter, a Bloomington native who helped create the blockbuster films “Toy Story,” “Wall-E,” “Up” and “Inside Out” with Pixar Animation Studios, speaks on Monday, September 28 (7 p.m.), on “Inside the Creative Community: The Power and Process of Animated Film.”
Later in the week, on Thursday evening (7 p.m.), October 1, author and social justice advocate Tavis Smiley will galvanize audience members with his talk, “No One Left Out: Creating Communities of Justice.” Friday, October 2, at noon, Minnesotan Dan Buettner — explorer, educator and three-time world record holder for endurance bicycling — discusses Blue Zones, the organization he founded to help people live longer, healthier lives.
The overall idea behind the series, says Mary Shaffer, co-chair of the MiX organizational committee, “is to inspire people to think about how they want to live, work and play in their city.” To that end, activities will also take place outside of Westminster Presbyterian Church (the location for the speaker series), at the corner of Nicollet Mall and 12th Street.
“We’re not only offering participants a chance to hear these high caliber, nationally recognized speakers, but we’re also activating the area outside the church to bring new energy to that part of the city and further conversation,” Shaffer says. The Independent Film Project will capture attendee responses to Docter’s speech and their thoughts about the future of Minneapolis; a screening of a Docter film may also take place. Brave New Workshop will host improv workshops in conjunction with Smiley’s talk. The downtown YWCA will offer fitness classes and the Minneapolis Bike Coalition will be present for Buettner’s appearance.
“For last century, Minneapolis has been a leader in innovation,” says Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, senior pastor, Westminster Presbyterian Church, and chair of the MiX committee. “MiX is simply picking up on the innovative, creative spirit of civic engagement in our city. The three speakers will each bring fascinating and provocative perspectives to the question of how we can be a better city and better citizens.”
Continuing, Hart-Andersen adds that, “Part of what makes Minneapolis work so well is the social connectivity, and the civic engagement, not only inside board rooms, classrooms, labs and churches across the city, but also over a beer and something good to eat. The space we’re activating at the end of the mall will give people the opportunity to enjoy food and beverages, share time together and further the conversations that began with the speakers.”

Record Together creates new collaborative app for musicians

There’s about to be a new way for amateur and professional musicians to collaborate on original music without regard for geography — and it’s made in MSP.
Record Together, an innovative recording and idea-sharing platform developed and promoted by MSP brothers Scott and Mike Bishop, is nearing the launch of a completely revamped application that allows multiple musicians to collaborate on the same song, no matter where they live or whether they have access to sophisticated instruments and recording equipment.
Think of Record Together as a virtual, remote music studio that connects musicians who’d otherwise never even hear of each other, let alone meet up for a recording session. Users lay down one or more tracks — anything from an isolated piano line to a four-piece band’s guitar, bass, drum and vocal tracks. They then “draw in” outlines for other tracks (for instance, a vocal harmony to accompany the piano line) using automated music software and publish to Record Together’s online marketplace. Once published, other users record their own tracks to replace the drawn-in outlines and create a whole (or at least more complete) composition.
Record Together is intentionally designed for musicians of all ages, abilities and levels of seriousness. “We cater to professional jazz musicians with mindblowing musical skills and years of experience,” says Mike Bishop, “along with high school kids just messing around with a guitar or saxophone in the basement.”
The Bishop brothers fleshed out the revamped Record Together platform with non-technical, cost-conscious users in mind. According to Scott Bishop, Record Together isn’t the only cloud-based music recording solution that empowers cross-border collaboration. But musicians would be hard-pressed to find a simpler, more cost-effective option.
“Access to a professional recording studio is a major barrier to entry for most musicians,” he says, “due to the high cost of reserving studio space and the limited amount of space available.” Musicians who record demo tapes or digital imprints on their own solve the cost problem, he adds, but sacrifice collaborative potential and sound quality.
“Our objective with Record Together is to reduce recording expenses and remove every possible barrier to enjoyment and creativity,” says Mike Bishop. “We want to move users closer to their end goal — making great music.”
The updated Record Together app replaces a legacy platform born in 2011. The legacy platform was built around “opportunities” — calls for single-track contributions to unfinished songs. For each opportunity, users submitted recordings that fit the stated requirements; the opportunity’s poster then selected the winner and paid the creator an agreed-upon sum. The new platform is still transactional — “We want users to get something back for their contributions,” says Scott Bishop — but the “draw in” feature allows for a more seamless and expansive collaboration process.
Although the Bishops are coy about when the new platform will roll out to the public, they’re not shy about their plans or ambition. The brothers are currently putting out feelers for a seed funding round, says Scott Bishop, in the hopes of scaling the platform and ensuring that “everyone who wants to use it will be able to from day one.”
After that, the sky’s the limit. “We believe that Record Together has the potential to do for music what YouTube did for video,” he says.

Eureka hosts MSP's first zero waste summit

Eureka Recycling, a homegrown, progressive recycling nonprofit based in Northeast Minneapolis, is upping its “zero waste” game. The company is sponsoring MSP’s first-ever Zero Waste Summit on September 18 from 12:30 pm to 6:30 pm.
Brave New Workshop, an all-purpose venue and gathering space in downtown Minneapolis, is hosting the event. General admission tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students. Scholarship tickets, which include the cost of admission, two drink tickets and an admission scholarship for another attendee, are $100. Anyone who arrives by public or active transportation (bus, LRT, bike or foot) earns free admission to a future Brave New Workshop event of their choice.
“We want attendees to get information and thoughts from the people who really live the vision of zero waste,” says Lynn Hoffman, Eureka Recycling’s chief of community engagement and principal event organizer. “Equally important will be the time to connect and collaborate so we can take action while inspiration is still fresh in our hearts and minds.”
To that end, Eureka’s first-ever Zero Waste Summit features nearly 20 speakers, many of whom have close ties to MSP’s sustainability movement.
Amanda LaGrange works as marketing director for Tech Dump St. Paul, an innovative electronics recycling outfit that offers free, eco-friendly disposal services (to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds per year) and provides living-wage jobs for economically disadvantaged adults.
Eartha Bell is director for the soon-to-be-operational Frogtown Farm, an ambitious project that promises to be Minnesota’s largest urban farm (and one of the country’s biggest, as well).
Tracy Sides is director of Urban Oasis, a “sustainable food center” that offers healthy cooking education, small business training, catering with seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, and other sorely needed food services on St. Paul’s East Side.
These speakers and their organizations, and all the others represented at the Zero Waste Summit, live and breathe Eureka’s commitment to low-impact communities.
“Eureka Recycling is the only organization in Minnesota that specializes in zero waste,” says Christine Weeks, co-principal at Field Guide, a St. Paul-based boutique communications firm that caters to progressive clients. “The organization's services, programs and policy work present solutions to the social, environmental and health problems caused by wasting.”
“Zero waste is more than an empty garbage can,” adds Hoffman. “The way we consume accounts for almost half of the CO2 that threatens [our] healthy food, abundant resources, clean air and water, safe and reliable products, and healthy families and communities.”

Vidku's Flipgrid video sharing is disruptive tech force

In February 2015, Minneapolis startup Vidku raised $17 million in a 17-day Series A funding round led by Arthur Ventures, a Fargo-based venture capital group. The speed and size of Vidku’s fundraising effort was unusual: According to data from CrunchBase, the average Series A raised $6.9 million in 2014 and it often takes months to close a successful round.
So it’s no surprise that MSP’s investors and innovators sat up and took note of Vidku’s breakout success. CEO Jim Leslie attributes his company’s achievement both to the far-reaching capabilities of Flipgrid, its core “asynchronous video sharing” product, and the boundless belief of Vidku’s 35-plus employees.
“Our investors weren’t interested because they knew who [Vidku’s leaders] were or trusted us to execute,” says Leslie, a self-described “serial entrepreneur” who ran a handful of successful firms (and sold his most recent venture for a cool $100 million in 2011) before joining the Vidku team. “The passion of our entire team regarding Flipgrid’s future possibilities was infectious — our investors got as excited as we were” about Vidku and Flipgrid.
Users believe in Flipgrid, too. According to Leslie, the product has hosted more than 3 million video shares since its January 2014 launch, spreading chiefly through word of mouth. (Vidku has no formal marketing operation to speak of, though that may change in the future.)
Flipgrid admins, typically classroom educators, populate “grids” with video or text questions, prompting video responses from student users. Everyone with access to the grid can see and share the responses. There’s no limit to each grid’s capacity for questions and responses, though admins are limited to a specific number of grids per year — typically five to 10, or roughly one per class for full-time educators.
Though Flipgrid was originally designed for educators, Leslie is quick to point out that about 20 percent of the platform’s volume is devoted to non-educational use. Private businesses and government agencies use Flipgrid as a collaborative tool, while wedding planners and religious institutions leverage it to create more social events and environments.
“Flipgrid is a growing, powerful and highly effective technology tool that’s getting stronger all the time,” says Leslie. Following Vidku’s “design first” imperative, “we’re constantly developing new ways for users to participate.”
Vidku’s development activities have accelerated since the company spun out from an eight-person University of Minnesota team led by Dr. Charles Miller. Miller’s team is responsible for designing and building out Flipgrid’s base technology and critical elements. Leslie and co-founder Phil Soran, also a wildly successful tech entrepreneur, caught wind of Miller’s innovation and offered to form a private company capable of turning Flipgrid into a disruptive technological force.
“We were only interested in [spinning Flipgrid out of the U and forming Vidku] if [Miller’s] entire team was on board,” says Leslie. He didn’t need to worry: The response was an enthusiastic “yes.”
For Flipgrid’s core team and the U itself, the transition to private enterprise has thus far been smooth. All eight team members remain on staff at Vidku, generously compensated for their efforts and diligently working on the next big thing.
Perhaps more importantly, the U is a major shareholder in Vidku; Vidku’s success is quite literally the U’s success. Such public-private synergies, wherein universities drive innovation and investors provide the capital necessary to bring transformative ideas to market, are commonplace in established tech centers like Boston and Silicon Valley, says Leslie, but less so in MSP.
“A strong public-private linkage is the hallmark of a healthy entrepreneurial community,” he says. “We’re on the cusp of that here” in MSP.
In addition to Flipgrid, Vidku also offers a video-based assessment tool called Avenue. “Whereas Flipgrid is suited for discussions” and other forms of knowledge and experience delivery, Leslie explains, “Avenue is ideal for more formally assessing knowledge.”
Vidku’s team also handles development work for Passport, a language-learning application initially developed by St. Paul-based EMC Publishing. Though Vidku doesn’t own Passport, Fligrid and Passport are kindred spirits with the same lofty goal: reducing friction and improving knowledge delivery in the classroom.
Later this year, Vidku plans to launch an application that offers a “significant enhancement” to Flipgrid’s capabilities, says Leslie. The new update “is the first tangible fruit of our intensive development efforts” since spinning off from the U, he adds, though he’s mum on the software’s specifics.

U of M entrepreneurs launch Lionheart Cider

Seven recent graduates of the University of Minnesota, who met in the Carlson School’s Entrepreneurship in Action class, are taking the course’s title to heart. Within weeks of coming together last fall, the group had hatched an idea for a homegrown premium hard cider brand called Lionheart Cider.
Thanks in part to ample startup funding secured through Entrepreneurship in Action, Lionheart was a student division semi-finalist in the 2015 MN Cup — a huge leap for a concept that has yet to see its first birthday.
Lionheart closed its first production round last month and is now on shelves in about 120 liquor stores in MSP and surrounding areas, with Artisan Beer Company handling distribution. The suggested retail price on its 16-ounce can 4-packs is $7.99, which co-founder Anna Lin says is “affordable” relative to other premium craft cider brands.
Co-founder Jason Dayton, one half of an avid father-son home cidermaking team, developed Lionheart’s “not too sweet” recipe. “Lionheart is designed for people who find popular brands like Angry Orchard to sweet,” Lin says.
Lionheart’s co-founders aren’t typical startup types. Some were finance and business majors, but others focused on journalism (like Lin), agriculture and music during their undergrad years. All are first-time entrepreneurs “who don’t always know what we’re doing,” says Lin, who admits that the group has quibbled over plans and tactics.
“But the difficult periods present the greatest learning opportunities,” she adds.
Some Lionheart co-founders do have entrepreneurial pedigrees, including Lin herself. Lin’s father, a former truck driver, worked his way into the fueling industry shortly after China’s economy liberalized in the 1980s. He now owns a thriving gas station business. Not to be outdone, her mother runs two coffee shop franchises in China.
“[My parents’] hard work is why I’m here in Minnesota, speaking a second language fluently, meeting amazing people,” and learning firsthand what it takes to be an entrepreneur, says Lin.
In the near term, Lionheart’s team is looking forward to soliciting customer feedback on its original cider recipe and growing its Minnesota account base. But Dayton and the rest of the group are already mulling new flavors and styles within the “not too sweet” universe, plus an expanded distribution footprint.
“We eventually hope to have several varieties and distribute in multiple states, perhaps even nationally,” says Lin.
Lin herself may not take part in Lionheart’s long-term growth. Her current visa expires next year, and she’ll have to find work in journalism or a related field — and a sponsorship from any potential employer (Lionheart may not count) — to qualify for a longer-term work visa that allows her to stay in the United States. Given federal work visa caps and intense competition from highly qualified candidates, Lin knows she might not make the cut — though she’s eternally optimistic.
Regardless of how Lionheart’s leadership team — or the company itself — looks in three years, the experience has already been immensely rewarding for Lin and her colleagues. “It’s an amazing blessing to be able to come [to the United States] and work on a project like this,” she says. “I never would have hung out with or spoken to any of [my colleagues] were it not for Lionheart.”

Artist Cindy Lindgren debuts City of Lakes fabric line

Prolific MSP artist Cindy Lindgren is teaming up with Modern Yardage, a digital fabric printing company, to launch a Minneapolis-centric fabric line called “City of Lakes.” Lindgren debuted City of Lakes this May at the International Quilt Market, a national trade show. The fabrics feature iconic Minneapolis images, including Lake Calhoun, Lake of the Isles and Lake Harriet, plus the downtown skyline, Uptown theater marquee, bikes and Nordic skis.
“City of Lakes is my tribute to the wonderful chain of lakes and all the activities we love to participate in, whether it's music, nature or biking,” Lindgren explains.
The City of Lakes concept could soon go national. “[City of Lakes] got a lot of attention” at the International Quilt Market, says Lindgren. She’s already been approached by several other U.S. cities about custom-designed hometown fabric lines. She plans to finish work on her first two non-MSP city lines — Appleton, Wisconsin, and Watkins Glen, New York — in the coming months, with an eye to snagging additional clients and selling her work in local stores.
For now, Lindgren is throwing her multi-pronged marketing operation behind City of Lakes. She sells the fabrics themselves through Modern Yardage, her preferred fabric production partner. “Modern Yardage prints fabric on demand, so it can offer niche themes to their customers,” she says, giving “designers...a lot of freedom to create unique designs not offered by other large fabric companies.”
Lindgren sells City of Lakes prints and cards at her personal Etsy shop and “various gift shops and stores around MSP,” including The Minnesota History Center, Bibelot, The University of Minnesota Book Store and The Como Conservatory. Suburban outposts, such as the Mall of America’s Afternoon Store and Edina’s West Elm outlet, offer Lindgren’s work as well.
Lindgren also maintains a fruitful collaborative relationship with The Linden Tree, a specialty fabric shop and creative hub in Linden Hills. Linden Tree staffers consulted closely with Lindgren during the City of Lakes project’s design phase, produced prototype samples and reserved ample shelf space for the finished products.
Though MSP will always be City of Lakes fabrics’ natural home, Lindgren is actively seeking licensing partnerships with printers, retailers and apparel-makers in Minnesota and beyond. Current licensees include Great Arrow Graphics, Check Advantage (a personal check printer) and Janome (pending).
Lindgren describes her artistic style as “Craftsman Nouveau,” which include such stylistic hallmarks as “rich color palettes” and clean lines.
“My inspiration comes from William Morris, Frank Lloyd Wright and the WPA-era posters,” says Lindgren. “I'm also influenced by my midwestern upbringing and choose to illustrate the places, plants, flowers and birds around me.”

mini_polis debuts at Creative City Market

mini_polis, the winner of Minneapolis’ third annual Creative City Challenge, will be on display August 13 at the second Creative City Market, held from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Minneapolis Convention Center Plaza. mini_polis will be on display at the plaza for the third and final Creative City Market, on September 10, and remain outdoors until October 15.
Dubbed “a miniature city of collective imagination,” mini_polis is a scale model of downtown Minneapolis some 50 feet in diameter.
Unlike the past two Creative City Challenge winners, which were constructed by small teams of dedicated artists, mini_polis is the fruit of dozens of professional and amateur craftspeople’s labor. SocialSculpture, a Minneapolis-based sculpture collective led by Niko Kubota, oversaw the basic design and provided pre-made kits for guided construction of individual houses and apartment buildings at five supervised workshops held in April and May this year. Staff members from Leonardo’s Basement were on hand at all five workshops to guide less experienced makers. All participants were invited to record their stories and thoughts for a multimedia station that accompanies mini_polis on the Convention Center Plaza.
mini_polis’s miniature buildings are surrounded by gentle ramps and walkways that follow the outline of Minneapolis’ Interstate highways, allowing viewers (including those in wheelchairs) to enter and explore the sculpture. According to mini_polis’s website, visitors can “respond to builder’s dreams…[and] make their own place-specific comments about the city” using chalkboard paint on the sculpture’s surface.
mini_polis’s showcase event, Creative City Market, is no less engaging. The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild will be on hand to pour local craft beer favorites, with fair food (roasted corn, brats and hot dogs) for sustenance. The plaza’s performance space hosts local musician Mayda from 5 to 6, the Milu Milu Couture fashion show from 6 to 6:30, and spoken word performances (various artists) from 7 to 9. A locally produced movie, presented by the Minneapolis-St. Paul Film Society, will be shown. Local makers and vendors — painters, tattoo artists, textile and jewelry specialists, potters and others — will mingle with the crowd, educating and delighting patrons.
“Creative City Market is a free monthly experience in the heart of our downtown that celebrates the art of making,” says Kristen Montag, Meet Minneapolis communications and public relations manager.
Creative City Market is sponsored by the Minneapolis Convention Center, the City of Minneapolis and Meet Minneapolis, with support from Northern Lights.mn and the Musicant Group.
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