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Accessible360: Website and Digital Apps For Inclusivity

Since 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has ensured equal opportunity for Americans who suffer from physical and mental conditions that limit their means. While wheelchair ramps, closed captioning and wider doorways have become commonplace, the digital realm still lags behind.

Accessible360, founded by entrepreneur Mark Lacek, seeks to fix that oversight. The company’s purpose is to make websites and digital apps fully functional for those impaired by blindness, deafness, or physical or cognitive restrictions. The company was launched this April and began promotion last month, just in time to help businesses comply with a rollout of new regulations from the Department of Justice in 2018.

Technology has changed since 1990 when the ADA was passed, and the Department of Justice announced last year that it the law applies both to physical buildings as well as digital areas. Accessible360 is here to make companies accessible today.
Many screen readers don’t recognize 100 percent of a website, Lacek says. When a blind user can’t access an offer, it’s discrimination and a violation of the law. Some compliance issues are obvious, like font sizes that affect the visually impaired but, he says, most are subtle. “There are things you would never recognize as a sighted person. Technology just doesn’t pick them up.”

Checkout screens are a notorious problem for blind users, he explains, which alienates disabled users and decreases potential sales. Studies show that disabled Americans spend more time online than their non-disabled counterparts, so it’s essential for companies to adapt to their needs. “Up to 85 percent of websites are not compliant based on what the current ADA guidelines are,” says Lacek.

“It’s somewhat Y2Kish,” says Lacek, explaining digital ADA compliance. “There’s this pending thing on the horizon. The difference is everyone knew about Y2K and people are just becoming aware of this issue.”

Accessible360 offers three core services. Lacek’s team of 10— led by accessibility engineer Aaron Cannon (who is blind)—will provide an audit of a website to determine issues and potential fixes for a client. Other services are remediation (fixing the issues) and monitoring. Monitoring, he explains, works like a home security system or credit card alert program, where Accessible360 makes sure that any new content uploaded to a website remains in compliance even after the first two phases are complete.

“The biggest challenge is really awareness and education of the general public,” says Lacek. “A lot of people don’t realize that the ADA regulations applies to the internet and their sites need to be accessible.” The company was inspired by the number of lawsuits being filed about website accessibility.

So far, Lacek’s team has worked with retail, financial services, travel, health and medical, and educational websites. It’s important to be compliant, he says, but it’s more important to make the world a better place.

“No one wants to be that company or that website that’s not empathetic to all of society,” he adds, “including the disabled.”
 

U of M Launches Product Design Program to Grow Local Talent

MSP proudly hosts “major product design companies like Target, 3M, Medtronic, General Mills, Cargill,” says Dr. Barry Kudrowitz, McKnight Land-Grant Professor of Product Design at the University of Minnesota. However, he adds, “They’re all hiring their product designers from other states.”

Kudrowitz and the U of M are changing that, as Kudrowitz has helped spearhead the new Product Design major that the college introduced this fall and he’s excited to see how it develops with time.

Product Design is similar to engineering, he says, but with more creativity and humanistic skills. “There is a need for a different kind of designer, someone that can do the technical stuff and the artistic side of things,” he explains. Product Design will bring a new type of designer to the workforce, he says, one that has the technical skills to make a product work, but is also a dynamic and creative team player.

Kudrowitz was inspired by programs in northern Europe, having worked as a visiting researcher in the Netherlands and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The U of M recruited him after he earned his Ph.D. at MIT, where he developed a Toy Design class that he’s brought to the U of M as part of his new program. He also teaches the intro course, Creative Design Methods.

Product Design began as a minor in the graduate school before moving to the U’s undergraduate program a few years ago. As more students signed up for the classes, the U was also approached by local businesses to develop something in tune with their needs.

“We had a handful of town hall meetings where we would get several dozen industry representatives sharing what they think the major should be,” Kudrowitz explains. “They all want to hire people from this program.” While there is industry support, the U has been careful that it maintains an educational focus while cultivating tomorrow’s designers—who will hopefully stay in the Minnesota workforce.

Local companies are involved in the classroom, leading development ideas and sponsoring design concepts, but for Dr. Kudrowitz it’s about using that experience to show how design works at a fundamental level, whether that’s starting with a toy or making a specialized manufacturing product. It’s about building a portfolio and experience for students in a hands-on environment that mixes engineering, anthropology, business and industrial design.

In his U of M Toy Design class, the emphasis is on process while using a product that everyone understands. “We could call the class Product Design,” he says. “We just happen to be making toys because it’s naturally fun to design something for play.” But whether designing a toy or a medical device, he says, his classes teach the same business lessons.

In the 2016-2017 school year, the Product Design program is only open to transfer students who have changed majors, about 30 in total. Kudrowitz expects about 40 new students will be accepted when the program opens to incoming freshmen next year.
 

Auslandish: Whimsical Worlds and Entrepreneurial Collaborations

 
 
It’s a world in which the rugged coastline of Lake Superior’s North Shore is rendered in brightly colored forms and tribal motifs, and populated with T Rexes, octopi and UFOs. National parks receive the same treatment, swirling in ribbons of pattern and color; places where silvery robots and furry Bigfoots camp and fly fish with their dinosaur pals.
 
If you haven’t guessed by now, this is Auslandish, worlds created by St. Paul artist and illustrator Sarah Nelson. She recently hosted her first pop-up art sale in the Creative Enterprise Zone of St. Paul, in conjunction with the opening of an online store featuring her work and collaborations with other artists. A hot item during the pop up was a new bag designed by Ashley Duke of Viska, a Minneapolis company, festooned with one of Nelson’s whimsical images.
 
The story begins when Nelson was working at a café and her boss told her to take a Sharpie and draw on the walls. “So I did,” she says. “And a style emerged.”
 
“The art I do is primarily whimsical and illustration based,” she says, “and incorporates a lot of detail, pattern and story.” Why the UFOs and dinosaurs? “I like to take moments and natural places that are magical and bring in the otherworldly, to reflect what’s being experienced in your mind and heart at the moment. Weird whimsical creates help commemorate that feeling.”
 
In 2013, Corner Table restaurant in Minneapolis commissioned Nelson to create a hand-illustrated, custom wallpaper for the space. “People strted resonating with the work,” she says, “and I started getting commissions,” including from City Pages. “I realized this could become a business. I decided this work was bringing joy to people.” So mashing up words like outside and outlandish, while referencing her Austrian upbringing, resulted in Auslandish. An early show of her work sold out in less then 24 hours.
 
Nelson creates from her studio in the Midway neighborhood and she’s seeking out new collaborative opportunities. She’s currently working on a local band’s album, exploring innovative work with textile artists and still designing wallpaper.
 
The online store includes prints, originals and hand-crafted goods created in collaboration with other artisans. Auslandish next pops up at the Women Artists + Entrepreneurs Holiday Bazaar, November 10 at Woodford Sister Photography in the California Building in NE Minneapolis.
 

Minneapolis Idea eXchange to Incorporate Design Thinking in Free "Power of Ideas" Event

A year ago, the Minneapolis Idea eXchange (MiX) launched its festival of ideas in downtown Minneapolis during a lively event in which innovators from throughout MSP inspired participants to think in fresh new ways about the initiatives proposed in the Minneapolis Downtown Council’s 2025 Plan. On Wednesday, October 12, MiX resumes with its 2016 program, “The Power of Ideas.” Networking begins at 4:30 p.m., with the program scheduled from 5-6 p.m. The event takes place at Brave New Workshop.
 
John Sweeney, owner of Brave New Workshop, is kicking off the event along with Elena Imaretska. The two co-wrote the recently published book The Innovative Mindset. “MiX is a program that recognizes MSP as a world-class wellspring of innovation and a place of ideas,” Sweeney says. “The premise of our book is that you choose your mindset during your every waking hour. We work on helping people take a very practical approach to cultivating and maintaining an innovative mindset, in order to use skills like brainstorming and methodologies like design thinking to solve challenges.”
 
Following Sweeney and Imaretska’s group exercise in finding an innovative mindset, Tom Fisher, director of the University of Minnesota’s Metropolitan Design Center and author of Designing Our Way to a Better World, will guide an introduction to design thinking and launch the workshop portion of the event. Other panelists scheduled to participate in the event include Sondra Samuels of Northside Achievement Zone and Peter Frosch of Greater MSP. 
 
Minneapolis is “working on a commitment to end homelessness by 2025, figuring out how bicyclists and pedestrians and cars can navigate our roads together, how we can have a more equitable distribution of graduation rates in high schools, how to make the arts more accessible for everyone—the list goes on and on,” Sweeney says. MiX was created, in part, to address and provide working solutions for such problems.
 
“I’m passionate about gathering together a group of people with many different points of view to generate opportunities for harvesting the creativity and innovation that already exist here,” adds Imaretska. “That’s the beauty of innovation: Who knows what spark of an idea may trigger something bigger.”
 
The event will include a service component: A new take on the idea of “happy hour,” during which participants will make sandwiches that will be distributed to the homeless. “By matching a sense of service with a culture of innovation, we hope powerful things will be happening," says Imaretska.
 
Sweeney adds that he hopes this year’s MiX will result in outcomes that reflect “the hopefulness of starting. When you have 200 people in a room with open minds and a beer in their hands and a smile on their faces, then it’s a start. I'm excited to be a part of something that could someday be referred to as ‘the start.’”
 
MiX is free and open to the public. Register for MiX 2016: “The Power of Ideas” here.
 

Artists Headline Entrepreneur Expo at Minneapolis Public Library

Artists are entrepreneurs. Which is why including muralist Greta McLain, founder of GoodSpace Murals, based in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis, is such a valuable addition to the Entrepreneur Expo: Essentials for Small Business Growth, on Thursday, Sept., 22, 12:30-5 p.m. at the Minneapolis Central Library.
 
McClain and Candida Gonzalez, GoodSpace Murals’ administrator and project manager, will both participate in the expo to discuss the ways in which GoodSpace Murals facilitates community development through creating large-scale artworks that express a neighborhood’s unique characteristics and values, reflect its stories, and communicate themes of inclusivity and free expression.
 
McClain and Gonzalez will speak as part of the expo’s panel Startup Success Stories: Twin Cities Entrepreneurs Tell All. The panel’s participants also include the Minnesota 2016 Small Business Person of the Year, Gloria Freeman, founder and CEO of Olu’s Home Inc. and Olu’s Center, which provide care and activities for seniors; Mohamed Omer, who owns Alimama East African Catering; and LaMont Bowens, CEO of CEO of Bowens Companies, a commercial contracting company specializing in interior and exterior construction.
 
The expo also include workshops offered by Springboard for the Arts, WomenVenture and the University of St. Thomas Small Business Development Center on topics ranging from building a website and bookkeeping to branding and business plans for artists. Nonprofit and government business development exhibitors will be on hand to share resources and answer questions about planning, licensing and funding.
 
The Entrepreneur Expo is sponsored by the Friends of the Minneapolis Central Library in collaboration with African Economic Development Solutions, Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Northside Economic Opportunity Network, U.S. Small Business Administration, University of St. Thomas Small Business Development Center and WomenVenture. The event is free. Register here or call 612-543-8000.
 

Disruptive Irish Charity Startup Chooses Minnesota As First U.S. Market

ChangeX, the Dublin-based, technology-driven social enterprise startup, has yet to celebrate its second birthday, but it’s already looking to conquer its first overseas market: Minnesota. To mark its international launch, ChangeX held a (local) star-studded launch gala September 12 at the Pillsbury A-Mill Artist Lofts in St. Anthony Main. The event showcased remarks from CEO Paul O’Hara, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter, and Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield (ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s was also on hand).
 
ChangeX is a standardized platform, or more accurately a collection of local communities, operating on the same digital architecture that puts proven social enterprise concepts in front of local stakeholders, who can choose to adopt or not adopt them at their discretion. Think of it as a bottom-up approach to philanthropy and community building — or, less charitably, Craigslist for social entrepreneurs. O’Hara wants to put 100 social change concepts to work in Minnesota within a year — an ambitious, “but hopefully possible,” goal.
 
“It’s crazy to think that barely a year ago, we were just getting started, and now we’re getting ready to launch in another country,” O’Hara said before introducing 10 potential change concepts. Among them: Men’s Sheds, an established international organization dedicated to improving social connections and quality of life for isolated men around the world; Welcoming America, an American charity built to bridge gaps in understanding between immigrants and the communities they seek to join; and Coder Dojo, an Irish initiative that makes programming languages fun and accessible for children of all ages.
 
According to O’Hara, the company’s engagement rates grew by an average of 120 percent per month over the past year, albeit from a very small baseline. That kind of growth is almost unheard of, even in the tech world.
 
Still, the company’s experienced leadership, all too cognizant of the complexities of international business, remained reticent to move beyond its country of origin too soon. It took a decisive show of support by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Ben & Jerry’s charitable arm, plus a serendipitous encounter with the person who’d become their local leader—Jen Aspengren, a seasoned nonprofit leader most recently with Ashoka United States—to change the calculus.
 
“We chose Minnesota for a combination of reasons,” said O’Hara, including “a vibrant civic society, a thriving nonprofit sector and a variety of social issues” that the ChangeX team felt its platform could tackle. The linchpin, he added, was Aspengren, who has a big task ahead of her. She’ll play a key role in what O’Hara calls ChangeX’s “humble” goal: improving the lives of 1 billion people over the next 10 years. “Improving” is defined pretty broadly here, but even so, O’Hara readily admits he “has no idea how we’re going to do it.”
 
Nevertheless, local leaders are happy to have a new social enterprise kid on the block. “So many folks out there are creating these nuggets [of ideas] that can change the world,” said Mayor Coleman, adding that “the more dysfunctional our federal and state governments get,” the harder it is to achieve real change through traditional top-down processes.
 
Fittingly, ChangeX’s Minnesota experiment will sink or swim on the strength of the state’s greatest asset: its people. “This whole thing is pointless without you all,” said O’Hara, gesturing to the gathered crowd. “So please share your ideas, join other initiatives and spread the word about ChangeX.”
 
 
 

Mia Announces Art and Technology Award

Mia is teaming up with 3M and Accenture to bankroll MSP’s most innovative—not to mention financially rewarding—art prize of the year: The 3M Art and Technology Award Competition (#ARTtech16), which is accepting entries now through September 30.
 
The competition promises up to $50,000 in prize money for the lucky winner. The pot is split between a $25,000 cash prize and up to $25,000 more for research, development and travel. According to Mia’s award explainer page, the winner earns the opportunity “to work with Mia, 3M, Best Buy, Microsoft and others to help bring [their] concept to life.”
 
3M Art and Technology Award Competition submissions are intended to slough off “stuffy” artistic conventions and explore the intersection of art and technology. “If you’re passionate about art and technology and have an idea about how to enhance the museum experience [at Mia], here’s your chance to impress the best,” according to Mia’s website. “Our panel of digital experts is looking for innovative, out-of-the box concepts that will inspire, connect, and engage museum audiences—young and old alike.”
 
According to Mia, the best submissions will have all these attributes:
  • Innovative and creative: “something that’s never been done before”
  • Engaging to viewers and users
  • Accessible to everyone, including “historically underserved” audiences
  • Multifaceted: offering “deep audience engagement via digital platforms, interfaces, tools, experiences”
  • Impressive and impactful: offering a “wow factor” or “pleasant surprise”
  • Feasible to implement
Additionally, entrants need to clearly communicate their ideas and demonstrate they can implement their proposals as planned. Contestants can submit as many ideas as they like through Mia’s application form.
 

TreeHouse Health Invests in Homegrown Healthcare Innovation

Sansoro Health, a Minneapolis-based electronic health records startup, has had a pretty good month. The company announced earlier this week that it had raised approximately $1.2 million in seed capital, including a substantial sum from TreeHouse Health, a health tech incubator on Loring Park.
 
Healthy Ventures, a San Francisco-based health tech fund, led the seed round. The fund’s involvement is a clear vote of confidence not just for Sansoro Health’s innovative EHR solution, but also or the state of MSP’s medtech industry in general.
 
“The seamless clinical data exchange between EMR [EHR] platforms and digital health vendors is critically important to achieving better health outcomes,” enthused Anya Schiess, Healthy Ventures general partner, in a statement announcing the round’s closing. “Sansoro Health’s real-time integration software bridges the gap to improve patient care.”
 
And the feeling was mutual. “We are proud to have the support of investors like Healthy Ventures who share our vision for EMR integration,” added Jeremy Edes Pierotti, Sansoro Health’s CEO. “We’ve had strong revenue since inception, which enabled us to bootstrap our development. This funding will allow us to further empower innovation by providers, payers, and digital health pioneers.”
 
Sansoro Health isn’t unique in its ability to bootstrap (until now). But it’s one more data point in favor of the argument that healthcare funders, including local players like TreeHouse and Bay Area guns like Healthy Ventures, are taking a more conservative approach in a capital-raising market that many impartial observers believe is overheated. When the smart money gets conservative, companies that can demonstrate their market potential — ideally, by pointing to balance sheets with real revenue from real clients — tend to come out ahead.
 
And a more measured funding landscape is good for MSP companies in general. Though data is sparse, Minnesota companies enjoy a longstanding reputation for prudent, iterative governance — a disadvantage when funders are all about flashy “next big things,” but a pronounced benefit during pullbacks.
 
And what about Sansoro Health, specifically? The company came into its seed round with a healthy head of steam. Healthcare Informatics, a noted industry publication, selected Sansoro as one of six “up and comers” for 2016 — a prestigious honor that the company is understandably touting left and right. It also won Venture+ Forum’s 2016 startup competition at this year’s Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Annual Conference.
 

CBRE Consolidates MSP Team in Downtown Minneapolis

CBRE, a Los Angeles-based commercial real estate company with a global footprint and a presence in virtually every major American city, is consolidating its entire Minnesota team in one chic downtown Minneapolis location. CBRE’s move is the latest in a long string of companies relocating from the suburbs to MSP’s twin downtowns.
 
The 34,000-square-foot office, on the 19th and 20th floors of LaSalle Plaza, brings together nearly 200 employees previously housed in Bloomington’s Two MarketPointe and downtown Minneapolis’ Young Quinlan Building.
 
CBRE’s Minnesota move is part of the company’s global “Workplace 360” initiative, an ambitious plan to reposition the firm as a millennial-friendly innovation engine. According to a press release, Workplace 360 “promote(s) flexibility, mobility and productivity through technology-enabled, free-address and paperless offices.”
 
In Minneapolis, Workplace 360 means open, airy offices connected by spacious hallways and a custom-designed internal staircase. CBRE’s MSP employees don’t have assigned desks; the bulk of the space qualifies as “collaborative.” (“Employees have the flexibility to choose where they want to work for the day,” says CBRE, “whether at a desk, in a team huddle room or the social cafe area.”) The office is paperless, and designed around employees’ mobile devices, not company-owned desktop computers and printers.
 
“We understand how the office environment impacts culture, productivity, and talent recruitment and retention,” says Blake Hastings, CBRE’s managing director in Minneapolis. “The nature of work is changing in our industry and we see it every day with the clients we serve.” To paraphrase, CBRE is working to attract and retain more talented young people, and keep them engaged and on point.
 
CBRE Minneapolis seems off to a good start. Though CBRE’s corporate Workplace Strategy Team oversaw the buildout in collaboration with its Project Management Team, the company did assign key design, decorating and culture choices to local employees — for instance, they selected the “WELCOME TO MINNESOTA” wall mural centerpiece and developed the office wellness program.
 
“The whole design is inspired by the Mississippi River running through Minneapolis,” says Tiffany Bagley, CBRE Workplace Strategy director, “and fully represents CBRE’s embrace of the concept ‘think globally, act locally.’”
 

Glaros Undertakes "Humans of Minneapolis" Project with Parks Foundation

Even if you’ve never been to the Big Apple, you’ve probably heard of Humans of New York — the wildly successful, ongoing photo essay that’s touched more than 20 countries and earned millions of social shares.
 
New York City has more than eight million inhabitants from all over the world, but it’s not the only place with a multitude of human-scale stories worth sharing. MSP has its very own analog: Humans of Minneapolis, Minneapolis-based photographer Stephanie Glaros’ often poignant look at the joys, sorrows and oddities of life in the urban North.
 
Glaros started Humans of Minneapolis as an occasional tumblr blog — a useful vehicle for her ample interactive talents. She’s since added a Facebook page and Instagram feed to bring her subjects to a wider audience. Last month, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation announced that Glaros would conduct a “summer-long portrait series profiling visitors to Minneapolis neighborhood parks,” showcased in Humans of Minneapolis’ digital ecosystem and the Park Foundation’s own social properties.
 
According to the Parks Foundation, Glaros will profile 15 park visitors in all. The portrait series aims to draw attention to Minneapolis’ 160-plus parks, which (per the Parks Foundation) attracted more than six million visitors last year. Shortly after the portrait series’ announcement, the Trust for Public Land announced that Minneapolis had once again earned the top spot in its closely watched urban U.S. park system rankings, continuing a dominant run that dates back to the early 2010s.
 
“Stephanie’s series will help us begin to tell the stories of the people who use our parks every day and show the multitude of ways people use and love our Minneapolis parks,” the Parks Foundation said in a release.
 
Some of the stories Glaros captures on the Humans of Minneapolis blog are challenging, to put it mildly. Interviews conducted immediately following Prince’s death were heartbreaking. More recently, she spoke with a young man whose ex-girlfriend’s brother had died violently the previous week; in the interview, he talked openly about his own mortality and agonized about carrying a firearm for protection.
 
It’s not yet clear whether Glaros’ park stories will hew toward the weighty, or whether they’ll focus on the lighter side of summer in MSP. No matter what the next few months bring, Glaros is excited to explore her beloved, snow-less home city and forge new connections with her fellow Minneapolitans.
 
“People are reserved here and they don’t want attention, so it can be a bit of a challenge to draw people out,” she told the Star Tribune in April. “I look at that as a challenge to get real and get outside of our shells and make a connection…[t]here’s something magical about connecting with a complete stranger.”
 
 

Player's Health, an injury management app, wins top prize at Google Demo Day

Player’s Health, a sports medicine startup based out of COCO’s Northeast Minneapolis hub, has made quite a name for itself in the short time it’s been in Minnesota. Last week, the company earned top prize at Google Demo Day, arguably the United States’ most visible startup pitch competition. Though the award itself doesn’t have a monetary component, more than 100 Silicon Valley financiers attend Demo Day each year, and the event is widely regarded as one of the world’s best places to raise startup capital.
 
Case in point: according to the Star Tribune, more than 100 Silicon Valley-based investment firms listened to this year’s 11 pitches.
 
Though Player’s Health hasn’t raised any funding off the award yet, there’s plenty of opportunity in the weeks ahead. AOL founder and former CEO Steve Case has pledged to personally give $100,000 to any finalist that raises $1 million within 100 days of Demo Day. Player’s Health has a head start: It’s currently in the midst of its first major fundraising push, slated to continue through the spring.
 
Founded by Chicago native and former pro football player Tyrre Burks, Player’s Health uses data to make youth sports safer for kids, less worrisome for parents, and less logistically challenging for coaches and school systems. The company’s signature solution is a HIPAA-compliant platform that builds and stores complete player profiles for youth sports participants.
 
These profiles contain a stunning breadth of information: not just personal health data, but also the type of field each kid plays on, the type of equipment used, where injuries occur and more. Over the long term, Burks hopes to tap an ever-growing body of injury data to produce targeted insights about where, how and why injuries occur. School systems and non-academic sports leagues can then use those insights to mitigate injury risk and ensure injured athletes recover properly.
 
“We manage not just injury, but record proper diagnosis and when patients can come back,” Burks told the Star Tribune. He saw his promising football career cut short by injury. “We need an app that collects this info to better understand the environment and how to make it safer.”
 
Player’s Health’s platform won’t be fully operational until June, when it begins tracking player injuries as they occur. But that hasn’t stopped Player’s Health from lining up a host of clients from Minnesota and surrounding states — including Minneapolis’ Homegrown Lacrosse, a youth lacrosse league.
 

Schulze School of Entrepreneurship hosts crash course in "human-centered design"

On May 13, the University of St. Thomas’s Schulze School of Entrepreneurship hosted at least 50 MSP and Greater Minnesota nonprofit leaders and social entrepreneurs at DesignHack!, a one-of-a-kind event billed as a crash course in “human centered design.” The goal: to leverage the same principles behind simple but radical consumer product improvements, like OXO’s now-ubiquitous kitchen measuring cup with angled 3D fill lines.
 
DesignHack! Used Stanford University’s five-step design thinking model — which asks designers to approach problems “looking out from the inside, not outside in” — to tackle a core challenge: How do we rethink philanthropy to increase public engagement?
 
Dr. AnnMarie Thomas and Laura Dunham, who teach at the Schulze School, led attendees through design thinking’s five steps:
 
  1. Empathy: Discovering users’ implicit and explicit needs — the learning phase
  2. Define: Refocusing questions to drill deeper into users’ needs and determine how they can be met through design
  3. Ideate: Brainstorming creative design solutions
  4. Prototype: Making those solutions tangible
  5. Test: Determining whether those solutions work in practice
 
The typical design project takes weeks or even months, noted Dunham. DesignHack! attendees had just a single workday, so they weren’t able to run through a proper start-to-finish simulation.
 
But they did get to wander Minneapolis’s skyway system on a busy Friday, pulling aside passersby and asking open-ended questions about their relationship with modern philanthropy. Participants worked in pairs: one lead questioner and one note-taker/observer, with roles flipping periodically.
 
Per Dunham, they followed some basic design thinking “do’s” and “don’ts”:
 
  • Do listen more than you speak
  • Do ask how, then follow up with why
  • Do probe for specific experiences and stories, not abstractions or generalizations
  • Don’t ask leading questions (“push polling”)
  • Don’t monopolize the conversation
  • Don’t try to fill silences
  • Don’t push the respondent to wrap up or conclude
  • Don’t reaffirm your own bias
  • Don’t ask what respondents want
 
In other words, don’t look for empirical conclusions right away. Instead, allow respondents to create their own narratives. “Be more Oprah than Edison,” quipped Dunham.
 
“Channel your inner two-year-old,” added Thomas. “Ask ‘how this’ and ‘why that.’”
 
It’s safe to bet that DesignHack! attendees didn’t solve philanthropy’s engagement problem in the course of a single afternoon. But they definitely left Minneapolis equipped with new tools for tackling the complex issues that vex their organizations every day.
 

Two St. Paul Initiatives Win Knight Cities Challenge

Knight Cities Challenge, a massive social enterprise contest supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, announced the 37 winners of its 2016 competition last week. Two innovative concepts hatched in St. Paul made the cut, taking home more than $250,000 (of the contest’s $5 million total prize) between them.
 
Front Lawn Placemaking Platform, submitted by The Musicant Group, won about $82,000 — payable over the coming year — to support its goal: “Transforming front lawns from empty expanses of grass to vibrant places full of life through the development of a toolkit that encourages residents to create community hubs on their doorsteps.”
 
I’m Going to Vote Today, submitted by the University of St. Thomas (UST), won about $170,000 — also payable over the coming year — to put an updated spin on the age-old “I Voted!” trope. Instead of distributing “I Voted!” clothing or bumper stickers at polling places, the initiative hands out “I’m Going to Vote Today” stickers to eligible voters.
 
The goal, according to UST associate professor for marketing Aaron Sackett, is “behavioral intervention.” In an article released by UST, he explained: “First, sending out this sticker should serve as a reminder for people to make a plan for how and when to vote…[s]econd, the sticker and accompanying message serve as an indicator that voting is a socially desirable action, and that by wearing the sticker they can show both themselves and others that they engage in this desirable action.”
 
By labeling themselves voters, Sackett added, people wearing the sticker positively affect the behavior of “people who generally have a positive attitude toward voting but who don’t always follow through and vote” — rendering them more likely to vote. Now that his concept is funded, Sackett plans to test it across St. Paul, which has tens of thousands of registered voters.
 
These two initiatives were among more than 500 submissions. Following a rigorous review, Knight Cities Challenge narrowed the pool down to about 160 finalists, a significant increase over previous years. Knight then subjected finalists to a further round of view before settling on the 37 finalists. According to the organization, Challenge winners hail from 19 cities around the country — most of the markets in which Knight operates.
 
According to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Knight Cities Challenge contestants must “focus on one or more of three drivers of city success: attracting and keeping talented people, expanding economic opportunity and creating a culture of civic engagement.”
 
The Florida-based Knight Foundation, which has an active presence in Minnesota but invests nationwide, is sometimes confused with the Minneapolis-based McKnight Foundation. McKnight invests heavily in sectors such as clean energy and sustainability, arts, education and community building, training most of its firepower in the MSP region and surrounding parts of the North.
 
 

YogaFit Embraces "The Internet of Air"

If you’re a regular on the yoga circuit, you know that most studios’ climate-control settings pay little or no mind to accepted indoor heating and cooling conventions. When you walk into your morning vinyasa class, you’re primed to expect a fetid sauna, frost-lined meat locker or something in between—or maybe, as your session progresses, all of the above.
 
Good news, perennially uncomfortable yogis. With help from 75F, an ambitious Minnesota startup that makes responsive, Internet-connected climate control solutions, two Minneapolis YogaFit studios are bringing predictability (and comfort!) back to the yoga routine.
 
The studios, in Northeast and Linden Hills, tapped 75F to remedy years of HVAC frustration. Each studio operates 24/7, with a mix of class and open studio time, and attendance varies widely from hour to hour. During cold-season peak periods, attendees’ body heat is often sufficient to heat each studio with little to no assistance from the HVAC system. When attendance is sparse, passive heating can’t keep things comfortable. The inverse (or nearly so) is true during the warm season: heavily attended sessions require nonstop AC on full blast, while unoccupied studios require little to no climate control.
 
Needless to say, the studios’ multiple non-programmable digital thermostats simply couldn’t manage this constantly shifting demand. According to a 75F case study, studio temperatures ranged anywhere from 73 to 90 degrees on a typical day. Instructors would arrive 30 to 45 minutes early to set the proper temperature for each class, and had zero control over the studios’ temperature during unoccupied periods.
 
75F’s solution was seamless and elegant: unlike typical programmable thermostats, its multi-zone thermostats integrated directly with the studios’ scheduling software, empowering instructors to set comfortable class and open studio temperatures days in advance. And the system’s detailed analytics enabled management to track temperature changes (and anomalies) in near real time. The result: more comfortable studio environments, and more relaxed instructors, around the clock.
 
“We needed a partner, and a solution, that could react to our business—not the other way around,” says Ashok Dhariwal, YogaFit’s Minneapolis franchisee. “75F delivered a customized solution based on our business needs, [implemented] it very fas  and has supported us every step of the way.”
 
75F’s smart climate control systems are also suitable for restaurants, retail outlets and offices of virtually any size. According to 75F’s website, the technology reduces customers’ heating and cooling costs by up to 40 percent.
 

Assemble, new Minneapolis coworking space, charts a different course

Assemble, a new player in MSP’s growing coworking scene, recently opened a 16,000-square-foot coworking hub near the Nicollet Mall LRT station, in the historic 15 Building. Outside the building, Bob Dylan’s gigantic visage (Eduardo Kobra’s mural) marks the way for Hennepin Avenue pedestrians and cyclists. Inside, entrepreneurs and solo professionals put their noses to the grindstone in a 24/7, all-inclusive shared office.
 
Assemble’s key differentiator is its pricing model: Unlike many coworking spaces, Assemble doesn’t charge members extra to use certain amenities. The conference room, printer, 24/7 access, coffee (offered in partnership with locally owned Driven Coffee) and cleaning service are included in the price of membership for all members.
 
Packages start at $350 per month and increase depending on space requirements and employee counts. Until further notice, Assemble lets new members try our the space for one month free. Flexible month-to-month leases are available, and are ideal for growing or seasonal businesses that don’t want to be locked into long-term space commitments. And Assemble is dog friendly, so the office mascot can come along, too.
 
Assemble offers several workspace options. Stimulation-seeking solo professionals can use Assemble’s shared coworking space — a bullpen-style area perfect for collaboration. Shared workspaces split the difference between collaborative and private space, while glass-walled offices cater to larger teams looking to remain sequestered.
 
“What Assemble will uniquely bring to the Minneapolis coworking market is twofold. The first is a turnkey solution for a shared office, where everything is included in the cost of your space,” says Phillip Domenico, Assemble co-founder. “And second, it’s a community where we regularly offer networking and business development opportunities to enhance our members’ businesses, yet if they need privacy they can have it in their own space without interruption. Our goal is to listen to our members and provide them with benefits that best fit their work/life style.”
 
Assemble has at least seven anchor tenants in its downtown Minneapolis space: Synergy Construction, GO Intellectual Capital, Flipboard, Fresh Expertise, Praxis Capital, Ranstrom-Berg Wealth Management and Walden University. The company isn’t ruling out additional coworking spaces in MSP, and is also planning an ambitious nationwide expansion in the coming year: workspaces in Atlanta, Austin, Columbus, Denver, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Milwaukee, Nashville, Philadelphia and Raleigh are slated to come online by next spring.
 
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