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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.
 

Works Progress Studio's Water Bar Awash in Tsunami of Attention

Once you’ve become a limerick on “Wait Wait…Don't Tell Me,” the NPR news quiz, you’ve arrived, right?
 
On the March 12 show, Shanai Matteson and Colin Kloecker, who founded the Minneapolis-based social practice arts group Works Progress Studio, were surprised to hear host Peter Sagal and “judge and scorekeeper” Bill Kurtis source their new project, Water Bar, as one of the show’s weekly limericks. The surprising national exposure came hot on the heels of a Minnpost article about the couple’s art and environmental project that went viral, as well as other articles.
 
Why the explosion of attention? Especially because the Water Bar has already toured to several locations throughout the U.S., including Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas? “It’s a couple of things,” says Matteson. The Minnpost article “had a headline that was easy to share via social media and it kind of glossed over what we’re really about,” she explains. “But I also think people are really interested in water and it’s a hot topic for a number of reasons,” including climate change, drought and the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
 
“People are remembering how important water is to our lives, communities, the places where we live,” she continues. “I also realized, looking at the articles, that water is an interesting mirror. When people hear about the project they tend to see things in it that we may not see.” The responses generated by the Minnpost article, for example, “became this mirror about anxiety related to economic development in Northeast Minneapolis--some people thought we were creating a boutique retail space selling 'artisanal' water, which is not what we're doing."
 
When the Water Bar and Public Studio, as the project is officially known, opens on Central Avenue off Lowry in April, it will be a collaborative public art project or an “art and sustainability incubator or hub,” Matteson says. “It’s a space where artists, designers, researchers and organizers can learn about water and how it touches various aspects of our lives and communities, and share work they’re doing.”
 
The studio may also show films about water, provide tap water testing, and offer space to artists and organizations that want to work through their ideas about art, water, sustainability and community with like minded people. Currently, Water Bar collaborates with the Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association, the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, and the Healing Place Collaborative.
 
But the Water Bar also is a tasting room serving—you guessed it—water. Tap water. “We are not a business, even though we’re playing with the idea of ‘tap rooms’ since there are so many brewery tap rooms in Northeast,” Matteson says. “But we really will only have tap water. It won’t be for sale. It’s free. And we’re doing a lot more than that. We’re an art space.”
 
Matteson and Kloecker had intended on a quiet launch for the project, while they continued fundraising for the SIP (studio in progress) Fund. Now they’re planning a series of interactive events open to SIP funders first, then the general public; some pop-up Water Bars with guest bartenders; and a real opening during Art-A-Whirl in May.
 
For now, though, the Water Bar is “doing what we’ve always intended it to do,” Matteson says. “Spark conversation.”
 

With mobile speakeasies and off-road extravaganzas, SixSpeed brings brands alive

MSP’s edgiest marketing agency is growing — fast. Back in 2012, when The Line first caught up with SixSpeed Agency, the irreverent “brand experience” outfit had just over 20 employees. Today, it’s topped 50, with more hires planned for this year.
 
And that’s just the human headcount. SixSpeed has three canine helpers: Samson, the office dog; Hank, the shop dog; and Frannie, the office princess. (She clearly runs the show.)
 
SixSpeed occupies an unusual niche in MSP’s busy creative landscape. The agency has an internal creative/design team staffed with graphic artists, digital gurus, copywriters, editors: fairly standard. But SixSpeed also has a “production” team responsible for putting on singular events and experiences — the “experience” in “brand experiences” — for clients like Red Bull and Polaris. The agency has a heavy hand in Red Bull’s Crashed Ice series; in 2013, SixSpeed put on an off-road extravaganza tour to promote Polaris’s new RZR vehicle line.
 
SixSpeed also has an in-house “build” team, housed in an 8,000-square-foot shop at the agency’s headquarters. The build team is responsible for turning SixSpeed’s offbeat ideas into tangible things. Its most recent creation is a “mobile speakeasy” cart dubbed Thunderbuss, or ‘Buss for short: a “custom chopped” vintage motorbike attached to a monstrous wood-paneled cart with taps, holders and all the supplies needed to make a killer cocktail.
 
According to principal Andi Dickson, it’s rare for an agency to have in-house creative design and build capabilities under the same roof. In fact, Dickson isn’t aware of any MSP agencies that fit the bill. Rather than invest in an internal build team, most agencies work with external contractors as needed. That might help control costs, but at what cost?
 
SixSpeed’s blue-chip clients hold the agency to high standards, notes Dickson. They expect projects to be completed quickly, on spec, and with a level of quality and consistency that’s difficult to find on the freelance market.
 
Aside from being good for business, keeping everything in-house is great for employee morale. SixSpeed’s design team can walk across the office and actually touch the fruits of their labor, gaining a sense of pride and ownership that’s out of reach for creatives at less hands-on agencies.
 
“Creative people like nothing more than watching their ideas come to life,” says Dickson. “SixSpeed’s creative and build sides are really like two halves of the same brain.”
 

Phantom Records points to a resurgent MSP music scene

Phantom Records AMG-TCLA, an ascendant Minneapolis-based record label, hopes to raise MSP’s already significant profile as a creative hub for the auditory arts. Phantom is the brainchild of founder Alex Guerrero (stage name: Dweedo). He pulls quintuple duty as a producer, songwriter, talent scout, manager and promoter.
 
“Our inspiration for starting up a record label is to give Minnesota the attention it deserves within the music industry,” says Guerrero. “We want to continue the work of former producers like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who put MSP on the map. …[B]ut we [also] want the world to see that...amazing sounds are being produced outside New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.”
 
Guerrero has help from four other MSP music notables. Ariel Padilla (stage name: A.P.) serves as associate producer. Julian Scott (JuChefe) is the in-house arranger and DJ. Rob Skalsky (Robby Cur$ed) is co-talent scout, assistant editor, photographer/videographer and musical artist. Lou Oberg (J3b Adea) is lead graphic designer and co-photographer/videographer. And Cameron McCrimmon (Malovinci) is a promising artist.
 
Record labels come and go. Phantom plans to stick around by adding a human touch to an industry that’s increasingly focused on flashy, transient trends — good for the bottom line, perhaps, but not for music lovers or artists.
 
“Our goal is simple: we want to make music that you can feel and relate to on another level,” explains Guerrero. “We want to be more than just a record label. We want to be a part of our listeners’ experience.”

“Phantom Records is all about putting emotion back into music,” he adds.

According to Guerrero, Phantom is actively recruiting “hardworking, dedicated artists” willing to work with a startup label. He’s also hunting for “influential” artists capable of lending visibility to a nascent label in a crowded marketplace.

“We plan on keeping up with the latest trends, while having veteran artists over time help groom younger artists coming into the industry,” says Guerrero. “We want our artists, our company and our values to feel like they're part of a really special movement that brings people together from all walks of life.” Phantom Records plans to keep its operational base in MSP for the foreseeable future.
 

Winter Cycling Congress kicks local bike culture into high gear

MSP has long been the hub of winter biking innovation and locals are staying car-free through the winter in ever-growing numbers. But this week, MSP is actually the center of the winter biking universe.
 
That’s because the annual Winter Cycling Congress is in town through February 4. As the St. Paul Winter Carnival sashays to a jolly crescendo, several hundred hardy souls are suiting up across (and around) town to show off the latest in winter biking technology and policy.
 
Winter Cycling Congress 2016 is the fourth ever and the first to be held in the United States. (Previous locations: Oulu, Finland; Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Leeuwarden, Netherlands.
 
Winter Cycling Congress 2016 “celebrate[s] the diversity of the North American cycling movement while also welcoming inspiration, best practices and lessons from bicycle-friendly communities around the world,” according to the event’s website. The event takes place at four venues: The Commons Hotel in Downtown East, Minneapolis; Coffman Memorial Union at the U of M; the Weisman Art Museum, also at the U of M; and, of course, at the St. Paul Winter Carnival.
 
Winter Cycling Congress 2016’s programming includes formal lectures from cycling experts, meet-and-greet networking sessions, informal discussions, group workshops, extracurricular activities (such as bike-themed trivia at St. Paul’s Amsterdam Bar), and — of course — lots and lots of cycling.
 
Winter Cycling Congress 2016 is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to kick local bike culture into another gear. Although MSP takes for granted its hardy winter cyclists, the region’s winter cycling rates (known as mode share) actually trail many European cities’.
 
Oulu, the first Winter Cycling Congress host city, maintains a 25 percent cycling mode share through the entire winter, despite a snowier climate and a near-Arctic location that makes for depressingly short winter days. In MSP, cycling’s mode share drops precipitously on cold days, according to data collected by Nice Ride, and falls further once the snow starts flying.
 
“One of our goals is to make bicycling more inclusive for everyone and we recognize that our climate plays a role in that. We know there are creative strategies to enable people to be able to still bike in the more snowy months,” said Janelle Waldock, vice president of community health and health equity for Winter Cycling Congress 2016 title sponsor BlueCross and BlueShield of Minnesota, in a recent MinnPost feature.
 
The Winter Cycling Congress is organized by the Winter Cycling Federation, an international organization dedicated to furthering winter cycling, and locally by the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota. Keep up with the latest news from Winter Cycling Congress 2016 on the event’s website or follow the hashtag #WCC16 (official Twitter handle @wintercycle2016).
 

Entrepreneurs take note: MSP is open for business

Accolades for MSP’s enviable work-life benefits are flying faster and thicker than snow this season, and it’s getting tough to keep up with the latest hits. Earlier this month, influential personal finance site NerdWallet dropped the latest data-driven love letter to the Twin Cities: a Best Cities for Young Entrepreneurs roundup that placed MSP fifth, ahead of regional rivals (Madison) and heavy-hitting coastal tech hubs (Seattle and Boston).
 
The study examined about 180 of the country’s largest metro areas and assigned a young entrepreneur friendliness score to each. MSP earned its fifth-place spot thanks to two data points in particular: unemployment rate and SBA loan value per 100,000 residents.
 
On the unemployment front, MSP is peerless among major cities. Metro-wide unemployment was just a tick over 3 percent as of September 2015, the latest month for which final figures were available as the study went to press. That’s lower than San Francisco (3.4 percent), Denver (4.2 percent) and Washington, D.C. (7.5 percent).
 
The SBA loans metric is admittedly wonkier, but it’s a critical factor in local small business health. Many startups rely on SBA funding to get off the ground and gain traction; an adequate SBA loan is often the difference-maker for businesses navigating the dreaded “death zone” — the first two to three years of existence.
 
According to Jonathan Todd, the study’s author, the SBA loan factor counts for 20 percent of the overall score, more than unemployment rate, small businesses per 100 residents and other factors. MSP ranked seventh, just behind famously entrepreneurial Austin and industrious Salt Lake City — and well ahead of major metropolises like New York City, which ranked 52nd.
 
In the study, Todd notes that small business success comes down to a confluence of other factors: cost of living, educational attainment and existing resources for entrepreneurs. MSP has long led most other big cities with regards to cost of living and educational attainment. Until recently, though, it hasn’t done so hot on the admittedly hard-to-measure entrepreneurial resources metric.
 
Here’s a sign of change and that MSP’s startup-friendly secret is finally getting out: Industrious, a well-funded coworking company with outposts in more than a dozen major U.S. cities, recently opened a gleaming new space in the North Loop. Industrious’s arrival comes on the heels of COCO NE’s debut — joining the swelling ranks of private coworking spaces around the Twin Cities.
 
Entrepreneurs take note: MSP is open for business.
 
 

St. Paul's Pop Up Meeting van and plan are ready for 2016

Public Art St. Paul has big plans for 2016. Pop Up Meeting, the city’s ambitious drive to “increase diversity and participation in St. Paul’s urban planning process,” is leading the way.
 
Pop Up Meeting’s specially retrofitted, immediately recognizable red van hit the streets in 2015. Drivers Amanda Lovelee, a St. Paul City Artist, and intern Abby Kapler hold meetings during which they solicit survey responses, verbal opinions and other feedback, then “visibly and comprehensibly share” those ideas with others.
 
Pop Up Meeting had a great inaugural season. According to Lovelee, 70 percent of the initiative’s participants had never before engaged with the city planning process. “We think that’s a great measure of success,” she says.
 
This year, Pop Up Meeting aims to reach St. Paul’s most underrepresented citizens, particularly those with limited or nonexistent English fluency. Lovelee plans to use tablets to present questions and solicit feedback from respondents in their native tongues, rather than rely on ad hoc translators.
 
“[Non-English speakers] tend to be more disengaged from the planning process,” says Lovelee, “so we’re really doubling down on our efforts to reach them.”
 
No matter what language they speak, Pop Up Meeting participants get a free, locally made popsicle — courtesy of St. Pops — for their troubles. Lovelee tapped St. Pops to design a healthy, organic popsicle that “captures the flavor of St. Paul,” says Lovelee. They settled on mint lemonade, “which tastes like a super-delicious mojito, without the alcohol.”
 
“I lost count of how many popsicles I had last summer,” she adds. “Seriously, they’re amazing.”
 
Lovelee is putting together Pop Up Meeting’s official 2016 schedule this month, but the broad strokes are already clear. She’s devoting plenty of bandwidth to Mayor Chris Coleman’s 8 to 80 Vitality Fund, whose component projects include the River Balcony and elevated downtown bikeway loop. Lovelee also plans to spent lots of time in Highland Park, soliciting residents’ thoughts and visions for the Ford site redevelopment, which isn’t projected to begin until 2018 at the earliest.
 
“The city planning process is partly about getting out in front of big, multi-year projects and setting expectations that conform to residents’ needs and desires,” says Lovelee.
 
Besides Pop Up Meeting, Lovelee and Public Art St. Paul have some other big projects on tap.
 
Public Art St. Paul recently received a Knight Foundation grant to deploy pollinator-friendly streetscapes around the city. This ear a prototype will be constructed in a single St. Paul neighborhood “to make sure the plants survive the winter,” says Lovelee. Also this year, a mobile seed cart slated to distribute seeds to local residents will be launched.
 
At the corner of 10th & Robert, work just wrapped on the first biodiversity study of Public Art St. Paul’s Urban Flower Garden. The study’s findings will inform future work on that site through the 2016 growing season and beyond.
 
All in all, it’s shaping up to be a banner year for Public Art St. Paul. “Start dreaming of warm weather and popsicles,” advises Lovelee. “We’ll be out on the streets again before you know it.”
 

Ova Woman: The nation's only comprehensive women's health e-commerce community

Barely six months after its launch, Minneapolis women’s health startup Ova Woman is taking the reins as a national thought leader on issues routinely — and entirely without justification — dismissed as taboo.
 
Elise Maxwell, Ova Woman founder and CEO (and full-time Carlson School of Management MBA student), calls Ova Woman “the [country’s] only comprehensive, puberty-to-post-menopause women’s health e-commerce community.”
 
Maxwell is funding Ova Woman with the proceeds from two entrepreneurship competitions — $5,000 from the 2015 Acara Challenge and $31,000 from the 2015 MN Cup — and a $5,000 Sands Fellowship grant. According to remarks at October’s Minnesota Venture Conference, she’s targeting a $500,000 raise by June of 2016 and $1.6 million by the end of 2017.
 
Ova Woman publishes a lively mix of frank, useful content through four professional, if not always polished, channels: the Ova Vlog, a video blog usually featuring Maxwell and at least one friend or colleague; Your Questions, Our Answers, an in-depth question-and-answer resource with input from clinicians; Ova Stories, a long-form content portal; and The Speculum podcast, which “explores different intimate health issues,” says Maxwell.
 
Ova Woman is unsparing in its treatment of taboo topics. The inaugural Speculum podcast, for instance, devotes more than 20 minutes to the topic of douching; the second gives similar play to genital exams and anatomical awareness.
 
Maxwell wants to turn Ova Woman into an authoritative resource for fact-based information about women’s health, including potentially embarrassing issues that many refrain from discussing in public.
 
When it comes to women’s health issues, “[t]rust shouldn’t just mean a medical practitioner’s voice,” says Maxwell. “Other women’s opinions and experiences are valuable as well.”
 
Maxwell stresses that Ova Woman’s content isn’t meant to replace or counterbalance clinical advice. In the short term, her aim is to create a friendly, useful portal that offers actionable advice: a crowd-sourced alternative to WebMD.
 
Ova Woman’s longer-term plan — and the reason for its ambitious fundraising goal — is to build out a comprehensive retail platform with common and lesser-known products for a wide range of women’s health needs. There’s a huge market to reach: More than 100 million U.S. women experience incontinence, painful intercourse or period leaks, according to Ova Woman.
 
Ova Woman won’t manufacture its own products, at least to start. Instead, Maxwell plans to aggregate the best women’s health gear on the market for sale on its website, along with detailed, unbiased educational material, reviews and testimonials culled from a growing network of Ova Woman product testers: a cross between Amazon and Consumer Reports, with a laser focus on women’s health.
 
If Ova Woman’s retailing efforts are successful, says Maxwell, the company may launch its own white label — literally stamping its seal of approval on the best women’s health products available.
 

Northside Achievement Zone: A bottom-up approach to community empowerment

Minneapolis’ most ambitious antipoverty and community empowerment network just got a big boost. In early October, Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) received $6 million in combined grants from Target and General Mills — $1 million per year for three years from each company. These funds will help replace a federal grant that is ending.
 
NAZ has a revolutionary mission: to coordinate and empower “more than 40 local organizations and schools...working in radically new ways to permanently close the academic achievement gap and end poverty,” according to a Fallon-produced promotional video. Partner organizations include early childhood program providers like the YWCA and Minneapolis Public Schools; public, charter and private K-12 schools; expanded learning/mentoring programs like Plymouth Youth Center; health, housing and career organizations like Washburn Center for Children, Urban Homeworks and Twin Cities RISE!; and higher education institutions like Minneapolis Community and Technical College and the University of Minnesota.
 
NAZ is broadly modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone, an antipoverty and childhood education network in New York City. But its huge partner network and bottom-up approach to empowerment make NAZ arguably the most ambitious initiative of its kind anywhere in the U.S.
 
NAZ specifically seeks out the most vulnerable, hard-to-reach families, many of whom face housing insecurity, chronic joblessness and other obstacles. Ideally, each participating mom enrolls her child before birth, signing a commitment to make college a top priority for the little one. She and her partner, if present, pair with a coach responsible for building a customized support plan with the family’s input — complete with “specific, individualized goals that make sense for that particular family,” all framed in terms of college-readiness, says NAZ communications director Katie Murphy.
 
The typical NAZ family works with various partner organizations to find suitable, stable housing, stay on top of their healthcare needs (including mental health, a big issue for new moms), improve financial literacy and enroll in parenting classes, among other things. As they grow, kids tap into these networks too; North High School, for instance, has NAZ academic coaches who work with students on site.
 
“When it’s time to meet with their academic coaches, students can just walk down the hall,” says Murphy.
 
NAZ’s new grants could help the organization reach a long-held goal — to impact 1,000 families and 2,500 kids, representing 40 percent of Northside families with children under 18 — as early as next year. NAZ is already most of the way there: At last count, the network had about 870 families and nearly 1,900 kids.
 
By 2020, says NAZ President & CEO Sondra Samuels, NAZ is poised to impact 1,700 or more families per year. That number includes families actively engaged with partner organizations, plus those who’ve “graduated” and no longer need to tap NAZ’s services.
 
Graduated parents and older students often assume mentorship or advisory roles within the NAZ structure. With preexisting social networks and ample reserves of community trust, says Murphy, current and past participants are NAZ’s most effective on-the-ground recruiters. When NAZ hires family coaches, they look exclusively at their roster of enrolled parents.
 
NAZ is so confident in its approach, and in the power of community-driven family empowerment in general, that it hands out T-shirts — to toddlers—proclaiming their expected college graduation year. For parents used to hearing that their kids won’t amount to much, or that they need to have “realistic” expectations, something as simple as a T-shirt can inspire belief in what’s possible.
 
“NAZ addresses the achievement gap by striking at the heart of the belief gap,” says Samuels, “and coupling the power to inspire with a proven system that provides our families with a ladder out of poverty.”
 
Though today’s NAZ takes a holistic approach to antipoverty work, its predecessor organization did far more targeted work. Founded in 2003, the PEACE Foundation was a “grassroots movement across race, class and geography [with] the common goal of significantly reducing violence in North Minneapolis,” according to NAZ’s website. The PEACE Foundation enjoyed ample community support, but stakeholders worried that it wasn’t doing enough to address the root causes of violence, including what Samuels calls “a direct correlation” between poor educational outcomes and violent crime.
 
“In recognition of the clear link between poverty, the educational achievement gap and violence, the PEACE Foundation was already moving toward” an approach that included support for families and early childhood education initiatives, says Samuels. “When we heard about the Harlem Children’s Zone, we realized that it was possible to pull all the levers that hold the people back and empower the community to change.”
 
“We’ve been told that what we’re trying to do is unrealistic,” she adds. “But we remind ourselves that every great advance” — women’s suffrage, marriage equality, putting a man on the moon — “was also ‘unrealistic’ once.”
 
 
 

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.’”
 
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