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U. of M. gets $1.5 million grant for eco-friendly plastics research

Can plastics be more environmentally friendly and still remain cost-efficient? That's the question driving researchers at the University of Minnesota, and now they have some additional support for finding the answer.
Recently, researchers at the university's Center for Sustainable Polymers were awarded a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Centers for Chemical Innovation program. The grant also makes the university eligible for additional funding opportunities in the future.
"We are tremendously excited about this new support from the NSF," noted Marc Hillmyer, director of the Center for Sustainable Polymers in a news release. "With our strong history in polymer science and seed funding from the University of Minnesota, we have already been able to establish a national presence in the sustainable polymer arena."
The Center focuses its research on creating advanced plastics from renewable, natural, and sustainable resources instead of fossil fuels. Researchers look at using sources like vegetable oils, sugars, and starches to develop materials that are cost-efficient, non-toxic, and able to be composted.
Hillmyer noted that the grant will help Minnesota become a leading global center of excellence in sustainable polymer science and greatly expand the center's capabilities.
"With Minnesota's leadership in the area of bio-based materials and the University's breadth of expertise, we are well positioned to make significant and important research contributions," he said.
What's the future of environment-friendly initiatives? One word: plastics.
Source: University of Minnesota
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

October events: Giant Steps, Minnesota Venture Conference, and Women in the Boardroom

Giant Steps

October 7
Guthrie Theater
818 S. 2nd St., Minneapolis
Designed for "creative entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial creatives," this gathering includes workshops on topics like creative collaborations, networking and promotion, funding models for creative projects, and using social media effectively. Registration includes access to an after-party and concert.
Downtown Minneapolis Job Fair
October 12
Minneapolis Convention Center
1301 2nd Ave. S., Minneapolis
Held in the Convention Center's ballroom, this major job fair features companies that are hiring in fields like accounting, health care, management, sales, and construction.
The Minnesota Venture & Finance Conference
October 12 & 13
Minneapolis Convention Center
1301 2nd Ave. S., Minneapolis
$295 for members, $495 for non-members
Now in its 25th year, this conference showcases entrepreneurship and investment, with presentations, networking opportunities, and workshops. Panels this year cover topics like innovation financing, intellectual property rights, IPOs, tax credits, and general trends in financing.
Women in the Boardroom
October 17
Hyatt Regency
1300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis
This executive leadership event is designed to assist women in preparing for board service, and includes panelists who share their knowledge and expertise. The organization holds these annual events in 15 cities nationwide, as a way to boost interest in diversifying for-profit and non-profit boards.

Tekne Awards finalists announced

Highlighting the strength of the state's technology sectors, the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) announced finalists for the 2011 Tekne Awards.
The award program, now in its 12th year, recognizes innovations from 2010 that represent the brightest in development, commercialization, and management of technology in Minnesota. Forty-two finalists were named in fourteen categories.
The MHTA noted that recent growth in Minnesota's educational and robotic technology sectors were particularly visible this year, but that all technology sectors are staying strong.
In the education category, finalists are Capella University, Sophia, and Naiku--which recently won the recent Minnesota Cup award. Finalists in other categories represent a range of companies, from large firms like Imation Corp. and Digital River to smaller businesses like Xollai and QuickCheck Health.
The awards are designed to showcase these types of companies, and draw attention to the innovative and competitive companies in the state, according to MHTA president Margaret Anderson Kelliher. They're part of the organization's larger mission to boost education and entrepreneurship along with technology development.
"We're very excited about the opportunities available to technology companies here," says Kelliher. "In general, we believe that individuals and companies in the state have more potential than they do challenges. We're proud and happy to support them in any way we can."
The Tekne Awards will be presented on November 3 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Source: Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Minnesota High Tech Association
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

LinkUp matches innovation with job hunting

Job hunters have a continually updated resource in LinkUp, a Minneapolis-based company that's part of the national JobDig employment search site.
According to president and CEO Toby Dayton, LinkUp is unique in the way that it indexes company websites for job postings, rather than relying on companies to post jobs in a central site like JobDig or Monster.com. Current openings for about 22,000 companies are brought together at LinkUp, and the firm is careful to weed out duplications, so job seekers won't be trying to determine which listing is the most current.
"We've really reinvented what a job board is on the Web," says Dayton. "The site is updated daily, and companies can't post on here directly, so we've eliminated those garbage listings like 'work at home' types of jobs that expose people to identity theft and fraud."
Although LinkUp has some competitors in the online job-hunt realm, Dayton believes that the company is distinctive because of its technology. It lists about 800,000 jobs that are culled directly from employer sites, and the tech team is constantly refining how searches are done to make them more helpful and efficient.
Despite the advancements, the 28-person company has faced some challenges in the past few years, Dayton notes: "We've been bigger at times, but the recession impacted us. Our growth has been rapid in the past, but it's been muted by the current economic environment."
However, the executive team has experience in leading high-growth companies, he adds, and there's a great deal of optimism that LinkUp will be at the forefront of the job search industry. Dayton says, "We've been well received in the marketplace, and what we have is unique. We're excited to keep the momentum going."
Source: Toby Dayton, LinkUp
Writer: Elizabeth Millard


Minnesota Angel Network launches

Minnesota entrepreneurs may get some of their funding prayers answered, thanks to the launch of the Minnesota Angel Network (MNAN).
MNAN notes that it's a unique educational program for entrepreneurial companies that are looking to raise investment capital, as well as a connection point for investors looking for innovative companies. The typical business that will be boosted by MNAN will be one seeking to garner between $50,000 and $4.5 million, and will be in a high-tech or knowledge-based industry.
The group's advisors are picked out of a pool of experienced investors, business experts, entrepreneurial-minded CEOs, and technology experts. There are a number of foundational service advisors and partners, including Leonard Street and Deinard, Gray Plant Mooty, Fredrikson & Byron, and Messerli & Kramer. These advisors provide their insight on a pro-bono basis.
Designed as a first stop for entrepreneurs looking for investments, MNAN helps to prepare them for the rigors of fundraising--aid that the group believes will save valuable time and resources on both sides of the investment table. Candidate companies go through an evaluation process, and if they're deemed suitable for the program, they're launched into a rigorous training regime provided by up to eight advisors. The education process takes between 60 to 90 days, putting a candidate company on a fast track for investment.
The hotly anticipated MNAN is helmed by Todd Leonard, who's raised more than $50 million in equity for startup companies in the past. An angel investor himself, Leonard has held executive roles at companies in the construction and pharma industries, and has shared his insight on technology transfer processes as a consultant for government agencies.
The debut of MNAN is likely to be welcomed in the state, which has been experiencing increased vigor in its entrepreneurial efforts lately. And after all, who couldn't use a few more angels on their side?
Source: Minnesota Angel Network
Writer: Elizabeth Millard


Sisters launch wellness-focused popsicle company

Here's the power of The HopeFULL Company: What might look like cute little homemade Popsicles actually pack a striking amount of nutrition, making them perfect for people with chronic illnesses or cancer. They can even be used to win over finicky kids.

The idea of making a frozen treat that addresses nutritional deficiencies came to sisters Jessica Welsch and Stephanie Williams about three years ago, when a friend of the family was diagnosed with leukemia. As the friend underwent chemotherapy, she lost her appetite so dramatically that she couldn't stand even the smell of food. Since the sisters had been cooking up homemade baby food for each of their daughters, they knew they could come up with an innovation that could help.

Since the treats are frozen, they don't have much of an aroma, and the sisters' recipes blended together healthy foods like beets, sweet potatoes, and kale. They became a hit--not just with the family friend, but among many in their community, and the sisters decided to create a whole foods firm based on the pops, The HopeFULL Company.

Instead of trying to sell the frozen treats themselves, the entrepreneurs created a company that sells kits online for making the nutritious pops. Launched in November 2010, HopeFULL does online sales of the kits. Welsch says, "Trying to bring a food product to market is tough, so with this business model, we created a way to get our idea to the marketplace in a better way."

The pair have been excited to grow the company together, adds Williams. "We've known for a long time that we'd end up having a business together. We feel like our business found us, and fortunately, we work really well together."

Although the pops were originally developed for people who have difficulty eating due to chemotherapy, the frozen HopeFULLs are becoming popular with a wide audience. After all, who wouldn't appreciate a company that can make frozen beets appealing?

Sources: Jessica Welsch and Stephanie Williams, The HopeFULL Company
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

University of Minnesota adds concentration in environmental and energy law

Environmental and energy companies will have a fresh crop of attorneys to aid their efforts in the near future: the University of Minnesota Law School is adding concentrations in these areas starting this fall.

Professor Alexandra Klass will serve as faculty chair of the new concentration, which was developed to help students prepare for practicing in these unique areas of law. In making the announcement, Klass noted that addressing environmental and energy needs will be one of the great challenges of the 21st century, and that through this program, the Law School will train the attorneys and leaders needed to tackle those issues.

The new concentrations will build on standard curriculum already being offered through other university programs. Students will be able to learn about environmental and energy topics through capstone courses, guest speaker visits, interdisciplinary course offerings, and simulation exercises.

The capstone courses include seminars on environmental justice and renewable energy, and there's also a course on "brownfields" redevelopment and litigation, an area of law that focuses on underutilized, contaminated properties.

Clinics are offered too, giving students the chance to explore topics in public policy, energy use, environmental sustainability, housing, transportation, and urban growth. As with other concentrations offered by the Law School, this new one will provide opportunities for students to participate in mentorship programs and community projects.

The Law School offers other concentrations as well, including business law, human rights law, and labor and employment law.

Source: University of Minnesota
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Minneapolis mayor highlights success of green-jobs training program

Those looking for green jobs have a powerful resource in RENEW (Renewable Energy Networks Empowering Workers), a program that trains Minneapolis and St. Paul residents for green jobs and places them in living-wage positions.

Kicked off in April 2010, the program has already had nearly 600 participants, with 350 of them earning credentials in green-related fields, and 240 gaining employment as a result of the training.

The success of RENEW led Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak and Saint Paul Council Member Lee Helgen to highlight the program at a recent hiring fair, held at the Dunwoody College of Technology.

Funded by a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, RENEW is a unique program, thanks to its strong focus on green-economy skills, notes Cathy Polasky, Director of Economic Development for the City of Minneapolis.

"Having these type of credentials is important, because it allows employers to have a tangible measure of what a prospective employee knows," she says. Even some employers that are not usually recognized as green companies have been eager to talk to program participants, Polasky says. For example, Doubletree Hotels is very interested in those who have learned environmentally-friendly tactics for housekeeping and maintenance, which allow the hotel chain to cut down on water use and streamline its operations.

Seventy different training tracks are offered through RENEW, with 12 training entities partnering with the program. Community-based service providers are also part of the effort, helping to inform low-income workers of the opportunities provided by the program.

Although the program's funding was a one-time award, Polasky and others are hoping that the Feds will come out with "a sequel" to keep the training rolling along.

"There's been such remarkable success with this, that we're really hoping to keep it going," she says.

Source: Cathy Polasky, City of Minneapolis
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Great River Greening looks to expand through key positions, new projects

With multiple conservation successes over the past decade and a half, Great River Greening is poised to do even more in the near future.
The organization began in 1995 as part of the St. Paul Foundation, with an initial goal of planting 35,000 trees and shrubs in the riverfront area of St. Paul.
By mobilizing over 10,000 volunteers, Great River quickly achieved that mission and moved on to a new project: the "Million Acorns Campaign," which aimed to revive the dwindling oak savannah population in the city.
With that project now completed as well, the group is looking to go state-wide with its initiatives, and is adding two key director positions in development and marketing, to grow the nonprofit.
"We need to go to the next level," says Deborah Karasov, Great River's Executive Director. "We have an amazing group of devoted donors, and now we want to take our message to a wider audience, and grow geographically."
The group is well known in the St. Paul metro area, but Karasov notes that they'd like to do more initiatives in the Minnesota River Valley, as well as in northern counties.
Great River is distinctive, she adds, because they don't do political advocacy or lobbying work, focusing all their energies instead on conservation efforts and community building. The group's ability to get volunteers for hands-on work is particularly inspiring, Karasov believes.
In the future, she anticipates there will be many more projects around water quality protection and land restoration. The newly-minted directorial positions should bring a needed boost to Great River's ambitious-but-realistic goals to green up the state.
Source: Deborah Karasov, Great River Greening
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Green-minded Warners' Stellian's Styrofoam compactor makes award-winning business sense

The appliance retailer Warners' Stellian has started compacting leftover Styrofoam packaging and sending it out by the semi-trailer load to be recycled.

The effort has earned the company a "Sustainable Saint Paul" award, a city award that promotes environmental stewardship.

The initiative was a huge undertaking for the company, requiring it to make a large investment and train all of its drivers to separate packaging materials as part of every delivery.

"It was quite a learning curve to get used to the process," said Bob Warner, director of operations. "It took a little over a year."

The new Styrofoam compactor is one of just two in the state, but Warner said the investment makes good business sense. It saves on refuse costs and taxes, and the company is paid for the recycled material. At least three other partners provide Warners' Stellian with additional Styrofoam to compact and recycle.

Warner said his company sells appliances that are more efficient than the industry standard, so going green was a natural choice.

"We already have a consumer that's very conscious about being green and being efficient," Warner said. "We're seeing that philosophy through our entire corporation."

He said the company has added other touches to make it more efficient. Delivery trucks automatically power down after five minutes of idling. A natural air ventilation system in the warehouse circulates cooler air in the northern stretch back through the warmer, southern portion of the building. Warehouse lighting is motion-sensitive, so lights only blink on in the particular aisle a forklift is using. After five minutes of inactivity, the lights power down again.

Warners' Stellian also donates plastic wrap to be recycled and put back into manufacturing.

"Foam was the last big component of our waste stream," Warner said. "We were generating a tremendous amount of waste. Now, very little is going to the landfill."

Source: Bob Warner, director of operations, Warners' Stellian
Writer: Michelle Bruch

May Innovation events: mobile TC, Minnebar, mobile tech, medtech investment, green living

Mobile Technology: Adoption, Design, and Sustainability Lessons
Friday, May 6, 8:30 a.m.–11:!5 a.m., Room 2-206, Carlson School of Management
321 19th Avenue South, Minneapolis
registration required

Alina M. Chircu, associate professor in the Information and Process Management department at Bentley University, will present at this U of M MIS Research Center seminar. Chircu will discuss mobile technology adoption and usage patterns; related mobile phone design practices in developing and developed countries; recent research on sustainability principles employed by top phone manufacturers; how these principles impact business processes for new mobile products design, production and distribution; and more.

Saturday, May 7, 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
Best Buy headquarters
7601 Penn Ave. South, Richfield
Free, register online

Registration is open for the "(un)conference" that brings Minnesota's tech and design communities together. Sign up to attend or lead a discussion. Sessions will run throughout the day, and light breakfast and lunch will be provided. An after-party with beer and wine will follow.

Living Green Expo
May 7–8
Minnesota State Fairgrounds
Creative Activities, Education, 4-H, Fine Arts and Progress Center buildings

The 10th annual expo will feature dozens of workshops and presentations on green topics ranging from energy efficiency and sustainable design strategies to the soybean--along with an actual "green wedding." Take a look at the full list.

MedTech Investing Conference
May 18–19
Graves 601 Hotel, Minneapolis
$895–$1,395, registration limited to 300

The 10th annual  MedTech Investing Conference will bring together medical device investors, entrepreneurs, and corporate business development executives to network and foster the development and financing of companies. This year's event, with the theme "The New Era of Innovation," will feature more than 45 industry experts as well as clinical specialty sessions.

Mobile Twin Cities
Tuesday, May 17, 7–9 p.m.
Refactr Offices, 11 NE 4th St., Suite 300, Minneapolis

The May installment of this monthly meeting, sponsored by Recursive Awesome, LLC, will feature review and   topics from the Mobile March Conference. Contact Justin Grammens at [email protected] for more information.

Minnesota GreenCorps offering 30 full-time green-job positions

Federal funding permitting, Minnesota GreenCorps will put 30 people to work on a third round of its annual green-job Americorps program.

Since 2009, the statewide, federally funded employment and training program has placed more than 50 Americorps workers in 11-month green-jobs positions with local governments, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations.

The program's second year is still in process, with 26 full-time employees working at 25 host sites (the bulk  of them in the Twin Cities) in the areas of energy conservation and air quality, waste prevention and recycling, living green outreach, and green infrastructure.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is taking applications for both host organizations (through May 5) and workers (through May 26) for the 2011–2012 season, which will run from September 2011 through August of next year.

The program may also offer five half-time positions for current students at the University of Minnesota, Morris, another GreenCorps partner.

The 2011–2012 program is dependent on approval of federal funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service, according to the GreenCorps website. Funding also comes through ServeMinnesota, the state commission for all AmeriCorps' state programs in Minnesota.

Source: Minnesota GreenCorps
Writer: Jeremy Stratton

Digi rides smart grid, cloud-service technology into 33rd straight profitable quarter

Last week, Digi International reported its 33rd straight quarter of growth, dating back more than eight years to early in the last decade.

And while that success is built on more than 25 years of experience, the Minnetonka-based wireless machine-to-machine (M2M) device networking company is seeing major growth in the emerging energy sector, especially with its smart-grid technology and cloud-computing platform.

Digi has begun partnering with companies to build end-to-end energy monitoring and management solutions around the company's X-Grid, says David Mayne, Digi's director of business development.

Under that "extended" grid umbrella is the iDigi Device Cloud--"the embedded industry's first ready-to-use cloud computing platform for device networking and management," according to an online description. The cloud service allows remote metering and management of energy use through communication with devices "beyond the meter," Mayne says.

"The thing that is really driving the growth is the ability to utilize iDigi to provide connectivity from an application down to a device," he says. The smart-grid platform also drives sales of other Digi products like gateways and radio modules, "so we kind of get all the different pieces that become part of this end-to-end solution," he says.

It also puts Digi at the forefront of energy-management innovation that is in its early stages globally, according to Mayne. In January, Digi announced a major partnership with Green Energy Options to develop a real-time, web-based energy management system, based on iDigi and the Digi X-Grid, for the European utility market.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S., Digi and its partner Itron have introduced "Smart Grid Now" bundles that enable utilities to conduct energy-management pilot programs. The cloud-based bundles can be deployed on a small or large scale, Mayne explains.

"For as little as a few thousand dollars, [utilities] can get customers engaged by using smart phones to look at thermostats and get metering information," he says. "Because we're offering this as a cloud service, there's little upfront investment and there's proven capability to expand to millions of devices."

Digi also announced a partnership in January with Calico Energy Services to offer an integrated smart-grid technology solution for energy and demand management.

Mayne notes that while most think of the smart grid in terms of the energy sector, Digi is also seeing business growth beyond energy management and services. Other high-growth areas include the medical device industry and fleet management--trucks and other large mobile assets.

Mayne notes that smart-grid applications can be applied to water conservation and gas utilities as well.

"As new services evolve, things we haven't even thought of yet, we can plug them into iDigi," says Mayne of the "flexible technology," an open platform that he says is ready to handle future innovation--an important point for Digi and its 600 employees, more than half of whom work in Minnesota.

"That's really helping to build or reinvent people's careers as we continue to evolve the organization," Mayne says. "Future-proofing is key. This is something that is new, and this will create innovation."

Source: David Mane, Digi Intrernational    
Writer: Jeremy Stratton

Thinc.GreenMSP begins work to bolster green business environment

The mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul hope green will be gold when it comes to local businesses, manufacturing, jobs, products, and services.

Announced last summer and approved last fall, the first meeting of the Thinc.GreenMSP steering committee was convened by the mayors on April 13.

Thinc.GreenMSP is an economic-development partnership between the two cities, business, organized labor, nonprofits, and government to retain, grow and attract green-manufacturing businesses and jobs in the Minneapolis–Saint Paul region, which St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman envisions as "the center of a burgeoning green economy" in a press release about the endeavor.

The effort involves "buying and using locally made products from green manufacturers," as Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak stated in the release. The partners believe that demand will drive the need for workers to manufacture those products--and new and thriving businesses to employ those workers.

Thinc.GreenMSP involves five "strategic initiatives," according to the press release:

— a "Local Government Green Purchasing Partnership" to help grow the market for green products;
— support for local and state actions to utilize aggressive green building standards and create demand for manufacturers, vendors, and suppliers of green products and services;
— a green-business recruitment strategy to attract new businesses;
— private start-up funding to seed new, growing, or relocating businesses, with financing options to leverage public investment with private capital; and
 — a program to recognize corporate leadership in green manufacturing.

The Thinc.GreenMSP initiative falls under the larger joint effort between the cities to create a metropolitan business plan--part of a pilot project by the Brookings Institute. Earlier this month, mayors Coleman and Rybak traveled to Washington, D.C. to present the plan, which aims to improve the business environment, attract companies and "human capital," and foster innovation and entrepreneurship, among other goals.

The joint press release from the two cities includes the list of individuals from business, organized labor, government and nonprofits on the Thinc.GreenMSP steering committee.

Source: City of Minneapolis, City of St. Paul
Writer: Jeremy Stratton

NatureWorks biopolymer first certified biobased plastic in U.S.

Nature Works doesn't make the plastic products you might use on any given day, it makes the plastic that makes them.

The Minnetonka-based company makes it greener, as well, and it now has the USDA's BioPreferred Program stamp of approval to back that up.

NatureWorks, a 100-employee company owned by Cargill, is the first plastics manufacturer to earn the "certified bio-based" label, and one of only 11 of any kind in the country to receive the new certification. (The BioPreferred program itself was created in 2002.)

NatureWorks received similar certification in Europe last year, says Steve Sterling, president Sterling PR and PR rep for NatureWorks.

The company's Ingeo line of biopolymer is made from industrial-grade corn instead of oil. Its production uses 48 percent less energy than traditional plastics, says Sterling, and produces 60 percent less CO2.

The polymer is used in packaging, electronics, clothing, housewares, health and personal care items, semi-durable products, and the food service industry, according to a press release.

Founded in 2003, the company is growing in double rates in terms of sales, says Sterling. NatureWorks manufactures 70 million pounds of its biopolymer a year--far and away the most of any company doing so, he says.

Sterling notes that the certification puts products made with 100 percent Ingeo on the government's preferred purchasing list of bio-based products. The Secretary of Agriculture has designated 5,100 bio-based products; the USDA estimates there are as many as 20,000 currently being manufactured in the United States, according to the press release.

Source: Steve Sterling for NatureWorks
Writer: Jeremy Stratton
63 Green Jobs Articles | Page: | Show All
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