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Minnesota Cup selects semifinalists for innovative business idea prize

The summer may be off to a sluggish start weather-wise, but at the Minnesota Cup, the heat of competition just got kicked up a notch.
The annual contest, which supports the development of breakthrough ideas from across the state, just announced the start of its semifinal round, with 57 teams of entrepreneurs and inventors ready for the next stage.
Now in its ninth year, the Minnesota Cup offers six categories of innovation: energy/clean tech, general, high tech, life science/health IT, social entrepreneur, and student. Competitors are able to enter individually or as a four-person team.
The semifinal round will give those innovators a chance to buff up their ideas through exposure to mentors and business leaders, who will act as advisors for the next round. The teams and individuals will also have the opportunity to meet members of the Cup's review board.
A full list of this year’s semifinalists is available on the Cup’s site, and includes companies like Rowbot Systems, Windjuicer, Foodsby, Kidblog, Mode-sty, and Cinch Chix.
The competition is designed to bring out the best and brightest minds in Minnesota, and help those individuals to make connections that can advance innovation in the state, according to Minnesota Cup co-founder Scott Litman. He says, "The 2013 competition is no exception. We're excited to see how the many strong applicants in this year's pool will progress with mentoring and business planning this summer."
Three finalists from each division will be chosen on August 19th, and will be expected to present their business plans for a chance to nab the top prize, which will be awarded on September 11th.
Source: Scott Litman, Minnesota Cup
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Eagle Creek Software Services reports surge in customer base

Eden Prairie-based Eagle Creek Software Services is proving that bringing IT work back onshore can lead to great results—the technology services company reports 28 percent growth in its customer base this year, with more growth likely in the near future.
"Onshoring" is a term coined recently in the IT and consultancy realms to describe a movement away from offshore strategies, which tend to move numerous tasks to other countries.
Although plenty of companies still push work out to nations like China and India, an increased focus on local resources looks like it could be the next big trend, and Eagle Creek's success is an indicator that the tactic can work well.
"Our growth is positioned around public and private partnerships in the Dakotas," says Ken Behrendt, president of Eagle Creek Software Services. "With a business-friendly state like South Dakota, and an energized university system, Eagle Creek is positioned to thrive by bringing corporate America what they so desperately need—a scalable and reliable workforce."
The company calls its strategy the "Dakota Model." Working with government agencies as well as the University of South Dakota, Eagle Creek will create about 1,000 jobs in technology centers around the state over the next five years. The company is building a $10 million technology center in Vermillion, South Dakota, and plans to staff it with students who graduate from the IT Consultant Academy at the university.
This move will triple the company's number of consultants, and put Eagle Creek in a strong position both regionally and nationally.
Source: Ken Behrendt, Eagle Creek Software Services
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

DataBank expands its local data center footprint

Minneapolis is about to get more connected.
DataBank, a colocation firm that's headquartered in Dallas but boasts a significant Minneapolis presence, recently announced that it will expand its footprint here, based on the acquisition of an Edina data center once owned by tech firm VeriSpace.
Planned for two phases, and with construction already underway, the expansion will boost the facility's size to about 17,500 square feet, and will include more cooling functionality and uninterrupted power supply features. The project will also involve updates to the office space areas, as well as revamped customer areas where DataBank will maintain client technology.
The company acquired VeriSpace in March, as part of an effort to broaden its reach into new markets. DataBank provides managed data center services, with a particular focus on 100 percent uptime availability for data, applications, and equipment.
Company CEO Tim Moore notes that the Edina expansion came as a result of customer demand, and that the company worked quickly to meet the need.
Although the expansion will add a significant amount of data center space to the city, Moore believes that this is just the beginning when it comes to the company's presence in the Twin Cities.
"This expansion only represents the first step in our overall process in this market," he says, "with more to come."
Source: Tim Moore, DataBank
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Website launched for local food resources

A new website, Community and Local Food Resources, is aimed at assisting rural community food systems and development. Sparked by a tri-state collaboration, the site's mission is to improve local food resources, no matter where people might live in the upper Midwest.
"Farmers and community members can face a variety of unique struggles and opportunities when working to develop strong local food systems," says Greg Schweser, Community Food Systems Planner at the University of Minnesota's Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships. "We worked with rural communities in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota to find out what those issues were and addressed them as best we could in this website."
The university collaborated with North Dakota State University Extension Service, Buy Fresh Buy Local South Dakota, and non-profit organization FARRMS to craft a site that will be useful for those working in local food systems. Topics include production, marketing tactics, business advice, sourcing options, education, and public policy.
The site comes at a crucial time, as community support for the farm-to-fork movement is growing. By providing online resources to rural communities, the site's developers hope to connect farmers with local organizations and also assist consumers who might be searching for affordable farmers market options or looking to start a community garden.
"While there is a wealth of information online to help those working on local foods, this website combines and organizes hundreds of resources into one easy-to-use interface," says Schweser.
As food systems change over time and community food strategies develop, the site's developers hope that people will forward new resources so the site can be kept up to date. Schweser is confident that the website can be a major force for change, and a central point for those aiming for stronger, community-based food systems.
Source: Greg Schweser, University of Minnesota
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Two prominent local architecture firms merge, see growth ahead

Minneapolis-based architecture, interiors, and planning firm Architectural Alliance recently merged with smaller-but-prominent design and architecture company 20 Below Studio, also located in Minneapolis.
The merger fuses the two firms' client-centered experience for broader capabilities, notes Carey Brendalen, Principal at Architectural Alliance. "This is two strong organizations coming together," he says. "We've worked with different types of clients and we have different capabilities, and now we're leveraging those differences in a complementary way."
20 Below, an 8-person firm that's established a strong reputation in interior architecture and design, will partner with Architectural Alliance's 74-member team. The newly joined firms are expected to drive growth, Brendalen says.
Architectural Alliance has experience in market segments like aviation, retail, hospitality, and public sector work, and with 20 Below's expertise in interior architecture, growth should come naturally as a result of the combined energy and experience.
"Together, we will offer greater reach, creativity, and expertise in the architecture and design market," Brendalen says, adding that such a combination is especially crucial since client needs are becoming more complex. More variables, like the convergence of work and lifestyle needs, require the firms to approach projects in a new way.
"It sounds trite, but there's shared value in terms of what we can bring to customers," says Brendalen. "We're excited to see what comes out of the partnership. We think there's beauty here as well as pragmatism."
Source: Carey Brendalen, Architectural Alliance
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Tekne Awards offer new categories for this year's round

Minnesota technology leaders, start your engines.
The high-profile Tekne Awards just opened for entries, and five new categories have been added: STEM education and digital learning, healthcare delivery, impact on industry, agricultural technology, and safety and security.
Innovative entrepreneurs, organizations, nonprofits, and government agencies will all compete in the award program, now in its 14th year, presented by the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA).
The state remains at the forefront of cutting-edge technological growth, the MHTA noted, and the robust and growing competition highlights the kind of innovation that's homegrown here, from cleantech to robotics.
Last year, winners included Nova-Tech Engineering, Ecolab, Global Traffic Technologies, Maverick Software Consulting, and Sophia Learning. The City of Minneapolis also received an award, for technology excellence in a non-profit organization, getting a nod for an emergency operations training facility that blends digital data and streaming video.
This year, the five fresh categories showcase new directions in the state's approach to innovation. STEM education, a hot topic these days, gets its own category for programs that engage K-12 students in applied learning opportunities. Healthcare delivery will award innovation in the area of medical devices, diagnostics, data management, and other areas that improve patient care.
"We are watching significant growth in the areas of mobility as well as safety and security and want to make sure the Tekne Awards reflect that," says Andrew Wittenborg, Director of Outreach for MHTA. "At the same time,  we want to recognize and support the collaborative efforts that lead to Minnesota breakthroughs."
In addition to its new categories, the awards will feature well-established, competition-rich categories like software, startup, advanced manufacturing, and mobile technologies.
Applications for this year's awards will be open until July 15th, and there's no application fee, nor do applicants have to be MHTA members. Finalists will be announced in September, with an award celebration held in November.
Source: Andrew Wittenborg, Director of Outreach, Minnesota High Tech Association
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Totally Interactive Weather unveils innovative online ad platform

The heat begins to spike in the middle of summer, and suddenly the online ads you see promise thirst-quenching drinks, air conditioning systems, and convertible cars. Coincidence? Far from it: local firm Totally Interactive Weather, helmed by well-known meteorologist Dave Dahl and his son, Andy Dahl, is pioneering an ad platform that utilizes weather information to shape an advertiser's message.
Started in 2007, and often referred to as TiWi, the company was formed as a way to bring more weather information online, and disseminate it to other media properties. But the startup began at a difficult economic time, says Andy Dahl, and some lean years of trying to sell subscription content convinced the founders that they needed a stronger model.
"We began thinking of ways to go toward an advertising revenue model," he says. "Essentially, we were providing weather content for free, and attaching advertising to that content to monetize in that space."
That led to the debut of a technology called Trigger X, connecting weather data with advertising to make online ads more relevant and timely, Dahl says. The new platform provides in-the-moment ad messages based on changing weather patterns. For example, if someone is reading the Denver Post online and snow is moving into the area, Trigger X will prompt advertising that might include last-minute skiing specials, or snow shoveling service offers.
The platform went through beta testing in February, and just launched officially in May. TiWi is working to partner with ad agencies and media companies, and Dahl is confident that growth is as imminent as, well, the next big heat wave.
Source: Andy Dahl, Totally Interactive Weather
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Entrepreneur starts mode-sty.com to offer modest clothing

When attorney Zahra Aljabri went shopping for clothes, she was often disheartened by the lack of conservative-yet-stylish options. "I've always been a modest dresser, and it's been a struggle to find clothing that has some style and yet isn't revealing." When she began talking to friends about her experiences, she discovered that she wasn't alone--and as many entrepreneurs know, where there's struggle, there's opportunity.
Last July, she and her husband, James Faghmous, began working on Mode-sty, an online clothing boutique that meets the need for conservative clothing that looks good and is affordably priced. Aljabri found that by working with small-scale designers who crafted each item by hand, she could provide a range of clothing options for others who prefer more modest fashions.
Although Aljabri is Muslim, she sees the Mode-sty site as a resource that will appeal to numerous religious and cultural groups. "There are many religious communities where women want more coverage, like Muslims, Jewish women, and Christian groups, like Mormons," she says. "But then, there are also women who want to dress conservatively just because it seems more professional, or because they're getting older and they see this style as more age-appropriate."
At first, Aljabri utilized a "pop-up" model for the site, which meant the site would go live for only two weeks at a time until all inventory was sold, then it closed until Aljabri could re-stock. But with increasing attention and customer loyalty, the site is now up continuously, and she's thinking of her next move.
"We've realized that we need to produce our own clothing line, so we're working on that, and we also want this to be a destination site, where women can talk about different issues," says Aljabri. 

Source: Zahra Aljabri, Mode-sty
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Livefront drives growth with focus on mobile app development

Although there are a number of software shops in the Twin Cities, very few focus on mobile app development, which makes Livefront into a prominent player, and one that's due to grow in the near future.
Founded in 2001, Livefront got its start when technologist Mike Bollinger was in college and working on mobile software for the Palm Pilot. In 2008, he started building a team and the company now has 10 employees, with hiring and expansion expected in the months ahead.
The company is very active in the local tech space, and Bollinger sees Livefront's role as much more than an app developer in a tech-savvy town.
"Our focus, our energy, and our intensity is centered around helping our clients design and build incredible mobile app experiences," he says. "It's important to us that we lead by example through teaching, speaking, sharing, sponsoring, and giving back to our community."
Livefront has sponsored over 15 events and organizations in the past two years, including Mobile March, Ignite Minneapolis, and Minnesota Developers Conference. The firm has released multiple open-source software projects like Acracadabra, and Bollinger is a co-founder of the well-respected online technology news site TECHdotMN.
Being so involved with the community gives Livefront an advantage when it comes to making connections (especially for its open tech positions), and also highlights the vibrant technology culture that's growing strong in the Twin Cities. As growth occurs, it will come mainly from Livefront's strong expertise and focus on mobile app development — but the robust engagement with the community also plays a major part in why Livefront is front and center.
Source: Mike Bollinger, Livefront
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Walker Art Center releases Sculpture Garden mobile app

Just in time for summer visitors, the Walker Art Center recently launched a new website and free mobile app for its well-loved Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
Developed as part of the museum's 25th anniversary, the website revamp includes a wealth of information about the sculpture garden and its artworks. Users can download the smartphone app directly from the site, and use the app's GPS technology to navigate the sculptures.
Video and audio content conveys general information about the Sculpture Garden's history, as well as interesting factual tidbits about each sculpture. The app also includes short interviews with visitors, community members, and prominent local personalities, such as Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak.
Andrew Blauvelt, the Walker's Chief of Communications and Audience Engagement, says that the museum and garden's Art on Call program -- which allows visitors to use cellphones for accessing guided audio tours -- is still available. The new app doesn't replace that service, it simply broadens access, Blauvelt believes.
"It's fitting that the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, which was a truly cutting-edge idea of putting art outdoors in the city, now boasts the Walker's first mobile app, putting interpretation in the hands and pockets of our visitors," he notes.
The redesigned website, spare but informative, highlights different garden events such as the popular Rock the Garden music festival in June and Avant Garden, the end-of-season fundraiser with cocktails and fine dining. An interactive map also helps visitors to pinpoint specific sculptures and access tour guide comments, a visual description, and thoughts from garden visitors.
Source: Andrew Blauvelt, Walker Art Center    
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Startup health firm Preventice launches remote monitoring tech for patients

Patients with cardiac issues could be thanking Minneapolis-based healthcare technology startup Preventice for better disease management in the not-too-distant future. The company just unveiled BodyGuardian Remote Patient Monitoring System, a mobile health system designed to monitor patients with cardiac arrhythmias.
Developed in collaboration with Mayo Clinic, the system gives physicians the ability to monitor specific biometrics while patients are doing everyday activities. A small sensor attached to a patient's chest culls info like heart rate, activity level, and respiration rate. The information is sent to physicians through mobile-phone technology, and is also stored in the company's mHealth platform so that it can be retrieved later if necessary.
The need for this type of system is becoming more acute, believes Jon Otterstatter, co-founder and CEO of Preventice. "There is a growing acceptance for monitoring patients outside the hospital setting," he says, adding that BodyGuardian is unique from other monitoring systems, because it creates a constant connection between patients and clinical care teams, rather than sending updates at scheduled intervals.
Although BodyGuardian just launched, the company is already seeing demand, he notes, and the system is in multiple clinical trials in the United States and Europe. One trial is looking at how post-surgical cardiac patients can be better evaluated though remote monitoring, while another is examining whether patients with congestive heart failure can receive more timely interventions in order to prevent serious complications.
This latest release from Preventice joins other health management resources from the company, including products targeted at sleep apnea, diabetes management, migraine headaches, and prescription medication management.
Source: Jon Otterstatter, Preventice
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Visit Saint Paul tweaks wedding site for same sex marriages

Right after Minnesota became the 12th state to legalize same sex marriage, St. Paul updated its popular wedding website to reflect the change.
Online resource IDoSaintPaul.com, put together by the city's convention and visitors bureau, Visit Saint Paul, gives engaged couples information on getting married in the city, including an events calendar, restaurant and hotel listings, and suggestions for activities and recreation.
The site now includes photographs of same sex couples, as well as a profile of Reid Bordson and Paul Nolle, who plan to be the first gay couple to tie the knot at Como Park Conservatory. Also on the site is a new page about the Freedom to Marry Act, noting that "it is important for same sex couples to know they are welcomed in Saint Paul for their big day and that they, their family and friends will receive the same top level of service from our hospitality community that all wedding couples receive on their big day."
Visit Saint Paul spokesperson Adam Johnson notes that it was easy to make quick changes to the site, including tweaks to an online form for wedding planning. Since then, vendors have approached the bureau to offer specials for same sex weddings, and Johnson anticipates that the site will get even more interest in the near future.
"The Freedom to Marry Act opened up a whole new pool of people who want to get married, and we want them to know that Saint Paul would be a great place for that," Johnson says.
Source: Adam Johnson, Visit Saint Paul
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Ingle Marketing focuses on food, ramps up social media campaigns

Sustainable food, farm-to-table, artisan products: there's no doubt that the food world is changing rapidly, and as it does, Ingle Marketing is picking up clients along the way.
Founded by entrepreneur and marketer Jodi Ingle about seven years ago, the firm draws on Ingle's experience working on foodservice accounts at several advertising agencies. That industry is unique, she notes, because unlike retail, which has a set of measurable metrics, foodservice presents a distinct B2B niche that can be tricky to navigate.
She's drawn to the industry because she simply appreciates food, she says: "Really, I love everything about it, from growing to cooking to grocery shopping. A big goal for me is to be the go-to agency partner for food companies, in terms of branding, marketing strategy, and creative development."
Ingle seems to be reaching that goal nicely, with a roster of clients that include a fresh fish purveyor, a creator of wine jelly, and a developer of "foaming sauce," among others. Although Ingle Marketing is a one-person company at present, Ingle draws on a wide array of contractors, freelancers, and branding experts to put specialized teams together for every project.
Social media is a booming field for her, she notes, and more clients are asking for campaigns that incorporate blogging and other online, interactive communication.
No matter what the medium, though, Ingle is ready to prepare the message. "Each brand has its own flavor," she says, "and our menu is full of new creations."
Source: Jodi Ingle, Ingle Marketing
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Startup DIY site HouseTalent developing photo app

When Drew Geraets and his wife moved back to the Twin Cities from New York in 2010, they bought a 1908 charmer in St. Paul. Like so many older homes in the area, the house had plenty of character, but also boasted a lengthy to-do list of improvements. It also had a distinctive feature: a book of photographs from the previous owner, showing the work that had already been done.
"I got a history of the place, and it was so striking to see how it had changed," Geraets says. "Because of that, I started to notice how often people posted their projects online, in blogs and on Facebook or Instagram. There are a ton of DIYers documenting projects from start to finish."
Although a somewhat popular site, Houzz, tries to collect these kind of efforts, Geraets envisioned a more user-friendly site for DIYers, and eventually, a mobile app. Along with a fellow entrepreneur, Ryan Cavis, he launched HouseTalent, a site that allows users to upload photos, create project sites, and browse other projects.
Currently, the founders are working on an iOS app that will make it easy for users to take photos with smartphones and upload to the site. The app should be ready by the end of June.
HouseTalent is seeing a steady increase in users as word gets out (and the spring renovation momentum takes hold), and Geraets anticipates that the next step will be developing a revenue model that could take the form of premium content. Right now, just like his house, everything is a fun work in progress.
Source: Drew Geraets, HouseTalent
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Mobile tools drive growth at Leviathan Technology Group

As communication and information increasingly go mobile, Leviathan Technology Group is seeing the benefits.
The Minneapolis-based technology services firm is finding significant growth in interest for mobile tools, as well as new methods for pushing content to users. That shift is creating strong expansion opportunities for the firm, propelling it beyond its initial healthcare specialization and into many other industries.
Founded about nine years ago by entrepreneur Steve Engels, the company first focused on software development and product design for health-related nonprofits, helping them build content tools online. Since then, the firm has grown into a developer of mobile tools and web applications, and Engels sees a wealth of opportunity ahead.
One secret to the company's success is local hiring combined with expert contractors in Russia and Ukraine, he notes. Leviathan's system of connecting consultants from all over the world has allowed the small local team of 10 to be more agile, according to Engels, and integrate mobile technology in a creative way.
At this point, he's now trying to anticipate the next big thing. "When it comes to the future, we'll be pushing more, trying to find the cutting edge," he says. "We're seeing strong growth in mobile, but we have to think about what's after that. We need to be experts by the time technology hits the mainstream."
Source: Steve Engels, Leviathan Technology Group
Writer: Elizabeth Millard
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